Utility Week

UTILITY Week 2nd June 2017

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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26 | 2ND - 8TH JUNE 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Customers Event Wipro Technology and Innovation Council Tuesday 9 May, 30 St Mary Axe (the 'Gherkin'), London Innovating for customers Technology and vulnerability ruled discussion of industry innovation challenges. C ustomer-led innovation is the new Holy Grail for utilities, which are generally struggling to improve difficult relation- ships with the individuals and communities they serve. Across energy and water, in regulated utilities we have seen increasing levels of customer input into business planning man- dated by Ofgem and Ofwat. In energy retail, big companies have been challenged by new entrants to show that scale does not need to mean the loss of personalised service. Outgoing Eon UK chief executive Tony Cocker recently told Utility Week that its shi to customer-focused operations, in which employees are empowered to "do the right thing" was essential to prevent Eon from becoming "a faceless organisation". But although many utilities have made leaps forward in understanding their cus- tomer base and involving customers in their plans for change and innovation, there is huge scope to do more. In particular, there's a need for a more strategic use of technology to reveal habits and lifestyle choices which could be served with new products or ser- vices. There is also a pressing need for utili- ties to ensure their most needy customers receive as much attention and benefit from innovation as their engaged and affluent contemporaries. At a recent ideas exchange workshop for members of the Utility Week-Wipro Technology and Innovation Council, these challenges were addressed directly, with speakers from a variety of backgrounds sharing insights and debating key ques- tions about the impact technology and vul- nerability could or should have on utility approaches to customer-led innovation. The workshop was held at 30 St Mary Axe, better know as the 'Gherkin', in central Lon- don. It was opened by Tom Hartland, design lead at Bromford Lab, an innovation unit run by Bromford housing association. Hartland spoke of the innovation meth- odologies Bromford uses to deliver customer- led innovation, and though he said the lab does use "customer panels" he cautioned that relying on such groups to guide ideas generation or veto ineffective solutions can be dangerous – other speakers agreed. Instead, Hartland emphasised that those with responsibility for delivering innovation must have clear methodologies for main- taining pace, moving ideas quickly from the drawing board into a process of iterative testing which can be analysed, tweaked and retested, engaging end users and monitoring their responses to changes. He warned that being slow to pick up and test ideas can oen cause "enthusiasm to die out", and that wrapping innovation schemes in overt bureaucracy can suffocate good ideas. In debate, council members agreed, but also identified that companies need ways to ensure quality control in innovation, so that time and money is not wasted on chas- ing ideas that will not be useful. This observation spoke directly to Hart- land's second key point, that innovation must begin with a clearly defined problem and should not be driven by a desire to find an application for a new piece of technology. This observation was front of mind for council members during an interactive chal- lenge that tasked groups with creating a product or service to assist three different Key points to take away 1. Move quickly with ideas. Enthusiasm for an innovation will die quickly if it not acted on swiftly, or if it gets bogged down in paperwork. Try to progress it quickly to help it become a reality. 2. Identify the problems. Often solutions are created that then have to find problems. Identify the root problem, and work out metrics for success. Then develop the solution from that point. 3. Collaborate. While working with others may seem at odds in a competitive market, it will help increase your data pool and minimise the need for background research. This will allow innovations to happen quicker, and benefits a wider section of the population. 4. Create bespoke solutions. Consumers in vulnerable circumstances will have unique needs. Utilities need to create bespoke solutions to match these needs. 5. Create consumer confidence. Working closer with customers and trusted third parties builds confidence, encouraging a wider take-up of the available support.

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