Getting Started on Digitisation: How to Overcome Resistance to Change

The jury is out. Digital utilities perform better than their analogue counterparts.

But for many years, utilities were blessed with very little competition and market movement. Utilities used to own the entire value chain, from energy generation over transmission and distribution grids to retail, until the regulation and market environment changed and new competitors entered. 

And now things have changed. New, ambitious entrants are hungry for customers. And digitisation used to be hard. As such, cultural change to embrace innovation and overcoming resistance internally, is arguably one of the biggest hurdles utilities face with the execution of a digitisation program, rather than the implementation itself. It’s believed that resistance to change has contributed to Australia’s Utilitiy’s low rates of digitisation.

How To: Get your organisation on board with Digitisation

A digital party could work to get everyone on board.

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1. Get on the front foot: truly understand digitisation opportunities and challenges

Understanding how digitisation of services translates in real-life is important. As much as it informs, case studies can inspire teams as you begin to build your case for change.

It’s also important to understand potential barriers, such as fear of change and loss of jobs. This resource from McKinsey and Co is a great starting point that covers all angles – both opportunities and challenges experienced by utilities undertaking digitisation programs.

2. Make data priority #1. Then align digital and strategic priorities

A 2019 study by Griffith University found more than 75 benefits that can be attributed to smart meters. This can make it difficult to gain focus for the initial phases of your AMI trial or implementation.

Priorities aside, every good improvement project starts with data.

No utility can master customer services or asset management without first mastering data capture. Digitisation enables this.

The universal need for timely, accurate data across all departments is an effective priority that’ll unite the organisation. Data fosters objectivity; it will enable data-driven conversations and decision-making sooner. It will focus effort on positive change and collaboration across the organisation.

Take a look at the strategic plan and what customers want to start to prioritise action on that data. But first and foremost, you need the data.

A successful digitisation strategy should work to gather data as efficiently and reliably as possible, with minimal risk, cost or complexity.

3. Collaborate with all departments

When introducing change, you almost cannot over-communicate. Group think and a spread of negative sentiment are problematic for innovation and change. Transparency and proactive communication will help to identify potential sources of resistance and address them early on.

Consider selecting ‘digital project advocates’ from core areas of the business who can identify emerging negative sentiment before it takes hold.

Everyone loves a post-its planning session.

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Establish a workshop setting to listen to concerns and ideas, and even after implementation continue to consult with teams. A positive, collaborative approach and team rapport will be achieved with regular formal and informal communication.

A pilot or trial with the opportunity for feedback will help users to become a part of the change, rather than a ‘voiceless victim’ of it.

Some of the most common concerns that may arise and need to be addressed include:

  • Concerns about staffing losses with the removal of manual meter reading: Ensure you can address the legitimate concerns about potential redundancies associated with further digitisation. Consider the redeployment of meter reading staff. Perhaps they’ll now be in charge of detecting issues or meter troubleshooting? Consult with these teams so you can demonstrate you have a roadmap for their employment moving forward.
  • Concerns about using new tech: The best way to mitigate this apprehension is to select a solution that is easy to use, and logically improves processes by either saving time, money or inaccuracies.

Listen to key concerns and workshop solutions to ensure there are genuine ways to resolve issues with the tech.

Offering transparency on what will change and providing comprehensive training as part of the AMI program will solve negative perceptions.

Managing Risk with Agility

New tech options like the Snapi AI Meter Reader allow utilities to achieve digitisation much easier and more efficiently. They reduce up-front costs, complexity and the expenses associated with long and error-prone smart meter rollouts of the past.  

The prospect of a change in digitisation strategy can also be perceived internally as a threat. That is, shifting from a well considered smart meter roll-out to a hybrid digitisation program can be discredited due to a fear of change, rather than fact.

Is it time for a shift in thinking?

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The hybrid approach refers to implementing digital meter readers to compliment a long-term smart meter rollout. This allows utilities to test alternative solutions and test concepts faster by enabling data capture sooner, and reducing the cost and up-front costs required for a smart meter roll-out. The hybrid approach also allows the utility to extend the lifetime of existing assets, get that return on investment in analogue infrastructure, as well as the many varied benefits of digitisation.

There’s a risk in doing business, and even in adopting technology, but the risk utilities face by failing to digitise services is far greater than those that don’t yet have an AMI program underway.

Addressing resistance to change isn’t as easy as decision-making with data, but it is manageable.

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