How to refuel energy markets?

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Dipti Patel, Utilities Lead, Consulting and Services Integration, Australia and New Zealand answers key questions senior leaders are asking about how they can innovate to improve energy security and access while enhancing renewable alternatives for today and beyond.

Posted: May 2020

The switch in consumer behavior, a disruption to supply chains and sustaining the shift to renewables is powering the energy sector’s new thinking. As companies review their capacity for dealing with these challenges the lights of innovation shine brightly as workable solutions, says Dipti.

In my career, I’ve had the privilege of helping top energy providers lead change and drive improvements in business and customer outcomes and experience.

The challenges in the face of our changing times have been huge. Among them has been reduced demand for energy and greater calls for price efficiency because of disruptions to business and services and as a result of more people working and studying from home.

The strongest market performers are those who have used the environment to harness opportunities and innovate their services in response.

Q: What immediate impacts of our environment will continue to resonate beyond today?

Reduced demand has naturally led to tighter revenues and cash flows. Disruptions to supply chains have caused delays in maintenance and meant that some non-critical programs and projects have been put on hold. Innovative providers are creating integrated solutions to respond to new market needs and diversifying their supply chains to improve reliability.

Ensuring secure energy supplies across Australia’s vast network while keeping costs as low as possible are key challenges both today and beyond. The other key priority for the energy sector is continuing our move towards renewables and cutting carbon emissions to reduce the impact on climate change and our environment. 

Q: How can we prepare for more potential challenges and disruptions?

As consumers have started becoming prosumers, the business model needs a shift. New thinking includes infrastructure that enables users to benefit from promotions and reduced tariffs by feeding unused energy from solar alternatives and other renewables back into the overall national grid. Energy providers have concentrated on improving their business-to-business and business-to-consumer offerings by enhancing their operations through the deployment of adaptive digital core.

Innovation is key to ensuring providers are future-proofing their capabilities to sense changes in prosumer demands and respond with creative integrated services and omni-channel experience.
This is being matched by a rethink in the way energy is delivered and the creation of new carbon efficient technologies.

Q: How can we take advantage of the latest digital innovations in our operations?

Innovation is touching every aspect of energy supply and use. From solar battery storage and smart grids which improve energy flow and link meters and appliances to renewable sources and new energy efficient electricity generation technologies. Energy providers should be looking at ways to innovate right across the value chain. From how we engage with customers and maintain quality to driving greater uptake of renewables like solar battery panels for energy storage. Part of this is gaining greater customer insights including how they are using energy and how their needs are going to change.

Strong providers are recalibrating their offerings to match consumer preferences including an increasing switch to alternative sources of energy. One example is the rising use of electric cars. This is leading to new infrastructure and energy demands. Planning for more new streams of business is key and it requires an entire ecosystem approach. It starts with looking at what buying patterns across Australia and in each specific state will be, the kinds of charging requirements that will be needed and how energy providers can collaborate with their partners to cater to these customer needs.

Q: How can we improve our supply chains in response to today’s challenges?

Energy providers need to take a fresh look at their whole supply chain strategy in response to the massive disruptions over the past few months. Delays in the delivery of important materials and equipment has led to challenges and disrupted maintenance schedules. While critical repair and restoration is prioritised, this has meant many providers have had to suspend non-essential maintenance and field work.

Disruption of the main global producers of clean energy technologies such as solar panels and storage batteries as well as wind turbines have also led to delays in solar and wind energy projects.
In response, energy providers should be looking for new ways of securing supply through alternative providers and multiple sourcing options from within and outside Australia. Having a Supply Chain Control Centre capability will strengthen overall planning and agility of supply chain web.

Q: How do we ensure workforce agility and safety at the same time?

Energy providers must re-examine their measures to maximise staff safety and wellbeing. Using digital technology to better manage of staff through effective scheduling can help to prevent stress and exhaustion. It can also be used to create mobile and backup teams to ensure work continuity and quality. Smart providers are also implementing digital collaboration platform to provide support to staff including those working in remote generation stations or substations.

Q: What new innovation in customer experience should we be looking to for the future? 

We’re now well beyond the ability to estimate our future bills, providers should be looking to proactively promote full integrated offerings to prosumers. Customer journeys should be re-imagined to provide personalised, contextual and conversational experience. New technologies enable providers to integrate across system of records, system of analytics and system of engagement. Insights derived from analytics about energy patterns and usage history can be delivered to consumers via omni-channel platforms helping them compare products and services and make better choices. Along with this, chatbots can take a load of work off contact centres as a machine first approach to resolving queries.

This approach will also enable continuous improvement in client communication, providing greater understanding about their pain points and ways to enhance experience.

Q: What other kinds of innovations will customers increasingly expect?

New intelligent energy storage systems that connect to renewable sources are increasingly sought after. Integrating these systems with the capabilities of the Internet of Things and analytics is empowering energy providers to provide more cost-efficient and secure energy options to prosumers. In advent of 5G and IoT, smart homes and smart cities will be an integral part of society and energy ecosystem.

Q: What can we learn from TCS's experiences?

Times like these have reaffirmed our Business 4.0™ framework that organisations should build upon their strong digital technology foundations to pursue certain economic behaviors – leveraging ecosystems, personalising at scale, embracing risk and creating exponential value – even as they shift their mindsets to harnessing abundance rather than optimising scarce resources. Companies that are driven by a strong purpose and build resilience into their fabric to adapt to changing economic environments would be better able to navigate the post Covid-19 world. TCS as a Growth and Transformation Partner is helping companies to be purpose-driven, resilient and adaptable.

Purpose driven
A strong driver of how companies adapt themselves is the way they look at their purpose. Organisations are looking beyond the products they make and sell to the purpose behind their existence, which in turn often defines the blueprint for their transformation journey.

Resilience calls for both the ability to withstand shocks to the system, as well as the adaptability needed to quickly tweak business models, launch new offerings or target new markets, while continuing to provide superior customer experience.

To be adaptable, several approaches – including taking a platform view and leveraging ecosystems, borderless capacity enhancement or redesigning the supply chain and repurposing assets – could be helpful.