Anyone working in the energy sector understands the need for rapid and widespread adoption of new technologies to meet pressing imperatives such as decarbonisation and commercial resilience. What is also abundantly clear is that as energy businesses are challenged with building and servicing products for the new energy market, innovation is being hampered by legacy systems that are often bespoke and lack the flexibility to enable agility and forward progression.
With customers needing new products and services, and shareholders seeking strong returns, energy businesses are looking to technology providers to provide the necessary tools to thrive in the new energy economy. However, what we are increasingly seeing is that during the procurement process, too often companies lose focus on the outcomes they need to achieve over the coming decades. Instead they zero-in on a laundry list of requirements that may result in incremental improvements, but don’t necessarily future-proof the business.
Technology consultancy Accenture summed the situation up perfectly in its report Zeroing in in the New Energy consumer: the platform premium (February 2022): “To enhance the experience for their customers, energy providers will need to invest in platforms that are easy for everyone to use—employees, partners, and consumers—and which can, ultimately, create growth for new products and services.”
The same Accenture report noted that 90% of utility executives want to fast-forward their digital transformation and cloud integration. And this got us thinking; how can teams stay focused on the big picture while under pressure to plan and execute systems change?
1. Consolidate platforms, and opt for best-of-breed
There is much debate about whether the preferred approach is a best-of-breed model, which integrates highly specialised technologies that undertake their specific section of the system incredibly well, or a system-of-record with a centralised database covering all aspects of the end-to-end process. Certainly, reducing complexity and aligning data models should be a priority, especially where a new system offers an adequate alternative to fragmented and semi-manual solutions. However, the size and complexity of the challenges ahead also calls for new specialist technologies that are designed for this future. Our take is that the optimal approach is to consolidate where you can, but also opt for best-of-breed where performance demands it.
2. Work with partners that are built to integrate
To maximise the outcomes from your carefully curated software ecosystem, you must choose software partners that integrate easily with others. Any modern provider worth their salt will have integration documentation at the ready so you can assess how your ideal topology will function in practice. Even better, bring your partners together early and co-design how data will flow between their solutions, being clear on the outcomes you need to achieve.
3. Choose configurability over customisation
There are times when you’ll face the option to develop a customised/bespoke solution or purchase off the shelf technology and configure it according to your needs. While there are pros and cons for both roads, in our experience buying off the shelf provides significantly more benefits in the long run and faster return on investment. Be mindful however, that there may be some process transformations or changes that need to be made to successfully integrate the configured software into your business. While this may take some adjusting to in the short-term, the long-term benefits should be worth it.
Here are some of the key benefits of configurability:
Cost Customising puts you on a path that can be more time-consuming, complex and expensive to support in the long run. It can also lock you into a vendor and make it hard to leave should you ever need to. Plus there are ongoing maintenance and development costs to factor in. With the depth and breadth of the tools available out of the box these days, it makes far more sense (and is much faster) to explore these options before reaching for a screwdriver.
Flexibility If your organisation needs to change tack in the future and your technology is no longer fit for purpose, it is far easier to switch to something new if you’ve gone down the configurability route. Most configurable solutions are delivered as Software as a Service (SaaS), which can be turned on or off at the flick of a button. If you customise, however, you’re locked into a bespoke solution for which change is often expensive and slow.
Knowledge and community There’s safety in numbers. Configurable tech is generally fairly standard, which makes it far easier to share knowledge across your organisation. You’ll avoid an ivory tower containing very few individuals who actually know how things work, which is often the case when you customise. Furthermore, you can seek insights and options from the broader technology community because you’re all using the same kit and can almost guarantee there will be someone who has been in a similar position before, who can share their learnings and insights.
Upgrades When you buy configurable technology, you will also be buying a supported track and will benefit from upgrades and improvements to any application you are using. Often, customising can leave you high and dry when new features are only available for systems that have not been heavily customised.
Speed to market Configuration will always produce a faster turnaround time and feedback cycle than customisation because there is significantly less work up front to do to get it fit for your organisation’s needs. Plus you benefit from the feedback of other organisations using the same tech, which means you’ll always be using the most up-to-date and relevant technology.
Our advice is to only head down the customisation path as a last resort if you’re certain there are no other options that can be configured to meet your needs. If you do go for customisation, ensure you have a strong roadmap of what you need now and into the future, proceed with caution when selecting a vendor to ensure they will remain agile and able to meet your evolving requirements, and keep your options open as best you can.
4. Aim for a mature data practice
Data is central to any transformation that involves new technology replacing legacy systems. An important step is to consolidate the data you have today, identify what you need tomorrow, and monitor your data needs over time so you can adapt as required.
Here are Flux’s top tips for your data journey:
Start early It’s important to gain a good understanding of the state of your data so you can identify what cleansing is required, or simply how widespread your data is. Getting this process underway early allows time to make any larger decisions that may arise during your transformation.
Consolidate It is very common for organisations to have data spread over multiple applications. Investing in good data warehousing and people with the right skill sets is an important step in establishing a more mature data practice. A single source of truth makes it significantly easier and more cost effective to extract usable and meaningful insights from your data.
Granular is good Where practical, endeavour to capture granular data, even if you don’t need it immediately. Eventually, granular data will provide the flexibility and freedom to deep dive.
Security best practice Follow security best practice, even if it's a temporary data store. A single source of truth is also a consolidated, single target for people with undesirable intentions.
5. Digital transformation is as much about people as it is about technology
Digital transformation is about more than just technology - people also play an important role because the transformation process requires commitment across the entire organisation. There needs to be a strong and clear vision so the team understands why the transformation is necessary. Choose great leaders in your business to champion change and celebrate successes, and foster an inclusive culture. Let teams be responsible for outcomes rather than prescribing each step. And, incentivise transformation as part of an individual’s goals and performance review to ensure everyone is striving for the same thing.
Another vital people-related aspect of digital transformation is change management. Integrating new technologies, systems and processes is best undertaken following modern ways of working, for example: agile. You’ll therefore need people with these skills to guide and manage the process to ensure successful outcomes.
And finally, a good decision making hierarchy is also key here. Empower the team to achieve results without unnecessary bureaucracy and resistance to ensure the project remains to timeframes and budgets.`
A software partner that aligns with your objectives
When selecting a software partner, it’s as much about aligning your objectives and values as it is selecting a tool that ticks all the right boxes. Any misalignment can be a significant impediment to success because you won’t be focused on the same things.
We’re different at Flux. We don’t just provide innovative technology, we provide innovative technology that is tailored to truly meet our customers’ needs. We’re not a mass market, cookie cutter solution provider; our approach is boutique and specialised, seeking to deeply understand your needs and goals and creating a solution that meets them now and into the future. And we believe in doing things to the best of our ability, so we only have one SLA - Platinum.