Data has never been more sought-after than it is right now. Over the past few years, data has become a critical component that can help organisations, including those in the utilities sector, provide a more personalised service and gain valuable insights into their operational and business efficiencies.
Due to this increased demand and interest in the use of data, data transformations have become more necessary than ever before. To help organisations in the utilities industry navigate this critical process, we felt it was imperative to host a discussion that focused on the biggest challenges of data transformations and how to overcome them.
To help us during this session, we enlisted the help of Jon Regan, ex-Head of Data at Thames Water. Jon has worked within the utilities industry for over 25 years and has a wealth of experience in implementing digital technologies.
During the discussion, Jon examined how utilities organisations can plan, drive and maintain their data transformations, whilst also sharing insights and advice from his first-hand experiences. It was a highly informative session that will undoubtedly be useful for those either planning on starting a data transformation or wanting advice on how to progress.
Keep scrolling to read a summary of Jon’s most crucial insights and advice from our session.
While business leaders seem to agree that data is extremely valuable and closely linked with success in today’s world, these same organisations say 55% of their data remains under-utilised, according to a study by Splunk. This means that while organisations are becoming increasingly proficient in collecting data, there seems to be a disconnect in how it’s actually used.
While a delay in transforming data and using it more effectively could be caused by several factors, a lack of internal-buy in from those at the top is often a common cause. This could be due to a resistance to change or a lack of understanding as to what the project is trying to achieve.
Jon explained that while having ambitious plans for data transformations is fantastic during the early stages, it can make the process overwhelming and challenging for these decision-makers. He said:
“It can be hard to sell a data transformation project or activity because it could be expensive, span several years or use lots of resource. You need to really sell the benefits of it but there are lots of variables. One thing I learned is that breaking it down into smaller steps that are tangible, specific and quite constrained can be really helpful in getting the process started”.
Organisations within the utilities sector, particularly water, have developed a reputation for being slow to embrace digital technologies and the benefits they can offer. Recent extreme weather events, such as last year’s driest summer for 50 years, have highlighted the necessity for the sector to speed up its digital transformation efforts.
This will not only help to improve its resilience and ensure organisations can continue delivering essential services, but will also help to drive efficiency, innovation and growth. A report by McKinsey found that by embracing digital transformations, the industry could reduce their operating expenses by up to 25% and improve their performance between 20-40% in areas such as safety and customer satisfaction.
To reap the benefits, a change in mindset when it comes to data and digital transformations within the industry is imperative, but unfortunately, this is often difficult to achieve quickly.
Encouraging an ageing workforce to change its mindset and embrace new ways of working, after doing things a certain way for potentially decades is undoubtedly challenging. While many organisations now have the necessary systems and infrastructure in place, many are reporting that their workforce is resisting and opting to continue using outdated methods to gather and analyse data.
Jon agreed with this research and shared that one of the most effective ways of changing outdated mindsets and sustaining a data transformation long term is by appointing a transformation sponsor. He shared:
“Sponsors of a data transformation project should champion and talk about what they’ve done and show real passion and advocacy for the change. The value of that on a team is so powerful. It’s vital that the development team give visibility and explain how they’re working, identify blockers and show how they’re doing it differently. It takes time but ultimately, the right sponsor can help teams to embrace and see why things needed to change”.
According to a study by Smart Energy International, 98% of the utility companies they surveyed expressed a desire to transform their data into insights. This highlights that despite being slow on the uptick, there is an undeniable enthusiasm for data within the industry.
However, another potential barrier that could slow down or even stop a data transformation in its tracks is the quality of the data itself.
In a 2021 report by Gartner, it was found that poor quality data costs organisations an estimated $13million per year. Unsurprisingly, this has caused many utilities companies to feel anxious about their own data quality. While it’s understandable to want to avoid such major losses, Jon explained that organisations shouldn’t wait until their data is perfect before they start transforming it. He explained:
“We need to get past this idea that we need to wait for our data to be good or perfect before we start a transformation. If we do that we’ll never get started. It’s about finding a real balance where we understand that our data isn’t great but show that we can still get value and drive insights from it.
I’ve found that gathering this data and using it actively and visually is a strong way of helping to generate ownership, get people interested in improving data quality and show that making these improvements can improve the outcomes we’re driving.”
The journey to profound data transformation in utilities isn’t a straightforward or easy one, but it’s a venture that will pay off tenfold if done correctly.
If you’re keen to find out more about the power of data in the water industry, listen to our podcast with Nick Rutherford on the importance of using data effectively and the strategies that a good programme leader needs to embed to deliver a successful transformation.
If you’d like to find out more about attending or speaking at one of our events, head to our Networking Events page.
From the Experts Industry Insight