Sustainability: it all starts with a vision
I was chatting to a friend the other day, a power network engineer. I asked if she needed a vision in her profession – or whether visions were just for the marketing and sales teams. She was unequivocal. Without a vision of what you want the world to be, in this case the world of power generation, distribution and consumption, then you have nothing against which to measure the longer-term implications of your every-day decisions.
It’s a good point.
A vision for sustainability
For me, the vision is clear. I believe that our growing need for power and other resources must be met with a sustainable response – and that this response must be societal. That is, it must be driven by the aspirations of our wider society for a world that is clean and green. It’s not just about smart homes and workplaces – it’s about smart cities, smart logistics and transport infrastructures, smart schools and universities, and the rest –all happening in a manner that is integrated and understandable on a human scale.
This notion of the human scale becomes even more important as individuals become prosumers through local generation via domestic renewables. For this to happen, the changing culture of utility companies, and the changing expectations of those who rely on them, must be insight-based and data-driven.
A great vision requires time and data
Then I get back to my day job. A significant focus for me right now is on the adoption and roll-out of S/4HANA for Atos utility clients. The executive decision-makers I meet are remarkably practical. They understand that their industry now needs to turn unimaginable volumes of data to good business use – with every smart meter and smart sensor pumping out potential intelligence round the clock. They understand that this continuous flow of data becomes key to both the effective development of successful new products and services and to the efficient operation of their industrial operations. They also understand that mastery of this data will underpin their own competitive position in markets which are now massively deregulated.
Perhaps most importantly, they understand that their ability to work intelligently with this data now becomes key to establishing enduring and personalized relationships with their customers, earned through the delivery of exceptional customer experiences.
A practical example
In practice, this all fits the vision for a sustainable and societal shift for utilities – but what does it mean in terms of practical application? Let’s take, for example, something as mundane and uninspiring as utility billing.
One of our major utility clients, thanks to the integrated and automated processes made possible by S/4HANA, can now invoice some five million clients in a single run overnight. Just a few years ago, this would have taken three weeks. They’re naturally happy with the speed, volume and reduced cost of operation, but it doesn’t stop there.
The changing culture of utility companies, and the changing expectations of those who rely on them, must be insight-based and data-driven.
Not only do each of their five million clients get a bill – but they get an accurate bill. And in the same moment, the utility is able to address individual opportunities that had never previously been possible – suggesting ways, for example, in which an individual customer can act cleaner and greener – and save money.
Don’t stop believin’
And just as this explosion in data and automation directly impacts customer experience, it also enriches operational processes and opportunity. This is nothing new for SAP users – with the ISU platform, utilities were able to integrate effectively with third-party systems. What has changed, with the arrival of S/4HANA, is the speed, depth and agility of that integration. We now take for granted, the ability to combine data from meteorological services with utility forecasting systems, but even five years ago this was a crude data-patching operation compared to the seamless sophistication we experience today.
So back to the vision. I certainly believe that a clear vision can help keep our daily actions on track. I also believe that the ability to balance the practical with the visionary manifests itself in business achievements and results. Atos, for example, has declared its intention to achieve zero-carbon status by 2025 – fifteen years ahead of the wider market target – and you can’t do that without a winning combination of vision, experience, practical skills and data.