I recently boarded a flight, heading home from a business trip. As I sat in my seat and buckled down for takeoff, I glanced around. I realized things have changed a lot.
Of course, the millennials on board stared hard at their mobile devices, intently gazing at tiny screens on their smartphones and tablets. It's been that way for years.
But, as I gazed around the cabin, I suddenly realized something else. They weren't the only ones with eyeballs locked on digital screens.
Throughout the plane, the glow from myriad electronic displays lit up the faces of pre-millennial "gray hairs" as well. They were occupied with their tablets, e-readers and electronics, too.
As I glanced down at my own phone, the pages of Electric Light & Power peered back at me. Two quotes from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus came to mind.
"The only constant is change," and "You cannot step into the same river twice."
So, how does this relate to utility companies transitioning into the digital age?
Stepping into the digital age
The first quote is easily understood. However, the second is more meaningful as utility companies make the digital transition, particularly to the cloud. Understanding that serving the customer is a constantly evolving process, agility is a key reason for making the transition.
One of the main reasons people of all ages embracing digital technology isn’t knowledge, but information. They want to know what they want to know—and they want to know it now.
No longer bound by home phones, customers can request information whenever they want and from wherever they are. Unfortunately, most utility companies aren't agile enough to handle the sheer volume of requests.
A large part of the issue lies in how utility providers were originally formulated. Established during the industrial era, their infrastructures were rigid, using a hierarchical approach. They designed all the various departments to work as individual entities, with very little communication between them.
This siloed approach worked back then. But as times change, and the customer base grows, it throws up barriers to effective and efficient customer service.
What's really needed is fluidity. Agility—the ability to adapt and make changes quickly and incrementally—and collaboration between all facets of the company are essential.
The arrival of the digital age and cloud infrastructures makes such agility and collaboration possible. Outsourcing to third-party companies is quickly becoming the norm to achieve this more efficiently. In fact, there are several reasons this makes sense if a utility company intends to give their customers the best possible service and experience.
Cloud CIS management allows systems to evolve as needed
Aging mainframes and data technology put customer data at risk. Upgrading is costly, and not just for purchase and installation of modern equipment. Maintaining and enhancing the software that runs this equipment and handles today’s massive data volumes present another major cost.
Utilities must train employees in operating them as well. Getting them up to speed with modern technology takes time. While emerging college graduates often possess those skills, few stay on the job for very long. Looking for new and better opportunities, their tenure is often short.
A cloud-based data management company can provide the hardware, software, and evolving knowledge necessary to handle the increased data collection.
Along with the innovations to how data is collected and stored, the software that puts the data to effective use must also evolve. Older legacy systems—many of which were designed decades ago—simply cannot be upgraded to interface with the recent technologies. And going forward, systems must be scalable, not just for increased data volumes, but also for how it is harvested, analyzed, and retrieved.
Modern CIS software like VertexOne continuously evolve to keep up with current trends and compliance standards. Built as modules instead of a single mammoth solution, it allows upgrading individual components when necessary, while still maintaining the overall stability and integrity of the system.
Cloud-based data management provides the most reliable and cost-effective system for keeping up with an ever-increasing customer base.
But will the data still be secure off-site?
Data security is vital to keeping customers' personal information safe. While some utility companies feel keeping data onsite is the best way to protect this information, the opposite is actually true. Most utilities don't have IT staff that are adequately trained in preventing or resolving data breaches.
For cloud-based data management providers, it's one of their strong points. However, data breaches aren't the only risks that put customer information in peril. Natural catastrophes also threaten data security. Floods, earthquakes, and fires can obliterate customer information quickly, potentially without the chance of recovery.
Cloud management companies keep redundant records located in various server farms, so the risk of losing data to catastrophe is nil.
What data integration to the cloud really requires
Scalable, upgradable software and hardware are just part of the path to improved customer service through data integration and cloud management. The toughest and most crucial factor is mindset.
The transition from an industrial era mindset to a digital era perspective involves taking a fresh look at how the utility is operated and governed. A mindset of collaboration between departments—and the willingness to understand how an outdated CIS actually harms customers instead of helping them—must be adopted from the C-suite down.
Customers demand timely, accurate information. And they demand it more often than ever before. To keep up, utilities must update their CIS now, and plan for future growth.