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Smart meters come with baggage

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COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Energy and Utilities at IFS gives insight into a few of the challenges installers face when delivering smart meter programs.

In many parts of the world, smart meter installations have been around for some time, and in some countries, second or third generation devices are now being fitted. According to Metering and Smart Energy International, over the next five years, emerging markets alone will deploy nearly 250 million meters, representing an investment of almost $35 billion. When you factor in countries like Germany, which has only really just started a program, and the UK where the expectation is a minimum of one million meters needing to be installed per month to meet the 2020 target, you do wonder how the companies involved stand a chance of delivering.

Interestingly within the UK, exclusive research undertaken by the consumer body Which suggests that the installers may now need to work around the clock, 24 hours per day, seven days per week. This, of course, may actually suit some customers who might prefer a meter fitted in the evening rather than having to take a day off from work and waiting for an engineer to turn-up.

The challenges are many and three, in particular, are discussed here.

Customer engagement

Ideally, what all of the suppliers involved do not want to do is provide a service to the consumers that is less than perfect and that has to be the main objective. Consumers need to feel that they are being treated uniquely, which is difficult to do within such huge programs.

My colleague Mark Brewer wrote a service-related blog about the demands that customers are placing onto the providers of services and stated that the fact that customers are demanding instant gratification dictates a new kind of service experience; one that is faster but more interactive, but one that also caters to self-service.

Resource optimisation

So now that you have fixed an appointment scheduled with the customer, you’ve got to hit it, meet the SLA, complete the work in one visit and provide a service that the customer will remember for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case in many instances. For example, during initial investigations when engineers arrive at a site, they could suggest that a different skill-set may be required to complete the work. This is often difficult to anticipate without an initial visit.

You can minimise this easily by providing the householder with a simple means of uploading information including photos of their existing meter install. This data can be analysed to determine where pockets of differing work scopes could be located. This can then be used to further optimise and refine the scheduling logic to drive down the need for repeat visits.

For an example of an organisation that’s successfully optimised our resources, one of our UK customers created a multi-skilled workforce that’s able to safely carry out some of the tasks that would normally be referred from the meter installer back to the Network company.

Logistics management

The management of the physical meters is, in itself, not a small undertaking and a supply chain application needs to be utilised. That application must be able to ensure that the whole lifecycle from procurement, warehousing through issue, installation/swap-out, return and disposal is efficiently controlled. When you factor in ownership, rental charges, warranty, specification updates, software updates and other considerations, MDMS packages handle much of this information but the installers and supply companies may be using different packages to try and manage the process.

The solution that we propose is to use IFS as a constituent part of the Smart Meter Program, either through the customer engagement solution, the best-in-class field service management (FSM) solution or our enterprise software offerings for the energy and utilities industry.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read about Netflix’s international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement,” he adds. “To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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