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Infosys Helps Utilities Navigate the Impact of COVID-19

 

As with all industries, utility companies are responding to the ever-changing requirements related to COVID-19. In this short blog, we take a look at the macro and value chain impacts of COVID-19 on the utilities industry, how utilities are adjusting their business and IT priorities, and how Infosys is supporting utilities in their ongoing response.

Macro-level and value chain observations & impacts on utilities

Utilities are seeing noticeable demand reduction, led by the commercial & industrial sector, which has mostly gone into lockdown, resulting in load reductions of ~3-11% across most of the U.S. (half of which is due to COVID-19) and ~2-20% in Europe. This is impacting grid operations, as the usual seasonal load shapes of dips and surges in demand (i.e. in the residential sector due to increased homeworking) are changing, all of which are impacting revenues and marginal costs.

There are also further impacts in the rate case and regulatory space with a number of hearings and energy legislation being delayed or postponed, in particular across the U.S., resulting in capital spends tied to these being delayed. It is further impacting the smart meter installation 2020 target set by OFGEM in the U.K. and contingency planning around RIIO-2 price controls. However, major capital programs already approved across the U.S. and Europe are moving ahead.

Across renewables (solar, wind, and storage), sectors are facing supply chain disruption on goods for new installations and maintenance, and parts availability for grid components is further impacting networks. Global electric vehicle sales are expected to drop by ~40% in 2020, further limiting growth in power demand.

These supply chain and logistics issues are impacting transmission and distribution across field services, outage restoration, and preventive maintenance. Discretionary non-critical construction projects are being delayed, although RFPs across IT services are continuing. A major area of concern for utilities is workforce availability, where ~40-50% of employees are field workers supporting critical infrastructure. EEI has advised utilities to plan for up to ~40% absenteeism due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Utilities are adjusting their priorities in response to COVID-19

To ensure business continuity, utilities are ramping technologies, infrastructure, and processes to enable work from home, and according to Infosys, utilities have enabled ~50% of employees to work from home (the remainder are field resources and employees in critical roles across their facilities). They are mobilizing and fine-tuning BCP actions and ensuring rapid logistics support in the supply of PPE for field force and looking to enable the field force with automated processes and technologies, including AR/VR. In addition, they are enhancing monitoring and alerting capabilities in response to cybersecurity threats. Utilities need to provide support for customers, including suspending disconnections, providing self-serve facilities, bots and web chat capabilities, and deploying analytics to track contact center and employee performance while WFH.

Utilities are further deferring discretionary non-critical projects and enabling rapid changes to systems to support COVID-19 response and assessment, with routine inspections and non-critical work assigned a lower priority.

Utilities will accelerate investment in digital technologies to be more resilient

Infosys sees utilities increasing investments in a number of key priority areas, including Digital Workplace, Cloud Computing, Cyber Security, Digital Workforce, Hyper Automation, and Smart Asset Management.

Focus will increase in particular across digital workplace to support WFH, across multiple types of devices, and enabling productivity and collaboration tools (i.e. Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Cisco WebEx, Skype for Business), and supporting virtual call centres. They are using gamification methods to drive employee engagement and enhancing virtual training platforms (e-learning/virtual assistants).

This is further driving cloud requirements to support VDI, IT infrastructure, and training platforms. Other key focus areas include secure connectivity of all devices and assets through unified endpoint management (UEM), and increased focus on data masking and data management.

Focus will increase in enabling the field force digitally, with additional advanced technology like AR/VR, and remote operations, including drones. Companies will also invest in cross-skilling staff across job functions, to be able to do more with less staff.

Utilities need to further streamline operations, including automation of non-decision-making operations, enabling more self-service, and industrial automation for daily operations support. In addition, they need to expedite the transition to next-generation asset performance management with IoT integration, remote sensing, and AI/ML-based predictive maintenance.

Infosys is working collaboratively with utilities to support COVID-19 initiatives

Infosys helps utilities Navigate the Future of Energy by transforming customer experience, modernizing infrastructure (grid infra and IT assets), and enabling future-ready business models. This is particularly key in its current initiatives to support utilities in their response to COVID-19.

Immediate priorities for utilities

While Infosys has done a very detailed analysis of challenges and opportunity impact of COVID-19 across the utility value chain, it is providing utility clients a prioritized view on what they should focus on now and what can be planned for the future. In terms of immediate priorities, these include six key areas:

  • Making employee safety and technology a top priority (i.e. IoT sensors to monitor health and geo-locations of field workers), and return to work protocols and mitigating workforce shortages
  • Enabling collaboration tools and best practices and remote working infrastructure for all employees and vendors
  • Ramping cybersecurity management for all IT systems accessed remotely
  • Personalized communication to all impacted utility end customers through smart video, digital billing, etc.
  • Enhancing mobile workforce management through GIS-based zoning and tracking (overlaying COVID data) for field services for essential and priority services
  • Deploying RPA and virtual assistants for repetitive tasks across call center and back office.

Infosys offerings & client examples

Infosys is supporting a number of global utility clients in their response to COVID-19 across a number of areas:

  • Digital Workplace: enabling utility workforces to work from home and remotely through Infosys’ Workplace Suite (collaboration), Modern Workspaces (VDI), Workplace Operations (automation, self-heal, analytics, virtual agents). In addition, enabling traders to access trading applications via VPN for day-to-day trading
  • Mobility & Field Force: created COVID geofencing solution and zones for field crew safety and protection, and COVID-19 impact GIS dashboard and real-time crew tracking, and work allocation and prioritization based on zoning
  • Customer Service: implementing COVID-19 energy support program and promoting digital billing, canceling service disconnects and waiving late payment charges.

It also sees further traction for its Wingspan open-source cloud-based IT skills training platform, where utilities are currently looking at creating digital CoEs in collaboration with Infosys. The platform now has multiple training courses, including technology, domain, and utility products developed by Infosys, that utility client accounts can use for digital capability build-out and cross-skilling. In support of hyper-automation, it is deploying its LEAP (Live Enterprise Application Management Platform).

Utilities smart bot and AI/ML use cases relevant to the grid, energy supply, and plant operations include:

  • Vegetation management and safety, with the ability to quickly do visual analytics through the use of drones for asset and field inspections, and using AI/ML to do predictive analysis, in partnership with third parties to identify where vegetation management needs to be done (i.e. where trees are close to transmission lines and need to be trimmed). The data is processed through the NIA IP layer
  • Infosys NIA-based chatbot for anomaly root cause and resolution
  • Grid analytics, using Grid 360 from Nexant, taking insights into the NIA common platform, and bringing out insights both at the planning end and operations end of the grid; DERM and urban grid offerings
  • AI-based RAMS leveraging KRTI 4.0. Infosys is integrating the Reliability, Availability, Maintainability, and Safety (RAMS) lifecycle services models from Pöyry with NIA predictive modeling and insights capability and tying this back to the asset management and work management systems to identify whether a specific process should be automated or kick-off a maintenance process.

Outlook

Infosys sees continued traction in cloud adoption across utility enterprises, and a key IP includes its Polycloud (hybrid cloud orchestration) platform which is part of Infosys Live Enterprise Suite, to enable a utility to develop a new digital services platform and quickly launch new products and services. It effectively enables users to build vendor-agnostic solutions across cloud providers. It includes a vendor selection support framework, smart brokerage; self-service tools for server provisioning and deployment; and a governance framework.

Infosys expects further traction for remote surveillance (drone and robotics) for power infrastructure monitoring to reduce field visits, and AR/VR and smart glasses to enable remote field support backed by a central command team to mitigate potential staff shortages in the field.

Further traction in support of COVID-19 (and post-COVID-19) includes remote sensing technologies enabling touchless substations for device management and load control, and IoT, AI/ML-based analytics for planning and asset management. Infosys expects to see further traction for its Wingspan training platform as utilities seek to adapt to the ‘new normal.’

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