After attending this year’s DistribuTECH conference, I came away with the task of digesting everything the conference had to offer and deciding how each detail applies to our utilities and communication customers. Amid all of the conference sessions, panels, and exhibitors, there were a lot of messages and ideas fighting for mindshare. Here are the three most recurring themes I heard and experienced throughout the conference.
The Internet of Things
Thermostats, car starter, and the lock on your front door can now speak to you. The IoT is giving utility customers and companies more control and available information than they’ve had in the past. They’re aware of their energy consumption, habits, and trends. Utilities leverage that information to best manage planned outage scheduling and in order to do that efficiently and effectively, reliable network information is necessary. The consumption data coming from the network and the IoT (Internet connected infrastructure) enables that and contributes to how utilities are very much a part of that evolving community with more customer involvement and awareness than ever. After all, what good is data if you do nothing with it?
Communications Are Evolving in the Smart Grid
This isn’t the social media definition of communications. This is the telecommunications backbone for utilities that need to support their automated meter or device communications back to the office. Fortunately many have adopted the right tools including smart meters, which have “last gasp” features that let utilities know an outage is occurring without a customer picking up the phone or, in some cases, knowing the outage is occurring. And while those features are nice, is the information being received and utilized in the best way possible? Some experts might say yes. But if you look at the industry’s adoption of reliable advanced distribution management systems, a case could be made for no. An ADMS solution would optimize how outage information is received and used, among other things.
Customer Experience Matters
New technologies and regulation have created competition in the utilities industry. Along with that, customer sentiment and expectations are more fluid than in decades past. Bills are no longer paid and forgotten. To engage and retain customers, utilities need to the right tools to meet the needs of today’s consumer. Striving for accurate meter reads, minimal outages and inconveniences, and a more transparency with customers are a vital. It’s important to learn what your customers’ need and want, adapt to those changing needs, and respond appropriately and effectively… ideally in 140 characters or less.
My biggest take away was that now more than ever, utility providers are a vital part of the communities they serve. Users are eager to adopt and accept the new relationship between utilities and the communities they serve. Even the communications within utilities are becoming faster, more accurate, and information rich. At the end of the day, utilities just have to keep up with the data.
Kelsey Ryon is a senior marketing specialist for Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure’s Utilities, Communications, and Transportation business unit in the U.S. Ryon has more than eight years of experience in the utilities industry including energy, water, transmission, and distribution - gaining valuable insights into the global businesses. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Athens State University.