According to a recent Gartner survey, the number of CEOs citing environmental sustainability as a business priority increased more than 300% from last year. Meanwhile, some utility CIOs report that cybercrime attacks have grown to millions of attempted incidents each day, and attracting and keeping top talent has never been more difficult. It’s a trifecta of disruption that Australia’s electricity and water utilities are facing with their own industry disruption. With the connected data of cloud-based technologies, forward-thinking utilities are branching out from legacy stalwarts to innovative service providers that address climate change, avoid bad actors, and become the employer of choice.
Utilities adopt a sustainable business vision
As the pace of sustainable business grows stronger, Australia’s utility providers are doing much more than making noise about the imperatives of climate change. Regardless of the size or scope of services, including generators, distributors, retailers and water providers, leaders are transforming business models to take advantage of new sustainable business opportunities. It is especially relevant in a country traditionally powered by coal.
“While emissions from coal are historically a significant part of the problem, the utility industry is transforming to become a driving force in achieving net-zero goals and providing more sustainable services,” said Conor Stephens, advisor to industry for utilities in SAP ANZ. “We are entering a period of great disruption, in which utility leaders are using technology to expand market opportunities while meeting changing customer demands and regulatory mandates.”
Australia is arguably well positioned to become a world leader in renewable energy given its sunny, windy topography and low population density. Selling green electricity, providing energy management tools and partnering to help manage electric vehicle networks are among the sustainable services utilities are exploring. Utilities also intend to improve resilience against extreme weather and other events due to climate change. Water utilities are exploring sustainable sourcing and wastewater recycling. It’s true that these new projects require an initial investment, but once built, sustainable infrastructure and equipment can last longer and cost less over time.
Dealing with the cybersecurity threat
For utility providers, cybersecurity is much more than protecting customer and financial information in IT systems. It also means protecting the operational technology (OT) of the organization that manages the assets, as well as physical security to prevent access to equipment such as substations. Hackers are increasingly targeting critical infrastructure operators such as electricity, gas, and water providers. That said, most successful attacks are due to human error, making employee training critical, including disaster recovery drills and other preparedness scenarios. Stephens said that cloud-based platforms are an integral part of a multifaceted cybersecurity strategy.
“Utilities are moving to cloud-based solutions in part because they see the security benefits,” he said. “The cloud offers many advantages for managing large and complex IT and OT environments and addressing security requirements. For its part, SAP has developed SAP Critical Data Cloud, a cloud-based service specifically designed to deliver market-leading SAP solutions with a higher level of security and compliance for our critical infrastructure customers.”
The culture of innovation attracts the best talent
Staffing qualified to meet business challenges such as sustainability and cybersecurity is another challenge facing Australian utilities. Following pandemic lockdowns that severely limited talent imports, many organizations have embraced work-anywhere environments. Utilities market leaders are also focused on creating a positive experience for employees.
“Recent graduates don’t necessarily envision working at their local utility company,” Stephens said. “The industry is rethinking how to position itself as technology innovators with opportunities in hot areas like renewable energy and cybersecurity to build a more sustainable world. That also encompasses the diversity of the workforce.”
To prevent employee turnover, many utilities have also beefed up mental health benefits and learning and development opportunities. Easy-to-use technology that delivers value is extremely important to the employee experience for both office and field workers.
“One of our clients digitized pole inspections using the SAP Business Technology Platform, replacing manual paper-based processes with an integrated system. Now field workers can use their mobile device to fill orders efficiently and securely, connecting data to the back office for additional analytics and proof of compliance,” said Stephens. “This is a great example of a utility using technology to enhance capabilities along with the employee experience.”
As Australian utilities prepare for more sustainable business models, there is no doubt that providers around the world will learn valuable lessons and follow in their footsteps to safely address a series of outages, ushering in a stronger future.
Learn more about how utilities are succeeding in the digital economy.