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Technology can provide the boost South African utilities need to surmount their key obstacles

Private utility companies around the world are facing similar issues – maintaining reliable systems, keeping services affordable for consumers, and mitigating climate change by improving environmental performance. South Africa has a number of unique challenges in addition to the abovementioned, including managing ageing assets, finding and retaining key staff, improving the coverage of service delivery, cutting costs while implementing improved practices, and ensuring regulatory compliance through transparent processes.

In its 2009 Utilities Global Survey, PriceWaterhouseCoopers asserted that technology would be central to future growth and competitive advantage within the utilities industry. This has proven to be the case worldwide with utilities that invest in new technologies experiencing greater revenue streams and much improved consumer access to services.

It seems like a natural step for South African utility companies to look to technology in order to solve their most pressing challenges. However, they first need to identify the aspects of their organisation which are most in need of reform. Utilities would do well to focus on three overarching points – human resources, risk and compliance, and assets. By identifying the key shortcomings in these areas, organisations will be able to adopt the right digital strategies to compensate.

Risk and and Compliance Management

Managing risk is becoming an increasingly important component of any utility company’s organisational health. Utilities need to closely monitor a host of often unpredictable dynamics, including legislation, demand, workforce, and economic downswings. Data analytics allow companies to better forecast demand, facilitate compliance, track environmental changes, weather economic turmoil, and much more. Utilities find themselves both better informed about the issues that characterise their industry and adaptable enough to deal with them.

Human Resources

The demand for skilled and specialised workers is only increasing within both the energy and water industries, particularly with the increasing use of new technologies and a shift to more environmentally conscious means of securing supply. A modern human resources department must necessarily include progressive workforce planning that allows for both the retention of skilled and experienced talent and the recruitment and training of new talent.

Asset Management

Utility companies must cost effectively manage their ageing assets while keeping customers satisfied. Streamlining their operations through reliable enterprise management software is one surefire way of doing this, but utilities should consider going further and investigating state-of-the-art smart metering systems that allow them to perform on-demand customer readings from a central location, support credit management, and quality monitoring. The user-friendly nature of such meters as well as the analytical data they afford companies result in massively improved levels of productivity and customer satisfaction. What’s more, smart metering facilitates sustainability by maximising the efficiency of limited resources.

Strategically implementing the right enterprise management software and infrastructure is a catalyst that allows for a precision-run organisation that delivers optimum operational performance and excellent consumer service. Utilities that do so will enjoy better risk management, improved human resources, reduced overheads, greater decision-making flexibility, predictable supply, and more effective customer services.