The utility industry sits in a unique place within the overall technology landscape. It benefits greatly from advances in the space, but usually has to wait a bit while the bugs and bumps from bleeding-edge technologies get worked out, as the distribution and billing for basic resources is not the place for experimentation. With this in mind, the technologies currently disrupting other industries are just beginning to affect utilities, and those people following the industry can serve their organizations well by understanding the changes that will be coming over the next few years. Based on our research, the following emerging technologies are poised to disrupt the utility space in the coming years:
The Cloud (Continues its dominance)
Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning
User Interface/Experience Rethink
Cloud Dominance - The cloud may already be far past the experimental stage, but within the utility industry its further dominance will be a disruptor for many organizations in the coming years. The cloud is no longer a fringe concept worthy of only a few experimental servers, but a new dawn in how computing is completely moving outside of individual organizations and into multi-purpose, massive data centers. Already most new utility applications are being deployed by default in the cloud, especially at larger utilities. And as smaller utilities turn toward the emerging SaaS space in lieu of expensive single-purpose applications, within a decade it’s expected that the utility space will be primarily cloud-based. Understanding this inevitability can help utility technologists and leadership take steps now to prepare for the cloud-based future.
AI/ML – While some form of artificial intelligence has been around for decades, the technology, in combination with advances in machine learning, is just beginning to touch the utility space. The main thrust for AI, and the aspect likely to be the most disruptive, is in using computers to take the place of utility first-line reps. Now, in some respects this has already been happening with the iniquitousness of customer self-service solutions, but here technology is taking things one step further. These machines are built to account for every common CSR task, using a tree-like intelligence structure to make decisions that currently fall to human reps. Not every situation can be automated, but in combination with machine learning, these computer-based reps may one day take over the vast majority of front-line requests, and will eventually expand to control all aspects of customer requests and situations within the CIS.
The New User Experience – While not exactly a descriptor, UI/UX is somehow still currently a buzzword within the industry, which just goes to prove how outdated current user interfaces are. Utility users, and utility customers using first-gen CSS products, were resigned to clunky, confusing interfaces that may have had all the required information, but were almost impossible to understand. Now, however, users (both within the industry and external consumers) are demanding more intuitive interfaces with a look-and-feel more akin to modern mobile & web applications. Those within the CIS/CSS and associated industries who are first to understand and adopt this new interface paradigm are poised to succeed.
CRM & CIS – While much of the industry is navigating to more separate, specialized applications, when it comes to Customer Relationship Management and Customer Information Systems, the path is toward convergence. Even today, these two types of solutions have a significant amount of overlap in general functionality, so many industry buyers are looking toward converged solutions that can fulfill the basics of both systems. The key here, for both CRM and CIS vendors, is to understand that additional functionality will likely soon be required, lest their solution get passed over for more robust, complete customer-based systems.
The End Result
While the above disruptors are only a small sample of the changes currently taking place within the industry, it is important for all interested parties to not only know of these disruptors, but to really think about why these changes are taking place. Underneath it all, the drive is to utilize technology to make operations faster, more efficient and more accurate, all while driving down costs. By scoping out these underlying factors and paying attention to disruptors in other industries, leaders on all sides of the utility technology spectrum will be able to stand on the leading edge of the technological waves that are crashing against this legacy-focused industry. This will only lead to increased chances of success against those in the industry who are resistant to change or unable to understand and react to these disruptors.