Smart Grid—Today’s Upgrade for Tomorrow’s Utilities

by Eran Ofir, Convergys 

It’s easy to get impatient waiting for smart grid. From real-time consumer-usage apps and supply security to greener energy sources and more efficient transmission, there are a lot of reasons to recommend upgrading the power network. But plenty of work remains. According to a Five Point Partners survey, 81 percent of utilities believe that their existing customer information technology will not support the future of energy, and the time to upgrade is now.

Smart grid is a different universe of power provision, and at its heart is the revolutionary focus on the customer relationship as an interactive, real-time exchange of information and value. Where once electricity went one way and money went the other, in tomorrow’s network consumers and their utilities will be in near-constant contact, whether between individuals or simply monitoring devices. The result of this deep interconnection will be a partnership and informed network that is able to maximize service and value through well-managed, well-communicated and well-secured information.

But most utilities aren’t ready. Legacy customer information systems (CIS) can fulfill their old purpose—handling static billing and basic customer account management—but can’t begin to manage the intricacies of tomorrow’s highly interactive electricity and intelligence network.

The Five Point Partners survey also reveals that 29 percent of responding utilities believe that their existing CIS “cannot be made to support the business requirements,” while 16 percent believe their CIS will require major modifications. The key transition is from static information to a dynamic customer relationship. Customer relationship management (CRM), therefore, will be a must-have.

CRM will be at the center of smart grid, and intelligent CRMs offer the solution to the functional deficiencies of CIS. Rather than facing the prospect of a rip-and-replace ordeal, utilities can implement CRM solutions by integrating them with the existing CIS. Key capabilities of smart relationship management tools include:

  • Dynamic data handling. CRM offers support for smart grid initiatives such as dynamic pricing, demand response, distributed generation, net metering, and energy efficiency programs.
  • Core support for interactivity. By simplifying back-office integration for key customer interaction tools, CRM lays the foundation for customer relationship growth and development.
  • Any time, any device, any channel communications. Forty-four percent of surveyed utilities said it is “most likely” that customer interaction will increase on multiple channels and devices, including text messaging, email, Web portals and social media. With CRM, utilities can harness a radically improved ability to communicate with customers across those channels and devices in real time to provide service, proactive outreach, targeted messaging and marketing, and customer life cycle management.

Major growth takes preparation. As Department of Energy Assistant Secretary Patricia Hoffman wrote last year, “The success of grid modernization initiatives hinges upon the ability of electricity providers nationwide to respond to their customers’ concerns and actively involve their customers in the process.”

The age of the modern grid is dawning, but without CRM capabilities, that smart grid won’t be smart at all. The tools must be ready and waiting to support it. Utilities that hold off on CRM implementation might find themselves unprepared as the new grid goes live.


Eran Ofir is general manager for global utilities in Convergys’ information management business.

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