Pursuing the perfect cloud path

By: Kathleen Wolf Davis

We’re at an evolutionary point in the utilities business: Everything must now feed off and work with nearly everything else—systems tied to systems, rerouted, reconnected and with real-time changes always in the mix.

To make those real-time changes possible, the daily life of the utility now centers almost entirely on data—data to better the customer experience, to make the technology more efficient, to support smarter modeling.

Now, as you gain more valuable information about your customers, your systems, your tech and your modeling techniques—their wants, their needs, their anxieties, their choices—and need immediate access to that data from anywhere, where can you put it to make this real-time rebirth not just possible but probable and even practical?

Our suggestion: the cloud.

In a recent update to our survey series interviewing utilities about the cloud, 71% said they now use cloud software, up from just 45% just a few years ago.

In the original survey, the top two areas where utilities said they planned to leverage cloud have been front and center in this ongoing real-time discussion: meter data management (89%) and customer information systems (69%).

As with many open doors, sometimes the way forward can’t be completely seen. There’s a leap of faith with digital transformation—faith in yourself, faith in the numbers, faith in technology reliability and faith in your strategy.

As the latest Zpryme-conducted survey tells us, the percentage of utilities taking that cloud leap is quickly growing.

The good news with that not-yet-fully-formed path to the utility cloud future: You can still conquer it. You can still plan ahead. There are some definite things we know will be part of the vision: the cloud, analytics, a vibrant customer experience and automation at the core.

Here’s how you pursue that perfect path to the cloud.

Step 1. Set your sights on solutions that are cloud-born.

Despite it being one of the hottest tech trends these days, the cloud actually has some serious utility history—at least in the data-build department: We're now twenty years in on making the back-office more digital. Operations is working with more system information than ever before. IT infrastructure is moving outside the utility itself. All of these changes mean the cloud will soon no longer be an option. It will be a necessity.

So, when shopping cloud services, what should you look for? First, you need a solution made for the cloud (not forced into it). This will keep the total cost of ownership low, but to get there you need to do your homework—find that deep knowledge to make an informed choice. Learn the gap between cloud options and know which the best fit is for you. A helpful hint: Seek out package solutions architected together so they work best together.

Step 2. Make sure your solutions have the right angle on analytics.

As we’ve talked about throughout our chat here, your new, real-time rebirth of interconnected systems generates lots and lots of valuable data. Now, the best solution leverages this data to unearth new ways to lower cost, increase reliability, deliver better customer service and find new revenue sources.

So, when shopping with the idea of using your valuable data to its fullest in mind, what should you look for? First, you need a solution with analytics at its heart, not separate or offered as an add-on, and grab one that’s agnostic to data types from assets to meters to smart devices—and able to aggregate that data across your universe. What you need is a system pre-loaded with quick-value algorithms (such as detecting billing issues). A helpful hint: Don’t buy tech that isn’t industry-specific and isn’t built to handle utility use cases.

Step 3. To truly innovate, get a solution that automates.

Statistics say that most utility employees are still working to keep core operations up and running. To incorporate a secondary focus on innovation, it’s time to free up that manpower with automation.

So, when shopping with innovation as your end point, what should you look for? First you need a solution with pre-built integrations tying to your common systems (MDM, customer, asset management). The first step to automation is robust integration, after all. And seek out an integration with real staying power, that’s agile. (Most integration work is outdated as soon as one system is upgraded.) A helpful hint: Get a consolidated solution grouped by business process.

Step 4. Keep that vision of a worthy, worldly customer experience in mind.

It’s a retail world these days: completely centered on customer wants and needs. In short: the customer is king. While that’s a bit new for utilities, you’ve accepted it. In fact, you’re already building on your brand—one that’s taken you 50, 60, even 100 years to develop. It’s always reflected reliability. Now it also needs to reflect customer service.

So, when shopping with customer joy as your goal, what should you look for? First, you need a solution that has built-in customer experience channels, especially digital self-service, and look for a partner that both thinks like your customer and knows the utility business. To stay up with retail expectations, get applications rooted in personalization—from data to communications. A helpful hint: Avoid platforms that require building the customer experience from the ground up. This will be expensive for you and disappointing for the customer.

Oracle Utilities, including Opower, partners with the world's hardest working electric, water and natural gas companies to empower, enhance and enable your every single day. From cloud-native products and better grid management tools to support for every single step of your customer's journey, we have the answer. Learn more at oracle.com/utilities. Get specific product information as quick as clicking right here.

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