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Cognizant 20-20 Insights
June 2021
Crafting the Utility of the Future
Challenged on every front, the industry must fully embrace digital business
change to power next-level organizational readiness and agility.
Executive Summary
Even before COVID-19 struck, utilities found themselves
facing profound changes due to environmental, economic,
societal and regulatory pressures.
Those pressures included shifting legislative and
regulatory mandates; consumers becoming energy
producers with increased expectations around hyper-
personalized customer experiences, omnichannel digital
access and payment options, green energy choices and
tailored services; energy loads becoming more interactive,
dynamic and difficult to manage; transmission and
distribution methods needing to be ever more controllable
and resilient; a need to use data to maximize field
assets; and the introduction of innovative and disruptive
technology challenging the ways this mature industry has
been doing business for more than a century.
Indeed, it’s not too strong to say that pre-pandemic,
the three Ds of disruption were already breaking the
traditional utility business model:
❙ Decarbonization, as renewable energy proliferates
and the regulatory environment grows stricter
❙ Decentralization, due to the growth of distributed
energy resources (DERs) and additional capacity
provided by “prosumers”
❙ Digitization, in the form of evolving smart-grid
technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT), advances in
battery technology, and convergence of the grid and
transportation
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
2 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
This already-urgent situation didn’t need a wildcard
— but that’s exactly what utilities were presented,
in the form of a pandemic that fundamentally
transformed both energy demand trends and
business operations. On the demand side, millions
of consumers began working at home almost
overnight. Loads once predictably distributed
to office buildings and retail centers were now
fragmented.
Meanwhile, utilities contended with operational
challenges as they tried to staff facilities while
protecting the safety of their employees. Early in the
crisis, utilities faced unforeseen nightmare scenarios
— like being forced to shut down a plant because
it could not be adequately, and safely, staffed. Prior
to the pandemic, utilities had begun to consider
contingency plans to enable remote operation of
critical infrastructure, such as power generation
facilities, and business processes. But COVID-19
dialed up the pressure, making it an absolute must
to have multiple levels of redundancy for times
when plans A and B fail because utilities cannot
send people to the office or give them access to the
systems they need.
As utilities grapple with industry disruption and
COVID’s aftermath, they will face additional obstacles
around budget, institutional stasis and a shortage
of employees with needed skills. In this paper, we’ll
explore both the challenges and their solutions,
highlighted by real-world examples. Industry players
that shy away from the battle will fade, we believe,
while those that take action will position themselves
to join the elite — the utilities of the future.
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
3 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Past tense tensions
Before exploring the utility of the future, it’s helpful
to study the unique pressures the industry faces
by looking at the past. In addition to an onerous
regulatory environment, shifting customer demands
and a splintering power-generation picture, the
venerable industry has to deal with the reality
that it’s often perceived as stodgy, with limited
advancement opportunities. Utilities face an uphill
battle in hiring the younger workers needed for
digital transformation — especially because they’ll
be competing with other, sexier industries. That’s a
significant problem for an industry hiring at a rate of
6% to 7% per year, according to the nonprofit Center
for Energy Workforce Development.1
The best way to address this,we believe, is to act
boldly while aggressively publicizing those actions.
Hiring initiatives focused on cutting-edge skills,
diversity and the opportunity to make a difference
in the world will, if publicized appropriately, sway the
opinions of millennials, Gen Zs and those who follow.
Utility leaders we speak with are increasing their
presence in universities with leading STEM programs,
and stressing that employees will get to work with
advanced tech while creating a greener future.
Speaking of industry challenges, let’s not forget the
very recent past. Utilities can never stop performing,
even when a natural disaster is piled atop a
pandemic. Such was the case in both 2020 and 2021
in geographies spanning the US. The problems
highlighted the need for the utility of the future.
During major storms and other disasters, utilities
typically put dispatchers, outage coordinators
and other personnel in centralized control rooms
equipped with backup generators. During recent
storms in California, Texas, New York and elsewhere,
utility employees were pulled from their day jobs and
assigned a storm role. Additionally, it’s typical — or
used to be — to have field crews, many of whom
drove hundreds of miles, to report to large parking
lots for onboarding and meals.
During COVID-19, with headquarters a no-go
zone and social distancing required for outdoor
meetings, these deeply ingrained habits did not
work. Employees working from home often lacked
proper systems and network access — and may very
well have lost power themselves. Business continuity,
employee backups and succession planning were
all put to the test throughout the pandemic. The
bottom-line message was that the more digitally
mature a utility is, the better it can respond to
inevitable disasters.
Business continuity, employee backups and succession planning
were all put to the test throughout the pandemic. The bottom-line
message was that the more digitally mature a utility is, the better it
can respond to inevitable disasters.
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
Utilities lag in all measures of digital maturity but one
The digital imperative
It is clear, then, that utilities are ripe for change. The
shift will not be an easy one. Our research shows, as
depicted in Figure 1, that where digital maturity is
concerned, the industry lags well behind others (for
more, see “Energy & Utilities Under Pressure”).
However, we do see industry leaders starting to
place their bets in the right places as they progress.
For example, Figure 2, next page, shows that
leading companies in the space are looking to
democratize their data and make it usable across
their organizations, to enhance their customer
experiences via investments in mobile technology
and apps and to deploy cloud technology to address
siloed business operations caused by data residing
in on-premises legacy systems. As we’ll see, these are
some key attributes of the utility of the future.
Respondents were asked to rate their maturity in each area of our digital maturity framework. (Pecent of respondents in the
maturing or advanced stage)
E&U respondents All respondents Difference
(in percentage points)
-16
Digital strategy and roadmap
-7
Workforce transformation
-8
Modernize core IT
-6
Aligning operations with customer demands
-15
Innovation culture
-23
Automomation
-16
IoT and connected products
-25
Data management and analytics
-4
Enhanced augmented workers
-8
Human-centricity
-23
Software deployment
-14
Artificial intelligence
+4
Improved consumer/employee experience
Figure 1
50%
40%
30%
20%
10%
0%
Total response base: 2,491
E&U response base: 191
Source: Cognizant/ESI ThoughtLab, 2019 study
4 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
5 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Updating business models
In the US, utilities face a unique compensation
challenge; typically, they’re governed by state public
utilities commissions that set their funding and
compensation as a percentage of capital expenses.
This arrangement makes large-scale purchases of
equipment and services a safe bet for utilities, but
also leads to highly structured environments that
are short on flexibility and agility. The utility CEOs
we speak with understand, universally, that this must
change — but how to do so is a moving target for
enterprises that are incented to maximize capital
expenditures, rather than leverage the more flexible
operating model at the core of digital transformation.
We believe utilities have an opportunity to leverage
an approach that uses operating expenditures as a
vehicle for investments in technology and process
improvement; this approach is more responsive to
shifting customer expectations than the traditionally
long and arduous process of funding these efforts
through capital expenditure. As of now, there is
no easy answer where state commissions are
concerned. We believe they must and can be
educated regarding the greater good of more
flexible business models, but there’s no reason to
expect rapid change. The utility of the future must
walk a tightrope, embracing an operating-driven
model while masking it as a classic capital model.
Figure 2
Investment gulf between leaders and laggards
E&U response base: 191
Source: Cognizant/ESI ThoughtLab, 2019 study
Respondents were asked their level of investment in each technology in the last two years. (Percent of respondents who made a
significant investment)
92%
Mobile/technology apps
82%
Cloud technology
77%
Cybersecurity technology
68%
IoT
58%
Robotic process automation
44%
Artificial intelligence
44%
Digital assistants
29%
Data management
34%
Open platforms/API
34%
Drones
10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
0%
Percent of
leaders who saw
a significant ROI
As utility leaders grapple with how to handle the
many factors driving a shift in the industry, we have
advised clients to address these critical areas of
focus, examples of which we’ll explore below:
	
❙ Updating business models
	
❙ Discovering value through data
	
❙ Integrating DERs
	
❙ Delivering on the customer promise
	
❙ Grid modernization
	
❙ Cloud migration
E&U beginners E&U leaders
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
6 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Data is the new renewable
In a world that held an estimated 2.7 zettabytes2
of
data in 2018 and in which 1.7 megabytes are added
per second, per person, it’s no surprise that utilities
are gathering data at an unprecedented level due to
advances in technology. They must leverage that data
to improve operations, and monetize it where feasible.
Data can either be the heartbeat of a utility or its
weakness, holding back potential innovation. Without
data modernization, a modern architecture, strong
management and a data governance foundation,
utilities will struggle to layer on advanced capabilities
or implement emerging technology.
For too many utilities, data is a weakness, not a
heartbeat. It’s impossible to overemphasize how
important it is to clean up, normalize and standardize
enterprise data. This is more difficult for the utility
industry than for others. For decades (at least!),
utilities have been gathering data in siloed, typically
homegrown systems, never intending it to interact
with information from other sources. Today, this is
hobbling the transition to digital. It’s common for
utilities to invest millions in customer information
systems (CIS) or other enterprise software, only to fail
to realize expected benefits. A deeper examination
often reveals that the CIS is working as intended; it’s
the data that is useless in its present condition.
There is no glamorous or easy way to address the
data problem. Even after they have tamed it, utilities
may be overwhelmed at the question of how to extract
the maximum value from the information. We advise a
top-down, business-driven, analytics-based approach
that focuses on identifying the key business decisions
that are core to a utility’s operations and strategic
investments and can be improved with the support of
data analytics.
By developing key performance indicators (KPIs)
and automated dashboards, often with assistance
from a third party, utilities can and must undergo
a cultural transformation and become metrics-
driven organizations. In our experience, utilities do
a solid job on the CIS side by, for example, tracking
customer wait times. But they fall down when it comes
to tracking the performance of assets in the field.
Most utilities started off by buying the cheapest gear
available; then they don’t sufficiently track failure rates
and maintenance. Predictive or even preventative
maintenance too often goes unperformed, so
equipment may be replaced before its time (which
ties in with the previously mentioned incentive to
fall back on capital expenditures), and total cost of
ownership is a mystery.
The utility of the future must move from a
preventative maintenance model to a condition-
based model by transforming data into tangible value,
ultimately reducing operating and maintenance costs.
Employing these best practices will allow utilities to
implement more sophisticated asset performance-
management processes and systems to maximize the
efficiency of their asset network as more and more
devices are connected and managed remotely.
We advise a top-down,business-driven,analytics-based approach that
focuses on identifying the key business decisions that are core to a
utility’s operations and strategic investments and can be improved with
the support of data analytics.
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
7 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Integrating DERs
DERs are poised to grow rapidly, transforming
energy markets and affecting utility operations.
Utilities are taking steps toward a decentralized
energy future but are not always proactively
developing and investing in the services and digital
systems needed to accommodate the increasing
penetration of DERs.
It is imperative to plan for and invest in the digital
systems, workforce and business processes required
to accommodate a large amount of new DERs.
Only by keeping up with or staying ahead of DER
penetration can utilities, regulators and customers
reap the full range of benefits available through
a more distributed energy system. If they fail to
accommodate this growing demand, utilities risk
having customers completely bypass the grid in
favor of self-generation, with or without utility backup
service.
To succeed, utilities may have to rethink business
models — and they have a choice to make. They can
either watch customers bypass the grid and move
into self-generation (solar, battery, etc.), or they
can become the provider that finances, installs and
maintains these self-generation assets. The Quick
Take on page 8 shows how we helped a utility in this
arena.
In many cases, consumers cannot or don’t want
to spend $15,000 to $30,000 on such systems,
and they certainly don’t want the headache of
maintaining them. If a utility offered them the
option to add self-generation assets to their energy
ecosystem with flexible payment and leasing plans,
many customers would consider keeping their utility
provider as a partner.
Consumers increasingly demand the ability to own
their own generation and be more green/sustainable
(66% of millennial and Gen Z consumers are willing
to pay more for eco-friendly products).3
If their utility
can help them achieve this goal without major up-
front expense (and perhaps even with a reduction
in their total energy costs through the sale of excess
energy back to the utility), there is a path forward
for them to keep their relationship with their power
company. Utilities that are innovative and flexible in
this regard, acting as a potential partner rather than
a mere supplier, will be well positioned for the future.
Utilities that are innovative and flexible in this regard,acting as a
potential partner rather than a mere supplier,will be well positioned for
the future.
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
Creating an Energy Exchange
In one case, we worked with a European utility to create the world’s first independent energy
trading platform, allowing “prosumers” to both use and sell energy.
Collaborating with regulators and network operators, the utility defined the roadmap and
piloted a platform we helped develop using cloud technologies and platform as a service
(PaaS) capabilities. The platform has been successfully piloted in Germany and Norway and
is being used throughout Europe as a model for similar programs.
8 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Manage demand and distributed generation through local
energy market
Challenge
	
❙ Decentralization of energy has
created a change in energy
flows, forcing utilities to look at
new market models
	
❙ Rapid advancements
in localized generation,
access to renewables and
energy storage compels
grid operators to look at
alternatives to costly grid
infrastructure reinforcements
	
❙ Rise of prosumers needs new
market designs to facilitate
profitable energy traders
across multiple market levels
Approach
	
❙ Consulting took the lead in
driving the market design
group
	
❙ Collaborations with industry
groups, regulators and
network operators
	
❙ Jointly defined the roadmap
and developed completely
new market concepts
	
❙ Pilot version of platform
developed entirely using
cloud technologies and
PaaS
Outcome
	
❙ World’s 1st independent
energy flexibility trading
platform
	
❙ Successful pilot runs of the
platform in Germany and
Norway
	
❙ Received three research
grants for platform from
Norwegian regulator, while two
applications in Germany and
UK are in progress
	
❙ Nodes Market design4
and
platform is being used by
regulators across Europe for
defining next generation of
local energy trade regulations
Figure 3
Quick Take
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
9 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Delivering on the customer promise
In spite of the many challenges facing utilities, make
no mistake: This is their game to lose. Having been
the sole provider of energy for most customers for
a century or more, utilities hold massive amounts
of brand equity. But as alternative providers crop
up, utilities must continue to improve customer
experience and satisfaction if they don’t want to see
attrition and lose their advantage.
Utilities are being required to adapt to increasing
customer demands for information and transparency
and an evolving energy marketplace while operating
on technologies that are aged, limited, siloed or no
longer supported. Legacy systems are typically in
need of significant improvement if they are to support
now-critical customer and regulatory options, such as
new rate structures and channels of communication.
We believe utilities must modernize customer
engagement more quickly and with less risk by
deploying a front-end CRM system that integrates
with the CIS and other data sources through
an application programming interface. This
solution offers a comprehensive view of customer
activity, including marketing, communications
and field services. These platforms are very
flexible and can readily integrate with other utility
applications that use customer data, such as
work orders; outage information; DERs; efficiency
and load-management programs; and customer
communication preferences. Figure 4 illustrates an
outage management support system we created
for a leading utility in North America to improve
customer experience.
Overview of outage management support system
Client engagement
Support Activites
Guiding principles from client:
Customer’s ask:
Client is a leading utility in North America
7.6 million
retail
customers
49,500 megawatts
of electric generating
capacity
Five NAM location
offices covering six
different NAM states
Fortune 125
company
	
❙ The client was looking for solutions that will provide
application support during critical weather events,
improve responsiveness, reduce the enhancement
request backlog, and offer improved application
availability
	
❙ The client was looking for support engagement for
three different towers comprising three different vendor
products and six different states
	
❙ Total number of applications to be supported : 61
Cognizant to provide end-to-end managed service for outage
management system (OMS), including:
	
❙ Operational:
	 1. Known error resolution
	 2. Standard service request
	 3. Outage support and mediator service
	
❙ L2 & L3:
	 1. Incident resolution
	 2. Application problem management
	 3. Minor enhancement
	 4. On demand /ad hoc requests
	 5. Compliance and regulatory updates
	
❙ Governance: Service level management
	
❙ Sustainability efforts
	
❙ 24*7 support – 16*5 desk support (onshore + offshore),
the rest on-call support
	
❙ Along with 180 incidents per month, we also work on
sustainability, enhancement from storms and business
requests of 600 hours per month
	
❙ Response to critical incidents is 30 minutes, with a high
of 60 minutes, and restoration time is 60 minutes and
120 minutes, respectively
	
❙ Track and report application availability for the critical
applications
Figure 4
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
10 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Grid modernization
Prompted by storms,fires and outages,regulators
have put pressure on utilities to address reliability and
resilience concerns.Recent months alone have seen
headline-making supply disasters in California and
Texas,and we believe such black-swan events will grow
more common in the future.Grid modernization efforts
are shifting,replacing and adding infrastructure (such as
advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and distribution
automation (DA)—the family of technologies that
automate power distribution) to make the grid
interactive and agile.New technologies,dubbed grid-
edge resources,are being embraced,fueled by reduced
battery storage costs that allow cheaper renewable
energy to be stored for later use.This facilitates new
demand-management opportunities.
It’s abundantly clear that digital enables many
utility-of-the-future, grid-modernization, and
market-transformation initiatives, though
implementation may vary based on local factors.
Specifically, investment in advanced distributed-
system automation and smart-grid technologies
alone makes the grid more responsive and
resilient. Grid-modernization investments lower
operating costs by providing a cost take-out
opportunity — and because these investments
contribute to the asset base, they are entitled to
cost recovery and a return on assets. Figure 5
illustrates how we helped a North American utility
in its grid-modernization journey.
Smart grid/AMI transformation
Helped a leading North American utility team to achieve its goals in their smart grid/AMI journey since the start of the program
Residential meter
deployment (4.5M+
smart meters)
Network
implementation
(10K+ devices)
Distribution
automation
(60K+ devices)
Smart lights
deployment (500K
+ smart nodes)
C&I meter
deployment (250K+
smart meters)
Client has invested more than $800 M in its grid modernization efforts to become a model run utility
IMPROVED
PERFORMANCE
10K+ assets proactively
replaced, and 500K+
outages avoided with the
help of data analytics
OPERATIONAL
EFFICIENCIES
$30M+ yearly savings
from reduced field trips,
customer complaints, etc.
REDUCED CUSTOMER
BILLS
Lowest in Florida; 25%
lower than national average
for last several years
CUSTOMER
SATISFACTION
Customer satisfaction
scores improved by 70
points, enabled by smart
grid investments
SUPERIOR
RELIABILITY
Avoided 150K+ service
interruptions during storm
season, a 25% improvement
in service reliability
Figure 5
Large-Scale
Complex Program
Management
AMI/Back
Office System
Integrations
Smart Grid/
AMI Application
Support
AMI/Network
Operational
Dashboards
Key Stakeholder
Communication
Big Data/
Data Lake
Implementation
AMI Asset
Tracking and
Management
Platform
Customer
Energy
Dashboard
Predictive Outage
Analytics Engine
Proactive Meter/
Network Analytics
Solutions
DA Deployment
Business Process
Automation
AMI Asset
Management
Process
Consulting
C&I AMI
Implementation
Advisory Services
Smart Light
Business Process
Consulting
Robotic Process
Automation/AI
Build and support the required infrastructure for delivering business value
Driving efficiencies by delivering cutting-edge solutions
Delivering strategic and business transformation
1
1
2
2
3
3
COGNIZANT ENGAGEMENTS AREAS
KEY BUSINESS OUTCOMES
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
11 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Cloud migration
When it comes to the cloud, utilities at the earlier
stages of digital maturity are particularly cautious
about considering migration, as they view the
cloud as a double-edged sword. Even with the
agility it offers, many are concerned about the
introduction of unknown cybersecurity risk. For
these organizations, we advise taking a selective
approach to cloud deployment that slowly but surely
increases organizational agility and transparency
while minimizing risk. A good cloud start would be to
focus on applications with the lowest-risk workloads,
or those with minimal customer data or sensitive
information — internal financial apps often fit the bill.
The focus areas we’ve explored are underpinned
by the extent to which utilities can address the
overall transition to digital — which includes
cloud migration, of course, in addition to remote
performance centers; 5G; securing systems and
data; managing human and digital workers; and
improving productivity/taking out cost.
In an engagement with a large European utility in
one of the industry’s largest-ever data ports to the
cloud, we moved more than 220 business services
and over eight petabytes of data to a hybrid cloud
model. We developed a digital-ready hybrid cloud
platform and deployed both a public and a private
cloud as a fully integrated, secure technology
backbone, in 20 months. An automation layer sits
across the entire backbone to provide self-service
capabilities. As a result of the engagement, the utility
reduced infrastructure provisioning time from 12-16
weeks to one hour. The company also realized a 30%
reduction in batch processing times and a significant
reduction in operating costs.
It is increasingly clear that focusing on digital overhaul
is the key to overcoming challenges and embracing
opportunities on the way to the utility of the future.
The way forward
We believe that to thrive, utilities must take a long-
term view and a modern business approach, planning
holistically for the future.These conversations
must happen at the executive level to ensure that
investments are directed toward the focus areas that
will allow the business to keep pace with change,break
down organizational siloes and transition to the future.
Utilities should begin their journey by focusing on
key areas mentioned here, but the path forward
will vary. For some, a major component will be
facilitating the upskilling and reskilling of the
workforce to ensure the utility is using its talent
pool efficiently. For others, organizational readiness,
contingency plans and building threat matrixes
may be at the forefront. The bottom line is that each
utility organization will need to assess itself across
these key areas to determine an optimal strategy
based on its unique circumstances.
A good cloud start would be to focus on applications with the lowest-
risk workloads,or those with minimal customer data or sensitive
information—internal financial apps often fit the bill.
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
12 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
Regardless of size, we recommend utilities start
with an audit of their digitization plan (whether it
exists already or is largely hypothetical) to maximize
their chances of becoming a utility of the future.
We recommend a digital assessment approach
that begins with a comprehensive review of the
company’s business processes, data quality, systems
and organizational performance. At the end of such
an assessment, a utility should have:
	
❙ A roadmap for continuous improvement and a
business readiness plan that addresses data and
processes inconsistency
	
❙ Performance goals and benchmarks in an easy-
to-use scorecard
	
❙ Actionable quick-win opportunities, including
practical upgrades and implementation plans that
enhance digital grid solutions
	
❙ A strategy for systematically moving the
organization through the digital maturity
model to become a utility of the future
Larger utilities likely already have plans in place, but
they may need a second set of eyes to help them
recalibrate their approach where needed. Many
smaller utilities find themselves in a position that is,
in a way, enviable: With COVID-19 somewhat easing,
they must craft their roadmap for the first time. This
is their opportunity to make sure they’re creating a
strategy that will keep them competitive for many
years to come.
Endnotes
1	 www.cewd.org.
2	 “The Big Data Facts Update 2020,” Nodegraph: https://www.nodegraph.se/big-data-facts/.
3	 “What We Want: A Gen-Z and Millennial Plea to Utility Companies,” Energy Central, https://energycentral.com/c/um/what-
we-want-gen-z-and-millenial-plea-utility-companies.
4	 https://nodesmarket.com/market-design/.
Cognizant 20-20 Insights
13 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
About the authors
David Cox
North American Head, Energy & Utilities Consulting, Cognizant
David currently leads the Cognizant Energy and Utility Consulting Practice in North America. He is an
accomplished utility industry executive with domestic and international experience helping clients in
the areas of operations, engineering, asset management, digital plant technology and emerging market
development. Prior to joining Cognizant, David served in executive leadership roles in the US, South Africa
and Asia Pacific with Accenture. He can be reached at david.cox@cognizant.com | linkedin.com/in/davebcox.
Matthew Panszczyk
Senior Director, Energy & Utilities Consulting, Cognizant
Matthew is an accomplished utility leader with 17 years of utility experience. He has a passion for
emerging grid technologies and for using them to create value. His combination of utility and consulting
experience creates unique perspectives into how utilities can use new technology to improve reliability,
operational efficiency, safety and affordability. His areas of specialty include strategy and deployment
of new operational technologies in both utility asset performance centers and in the field by helping
operationalize new technologies such as drones, rovers and battery storage. Matthew has led many large
transformations in AMI, DA and Enterprise Asset Management. He can be reached at Maciej.Panszczyk@
cognizant.com | linkedin.com/in/matthew-panszczyk-1bb9619.
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About Cognizant
Cognizant (Nasdaq-100: CTSH) is one of the world’s leading professional services companies, transforming clients’ business, operating and technology
models for the digital era. Our unique industry-based, consultative approach helps clients envision, build and run more innovative and efficient businesses.
Headquartered in the U.S., Cognizant is ranked 185 on the Fortune 500 and is consistently listed among the most admired companies in the world. Learn
how Cognizant helps clients lead with digital at www.cognizant.com or follow us @Cognizant.
© Copyright 2021, Cognizant. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express written permission from Cognizant. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. All other trademarks mentioned
herein are the property of their respective owners.
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Crafting the Utility of the Future

  • 1. Cognizant 20-20 Insights June 2021 Crafting the Utility of the Future Challenged on every front, the industry must fully embrace digital business change to power next-level organizational readiness and agility. Executive Summary Even before COVID-19 struck, utilities found themselves facing profound changes due to environmental, economic, societal and regulatory pressures. Those pressures included shifting legislative and regulatory mandates; consumers becoming energy producers with increased expectations around hyper- personalized customer experiences, omnichannel digital access and payment options, green energy choices and tailored services; energy loads becoming more interactive, dynamic and difficult to manage; transmission and distribution methods needing to be ever more controllable and resilient; a need to use data to maximize field assets; and the introduction of innovative and disruptive technology challenging the ways this mature industry has been doing business for more than a century. Indeed, it’s not too strong to say that pre-pandemic, the three Ds of disruption were already breaking the traditional utility business model: ❙ Decarbonization, as renewable energy proliferates and the regulatory environment grows stricter ❙ Decentralization, due to the growth of distributed energy resources (DERs) and additional capacity provided by “prosumers” ❙ Digitization, in the form of evolving smart-grid technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT), advances in battery technology, and convergence of the grid and transportation
  • 2. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 2 / Crafting the Utility of the Future This already-urgent situation didn’t need a wildcard — but that’s exactly what utilities were presented, in the form of a pandemic that fundamentally transformed both energy demand trends and business operations. On the demand side, millions of consumers began working at home almost overnight. Loads once predictably distributed to office buildings and retail centers were now fragmented. Meanwhile, utilities contended with operational challenges as they tried to staff facilities while protecting the safety of their employees. Early in the crisis, utilities faced unforeseen nightmare scenarios — like being forced to shut down a plant because it could not be adequately, and safely, staffed. Prior to the pandemic, utilities had begun to consider contingency plans to enable remote operation of critical infrastructure, such as power generation facilities, and business processes. But COVID-19 dialed up the pressure, making it an absolute must to have multiple levels of redundancy for times when plans A and B fail because utilities cannot send people to the office or give them access to the systems they need. As utilities grapple with industry disruption and COVID’s aftermath, they will face additional obstacles around budget, institutional stasis and a shortage of employees with needed skills. In this paper, we’ll explore both the challenges and their solutions, highlighted by real-world examples. Industry players that shy away from the battle will fade, we believe, while those that take action will position themselves to join the elite — the utilities of the future.
  • 3. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 3 / Crafting the Utility of the Future Past tense tensions Before exploring the utility of the future, it’s helpful to study the unique pressures the industry faces by looking at the past. In addition to an onerous regulatory environment, shifting customer demands and a splintering power-generation picture, the venerable industry has to deal with the reality that it’s often perceived as stodgy, with limited advancement opportunities. Utilities face an uphill battle in hiring the younger workers needed for digital transformation — especially because they’ll be competing with other, sexier industries. That’s a significant problem for an industry hiring at a rate of 6% to 7% per year, according to the nonprofit Center for Energy Workforce Development.1 The best way to address this,we believe, is to act boldly while aggressively publicizing those actions. Hiring initiatives focused on cutting-edge skills, diversity and the opportunity to make a difference in the world will, if publicized appropriately, sway the opinions of millennials, Gen Zs and those who follow. Utility leaders we speak with are increasing their presence in universities with leading STEM programs, and stressing that employees will get to work with advanced tech while creating a greener future. Speaking of industry challenges, let’s not forget the very recent past. Utilities can never stop performing, even when a natural disaster is piled atop a pandemic. Such was the case in both 2020 and 2021 in geographies spanning the US. The problems highlighted the need for the utility of the future. During major storms and other disasters, utilities typically put dispatchers, outage coordinators and other personnel in centralized control rooms equipped with backup generators. During recent storms in California, Texas, New York and elsewhere, utility employees were pulled from their day jobs and assigned a storm role. Additionally, it’s typical — or used to be — to have field crews, many of whom drove hundreds of miles, to report to large parking lots for onboarding and meals. During COVID-19, with headquarters a no-go zone and social distancing required for outdoor meetings, these deeply ingrained habits did not work. Employees working from home often lacked proper systems and network access — and may very well have lost power themselves. Business continuity, employee backups and succession planning were all put to the test throughout the pandemic. The bottom-line message was that the more digitally mature a utility is, the better it can respond to inevitable disasters. Business continuity, employee backups and succession planning were all put to the test throughout the pandemic. The bottom-line message was that the more digitally mature a utility is, the better it can respond to inevitable disasters.
  • 4. Cognizant 20-20 Insights Utilities lag in all measures of digital maturity but one The digital imperative It is clear, then, that utilities are ripe for change. The shift will not be an easy one. Our research shows, as depicted in Figure 1, that where digital maturity is concerned, the industry lags well behind others (for more, see “Energy & Utilities Under Pressure”). However, we do see industry leaders starting to place their bets in the right places as they progress. For example, Figure 2, next page, shows that leading companies in the space are looking to democratize their data and make it usable across their organizations, to enhance their customer experiences via investments in mobile technology and apps and to deploy cloud technology to address siloed business operations caused by data residing in on-premises legacy systems. As we’ll see, these are some key attributes of the utility of the future. Respondents were asked to rate their maturity in each area of our digital maturity framework. (Pecent of respondents in the maturing or advanced stage) E&U respondents All respondents Difference (in percentage points) -16 Digital strategy and roadmap -7 Workforce transformation -8 Modernize core IT -6 Aligning operations with customer demands -15 Innovation culture -23 Automomation -16 IoT and connected products -25 Data management and analytics -4 Enhanced augmented workers -8 Human-centricity -23 Software deployment -14 Artificial intelligence +4 Improved consumer/employee experience Figure 1 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Total response base: 2,491 E&U response base: 191 Source: Cognizant/ESI ThoughtLab, 2019 study 4 / Crafting the Utility of the Future
  • 5. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 5 / Crafting the Utility of the Future Updating business models In the US, utilities face a unique compensation challenge; typically, they’re governed by state public utilities commissions that set their funding and compensation as a percentage of capital expenses. This arrangement makes large-scale purchases of equipment and services a safe bet for utilities, but also leads to highly structured environments that are short on flexibility and agility. The utility CEOs we speak with understand, universally, that this must change — but how to do so is a moving target for enterprises that are incented to maximize capital expenditures, rather than leverage the more flexible operating model at the core of digital transformation. We believe utilities have an opportunity to leverage an approach that uses operating expenditures as a vehicle for investments in technology and process improvement; this approach is more responsive to shifting customer expectations than the traditionally long and arduous process of funding these efforts through capital expenditure. As of now, there is no easy answer where state commissions are concerned. We believe they must and can be educated regarding the greater good of more flexible business models, but there’s no reason to expect rapid change. The utility of the future must walk a tightrope, embracing an operating-driven model while masking it as a classic capital model. Figure 2 Investment gulf between leaders and laggards E&U response base: 191 Source: Cognizant/ESI ThoughtLab, 2019 study Respondents were asked their level of investment in each technology in the last two years. (Percent of respondents who made a significant investment) 92% Mobile/technology apps 82% Cloud technology 77% Cybersecurity technology 68% IoT 58% Robotic process automation 44% Artificial intelligence 44% Digital assistants 29% Data management 34% Open platforms/API 34% Drones 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% 0% Percent of leaders who saw a significant ROI As utility leaders grapple with how to handle the many factors driving a shift in the industry, we have advised clients to address these critical areas of focus, examples of which we’ll explore below: ❙ Updating business models ❙ Discovering value through data ❙ Integrating DERs ❙ Delivering on the customer promise ❙ Grid modernization ❙ Cloud migration E&U beginners E&U leaders
  • 6. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 6 / Crafting the Utility of the Future Data is the new renewable In a world that held an estimated 2.7 zettabytes2 of data in 2018 and in which 1.7 megabytes are added per second, per person, it’s no surprise that utilities are gathering data at an unprecedented level due to advances in technology. They must leverage that data to improve operations, and monetize it where feasible. Data can either be the heartbeat of a utility or its weakness, holding back potential innovation. Without data modernization, a modern architecture, strong management and a data governance foundation, utilities will struggle to layer on advanced capabilities or implement emerging technology. For too many utilities, data is a weakness, not a heartbeat. It’s impossible to overemphasize how important it is to clean up, normalize and standardize enterprise data. This is more difficult for the utility industry than for others. For decades (at least!), utilities have been gathering data in siloed, typically homegrown systems, never intending it to interact with information from other sources. Today, this is hobbling the transition to digital. It’s common for utilities to invest millions in customer information systems (CIS) or other enterprise software, only to fail to realize expected benefits. A deeper examination often reveals that the CIS is working as intended; it’s the data that is useless in its present condition. There is no glamorous or easy way to address the data problem. Even after they have tamed it, utilities may be overwhelmed at the question of how to extract the maximum value from the information. We advise a top-down, business-driven, analytics-based approach that focuses on identifying the key business decisions that are core to a utility’s operations and strategic investments and can be improved with the support of data analytics. By developing key performance indicators (KPIs) and automated dashboards, often with assistance from a third party, utilities can and must undergo a cultural transformation and become metrics- driven organizations. In our experience, utilities do a solid job on the CIS side by, for example, tracking customer wait times. But they fall down when it comes to tracking the performance of assets in the field. Most utilities started off by buying the cheapest gear available; then they don’t sufficiently track failure rates and maintenance. Predictive or even preventative maintenance too often goes unperformed, so equipment may be replaced before its time (which ties in with the previously mentioned incentive to fall back on capital expenditures), and total cost of ownership is a mystery. The utility of the future must move from a preventative maintenance model to a condition- based model by transforming data into tangible value, ultimately reducing operating and maintenance costs. Employing these best practices will allow utilities to implement more sophisticated asset performance- management processes and systems to maximize the efficiency of their asset network as more and more devices are connected and managed remotely. We advise a top-down,business-driven,analytics-based approach that focuses on identifying the key business decisions that are core to a utility’s operations and strategic investments and can be improved with the support of data analytics.
  • 7. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 7 / Crafting the Utility of the Future Integrating DERs DERs are poised to grow rapidly, transforming energy markets and affecting utility operations. Utilities are taking steps toward a decentralized energy future but are not always proactively developing and investing in the services and digital systems needed to accommodate the increasing penetration of DERs. It is imperative to plan for and invest in the digital systems, workforce and business processes required to accommodate a large amount of new DERs. Only by keeping up with or staying ahead of DER penetration can utilities, regulators and customers reap the full range of benefits available through a more distributed energy system. If they fail to accommodate this growing demand, utilities risk having customers completely bypass the grid in favor of self-generation, with or without utility backup service. To succeed, utilities may have to rethink business models — and they have a choice to make. They can either watch customers bypass the grid and move into self-generation (solar, battery, etc.), or they can become the provider that finances, installs and maintains these self-generation assets. The Quick Take on page 8 shows how we helped a utility in this arena. In many cases, consumers cannot or don’t want to spend $15,000 to $30,000 on such systems, and they certainly don’t want the headache of maintaining them. If a utility offered them the option to add self-generation assets to their energy ecosystem with flexible payment and leasing plans, many customers would consider keeping their utility provider as a partner. Consumers increasingly demand the ability to own their own generation and be more green/sustainable (66% of millennial and Gen Z consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products).3 If their utility can help them achieve this goal without major up- front expense (and perhaps even with a reduction in their total energy costs through the sale of excess energy back to the utility), there is a path forward for them to keep their relationship with their power company. Utilities that are innovative and flexible in this regard, acting as a potential partner rather than a mere supplier, will be well positioned for the future. Utilities that are innovative and flexible in this regard,acting as a potential partner rather than a mere supplier,will be well positioned for the future.
  • 8. Cognizant 20-20 Insights Creating an Energy Exchange In one case, we worked with a European utility to create the world’s first independent energy trading platform, allowing “prosumers” to both use and sell energy. Collaborating with regulators and network operators, the utility defined the roadmap and piloted a platform we helped develop using cloud technologies and platform as a service (PaaS) capabilities. The platform has been successfully piloted in Germany and Norway and is being used throughout Europe as a model for similar programs. 8 / Crafting the Utility of the Future Manage demand and distributed generation through local energy market Challenge ❙ Decentralization of energy has created a change in energy flows, forcing utilities to look at new market models ❙ Rapid advancements in localized generation, access to renewables and energy storage compels grid operators to look at alternatives to costly grid infrastructure reinforcements ❙ Rise of prosumers needs new market designs to facilitate profitable energy traders across multiple market levels Approach ❙ Consulting took the lead in driving the market design group ❙ Collaborations with industry groups, regulators and network operators ❙ Jointly defined the roadmap and developed completely new market concepts ❙ Pilot version of platform developed entirely using cloud technologies and PaaS Outcome ❙ World’s 1st independent energy flexibility trading platform ❙ Successful pilot runs of the platform in Germany and Norway ❙ Received three research grants for platform from Norwegian regulator, while two applications in Germany and UK are in progress ❙ Nodes Market design4 and platform is being used by regulators across Europe for defining next generation of local energy trade regulations Figure 3 Quick Take
  • 9. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 9 / Crafting the Utility of the Future Delivering on the customer promise In spite of the many challenges facing utilities, make no mistake: This is their game to lose. Having been the sole provider of energy for most customers for a century or more, utilities hold massive amounts of brand equity. But as alternative providers crop up, utilities must continue to improve customer experience and satisfaction if they don’t want to see attrition and lose their advantage. Utilities are being required to adapt to increasing customer demands for information and transparency and an evolving energy marketplace while operating on technologies that are aged, limited, siloed or no longer supported. Legacy systems are typically in need of significant improvement if they are to support now-critical customer and regulatory options, such as new rate structures and channels of communication. We believe utilities must modernize customer engagement more quickly and with less risk by deploying a front-end CRM system that integrates with the CIS and other data sources through an application programming interface. This solution offers a comprehensive view of customer activity, including marketing, communications and field services. These platforms are very flexible and can readily integrate with other utility applications that use customer data, such as work orders; outage information; DERs; efficiency and load-management programs; and customer communication preferences. Figure 4 illustrates an outage management support system we created for a leading utility in North America to improve customer experience. Overview of outage management support system Client engagement Support Activites Guiding principles from client: Customer’s ask: Client is a leading utility in North America 7.6 million retail customers 49,500 megawatts of electric generating capacity Five NAM location offices covering six different NAM states Fortune 125 company ❙ The client was looking for solutions that will provide application support during critical weather events, improve responsiveness, reduce the enhancement request backlog, and offer improved application availability ❙ The client was looking for support engagement for three different towers comprising three different vendor products and six different states ❙ Total number of applications to be supported : 61 Cognizant to provide end-to-end managed service for outage management system (OMS), including: ❙ Operational: 1. Known error resolution 2. Standard service request 3. Outage support and mediator service ❙ L2 & L3: 1. Incident resolution 2. Application problem management 3. Minor enhancement 4. On demand /ad hoc requests 5. Compliance and regulatory updates ❙ Governance: Service level management ❙ Sustainability efforts ❙ 24*7 support – 16*5 desk support (onshore + offshore), the rest on-call support ❙ Along with 180 incidents per month, we also work on sustainability, enhancement from storms and business requests of 600 hours per month ❙ Response to critical incidents is 30 minutes, with a high of 60 minutes, and restoration time is 60 minutes and 120 minutes, respectively ❙ Track and report application availability for the critical applications Figure 4
  • 10. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 10 / Crafting the Utility of the Future Grid modernization Prompted by storms,fires and outages,regulators have put pressure on utilities to address reliability and resilience concerns.Recent months alone have seen headline-making supply disasters in California and Texas,and we believe such black-swan events will grow more common in the future.Grid modernization efforts are shifting,replacing and adding infrastructure (such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and distribution automation (DA)—the family of technologies that automate power distribution) to make the grid interactive and agile.New technologies,dubbed grid- edge resources,are being embraced,fueled by reduced battery storage costs that allow cheaper renewable energy to be stored for later use.This facilitates new demand-management opportunities. It’s abundantly clear that digital enables many utility-of-the-future, grid-modernization, and market-transformation initiatives, though implementation may vary based on local factors. Specifically, investment in advanced distributed- system automation and smart-grid technologies alone makes the grid more responsive and resilient. Grid-modernization investments lower operating costs by providing a cost take-out opportunity — and because these investments contribute to the asset base, they are entitled to cost recovery and a return on assets. Figure 5 illustrates how we helped a North American utility in its grid-modernization journey. Smart grid/AMI transformation Helped a leading North American utility team to achieve its goals in their smart grid/AMI journey since the start of the program Residential meter deployment (4.5M+ smart meters) Network implementation (10K+ devices) Distribution automation (60K+ devices) Smart lights deployment (500K + smart nodes) C&I meter deployment (250K+ smart meters) Client has invested more than $800 M in its grid modernization efforts to become a model run utility IMPROVED PERFORMANCE 10K+ assets proactively replaced, and 500K+ outages avoided with the help of data analytics OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCIES $30M+ yearly savings from reduced field trips, customer complaints, etc. REDUCED CUSTOMER BILLS Lowest in Florida; 25% lower than national average for last several years CUSTOMER SATISFACTION Customer satisfaction scores improved by 70 points, enabled by smart grid investments SUPERIOR RELIABILITY Avoided 150K+ service interruptions during storm season, a 25% improvement in service reliability Figure 5 Large-Scale Complex Program Management AMI/Back Office System Integrations Smart Grid/ AMI Application Support AMI/Network Operational Dashboards Key Stakeholder Communication Big Data/ Data Lake Implementation AMI Asset Tracking and Management Platform Customer Energy Dashboard Predictive Outage Analytics Engine Proactive Meter/ Network Analytics Solutions DA Deployment Business Process Automation AMI Asset Management Process Consulting C&I AMI Implementation Advisory Services Smart Light Business Process Consulting Robotic Process Automation/AI Build and support the required infrastructure for delivering business value Driving efficiencies by delivering cutting-edge solutions Delivering strategic and business transformation 1 1 2 2 3 3 COGNIZANT ENGAGEMENTS AREAS KEY BUSINESS OUTCOMES
  • 11. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 11 / Crafting the Utility of the Future Cloud migration When it comes to the cloud, utilities at the earlier stages of digital maturity are particularly cautious about considering migration, as they view the cloud as a double-edged sword. Even with the agility it offers, many are concerned about the introduction of unknown cybersecurity risk. For these organizations, we advise taking a selective approach to cloud deployment that slowly but surely increases organizational agility and transparency while minimizing risk. A good cloud start would be to focus on applications with the lowest-risk workloads, or those with minimal customer data or sensitive information — internal financial apps often fit the bill. The focus areas we’ve explored are underpinned by the extent to which utilities can address the overall transition to digital — which includes cloud migration, of course, in addition to remote performance centers; 5G; securing systems and data; managing human and digital workers; and improving productivity/taking out cost. In an engagement with a large European utility in one of the industry’s largest-ever data ports to the cloud, we moved more than 220 business services and over eight petabytes of data to a hybrid cloud model. We developed a digital-ready hybrid cloud platform and deployed both a public and a private cloud as a fully integrated, secure technology backbone, in 20 months. An automation layer sits across the entire backbone to provide self-service capabilities. As a result of the engagement, the utility reduced infrastructure provisioning time from 12-16 weeks to one hour. The company also realized a 30% reduction in batch processing times and a significant reduction in operating costs. It is increasingly clear that focusing on digital overhaul is the key to overcoming challenges and embracing opportunities on the way to the utility of the future. The way forward We believe that to thrive, utilities must take a long- term view and a modern business approach, planning holistically for the future.These conversations must happen at the executive level to ensure that investments are directed toward the focus areas that will allow the business to keep pace with change,break down organizational siloes and transition to the future. Utilities should begin their journey by focusing on key areas mentioned here, but the path forward will vary. For some, a major component will be facilitating the upskilling and reskilling of the workforce to ensure the utility is using its talent pool efficiently. For others, organizational readiness, contingency plans and building threat matrixes may be at the forefront. The bottom line is that each utility organization will need to assess itself across these key areas to determine an optimal strategy based on its unique circumstances. A good cloud start would be to focus on applications with the lowest- risk workloads,or those with minimal customer data or sensitive information—internal financial apps often fit the bill.
  • 12. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 12 / Crafting the Utility of the Future Regardless of size, we recommend utilities start with an audit of their digitization plan (whether it exists already or is largely hypothetical) to maximize their chances of becoming a utility of the future. We recommend a digital assessment approach that begins with a comprehensive review of the company’s business processes, data quality, systems and organizational performance. At the end of such an assessment, a utility should have: ❙ A roadmap for continuous improvement and a business readiness plan that addresses data and processes inconsistency ❙ Performance goals and benchmarks in an easy- to-use scorecard ❙ Actionable quick-win opportunities, including practical upgrades and implementation plans that enhance digital grid solutions ❙ A strategy for systematically moving the organization through the digital maturity model to become a utility of the future Larger utilities likely already have plans in place, but they may need a second set of eyes to help them recalibrate their approach where needed. Many smaller utilities find themselves in a position that is, in a way, enviable: With COVID-19 somewhat easing, they must craft their roadmap for the first time. This is their opportunity to make sure they’re creating a strategy that will keep them competitive for many years to come. Endnotes 1 www.cewd.org. 2 “The Big Data Facts Update 2020,” Nodegraph: https://www.nodegraph.se/big-data-facts/. 3 “What We Want: A Gen-Z and Millennial Plea to Utility Companies,” Energy Central, https://energycentral.com/c/um/what- we-want-gen-z-and-millenial-plea-utility-companies. 4 https://nodesmarket.com/market-design/.
  • 13. Cognizant 20-20 Insights 13 / Crafting the Utility of the Future About the authors David Cox North American Head, Energy & Utilities Consulting, Cognizant David currently leads the Cognizant Energy and Utility Consulting Practice in North America. He is an accomplished utility industry executive with domestic and international experience helping clients in the areas of operations, engineering, asset management, digital plant technology and emerging market development. Prior to joining Cognizant, David served in executive leadership roles in the US, South Africa and Asia Pacific with Accenture. He can be reached at david.cox@cognizant.com | linkedin.com/in/davebcox. Matthew Panszczyk Senior Director, Energy & Utilities Consulting, Cognizant Matthew is an accomplished utility leader with 17 years of utility experience. He has a passion for emerging grid technologies and for using them to create value. His combination of utility and consulting experience creates unique perspectives into how utilities can use new technology to improve reliability, operational efficiency, safety and affordability. His areas of specialty include strategy and deployment of new operational technologies in both utility asset performance centers and in the field by helping operationalize new technologies such as drones, rovers and battery storage. Matthew has led many large transformations in AMI, DA and Enterprise Asset Management. He can be reached at Maciej.Panszczyk@ cognizant.com | linkedin.com/in/matthew-panszczyk-1bb9619.
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