Tech architecture matters more than ever before

The new utility leaders are not just business leaders. They are also technology leaders. And there is good reason. Utilities’ future value propositions will be defined as much by technology capabilities as they will by business strategy. A utility’s ability to generate value will increasingly be based on the limitations and opportunities of its technical architecture. Consequently, business and technology strategies will soon be indistinguishable.

Companies will now be competing on technology architecture: but building and wielding the most competitive stack means thinking differently.

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The technology choices a utility makes today will govern the business models it can deploy in the future. Compared to a decade ago, there are many more technologies to choose from, which must then be integrated into increasingly complex technology infrastructure. And the abundance of technology available—AI models, cloud, edge computing, and hardware and computational design—make these choices difficult to make. To become an expert at change means becoming skillful in technology selection, and its integration. Utilities must become skillful at this profusion of choice by strategically stacking technology to take advantage of--and not be limited by--the abundance of new options.

83%

of utility executives agree that their organization’s business and technology strategies are becoming inseparable—even indistinguishable.

Technical debt will become an increasingly significant barrier to future business strategy. Experts at change will shake off their technical debt by replacing legacy infrastructure with an architecture that can cope with huge market disruption. By shifting to a modular, vertical landscape built on micro-services, utilities will replace rigid systems with architectural flexibility. An adaptive, reusable approach to technology and a fresh strategy to application development will create an architecture that allows the business to travel in new directions - at pace.

88%

of utility executives believe that their organization’s ability to generate business value will increasingly be based on the limitations and opportunities of their technology architecture.

New, cloud-native business models are emerging

The challenge for many utilities is how to plan for their cloud-based future. A detailed roadmap will help move existing processes to the cloud, define how to create new business processes in the cloud, and incorporate third-party, cloud-based services into its existing stack. By architecting for the future today, utilities can start addressing these challenges - or even better, turn them into opportunities.

90%

of utility executives agree that to be agile and resilient, their organizations need to fast forward their digital transformation with cloud at its core.

Utility call center volumes continue to decline as customers increasingly use self-service. More customers using a utility's digital channels creates many opportunities for a fresh approach to cloud-based customer engagement. For example, utilities can implement AI-enabled customer interaction, not just to cut costs in self-service processes, but in new, value-generating areas such as proactive energy management.

Automation tools can also be used during system-wide outages, and alleviate some of the capacity issues a call center experiences. If done properly, this has potential to improve customer experience through the process.

Powerlink Queensland is partnering with Accenture on its Next Generation Operations Program, enabling it to become more digitally active—transforming systems, people and processes in the context of growing a renewable energy environment and new regulatory obligations. The Program ensures Powerlink is well placed to operate the network efficiently and effectively into the digitally enabled future. The program focuses on responsive utility network operations through effective use of data, advanced software systems and optimized processes to help deliver better outcomes for customers. The program involves superior management of assets, control room optimization and delivery of an Advanced Energy Management System (AEMS).

A modular approach to system architecture enables the rapid development of new services, not possible with older infrastructure. Some utilities have recognized that their existing systems cannot be adapted to this new environment and are replacing them with new cloud-based platforms and investing in IT talent teams to ensure their staff are prepared for the future.

78%

of utility executives state that their technology architecture is becoming critical to the overall success of their organization.

A flexible, holistic cloud strategy enables utilities to create a long-term roadmap for enablement. By painting a picture of future infrastructure, utilities can develop a strategy to shift from legacy to modular architecture. It defines how legacy and cloud weave together, and how to architect an integration layer. It brings structure to the management of multiple cloud vendors, and how business processes are managed.

For the benefit of customers, communities and society

Utilities architecting for a better future will create a better future for all. But what does that mean?

The energy transition forces a utility to change its customer focus. While customer service will become increasingly tailored to the individual, it will expand beyond just the customer behind each meter. Customer centricity will also focus on communities and society as a whole.

Just look at Origin Energy. To improve customer service, the Australian utility migrated its customer platforms to the cloud. As part of its Cloud 2022 strategy, in which Origin will exit traditional data centers, Origin Energy moved its SAP customer self-service applications to AWS. Basing self-service in the cloud simplified processes for its 4 million customers, reduced load in its call center, improved billing batch run times by 30%, and cut operating costs in half. The utility now plans to move its SAP ERP system to AWS.1

And Sorgenia’s cloud-first approach not only improved efficiency and cost, but also reduced the company’s carbon footprint by reducing the power consumption of the company’s data center.

The pandemic has significantly raised climate change awareness. Accenture’s New Energy Consumer report found that after Covid-19, 60% of consumers are more aware of climate change and its environmental impact. Half of all consumers will invest more in energy efficiency measures.

French utility Engie is transforming itself and helping its customers transition to a zero-carbon future. The challenge it faced was understanding customer preferences across 70 countries and 24 business units. That was essential for it to be able to recommend relevant renewable or zero-carbon energy solutions. In partnership with Accenture and Salesforce, it is developing a unified global CRM platform to provide a 360-degree customer view. This will allow Engie to make personalized recommendations and solutions—and reinvent its business model and processes with industry-specific cloud and mobile solutions.2

Utilities will spearhead the shift to renewable energy and increasingly engage with society as part of that shift. Remember that business and technology strategies are inseparable. Future architectures will be designed to support this move. And this focus will not just happen in customer-facing parts of the utility value chain. The asset side of the business will become increasingly customer focused. The energy transition creates many challenges for the safe and reliable delivery of power. Addressing these challenges requires a greater emphasis on customer outcomes, and requires an architecture that supports this new focus.

Learning the art of innovation—including how to fail and learn from failure—is crucial. This cultural change will be driven by utility leaders of the future. They’ll be the ones driving the transformation that’s needed to truly democratize technology.

1 “SAP on AWS Helps Origin Energy Embrace a Digital, Data Driven World,” AWS

2 A Journey, Not an End Point: A Case Study in Utility Digital Transformation,” T&D World, March 2, 2020.

About the Authors

Paula Clark

Managing Director – Technology Consulting, Resources


Ruari Monahan

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Utilities, North America


Nikoo Delgoshaie

Managing Director – Tech Strategy & Advisory


Nicholas Handcock

Director – Utilities, Offering Development, Customer Innovation


Jason Allen

Research Lead – Accenture Utilities

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