The path to digitisation is fraught with challenges and distractions in equal measure to opportunities. Here, Graham Rix, Chief Information Officer at SA Water, discusses the potential of new digital technologies and the priorities that utilities should keep in mind when embarking on their digital transformation journey.

Ahead of his appearance at the Digital Utilities 2019 conference, taking place from 21-22 March in Melbourne, Mr Rix explained how utilities are investing in a number of digital technologies to improve operational efficiency, workforce mobility and service delivery for customers.

These include drone applications for asset inspections, 3D survey imagery and advanced safety systems.

“Our advances in geospatial technology to provide real-time access to the status of our network and impact to supply also mean we can be increasingly proactive in the way we engage with our customers,” Mr Rix said.

Developments in automated work management are also opening doors to new levels of workforce efficiency.

“By creating a virtual office for our people in the field, we’re providing them all the information they need at their fingertips, rather than back in the depots,” Mr Rix said.

The new digital society

Digital technologies are helping to improve operational efficiencies, and the better a company understands its networks, the better the service it can provide to its customers.

“Advances in mainstreaming Internet of Things (IoT) network capabilities, smart metering and the promulgation of data analytics capabilities mean utilities have the opportunity to take the lead on how we add value, not just to customers, but to the broader community in which we operate,” Mr Rix said.

This value-add can prove a challenge as customer expectations evolve at a rapid pace. As digitisation streamlines and enriches more and more aspects of a consumer’s daily life, it’s inevitable that utilities will have to adapt or get left behind.

“People now expect that the way they engage with their utility is as equally progressive and personalised as with all those vying to provide them services,” Mr Rix said.

“We therefore need to keep pace with and continually invest in technology, as well as our people.

“It’s important our IT teams can keep learning and developing innovative ways to enhance engagement with customers with multiple channels and tailored experiences.”

Balanced against such challenges are the intriguing opportunities that digital technologies can present. Cross-pollination of service offers with other water providers, as well as the use of data to both help customers manage their lives and vastly improve energy efficiency, are just a few of the prospects that Mr Rix sees on the horizon.

“For SA Water, we have a big focus on energy management and generation, with our plan to achieve zero net electricity costs by 2020.”

Amid all the rapid transformation and exciting possibilities, Mr Rix emphasises process streamlining and change management as two priorities for utility decision-makers to keep in mind when implementing new technologies.

“We give significant weight to having good process underpinnings to ensure we target our investments,” Mr Rix said.

“It’s also vital that we can adequately manage change, which is crucial to making sure the benefits of technology investments are realised.”

These are sound strategies, yes, but still not as important as the highest item on Mr Rix’s priority list: the customer.

“Customers are at the heart of everything we do, so customer value is key to prioritising our investments in line with our business strategy.”

What are your utility’s first concerns when it comes to digitisation?

Hear more from Graham Rix about using digital technologies to create value for new and existing business areas at Digital Utilities 2019, running from 21-22 March at the Pullman Hotel Albert Park in Melbourne.