Why Energy and Utilities must scale intelligent automation today

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Name the fastest-moving industry. High tech? Fashion? Entertainment?

It would be no surprise if you didn’t say energy and utilities – at least until a few years ago.

A sector characterized by large capex investments, slow technology turns, and heavy regulation could be forgiven for its conservative decision making and cautious execution.

Today, however, energy and utilities can’t afford to be sluggish. Heightened consumer demands, a changing regulatory landscape, and rapidly emerging technologies combine to make quick, accurate decisions and fast, decisive action the new imperatives.

That’s according to a new report, “Intelligent Automation in Energy and Utilities: The Next Digital Wave.” Conducted by the Capgemini Research Institute.

In particular, the report found that innovation will be increasingly central to competitive success. And key to capitalizing on these shifts will be digitization.

Intelligent automation – rules-based technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) – will empower energy and utility companies in core areas. They will especially help manage demand and supply, boost efficiencies throughout the supply chain, and create new business models and customer experiences.

Achieving value through intelligent automation

Intelligent automation offers tremendous potential, as a few real-world examples demonstrate:

  • A US electric utility is applying AI to develop high-resolution wind forecasts from wind-turbine sensors. As a result, it has improved generation efficiency and reduced costs to end customers.
  • A UK water utility is testing an AI platform to analyze large data sets for the most efficient way to run pumps, detect burst pipes, and minimize risk of discolored water. It saw significant energy savings in its first trial.
  • A Russian gas company is leveraging RPA to automate verification of meter readings. In the first two weeks, it saved 10 hours of work per meter-reader employee.

In fact, the Capgemini report found that companies implementing intelligent automation have achieved even greater benefits than they anticipated. As a result, it estimates the industry could saving hundreds of billions of dollars over the next three years by investing in intelligent automation.

An automated step forward, a mental step back

But while use of automated and cognitive technologies is on the rise, many companies struggle to scale. Many have achieved multiple use cases, but only a small number have been able to extend those initiatives across functions, business units, or geographies.

In part that’s because they struggle to capture and harmonize data across operations. And in part it’s because not all executives and business units have embraced the intelligent-automation mindset.

Enterprise-wide adoption of intelligent automation calls for vision, planning, governance, and determination. It also requires a business case for how each automation initiative fits into the broader corporate strategy.

Your journey to intelligent automation at scale

Based on the best practices of energy and utilities frontrunners, Capgemini recommends these five steps toward enterprise-class intelligent automation:

  1. Be pragmatic when choosing use cases. Leadership needs to understand how intelligent-automation initiatives align with company competencies and objectives. Take time to identify, assess, and develop projects that will prove viable.
  2. Emphasize breakthrough technologies. You can’t dabble with conventional capabilities and expect transformational results. Embrace revolutionary technologies, such as cognitive computing and deep learning, for the most outsized benefits. And be sure you have sufficient resources in place for enterprise-level scale.
  3. Optimize key processes before scaling. If you try to force-fit new solutions into existing structures, you risk unintended consequences and less-than-optimal results. You need to clearly understand the impact of your initiative on your workforce and on process re-engineering.
  4. Upskill your existing workforce. A comprehensive approach to upskilling will give you the talent pool you need for effective execution. It will also help address one of the most challenging aspects of digital transformation: culture change.
  5. Centralize leadership, governance, and execution. Establish a dedicated team and then rotate in expertise from functional areas as necessary. That will give you the structure you need to create and sustain “lighthouse projects” that spark and guide future initiatives.

It won’t necessarily be easy for the industry to embrace its new market realities. But intelligent automation will help energy and utilities companies meet the challenges –achieving greater efficiencies, imagining new business models, and delivering differentiating customer experiences.

Want to learn more? The new Capgemini Research Institute report, “Intelligent Automation in Energy and Utilities: The Next Digital Wave,” is available here

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