Smart tools can help utilities companies to meet net zero goals

1st July 2024

Richard HigginBotham

by Richard Higginbotham

As utilities companies deliver on their net zero strategies, significant challenges lie ahead. However, versatile technology can help to speed business transition and support customer engagement in a new era.

The UK is legally committed to cutting its emissions to net zero by 2050. For energy and water companies, this means a shift business processes and operations to keep pace with a changing landscape, while delivering excellent customer service.

But some of the mechanics of delivering net zero have yet to be worked through. In fact, the boss of one utilities company recently urged politicians to “tackle head-on” the practical and bureaucratic problems holding back the UK’s green transition.

While key challenges exist around planning, procurement and skills, the UK’s utilities companies will also need to re-align back-office systems. Customer support operations will need rethinking to.

But which technology can help organisations to streamline, automate and simplify how teams engage with colleagues and with customers? And significantly, can new processes be developed quickly and easily – without requiring huge investment in time-consuming IT programmes? After all, the clock is ticking.

Let’s look at two sets of challenges and explore some agile solutions.

Infrastructure challenges

Better business processes will be needed as power companies invest an estimated £43 billion in energy infrastructure over the coming years. Meanwhile, water companies’ building works and construction projects will prove demanding too — with measures to clean up water at source, conserve supplies and develop on-site renewables.

These projects will require close collaboration against tight timelines, within safety and regulatory frameworks. But innovation can help teams to succeed.

In other sectors, large organisations have achieved a step-change in efficiency by using robotic process automation (RPA) to connect and transform disparate processes. They’ve also deployed low-code technology to design apps, interfaces and tools themselves. This has fast-tracked projects and day-to-day operations without needing to spend budget outside IT skills.

Put simply, if there’s a bottleneck or barrier to greater productivity, they’ve been able to find and fix it themselves quickly. It’s even possible to create bespoke apps using simple drag-and-drop tools when you can’t find one in the marketplace that fits your needs.

Proven and effective use cases for RPA and low-code include:

  • Speeding up the process of booking engineers
  • Simplifying consent processes for site access onto private land
  • Removing roadblocks in risk assessment
  • Maintaining compliance documentation and audit trails
  • Organising and communicating staff assessment appointments
  • Managing GDPR, Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) and data access requests in a simple way

These all help teams to collaborate with greater agility, meeting an organisation’s goals faster.

The challenge of net zero could inspire teams to sweep aside clunky, manual methods that they’ve endured for years. They can join the dots digitally, automating many tasks and creating real-time services that deliver great business outcomes.

Delivering excellent customer service

Organisations have their work cut out with communications. Corporate investors, the media and pressure groups will be well versed in net zero. However, it’s a mixed picture with consumers. Some will applaud changes, others will be cynical and many will understand little about the implications of transition and be more focused on bills.

However, companies can fill the vacuum through better engagement.

For example, communications will need to:

  • Give consumers transparent and easy access to data about their usage and patterns
  • Allow tech-savvy customers to dig into the detail accessed from Internet of Things (IoT) devices around the home
  • Show people how they can conserve resources and save money
  • Provide discounts and incentives for using resources at off-peak times for grid balancing
  • Manage requests for new services and resource-saving products for energy and water

In short, the nature of interactions will change – and could keep changing.

The best route here would be to adopt a single, versatile cloud-based platform for all your communications. Using RPA and low-code – allied with the latest contact-centre and digital engagement technologies, you can make meaningful data available to customers on their channel of choice, delivering excellent customer service.

Much of this can be automated and digital. But it’s wise to design your customer journey with seamless ‘human-in-the-loop’ options for different audiences who want to speak to someone. Interactions need to feel clear, straightforward and effortless to build trust and avoid frustration.

Without doubt, net zero takes utilities companies into new territory. But this presents a rare opportunity to rethink business collaboration and customer engagement.

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