Today, the utilities industry is pushing for a stronger focus on "innovation" - something hitherto unknown. The industry hasn't valued innovation as highly as others, primarily because its main product could be viewed both as a service, and a commodity. However, the three forces of deregulation, consolidation and globalization are forcing today's utilities to re-examine every aspect of their business, from supply to consumption. Pressure to increase innovation in the utilities industry comes from all sides: customers, regulators, investors, public interest groups and competitors.
Utilities are looking to unleash innovation in their organization with the help of technology. The first step is to outline the vision and understand the commitments right to the end point. Next, the vision must be translated into the technology that enables the fulfillment of that vision. While executing these IT programs, it is important to keep in mind the timeline for these projects. The timeline of the project may vary between one to three years, but the change management may take much longer. Hence, it is essential to look at the system to see whether it can be successfully scaled up in the future.
There are several new IT-enabled initiatives that the industry can adopt - mobility-enabled solutions come to mind. All in all, industries are entering a more mobile world. Customers are more proactive and wish to communicate with their utility via mobile, just as they communicate with their families and friends. Mobile solutions can help address the problem of the aging workforce, and can leverage technology through remote expertise.
Utilities can also look to other industries to learn how to gain more from IT, such as telecom and retail. The cloud can also play a big role. Social media has penetrated many utility companies in the past few years; recent research shows that approximately 57 million customers worldwide used social media to engage utilities in 2011, and the number is expected to rise to 624 million customers by the end of 2017.
The next few years will be exciting for the utilities industry as it shrugs off the shackles of regulation and innovation lethargy to grow nimbler, innovative and more profitable. And in all three areas, I think IT has a strong role to play