Customer experience (CX) in the utility industry is undergoing dramatic change. Customers want more access to information, more choices to access information (such as mobile and social media) and enhanced ability to manage costs. To meet this need, utility companies are striving to engage their customers using data analytics, monitoring and control in the modern ecosystem of Internet of Things (IoT) with Smart Meters, PV Solar Inverters, smart appliances, and smart home devices. This digital transformation provides a personalized experience to the customer and data rich environments for utility companies. Customer’s energy usage data is considered to be personally identifiable information (PII), which is a critical shift in thinking for utility companies that have been focused on production availability. As data privacy becomes a concern, the burden to protect and preserve data integrity of this data falls onto utility companies. Cybersecurity is all the more paramount as innovative energy products expand the playing field, and increases the risk.

Data flow in the Energy Ecosystem

Examples of Utility Data Flows:

  • Consumers:
    • Online bill payment: smart phone or PC
    • Remote smart meter data transfer
    • Energy tracking of PV Solar systems
    • Water heaters and HVAC
  • 3rd Party Providers:
    • Customer data analytics
    • Energy usage tracking
  • Utility Companies:
    • Green button customer data access initiatives
    • Customer outage notification systems (via website, social media

IoT, Communications, Smart Grid and CX Analytics 

The evolution of CX and advanced analytics (AA) provide a modern platform for customers to engage with their energy consumption footprint and energy spending. Increasingly, customers seek to obtain this information via mobile devices and social media. At the same time, IoT devices in the home and on the power grid are rapidly increasing the sources of new energy data. On any given day, energy utility customers will generate data from a diversity of devices including their: smart meter, electric vehicle, rooftop solar system, smart thermostat, smart hot water heater, and behind-the-meter energy storage. This represents a sea of change in information utility companies receive about their customer’s energy use, and a revolution in empowerment of utility customers.

Access to energy usage data supports the mission to enhance customer experience, and popular initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases and adoption of sustainable energy. Customer experience is impacted positively by data access – for all customers spanning residential, commercial and industrial, government and military – to empower them to monitor their energy usage, identify changes in their usage, or invest in technologies and devices that can save them energy and money.

However, each connected device that enables data access represents a data end-point that must be secured. Each software user interface and data portal require even greater attention to cybersecurity mitigation and monitoring. And as third-party companies and utility companies aggregate and synthesize data from IoT devices and customer data streams, this digital ecosystem must be secured. As more Smart Grid and IoT devices become integrated into the grid, such as intelligent line monitors that enable rapid outages recovery or data servers installed at substations, the requirement for cybersecurity becomes an end-to-end continuous activity. Data and communications must be secured from customer end-points to field devices on the power grid to back-office IT systems.

 Visibility and Metrics to Drive Customer Satisfaction

With the increase in advanced data-driven technologies, the relationship between utility companies and their customers is clearly enhanced. Consumers now have real-time data to make decisions, and are able to earn the title “prosumer” – as they use their new data to throttle energy usage and maximize efficiency, for the benefit of themselves and the utility company. There are now more metrics, more options for customer-utility interaction than ever before, and this drives customer satisfaction. To ensure and safeguard continued progress in this enhanced ecosystem, utilities need to keep cybersecurity in mind. Cybersecurity needs to be part of the digital transformation discussion from the beginning, not as a “patch” after the fact. Building a strategy to secure and protect customer data and maintaining healthy cybersecurity hygiene are key to reducing risk for utilities, avoiding exposure of customer data, and is an incentive for customer satisfaction.

A WestMonroe article

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