Today, every company is a technology company. Effectively all modern businesses have a web presence, collect and store data, and conduct an increasing proportion of virtual operations. While slow to start, the utility industry has recognised this trend and is now building strategies to smooth its transition into the digital age.

To meet the challenges that come with rapid technological change, strong leadership is essential. Highly specialised skills are required to spearhead new IT processes with business-wide impacts. For many utilities, the most effective tip of this spear is a Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Graham Rix,  Senior Manager of Information Technology (CIO) at SA Water, highlights the increasing focus on technology to help deliver the strategic business goals of an organisation.

“We believe our customers are entitled to world class water services, but to deliver this, we need world class technology. A CIO and IT teams working together as part our wider workforce providing fit for purpose and innovative digital capabilities is fundamental to achieving this goal.”

What is a CIO?

A CIO is a business leader that handles the IT needs of a company. He or she may oversee technology infrastructure and align IT systems and processes with an organisation’s goals. In addition, a CIO is often responsible for the formation of a company’s data strategy.

Business success comes from good decisions, and good decisions come from information. As information leaders, CIOs should provide the input a business needs to make informed choices about markets, products and services, growth opportunities and more.

With new methods of analysing data and a growing reliance on cloud services, processes that were once confined to the IT department now have company-wide significance. A CIO can help arrange all these elements into a workable strategy.

Emerging challenges and opportunities

As asset-based businesses, utilities can benefit greatly from technology that highlights deteriorating assets and monitors network performance. Taking advantage of new technologies to gather and analyse data can instigate a step change in asset management, where proactive maintenance models can instigate major improvements to service delivery and costs.

CIOs can create the frameworks necessary for these new innovations — including the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and big data — to improve the efficiency of utility operations. Enhanced productivity, reduced costs and minimal interruption to customer services are all within reach.

These efforts point to a core capability for CIOs: the skill to lead digital transformation. A solid digital-transformation strategy harnesses technology to fundamentally improve business performance, processes and reach, and is an essential component of long-term growth.

Digital transformation champions

In the chaotic mix of interconnected business structures and evolving technologies, a CIO can be the rock that organises a transformation strategy and holds it together throughout the change process.

To create a successful digital transformation strategy, a CIO should:

  1. Use data to develop new products and services and form insights. This includes optimising back-end hardware and processes to boost efficiency from the bottom up.
  2. Understand internal intricacies. Know how new digital systems will affect different areas of the organisation and integrate with company goals.
  3. Strengthen customer engagement. Streamline communication at each level of the sales funnel, from pre-sales channels to customer service and long-term relationship nurturing.

Utility CIOs in particular would do well to consider a customer-centric approach going forward. In addition to heightened competition and increasing regulatory demands, pressure is building around consumer expectations.

Customers that may once have been willing to live with opaque pricing and lackluster engagement now expect a far higher level of service. As such, digital innovation in the areas of communication and transparency is critical.

The missing piece of the puzzle

In the vital realms of customer engagement, digital transformation and data infrastructure, a qualified CIO can be an indispensable member of a utility’s executive arsenal. For utilities that are serious about committing to digitisation, there’s no one better to lead the charge.

You can hear more about the challenges that Australian utility CIOs are facing at Digital Utilities, the industry’s premier innovation event, running 21-22 March 2019 in Melbourne.

Click here before 21 January 2019 to register for discounted pre-sale tickets to Digital Utilities 2019.

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Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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