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4 Key Takeaways: Future of Utilities 2019

Seb Fox

On 26-27 March I had the pleasure of hosting the UK’s largest energy & water summit – Future of Utilities Summit 2019. A two-day event, with 100 speakers, 400 attendees, an industry report launch and a whole range of hugely practical and actionable insights. I’ve been pulling together the 4 key takeaways that have stood out for me from the thoughts raised at the conference.

The transition is underway, but there is still a long way to go

As we all know, the utilities sector is undergoing a dramatic change. Customer expectations are rising, carbon reduction deadlines are creeping closer, and fluctuating wholesale costs are eroding industry margins. So, as expected, uncertainty was a common theme across all three stages throughout the event, coming up in sessions about anything and everything but especially customer service, infrastructure asset management and innovation. It’s a bit cliché but it seems that the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty for a traditionally slow-moving industry as it tries to map out its future on the road to 2030 and beyond.

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Digital technologies might offer a way out as they present an opportunity for utilities to transform their businesses and offer an improved service at a reduced cost. However, as our report found, 34% of senior utilities executives surveyed think that the industry will be unable to execute the level of digital transformation necessary over the next five years. This could be why 95% of respondents think that the major suppliers need to step up their game if they are to remain dominant.

Customer, customer, customer

The most featured word in delegates questions at the Summit was ‘customer’ and was closely followed by ‘customers’. This reflects the overall tone of industry debate right now which looks to put customers at the centre of everything. We had a whole stage dedicated to developing new customer service strategies which provided an opportunity for thought leaders to share best practice, and delegates to troubleshoot regardless of their position in their digitalisation process. It was refreshing to hear customer-centricity popping up elsewhere too, with DNOs and GDNs bringing it back to the end user as well.

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Confronting challenges

The event had a real buzz to it, and the audience seemed very keen to get involved in the conversation – at one point we were averaging 120 tweets of the #FoUSummit per hour! It really felt like change was being kindled throughout the conference and refreshment rooms. We had some great feedback on this point too:

“The Future of Utilities Summit is always a highlight of the calendar: interesting, insightful speakers and great debate. Highly recommended.” – Michael Lewis, CEO, E.ON UK

“The Future of Utilities Summit provided some interesting insights into the innovations being explored in this market sector providing essential services.” – Lucy Darch, CEO, Wave  

“With the strong audience engagement and networking added in, the conversations started here could be the beginning of the next major innovation to benefit our customers and businesses.” – Heidi Mottram CBE, CEO, Northumbrian Water

I felt proud to watch the beginnings of transformation, as the event is scheduled into diaries as a recurring meeting to come together to solve the industry-wide obstacles only direct collaboration can tackle.

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Cross-industry fertilisation

One thing that stood out to me this week is how important it is to see people sparking disruption within very different companies, parameters and industries working together to achieve success. Learning from other people’s failures, coming at things from a different way and pooling resources to create a unified plan of attack are crucial factors for a truly innovative approach. At the Summit we saw water and energy unite, retail and infrastructure share ideas and we even had case studies from Ann Summers and John Lewis showing us how to get customer service right. It is exactly this kind of sharing of ideas that we need to take part in more of in the future if we are to be serious about stepping up to the challenges of the future.

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“If we are to be leaders in innovation, we must be unafraid of collaboration, sharing knowledge and being challenged. This cannot happen in isolation – by bringing together individuals across the utility sector this conference prompts and provokes these opportunities.” – Heidi Mottram CBE, Chief Executive Officer, Northumbrian Water

A great big thanks must go to all the chairs, speakers, sponsors and media partners that made the event a success, and an even bigger thanks to Team Future of Utilities here at MarketforceLive.

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Seb Fox

Sector Manager – Utilities

Seb Fox is the sector manager for our Future of Utilities portfolio. He keeps an eye on industry developments, hot topics, and puts together our conference agendas. He’s been with the company for nearly a year, having recently graduated from Mansfield College, University of Oxford.

Follow him on Twitter here: @Futureofutils