Digital Platforms Fueling the Next Generation of Innovation in Customer Engagement

Platform-based companies are already capturing more of the digital economy’s opportunities for strong growth and profitability.
Published: Tue 20 Oct 2015

Digitally engaged consumers can unleash significant business value for energy providers. This is according to Accenture’s New Energy Consumer multi-year research programme. The firm’s report, The New Energy Consumer: Unleashing Business Value in a Digital World, highlights the fact that consumers are more satisfied, are more likely to participate in energy management programs, and are more willing (and able) to share energy consumption information. These consumers are also happy to recommend their current energy providers and, in competitive markets, are less likely to switch providers.

While customer engagement is important, it’s not based on one service or process. Its success requires the integration of many systems and types of data and the ability to adapt to new customer expectations. 

The future of product and service opportunities are going to be shaped through digital industry platforms and ecosystems that will fuel breakthrough innovation and disruptive growth. These digital platforms will fuel the next generation in customer engagement.

Taking a platform-enabled approach

Forward-looking leaders are now offering consumers more by pulling together digital initiatives under a platform. The 2015 Accenture Technology Vision identifies the platform (r)evolution as one of five key trends fueling the next generation of breakthrough innovation and disruptive growth. Already, platform-based companies are capturing more of the digital economy’s opportunities for strong growth and profitability. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that in 2013, 14 of the top 30 global brands by market capitalization were platform oriented companies.

Today, companies need to do a lot more than simply developing and launching digital tools and products. They now need to apply their industry knowledge to build flexible platforms that enable rapid innovation— including development and deployment of the products and services needed to drive their digital business strategies. Such a foundation supports more effective ways of operating and creates opportunities for new revenue streams and customer satisfaction.

Digital platforms enable developers to build applications that facilitate collaboration, workflow and value across industries and geographies more seamlessly and more quickly. Platform-based ecosystems represent new competitive arenas for meeting consumer needs.

While digital industry platforms have unleashed tremendous value and disruption in other industries, Accenture believes that when it comes to gas, electricity and water, the industry is poised on the brink of a platform (r)evolution and they need to learn from other industries that are already in the process of creating these new digital ecosystems.

Platform creates a fundamental mindshift for utilities

Platforms help increase capabilities so that companies can tackle larger opportunities, solve bigger problems and serve their customers better. To tackle these larger opportunities, companies need the involvement of a range of players in their platform-driven ecosystems. Whether players include competitors, vendors, employees, or consumers or all of the above, digital platforms are creating a level playing field and facilitating competition as well as coordination.

Energy providers and utilities now have to rely on other players to address their business requirements. They need to start building a core competency in partnering with a variety of players within the digital energy ecosystem in order to succeed in a highly competitive industry. By partnering with other parties,  innovative solutions can be created that will benefit both energy providers and consumers.

Real-time -the new normal for consumers

Real-time operations are nothing new for the energy trading and delivery side of the business. For the consumer side of the business, however, real time represents new territory. Digital platforms enable breakthrough consumer capabilities— including buying and selling excess energy, providing outage updates, and enabling alerts for switching providers when prices reach a certain threshold.

The ability to transact in real or near-real-time will enable new value creation and fundamentally disrupt business models of the past. Energy providers have a unique opportunity to provide real-time (or near-real-time) demand-response services to consumers through a platform that leverages smart meter and other data.

Accenture’s research shows that the majority of  consumers want to learn more about smart meter functionalities. More specifically, they want personalized advice on actions, products and services to reduce bills, as well as early notifications when the bill may be higher than normal.

In day-to-day operations, the real-time ability to understand customer journeys in digital channels, to resolve customer requests, and to take proactive actions in customer-facing online environments is becoming more critical. Consumers’ continued move to online channels and their digital experiences are creating an environment where real time is the new normal.

“We know that effective customer engagement has historically been difficult for utilities and that’s why we’re partnering with more and more international energy retail clients to help them upgrade their entire customer experience,” said Opower’s VP of Marketing John Webster. “There is clearly tremendous untapped value in data generated by existing utility systems and our platform reflects our focus on unlocking that value. We have years of experience analysing energy data and combining that with customer behavioural data enabled by a mature technology platform. As a result of that we are uniquely positioned to help our utilities increase customer loyalty while reducing their cost to serve.”

Energy platforms for the future

With peer-to-peer platforms, energy storage, EVs and renewables, a range of technology advances are creating new ways for consumers to obtain, store and even sell energy. Many of these options no longer need the traditional utility role.

As energy storage becomes more viable and widely adopted, the dependence on centralized electricity generation decreases, and consumers become energy independent.

Online communities are emerging to help connect local consumers with renewable producers in their area— bypassing the need to use the utility. These changes  represent the broader transition of the utilities industry to operations that are digitally enabled and integrated with renewables. These operations include:

  • Offerings that extend beyond traditional services such as home energy management solutions

  • The ability to manage real-time demand and supply and optimize grid performance using location, asset and consumer information.

  • Real-time energy usage information to enable consumers to manage and automate energy usage decisions.

The challenge for each energy provider is to determine where it can provide value and where it has the capabilities to deliver. While there are a number of distribution-oriented platform opportunities, from a consumer value perspective, Accenture envisions the emergence of a range of platform types.

For a deeper insight into the digitally engaged consumer and ways utilities can realize the potential of engagement through a platform-enabled approach, register for the upcoming webinar Unlocking Customer Engagement with Digital Platforms. Webinar presenters John Webster, Vice President, International Marketing & Strategy, Opower and  Wytse Kaastra, Managing Director and Lead for Accenture Energy Consumer Services in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, Accenture will answer any questions you have at the end of the presentation.

Further reading:

Accenture: The New Energy Consumer: Unleashing Business Value in a Digital World [pdf]


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