Powerful Technology, Powered by People

Put Yourself on the Fast TrackPosted by Stephen Wilesmith on June 29, 2012

When new or emerging technology drives massive changes in an industry, the tendency is to focus on the technology itself—the “thing” that will make or break an organization’s future. What’s more accurate, however, is that the technology issue is really a people issue. How stakeholders —employees, customers, regulators, the public—react to the technology, understand its benefits and are willing and able to adopt and use it is the real make-or-break factor for the organization. This is the situation utility companies are facing with the advent of smart metering—breakthrough technology whose ultimate success depends on people power.

Through smart metering and the construction of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), the electric, water and gas industries have the potential to dramatically reduce energy usage and better control costs. This is something they, their customers and the energy-conscious public at large have a vested interest in. But in order for the investment in AMI to pay off, utility companies must first deal with the massive change required to support effective customer interaction as well as establish the processes and operating structure necessary to sustain the technology. (See People power the smart grid for more about this industry development.)

Historically, utility companies’ interaction with their customers has been focused on two key areas: (1) service reliability (Is my power on or off?) and (2) billing (Why is my bill so high?). With AMI utilities are gaining the ability to differentiate themselves through such services as dynamic pricing and web presentment and drive service efficiencies through remote connect/disconnect and other new capabilities. But few, if any, have the customer service and marketing infrastructure in place to educate their customers and help drive understanding of these new differentiators. Even in states where customers have been allowed to choose their energy supplier, the differences among suppliers have been much smaller in scope than those offered by smart meter technology. Consequently, the related needs for organizational change and customer education have been much smaller as well.

Now utility companies are faced with the need to make sweeping organization-wide changes and to bring stakeholders along on the journey. That entails organizational redesign, change management, leading change from the top, communication, training and development—HR’s bread and butter. So just as HR leaders have had to step up to help their organizations deal with similar technology-driven change in industries like financial services, telecommunications and health care, HR leaders in the utilities industry have the same opportunity—and mandate.

It’s a role not all HR leaders in the industry have had to take on in the past, so those who step up to the challenge will be breaking new ground. Daunting? Perhaps. But also exciting—another example of HR’s evolving role and growing ability to drive real business value.

Stephen Wilesmith Stephen Wilesmith is a senior manager in Deloitte’s Human Capital practice and a leader in its sustainability market offering for the energy and resource industry.

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