It is no longer business as usual for utility companies across the globe. Their customers now expect all digital experiences to measure up to the best mobile app, while deregulation, rapidly evolving energy technologies, and the Internet of Things are placing enormous pressure on utility providers to evolve.
To help utility providers modernize their IT infrastructure to drive digital transformation, Accenture has created the Accenture Customer Experience Solution (ACES) for Utilities. It combines the strengths of the Salesforce customer relationship management platform with Accenture’s global knowledge and deep utility industry experience. Dell Boomi provides the integration fabric to unify data across applications and tools.
We spoke with Geert Volkers, a digital advisor and technology consultant with Accenture, about the dramatic changes taking place in the utility markets, the role of integration in IT modernization, and how ACES for Utilities is helping utility companies transform their digital infrastructure.
What drove the need for a solution like this for utility companies?
Geert Volkers: Changes in the utility market such as market liberalization, unbundling processes and evolving customer preferences have generated more competition and tighter margins for utility companies in general.
Furthermore, technologies such as social media, smartphones and the Internet of Things have created many new channels through which to engage with or be engaged by consumers. And consumer expectations have been changed by their interactions with companies far outside the utility industry (think Amazon, Uber, Google).
These expectations have challenged energy retailers to keep pace. But with the challenges also come opportunities for new value propositions and growth, by becoming more agile and gaining consumer confidence.
Fragmented digital infrastructure and inflexible legacy IT systems often hold utility companies back. The Accenture Customer Experience Solution (ACES) for Utilities helps utilities become more customer-centric by embracing new technologies and digital channels.
“The Boomi integration layer helps utility companies tap into the capabilities of a modern cloud platform like Salesforce. Many utilities have been essentially locked out of these SaaS applications because of their inflexible IT infrastructure and legacy systems.”
What are the components of ACES for Utilities?
Geert Volkers: The solution exists out of several modern applications and components essential in meeting today’s customer expectations. We have a front-end component, which presents the engagement channels such as Facebook, Twitter, web, email and phone. This allows customers to reach out to their utility company via their preferred contact channel.
To help agents deliver an engaging and personalized customer experience, the solution provides a customer 360-degree view. Through this 360-degree view, service agents have all the information about a customer and his or her interactions with the utility in one place, no matter where those interactions happened (online, phone, email, social media, etc.).
The integration and orchestration layer is handled by Dell Boomi’s integration platform. This integration layer is what allows the solution to surface legacy system data and connect this information with sales, service and marketing data, all to drive agent efficiency and customer success. This includes systems like SAP IS-U, Oracle Utilities CC&B (customer care and billing), Microsoft Dynamics AX (ERP), MECOMS (meter data management and customer information) and other legacy systems.
ACES for Utilities includes specific case management functionality through which service agents can resolve cases faster. It provides visibility into the full context of all cases and a record of every customer interaction.
Other capabilities include lead and opportunity management, campaign management and marketing automation. This supports sales and marketing teams to reach prospects and customers with cross-channel personalized experiences at every step of the customer lifecycle.
The Boomi integration layer helps utility companies tap into the capabilities of a modern cloud platform like Salesforce. Many utilities have been essentially locked out of these SaaS applications because of their inflexible IT infrastructure and legacy systems.
What are some typical customer interaction use cases in the utility industry where integration plays a vital role?
Geert Volkers: There are several, including changing residences, outages, meter reading or meter installations. These are typical processes that go far beyond any one system. In the case of an outage, for example, there will be a customer-facing front end that must communicate with an outage back-end system.
Many energy providers have separate organizations for customer care, outage management, new connections and demand management. Each organization has a different view of channels and distinct technology systems. A customer might learn of an outage via Twitter yet find out that the utility company is unaware of it. So, customers end up feeling as if they’re dealing with three or four separate companies — not one integrated enterprise.
Now with many processes integrated into Salesforce, there is a single source of data entry and the single workplace for a service agent, which helps create a consistent customer experience.
How does integration help improve how utilities offer service to customers?
Geert Volkers: Today’s consumers expect a seamless experience with products and services. They have what we call “liquid expectations.” It doesn’t matter whether they’re dealing with a utility company, Amazon or Apple. They want the same seamless, friction-free experience.
But meeting these liquid expectations puts new demands on internal processes and operations. This is an opportunity for utilities to create a true enterprise experience that puts the customer first across all channels. And, of course, this requires integration.
“Today’s consumers expect a seamless experience with products and services. They have what we call “liquid expectations.” It doesn’t matter whether they’re dealing with a utility company, Amazon or Apple. They want the same seamless, friction-free experience.”
How are utility companies responding to the “liquid expectations” of utility customers and their expectations to have access to easy, instant and mobile digital services?
Geert Volkers: Liquid expectations are new to utility retailers. They’ve been operating in a regulated environment for decades where there was little or no competition. But now, their customers expect a range of engagement channel options. A monthly statement sent by mail just won’t cut it anymore. A tedious, paper-based complaint process won’t either. Customers want to activate or change service in three or four minutes — not days or weeks.
Why did Accenture choose Boomi as the integration layer for ACES?
Geert Volkers: Utility companies commonly have a complex IT infrastructure composed of multiple legacy systems — sometimes up to 30 or more. Each of these systems will involve a customer touch point or individual business process. And, usually, these applications are not integrated. Many are decades old and have no public APIs.
Boomi provides orchestration between Salesforce and legacy applications, offering much more speed and flexibility for pulling all the right data together. Boomi streamlines data flows between applications and creates data as a service. And when a new application is introduced into the landscape, you can also plug it into the Boomi platform.
In addition to integration, is Accenture using other Boomi capabilities?
Geert Volkers: Many organizations struggle with master data management — not just utilities. We are currently evaluating components of the Boomi Master Data Hub to centralize data processing for that purpose. We are also evaluating Boomi Flow for its ability to coordinate end-to-end business processes across applications, like onboarding new customers. The Boomi platform gives us a lot of options for how we help our utility customers integrate and manage their data across applications.
Accenture is a leading global system integrator and teams with Dell Boomi. Together, we are helping organizations around the world harness modern, low-code integration to drive digital transformation and build intelligent, connected businesses.
Please contact Boomi’s integration professionals today to find out how Boomi and Accenture can help your company modernize its technology infrastructure and drive digital transformation.
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