As utilities look to provide more efficient service, increase profitability and improve safety, three key steps can help achieve a successful digital transformation.
When I talk about digital transition versus digital transformation, I like to use music as an analogy. Many years ago, we had cassette tapes and records – they were analogue devices, physical hardware. Eventually there was a transition to CDs, but at the same time, the workflow around those were the same: we’d store CDs in cabinets or drawer, the same way we’d store LPs and cassette tapes.
While this was a form of transition, it wasn’t a transformation.
It wasn’t until we started streaming digital music – through platforms like iTunes – that transformation occurred in three key areas:
- Technology – music went mobile, into the cloud
- Workflow – the model changed how we interact and manage processes
- Business model – dealing in digital files not physical hardware (albums)
Another good example of digital transformation is UBER, which has completely flipped the way we deal with taxis. It changed technology, significantly redesigned workflows and created a whole new business model.
So what does that have to do with utilities?
Utilities have been around for 140 years but generally speaking they have undergone incremental improvements.
In terms of geographic information systems (GIS), utilities moved from paper maps to GIS maps. But what else changed? Utility workers plotted GIS maps, but used them in much the same way as paper maps.
When I think about the ArcGIS platform in relationship to utilities, GIS has always been a kind of a mapping system. When I ask a group the first thing that comes to mind when I mention GIS, they usually say “maps”. While that’s correct, it’s more about how the information on maps transforms the way we do business.
Utilities are going from a digital transition to a digital transformation.
There are three key areas that will help utilities managers achieve a successful digital transformation:
1. Collaborate: think beyond the limitations of legacy systems
The main challenge is people, culture and how we are used to doing things. Thinking and processes become so ingrained that even new technology is used for incremental improvement rather than a transformation. The challenge is getting people to think outside of the box to change behaviours.
2. Communicate: be prepared to change
Implement effective change management and be ready to apply technology to meet the challenges of competition and new market demands. Changing technology, consumer awareness and the state of the market will drive utilities to change. For many years, especially in the electric distribution area, there hasn’t been much competition; people just go to their regular distribution supplier. But when competition is introduced – for example, solar panels – utilities will need to transform and the tech will be there to help them.
3. Coordinate: learn from successful implementations
Follow the examples of other utilities who have undergone transformation – learn from their successes, and their mistakes. I witnessed a large transmission company in the US digitally transition their workflows. They discovered the ArcGIS platform, and realised they needed to get GIS out into the field into everybody’s hands.
Now thousands of workers are accessing company data on their devices. Information about customers, operations and networks is available instantly, in real-time – and everyone is collaborating. It’s transformed organisation’s workflow.
Effective collaboration, communication and coordination can be truly transformational in the utilities space.
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