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Preparing municipalities for customers of the future

We aren’t likely to see cyborgs doing jobs at our municipalities anytime soon, but we are going to experience a shift in the importance of data and digital skills.

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 2019/10/16

There is a growing public outcry around poor municipal performance—Joe and Jane Public are no longer captive customers as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has given them options. These choices are increasing their expectations of service delivery from their power utility.

It’s a reality faced by municipal managers who operated within the confines of strict regulatory frameworks, but now find themselves in a quandary as distributed energy resources challenge the grid.

This is the message from the AMEU president, Refilwe Mokgosi, during the opening of the association’s 27th annual convention, which is seeking to provide the municipal market with clarity on how to build the power utility of the future, today.

Poor municipal performance was a message echoed by Ayanda Noah, a former Eskom employee, during the keynote panel discussion, which unpacked whether we are ‘fit’ to face the future.

Noah recalled a personal story that many South Africans can relate to—a complete lack of customer centricity and a missed opportunity by a municipal office to use a readily available digital solution such as an EFT payment. 

Since municipalities have little control over the steep tariffs from Eskom, they must address managing their cost-reflective tariffs through the power of engaging with customers. Through this engagement, I’d wager that they will see an increase in paying customers.

Preparing your municipality for the 4IR need not be daunting. Just because it uses the Internet of Things doesn’t make it any different from how you would implement a traditional ‘non-smart’ project. Start by applying a small pilot project to establish a business case and proof of concept to secure the finance needed to expand the project.

What you as a municipality are aiming for is to make your services relevant in today’s world of Mr and Ms Smart Public. It will be necessary to reskill your personnel to increase the quality and reliability of your service offering.

This can be achieved through using your data to know more about your customer, their supply (small-scale embedded generation) and demand (when, where and how – such as a new school with an IT department or an EV charging station). This also raises the question of what does your customer need—electricity or energy?

The immediate ‘cyborg’ to watch out for is big data. Don’t become a slave to your data but rather put your data to good use to stay ahead of your customer’s expectations.

Until next week.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
Nicolette is the Editor of ESI Africa print journal, ESI-Africa.com and the annual African Power & Energy Elites. She is passionate about placing African countries on the international stage and is driven by the motto "The only way to predict the future is to create it". Join her in creating a sustainable future through articles and multimedia content.