The energy sector is facing unprecedented challenges that will require companies to make significant changes to the way they operate. The COVID-19 pandemic caused reduced demand, increased competition, supply chain disruptions, job loss (the industry shed 10% of its workforce in 2020), and heightened customer requirements for a more streamlined and personalized user experience.
Even when the pandemic is finally behind us, many of those pressures will remain, creating a new operational landscape that companies must learn to navigate if they are to survive and thrive. That's why Amazon warns that:
"The global energy sector is facing its biggest challenge in recent history… incremental change is not enough to overcome the current existential threat. Energy businesses are being forced to take a critical look at their business fundamentals and figure out how to take control of their future."
How can energy companies, which are notoriously conservative and risk-averse in their approach to change, begin to take control of their future in an environment marked by rapid and unpredictable change? Doing so will require levels of agility and innovation far beyond what the industry's traditional methods of managing change can accomplish.
Digital transformation is the key
Keeping pace with swiftly changing conditions will require energy companies to engage in a high degree of digital transformation. Jeff Miller, chairman, president, and CEO of industry giant Halliburton puts it this way:
"I have never been more convinced that digital is the future… digitalization will unlock the potential to structurally lower costs and enhance performance across the entire value chain."
It is only through massive digitalization that energy companies will be able to secure their futures by lowering costs, deftly navigating supply chain issues, enhancing and extending the useful lives of current assets, and offering customers, as well as their own workers and partners, the highly digitized products and services they increasingly demand.
Most energy companies are behind the digitalization curve
According to POWER Magazine, digital transformation is already one of the highest priorities for utility companies. Yet, as research by McKinsey reveals, the energy sector lags significantly behind other industries in its progress toward a digital future. Many energy companies are still dependent on decades-old legacy systems and low-productivity manual processes in their operations. And even when companies do begin to incorporate modern digital capabilities, they often exhibit little insight into how to make the most effective use of those technologies.
For example, many energy companies have begun to employ both intranets and extranets to allow their employees on the one hand, and external partners such as customers and suppliers on the other, to communicate and collaborate. But in many cases the user experience (UX) they offer is more reminiscent of the 1990s than what modern users have come to expect. As the University of Denver reports,
"Utility companies are particularly pernicious offenders when it comes to poor UX design."
The same can be said of the industry's uncertain steps toward automating their processes and workflows. Achieving the necessary degree of digital transformation will require a constant flow of new and innovative software applications.
Energy companies will need new apps to enhance their own internal operations and workflows, manage supply chain and customer relations, facilitate real-time data sharing with field workers using mobile devices, streamline maintenance of remote equipment by capturing IoT (Internet of Things) data at the source, eliminate information silos that inhibit the free flow of data to where it's needed, and much, much more.
Traditional software development methods can't handle the load
One of the biggest obstacles to digital transformation in the energy sector is the inability of overstretched IT departments to deliver the numbers of new applications required in a timely and cost-effective manner. Already burdened with maintaining legacy systems that are vital to company operations, weighed down by lengthy software development cycles that were established in a bygone age, and unable to find sufficient numbers of skilled developers in today's highly constrained employment marketplace, traditional IT departments simply can't meet the new demands energy companies are placing on them.
But companies don't have to be hobbled in their digital transformation efforts by the IT bottleneck. Mark Weaser, a vice president at eSystems partner OutSystems, describes the solution this way:
"Having a low-code digital factory base that can support IT teams in their application development process can serve as a best practice that streamlines application delivery and eases the app maintenance and quality improvement process."
Energy companies are increasingly turning to low-code development to produce the software they need to automate their workflows, deliver services to both employees and customers using mobile devices, capture critical data at its source without the risks of error that inevitably accompany manual data entry, deploy customized user interfaces that enhance UX, and do it all using an Agile methodology that allows developers to quickly shape and reshape an app's capabilities for maximum usability and effectiveness.
Why low-code is ideal for energy sector digital transformation
The low-code approach allows developers to create sophisticated applications visually, by dragging and dropping pre-built modules and templates into the appropriate logical arrangement rather than by writing procedural code statements. Because as much as 90% of the app's logic is embodied in the pre-built modules, low-code development is far quicker and easier than traditional software development methods.
Low-code development takes the pressure off over-burdened IT departments. It not only allows them to do much less architecting and coding than was traditionally needed, but it also permits ordinary workers, who may have few coding skills but who are intimately familiar with their work procedures, to participate fully in the design process to ensure that the resulting app is fine-tuned to meet operational needs.
A low-code case study
Tampereen Sähkölaitos is a Finnish energy company that provides electricity, heating and cooling to more than 250,000 private and corporate customers. They wanted to create an enhanced user experience for contractors and sub-contractors by allowing them to submit required information through a unified and modern desktop and mobile-friendly user interface.
Realizing that there was no viable means of cost-effectively upgrading their existing system, Tampereen Sähkölaitos decided to partner with eSystems to create their new Sähkis End-user Portal. With eSystems providing guidance and low-code expertise, the first pilot version of the new portal was produced within a month and a half, and the first operational version was released in just three and a half months.
eSystems low-code can help your company get ahead of the curve!
Tampereen Sähkölaitos was so impressed with their low-code experience that they committed to continue working with eSystems to build more digital apps to help them stay competitive in their industry.
What eSystems did for Tampereen Sähkölaitos we can do for your company. If you'd like to learn how you can modernize your apps and UX to stay ahead of your competition, just contact us today, and we'll get the ball rolling on helping your company get ahead of the digital transformation curve!
WRITTEN BY: Reggie Rusan | Chief Technology Officer