The utility industry stands at the forefront of adopting innovative technologies. Among utilities—electric power, water, or transportation—the electric power utility industry is undergoing a momentous change. Digitalization and innovation drive the emergence of a digital utilities business. CIOs in the utilities sector must modify their organizations to explore innovative provisioning business models.
(1) Technology Trends in the Utilities Industry
Both socioeconomic pressures and technology innovations are driving the utilities industry towards the digital world. However, digital disrupters are changing customer needs and behaviors. These changes aggravate the already-present challenges and weaknesses of the utilities industry, illustrated by the diagram below:
The energy and utilities industry is capital intensive and is likely to spend 40 trillion dollars over the next two decades. The industry is looking to leverage digital engagement channels to exceed customer expectations. The future technology adaptation areas in utilities will be around the use of social media, mobile solutions including mobile payments, Big Data analytics, digital marketing, Internet of Things, and Smart Meter Implementation (SMI). Smart metering has become the core of the utility business and meter data is the source for all measurements and analytics. These developments are the enablers of digital transformation for utilities.
IDC predicts that utilities will take on at least 40% of their earnings using new business models and services by 2017. Listed below are the pivotal areas in the future landscape of utilities:
- Cloud – By 2018, cloud services will make up half of the IT portfolio for over 60% of utilities.
- Integration – Utilities will invest over a quarter of their IT budgets on integrating new technologies with legacy enterprise systems.
- Analytics – 45% of utilities' new investment in analytics will be used in the operations and maintenance of plant and network infrastructure.
- Mobility – 60% of utilities will focus on transitioning enterprise mobility to capitalize on the consumer mobility wave.
- Smart systems – By 2018, cognitive systems will penetrate utilities' customer operation to improve service and reduce costs.
(2) Key Technology Blocks of Digital Transformation in the EUC Sector
Major technology trends are driving the digital transformation with composite solutions that address business opportunities. A few years ago, “digital transformation” was just a buzzword. Today, it is the fastest evolving opportunity that everyone is looking at, utilities included. Mobility, intelligent devices, big data, and business process management systems now constitute the digital ecosystem through which utilities can deliver customer experience, operational efficiencies, and changing business models.
The figure below provides key technology blocks for digital transformation in EUC sector.
(3) The Challenge of Multi-Channel and the Need for a Unified Customer Journey
Digital adoption goes hand-in-hand with use of multiple channels. That said, multiple channels cause challenges that need to be addressed through adequate validation. Some of the characteristics pertaining to multi-channel systems include the following:
- Customer experience consistency
- Responsive design
- Handling of dynamic content
- Performance of the systems
- i-Modal interfaces (Digital and Non-Digital)
- Interface with point-of-sale devices
- Frequent releases
- End-to-end validations
To summarize, the key challenge lies in finding skilled members to perform multi-channel interface testing, where validations involve both the correctness of aggregated data results and the performance of the systems.
In the digital world, utilities are striving to serve customers across channels and provide a unified customer experience. The figure below provides a narrative of all the steps in the customer journey. These include the steps of join, leave, move, pay, save, renew, and raise service tickets about outages by using multiple channels.
(4) Testing Considerations in an EUC Customer Journey—An illustration
The schematic below outlines various events in the customer lifecycle during which a customer engages with a utility leveraging multiple channels such as email, mobile, POS, mail, online, social networks, and IVR. These events may include customer acquisition, consent, product or tariff changes or updates, connection and disconnection requests, meter exchange, payment options changes or updates, meter mode changes, customer home location changes, change of tenancy. Given the challenges of multi-channel interfaces, the following required validations have been suggested.
- UI/UX Validation
- Multi-Device compatibility
- Data security
- Usability, etc.
(5) Testing Considerations in Smart Metering Infrastructure: An Illustration
SMI implementations are gigantic projects with multiple programs running in parallel to achieve an overall objective. An SMI implementation results in significant new and improved business processes and consists of multiple components, including smart meters, meter data management systems, and communication infrastructure with existing utility systems such as customer profile, billing and CIS systems, outage management system, geographical information systems, analytics, and other applications.
SMI testing involves a plethora of activities to ensure that all of the system’s components meet the business requirements and verify that the integration of end-to-end systems is working as expected. As such, there is room for multiple testing activities across different technical areas in SMI implementation, and such testing is crucial for smart meter deployment.
A few key testing areas in SMI implementation are:
- Billing system post AMI implementation
- Testing of meter data management systems
- Data migration and data warehouse testing
- Outage management
- Geographical information systems
- Validating web portal upgrades in multiple devices like mobile and tabs, including my account, customer usage, account and billing, rate plans, payments and credits, reports and analytics, demand response, and demand-side management.
The schematic below provides a framework for testing smart meter implementation across functional areas such as meter deployment, operational support, distributed generation or demand, side management, customer service and billing, and various validations required.
(6) Digital Transformation in Energy and Utilities: QA Implications
As per the WQR 2016-2017, a key technology change associated with digital strategies is cloud adoption. Cloud-based provisioning and services have been slow to catch on within the utilities industry, but has gained momentum in recent years. Similar to digital, the utilities industries will focus on cyber security.
On the operations side, forecasting comes to the forefront more than anything else from past 15 years. Executives in utilities are both trying to manage their grids and figure out how to handle data and how to calculate the needs for the future. Today, most industries rely significantly on data driven decisions. The utility industry needs to analyze demand forecast programs. They are looking at feasible choices and optimal solutions for this need, which will give them the best information and in turn, the best solution. Many of the large utilities are still running on legacy programs aged 30+ years doing the same forecasting used in the 1980’s.
QA & Testing plays a vital role in utilities-based digital transformations. The WQR 2016-2017 findings reveal that testing new digital implementations is causing specific test difficulties.
Most challenging aspects of testing digital implementation are as follows:
- Integration services (including local, private, and public cloud)
- Multi-channel interface (mobile, social, traditional)
- Data and Service orchestration
- End-to-end workflows
To test SMACT items (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, and IoT), organizations need to move to innovative approaches, methodologies, frameworks, and accelerators. Multi-platforms and multi-device testing are key aspects in digital transformation. Crowd testing and weekend testing, as well as omni- or multi-channel testing, can be chosen as one of the testing techniques to test social, cloud, and mobile requirements. To validate various utilities applications across a group of interconnected devices, then omni-channel and multi-channel testing provide a better technique to advance. There are few challenges cited in the WQR 2016-2017 in regards to SMACT testing and they include:
- A lack of proper testing process and methods
- A demand for mobile testing experts
- The need for in-house testing environments
- A hunt for best-fit tools for multi-channel application testing
QA organizations need to concentrate more on providing concrete solutions for above challenges to keep their momentum in the digital world.
Due to competitive market pressures, many utilities companies have experienced significant cut to their operational costs, specifically within their IT budgets. The utilities sector is still at the heart of a major structural transformation. The utilities industry finds the IT requirements challenging for digital transformations, and as such, QA organizations should have a comprehensive digital assurance platform to avoid future problems.
Testing is an important component in a complex domain like utilities. A regular trend of testing based on requirements is no longer useful. The current market is requires skilled resources that understand the utility domain and can test its many unwritten rules and end-to-end scenarios, covering entire systems involved in Utility application landscape.
To overcome such challenges while testing these complex systems, intensive domain knowledge, technology skills, and experience must accompany utility business scenarios and end user scenarios.
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Main Author: Renu Rajani, Vice President, Capgemini Technology Services India Limited, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Contributing Author: Mukund Thaker, Solutioning Program Manager, Capgemini Technology Services India Limited, email@example.com
Contributing Author: Vamsikrishna CH V, Testing Solution Consultant, Capgemini Technology Services India Limited, firstname.lastname@example.org