Eventful Conferences along with SAP conducted an extensive research project with multiple utility industry ecosystem stakeholders. The project included North American customer focus groups with 60 customers and 25 utility organizations, as well as multiple one-on-one conversations. The goal, was to understand the most pressing challenges and opportunities that Utilities are facing in 2016. The viewpoints and topics from these research groups are summarized in the hot topics below.
The 2016 SAP for Utilities conference will be built upon the topics outlined below, gathered as a result of our research. Download the full Research Report to see our comprehensive findings.
- Predictive Maintenance
Utility organizations are looking to leverage technology to optimize maintenance across all assets. The shift to predictive maintenance will allow utilities to move away from a fixed maintenance schedule based on time or usage, particularly important in a linear asset context where assets can be widely distributed. Anticipating events and maintenance operations will help organizations find ways to make processes more efficient and cost effective.
In the consumer space, GPS enabled devices including mobile devices and tablets allow the user to easily interact with maps. For utility organizations, interactions go beyond simple map-based interaction. Asset management professionals need easy to use visual maps that have a seamless connection with SAP solutions in the back-end.
- IT/OT Convergence
The increasing amount of highly actionable data from assets, machines, smart devices, mobile workers and operational processes across multiple rapidly advancing platforms means that utilities can bring together data from information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Leveraging the IT/OT convergence and the Internet of Things, leaders are using operational data to closely monitor assets. With an increase in long-term visibility, utilities can create a more strategic life-cycle plan to monitor, maintain and get a return on assets.
- Operational Risk Management
Operational risk management is a continuous, cyclic process which includes risk assessment, risk decision making, and implementation of various risk controls, resulting in acceptance, mitigation or avoidance of risk. Companies that demonstrate innovation in this area are successfully bringing together the different categories of risk: incident management, work clearance management, worker safety, management of change, environmental, and quality. These leaders are implementing an integrated risk management program that ties back to either the top or bottom line.
- Multi-Channel & Digital Strategy
With an increase in choices, customers are in control of the relationship with their utility now more than ever. Creating an overall digital strategy that translates across channels is key to keeping utility customers satisfied with their service. Messaging and information must be brand consistent on the website, social media and mobile devices. Most importantly, customers are seeking a seamless mobile experience from bill payment to alerts and notifications.
- Customer Relationship Management
Utility organizations are focused on creating the ultimate customer experience across all platforms and touchpoints to satisfy and retain their customers. Despite the ongoing efforts to improve self-service channels, call centers are still an integral part of the customer’s experience and relationship with their utility. Having the proper systems and CRM tools in place empower employees to deliver the best customer service and increase efficiency.
- The Grid, Distributive Energy & Renewables
As the grid changes at an unprecedented rate, utility organizations no longer have full control. Solar energy and other options in the renewable space are increasing and the customers are quickly adopting new self-generation options. With the growing deployment of electricity storage, utilities will be able to improve system performance but are challenged by the rise in consumers who will also invest in battery storage technology. The reduction in demand and number of overall customers will force utility organizations to reallocate costs and look for alternative revenue sources. The management of the grid is now a shared effort between the customer and the utilities.
- Big Data
From smart meters to CRM data to lifecycle asset management numbers, data for utility organizations is not in short supply. The challenge lies in transforming this big data into a usable format to drive decision making and meet regulatory reporting requirements. With more information available, the business demands increase to uncover informational insights that can help utility organizations prepare and strategize for what lies ahead.
- Master Data Governance
Successful and sustainable utility organization cannot exist without accurate master data. Utilities struggle to find ways within their existing systems to include data checkpoints to ensure quality. There must be a corporate culture that values master data integrity and establishes accountability for compliance with data governance and standards.
- Reporting & Analytics
Utilities operate in a highly regulated environment, and must meet the reporting demands from constantly changing government regulators who demand continual improvement in business performance, outcomes, environmental benchmarks, and safety concerns. Working in an environment of “big data” that only continues to expand creates high demand on analytical and reporting requirements. How can utilities take advantage of their systems to create more automated reporting and consumable analytics for all members of the organization?
- Human Capital Management
As the utility environment continues to change, the one thing that remains constant are the employees that drive the success of the organization. As millennials begin to flood the workforce and the baby boomers retire – how are utilities preparing & adapting to this change in employee demographic? There must be strategies in place to capture the knowledge of the workforce that has been in the organization for decades before they walk out the door. Millennials create new technology expectations within the organization and challenge management to adapt their leadership style. Additional concerns lie in retaining the top talent and developing succession planning to motivate employees to stay.
- Change Management
In an ever changing business and technology landscape, utility organizations are not alone when faced with issues around change management. Clearly defining who will be responsible for new processes within the company helps create impactful processes and alignment across both IT & business. Creating buy-in from all areas of the organization and assigning ownership to one group creates a utility that is prepared for successful growth. Best practices for on-boarding, adopting and ensuring the continued ‘success of change’ are desperately needed.
- The User Experience
As utility organizations work to serve the customer better they are often bogged down by hard to use systems and difficult interfaces. There is a need for utility employees to have user friendly tools that allow them to become more efficient and ultimately do their job better. As more millennials enter the workplace there is an expectation for technology that is intuitive and can be a simple to use as an app downloaded on your personal mobile device.
- Simplifying Finance
Financial systems are inherently complex and require time to ensure books are closed and the accounting procedures are done correctly. SAP simple finance provides utility organizations with instant reporting functionalities to view current financial positions at any given period. The gathering of information is consolidated into system to pull all transactional and analytical information for better strategic decision making.
- Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC)
Compliance with the company’s policies and procedures, laws and regulations, strong and efficient governance is considered key to a utility organization’s ability to succeed. GRC encompasses four basic components: strategy, processes, technology and people. Aligning GRC practices and executing them efficiently relies on each of these components to seamlessly integrate on an operational level.
- Budgeting & Planning
Finance functions are required to offer insight and aid utilities in peeking into the future progress of their organization. This can only be done through time efficient practices that ensure finance departments information is closed as quickly as possible, allowing the information to be relevant enough for stakeholders to make key decisions. The business planning and consolidation (BPC) application accelerates planning and consolidated financial reporting processes. Financial closing cycles are shortened and plans and forecasts can be quickly adjusted.
- Implementations & Upgrades
Utility organizations struggle with evaluating the options, the vendors and implementation partners to align their technology with the aims of the business, while calculation the ROI on future investments. The disruption an upgrade has on the overall business is costly and the proper testing environments are crucial to success. Once a successful implementation is complete how can ongoing monitoring maximize the ROI of the new product?
Mobility has been hugely impactful on how utility organizations operate but field workers are still waiting for a mobile solution that provides user friendly applications needed to do their job. The ease of use on our personal mobile device does translate for the applications used in the field, leaving utility employees frustrated and less efficient. From security to connectivity issues, mobility challenges still prove to be top of mind for utility organizations.
- Cloud Enablement & SAP S/4 HANA
SAP’s full suite of cloud solutions from Success Factors to Ariba are enabling organizations to do business better. With SAP’s next-gen business platform S/4HANA taking center stage organizations are eager to learn how the technology can help them achieve more with less. Utility organizations now have an understanding of what HANA is but need to learn more on how it will improve the way they operate. Before making the investment organizations want to understand the impact on the business and overall bottom line.
Utility organizations have a growing desire to be more agile and that begins with the agility of the technology. Having an understanding of how things can be easily changed, updated and adapted creates a business that is prepared for the unforeseeable future.