Avertra builds digital solutions scale with IBM Cloud tie up
IBM has announced a collaboration with Avertra, the global integration services, products and consultancy organization, to help accelerate clients' digital transformation in the energy and utilities industry.
Avertra will host its MiCustomer Digital Experience platform on IBM Cloud, helping to build connected E&U organizations that can run more intelligently and securely.
Avertra is leveraging IBM's Cloud Engagement Fund, established as part of IBM's $1B investment into its ecosystem, to access technical resources and cloud credits to support migration of client workloads to hybrid cloud environments, including IBM Cloud.
Using advanced offerings from IBM Cloud, including the IBM Kubernetes Service (IKS), Avertra can gain more value from its data to help speed the development of new tools designed to improve efficiency for the industry.
A prime example is the Avertra MiCustomer solution, an integrated application suite which their clients can use on the IBM Cloud to manage all aspects of customer engagement, from the initial meter reading to final bill payment. This process includes invoicing, correspondence, automated back office exception resolution, and analytics – all based on a single unified platform designed to streamline operations to help reduce internal costs for E&U companies.
The solution is also designed to give control to consumers, allowing them to keep tabs on their energy usage, predict future usage and have oversight into their overall utility spend, along with other real-time features that support a simpler and more personalized customer experience.
"We view this collaboration as a natural extension of our expanding work with IBM. To date, we've had great success using IBM Watson, and now with IBM Cloud we'll be able to improve the scalability of our secured digital solutions to help build more connected E&U organizations supported by IBM's services. Our mission is to 'simplify life,' and we view our IBM collaboration as a way to simplify how we manage our critical digital assets. We look forward to the next stage in our journey with IBM," says Bashir Bseirani, CEO at Avertra.
Avertra is part of IBM's hybrid cloud ecosystem, an initiative to support global system integrators and independent software vendors to help clients manage and modernize workloads for any cloud environment, including the IBM public cloud.
The IBM public cloud is the industry's most secure and open public cloud for business. With its security leadership, enterprise-grade capabilities and support for open-source technologies, the IBM public cloud is designed to differentiate and extend on hybrid cloud capabilities for enterprise workloads.
"We are seeing the energy and utilities industry accelerating its cloud adoption, particularly to improve communication, function and accessibility to meet the demands of increasingly digitally native consumers," said Evaristus Mainsah, General Manager, IBM Hybrid Cloud and Edge Ecosystem. "Through IBM's Cloud Engagement Fund, we're making it easier for ecosystem partners like Avertra to build secured, integrated cloud solutions by migrating their workloads to an open hybrid cloud environment like IBM Cloud – bringing the value of multicloud applications to their E&U clients."
From increasing demand for innovation in renewable energy to giving consumers more on-demand insight into their energy usage, utility providers can turn to hybrid cloud solutions to help address the needs of a more sustainability-focused, digital society.
The traditional, linear supply chain is gradually being replaced by an ecosystem made up of more diverse participants, interacting in increasingly complex ways in response to four key disruptors: decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation and democratisation.
How technology kept energy flowing through the lockdowns
With the UK Government’s plan for leaving lockdown underway, organisations across the utilities sector are looking forward to returning to a semblance of normality.
The start of 2021 wasn’t what most had hoped for – after the lockdowns of 2020, the new year presented the UK with 'Lockdown 3.0'. But this time there was a difference. This was the first lockdown taking place during winter months, and for energy companies in particular, cold weather typically brought a spike in demand.
However, organisations had been through this twice before – albeit in warmer weather – and therefore many were in better positions to continue to provide excellent customer service despite the tight restrictions that were in place. With the lessons that had been learned from the previous 12 months, businesses have been in a better place with much greater understanding of how to ensure their employees can keep working.
Low temperatures = high energy use
The UK rarely sees winters as cold as the recent storm in Austin, Texas where during its coldest day, the state’s average temperature was just 11.8 degrees Fahrenheit – or -11.2 degrees Celsius. But that doesn’t mean that the months of cold British weather don’t cause their own problems. Particularly this winter with the majority of the country working from home, many would be cranking the central heating up and using more electricity for lighting during the darker days and evenings.
This rise in energy usage meant that suppliers were working harder than ever to ensure that homes were kept warm. During lockdown, completing maintenance in houses, offices, or any other site is trickier than usual, as companies have had to limit the number of workers they send to a single location. But as mentioned previously, lessons have been learned, and new technologies have been integrated by many companies to ensure that they could cope with the challenging situation.
How scheduling saved time
With the country moving in and out of lockdown in 2020, there was likely to be a backlog of jobs going into 2021 that didn’t get completed last year. Prioritising scheduling will have been necessary for many companies to ensure that this latest lockdown didn’t push them further behind.
Scheduling software is being adopted by a range of utilities companies to help speed up this process. These applications can identify a backlog of jobs in one geographical area and ensure that local teams can focus on these jobs first and move between them quicker. This is more productive than, for example, completing the tasks in order they were initially due, which could force teams to retrace their steps over the course of a week traveling to different sites and likely take longer overall.
Scheduling applications also help ensure that the right workers and resources are sent to the right jobs, reducing the number of repeat visits required to complete a repair. When it comes to compliance, having detailed schedules in place is also enabling companies to better meet strict SLAs when carrying out maintenance – this preparation ensures they have everything they legally require. Similarly, newly automated audits are speeding up this process, meaning workers can complete jobs and move onto the next site quicker.
While scheduling can of course always be carried out manually, companies that have integrated software which is designed to map out their jobs saves time, reduces the margin for error and eases the pressure on teams. Crucially, this has meant that customers haven’t been left waiting for long periods of time during the latest lockdown for essential maintenance to be carried out.
Using video to spread the workload
Another solution that has been making a positive impact on customer experience during lockdown is the increasing adoption of video-based remote assistance.
In the ‘new normal’ where limiting face-to-face contact is a priority, any technology that can reduce the number of people visiting multiple locations, and the amount of time they need to spend there, is beneficial. Video-based remote assistance is enabling gas and electricity maintenance workers to complete their jobs with less risk to themselves and others – be it workers from other organisations on-site, such as Highway Maintenance, or members of the local community.
A smaller team can attend a job, and should they require advice from a more experienced team member, they can use the video livestream to show a supervisor the situation they’re dealing with and complete the job themselves under guidance. This reduces the number of workers that need to attend a site at one time, thereby helping the business to deploy resources more widely, and maximising labour utilisation when potentially dealing with a reduced workforce during the most recent lockdown. The supervisors working remotely can assist multiple maintenance workers in one day without travelling between locations, helping to reduce any potential spread of asymptomatic illness.
What the future holds
While these technologies have been on the rise recently due to the restrictions of COVID-19, according to Gartner, the next few years will see field service management tools continue to transform the mobile worker industry.
Last year, the analyst firm predicted that by 2025, algorithms and bots will schedule over two-thirds of field service work for field service providers dependent on automated schedule optimisation, up from less than 25% in 2019. In the same time period, we will see over 50% of field service management deployments include mobile augmented-reality collaboration and knowledge-sharing tools, up from less than 10% in 2019.
As far as 2021 is concerned, solutions such as these will continue to help energy – and other utilities – companies supply all customers with a consistent service regardless of the seasons.
The latest lockdown may have been the most challenging as the stakes were higher during winter, but rapidly developing technology innovations combined with the government’s lockdown exit strategy mean that it shouldn’t be long before life returns to a semblance of normal. And with it, utilities companies will have the technology in place to boost efficiency and productivity beyond what we’ve seen before.
Marc Greggains is Director of New Business Commercial Sales at TotalMobile