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Reflections from a trailblazing week in San Francisco
I’m just back from Dreamforce, the world’s largest software conference hosted in San Francisco. With more than 171,000 registered attendees and 13 million online viewers, it was an inspiring gathering of the Salesforce community, including thought leaders, industry pioneers, and what Salesforce refers to as Trailblazers — those who are innovating with Salesforce to transform their companies. In that spirit, I went to explore the possibilities open to the UK utilities sector, looking for ways to continue to drive innovation towards a digital, customer centric model in the utilities industry.

Seeking inspiration for the utilities sector
It’s a time of great change in the energy retail market, and I believe CGI can take inspiration from the Trailblazer community to shape our offerings within energy retail and the wider utilities market. We’re seeing new energy suppliers operating cheaper, customer-centric and data-enabled, cloud platforms, as well as an increase in suppliers moving away from gas and electricity supply to offering a range of commodity and non-commodity products and services. ‘Energy retailers’ are fast becoming generic ‘retailers’, moving to a customer centric, data enabled architecture, where the demands of the end consumer or business (and this competitive landscape) are driving the evolution of our industry.

With so much on offer at Dreamforce, I immersed myself in four days of back-to-back conference sessions, tours around the various campgrounds in the city, interactive sessions on the latest Salesforce features, post conference events and the wider CGI team including many colleagues from our US team and Portuguese contingent, both operating Salesforce development centres.

So, what stood out as my highlights? What did I discover?

Exciting announcements in the Salesforce learning space
Salesforce’s online learning platform, Trailhead, has some interesting new developments. As someone who started my career in IT during the nineties, where knowledge was power and small, selected groups of people had niche skills in niche technology platforms, I found the whole sense of togetherness and the desire to create a culture of learning from Trailhead so refreshing. Two exciting announcements to call out:

  • Trailhead GO, the first-ever mobile app for Trailhead, exclusive to iOS and iPadOS. This new app enables users to skill up anywhere and at any time with more than 700 modules covering in-demand business and tech skills.
  • AWS and Trailhead are partnering to address the growing technology skills gap. The first step in this partnership is bringing AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials learning to Trailhead, with additional learning on the way.

Amazon Connect is available from Salesforce
I’ve been watching the digital contact centre Amazon Connect with intrigue for the last year or so, as it has the potential to be a game changer in utilities. As an AWS partner with many practitioners, CGI have stood up, and demonstrated proof of concepts with AWS Connect for utilities specific use cases. To date there are no major global reference sites in energy but, from the discussions with AWS at Dreamforce and our awareness of what’s going in the UK market, it’s only a matter of time. Watch this space!

A key announcement at Dreamforce was the introduction of Service Cloud Voice, a new offering that seamlessly embeds Amazon Connect to deliver enhanced customer service support. Salesforce will now offer Amazon Connect, a simple-to-use cloud contact centre service from AWS that makes it easy for organisations to deliver better customer service.

Use case insights from our partner, Vlocity
I attended several industry cloud networking events and customer sessions run by our strategic Salesforce partner, Vlocity, including customer success breakouts across Health, Insurance, Communications, Media and Energy & Utilities.

The Energy & Utilities breakouts included very impressive sessions with British Gas and ENGIE. Both sessions attracted a full house and provided interesting insight into the background, challenges, approach and results of these digital transformation stories. Hearing how British Gas Business took its quoting time down from three days to three minutes was mind blowing. And listening to the CIO of ENGIE Belgium compare and contrast the different types of architecture (e.g. service oriented, micro services) to types of pasta is something that I'll never forget!

I continue to be impressed by the speed and quality of the Vlocity implementations and look forward to continuing the strong partnership we have already developed in the Energy & Utilities sector.

Customer engagement and blockchain innovation from Lamborghini
Insight from luxury brand Lamborghini set me thinking on two counts. Firstly, it prompted me to wonder how can we draw energy customers into a relationship with their energy products with the engagement Lamborghini achieves? Obviously, it’s much easier to develop a fantastic customer experience when the customer truly desires your product or services. In the utilities world, Lamborghini’s way of keeping a customer up to date throughout the entire production process wouldn’t transfer successfully — imagine being notified that your meter data record has now been created in the billing system! However, it got me thinking about more engaging ways we could drive an experience throughout the customer onboarding process, including potential energy saving interventions and maybe even gamification of energy saving and/or micro generation?

I also witnessed a great use case for Salesforce Blockchain, where the solution is used to help manage the verification of all of Lamborghini car parts, prior ownership, restoration and service history. Blockchain is an area CGI continues to invest in, including looking for the right energy use cases, such as peer-to-peer energy trading.

Exploring the potential for Agile DevOps
I spent as much time as possible at Dreamforce attending DevOps sessions, hearing numerous software vendors talking about their DevOps maturity model and explaining how their solutions could solve all the DevOps problems! What I didn’t hear, however, was much about the actual methodology for organisations moving away from a legacy waterfall model to an Agile DevOps model and the main challenges that they face. No one was addressing what the approach means for the organisation’s structures, or how you do Agile DevOps for only part of the business if the rest remains waterfall. At CGI, we have a number of proven methods that can help our clients through this challenge that are not driven by specific technology choices. You can find out more about CGI and DevOps here.

Human Centred Design in Agile DevOps
I certainly noticed a shift towards Human Centred Design (HCD) in the Agile DevOps thinking at Dreamforce. In the current world and especially in the Salesforce community, the technology is now the easy part! MVPs, POCs and even full implementations can now be stood up through configuration rather than coding, and in weeks and months as opposed to years; if you choose the right partner, then the technology is no longer the barrier to success. The real challenge today is getting the design right by focusing on the customer which, in turn, will result in a successful adoption. By taking an HCD approach, and building it into all stages of the process, clients stand a far greater chance of achieving success.

Share in our latest Energy Retail platform (ER360) innovation
There’s so much more I could mention, from manufacturing cloud to Salesforce Maps, but what’s clear is that there’s continuous innovation happening in the Salesforce platform. The next part of this journey for us is to start to use this learning to shape the next round of innovation we do within our Energy Retail platform (ER360).

With this in mind, we are looking to host our next innovation session on 6 February 2020, alongside our partner Vlocity. In this session, we will demonstrate a number of use cases in energy including Vlocity Quote to Contract, AWS Connect, Salesforce Marketing and Service Cloud, End to End Faster Switching overview including the latest from the Electralink CSS Connect adapter, an overview of our Open Banking faster payments solution and an overview of our latest thinking on Agile DevOps with a specific focus on utilities.

Register here to join us at our innovation demonstration on 6 February.

About this author


Mark Thompson

Director Consulting Services

Mark has worked in the utilities industry for twenty-five years across a range of different major organisations in the UK and overseas. He has been at the heart of the UK energy industry working across many roles in energy networks, central systems, traditional and smart ...