Utility Week

UTILITY Week 5th February 2016

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20 | 5TH - 11TH FEBRUARY 2016 | UTILITY WEEK Sponsored report Brought to you in association with E very year, Wales & West Utilities con- nects some 11,000 new homes and businesses to its gas network covering Wales and the southwest of England. For a growing number of those customers, the util- ity's Online Quotation Portal provides a one- stop shop. "Customers go online, access our appli- cation, enter their postcode, identify their property and where on that property they want the meter to be – and there and then, we provide a quote, which customers can accept online, pay for online, and be given an appointment date for the works to be carried out," explains Mark Oliver, Wales & West's director of business services. It is, he says, one of a number of such online innovations, each targeted at provid- ing real benefits to the utility's customers. "Using the portal, it takes about 20 min- utes for a customer to submit a connection request, get a quote, and pay for it," he says. "Doing it by paper, sending documents through the post, takes around 20 days. It's a significant improvement, and we've had a lot of interest from other utilities, who say it's ground-breaking." However, breaking fresh ground is all part of the job at Wales & West, it seems. Other applications – live and in use, not merely in development – include a mobile customer satisfaction app for smart- phones, used by field service engineers, and the provision of project-specific QR barcodes on the signs accompanying engineering projects. "It's a way of communicating with cus- tomers who are affected by streetworks," explains Oliver. "Customers can scan the QR code with their smart devices and access the latest details on project progress." Such innovations are part of a technol- ogy revolution that is sweeping the business world. Broadly bracketed under two discrete concepts – "digitisation" and the "Internet of Things" – the intention is to use cutting-edge information technology to transform the art of the possible in both customer relation- ships and network operation. Digitisation, for instance, aims to replace outmoded paper and voice-based means of communicating with customers in favour of digital communication, using (as at Wales & West) in-house systems, or alternatively lev- eraging widely-used social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Doing so offers several advantages. Greater efficiency, for one thing – an obvi- ous benefit in today's regulatory environ- ment. The one-to-one communications model underpinning paper and voice-based communications is expensive: automated systems, as in the financial services indus- try, have obvious attractions in terms of productivity. Moreover, says Christine Easterfield, prin- cipal consultant at analyst firm Cambashi, digitisation offers a way of building richer, data-informed relationships with customers, especially with the mass of ordinary retail consumers. "Traditionally, consumers have all been treated the same way," she says. "But with more data on consumers, and on their con- sumption patterns and preferences, it's pos- sible to approach them on a more individual basis, offering them different tariffs and dif- ferent kinds of services." What is more, adds David Mills, regional Digitisation and the Internet of Things The ability of machines to talk to machines will create a universe of billions of intelligent devices. This heralds a brave new world for operational efficiencies and sophisticated customer service Together with Utility Week, outsourcing and integration firm Wipro has invested in the establishment of a Technology and Innova- tion Council for senior individuals working in utilities who have responsibility for leading transformation in their companies. Meeting every four to six months, this group of technology and innovation leaders regularly share insights into innovation challenges and benefit from introductions to innovators beyond the sector. They have also helped to set the agenda for key industry research into utility company approaches to innovation, soon to be released. The next council meeting, taking place on 15 March in London is being thrown open to new members. If you have responsibility for innova- tion and technology adoption in a UK utility and would like to attend this event, please contact Elaine Munn, client services manager at Utility Week. Email: elaine.munn@utilityweek.co.uk UTILITIES ARE DOING IF FOR THEMSELVES: JOIN THE TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION COUNCIL

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