In South America, Utilities’ Digital Transformation Starts With Culture

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Abastible has been providing energy to its customers in Chile since 1956. A subsidiary of the holding company Empresas Copec S.A., Abastible is one of the country’s three main utility providers and was recently recognized as the leader in corporate reputation for the third year running.

But to keep its good standing with customers, Abastible knew it needed to innovate, which included a pivot towards renewable energy sources. Paulina Toro, human resources manager at Abastible, says “Our management decided that gas-powered electricity was not enough in this world. We needed to create clean energy alternatives as well.”

The company also know it needed to deliver great customer experiences by creating offerings that made their lives easier and more efficient. Management viewed digital transformation as the key to innovation.

Toro explains that adopting digital technologies would also help create new business models to spur growth and gain new customers. “For us, digital transformation is about survival and continuing to gain customers,” she says.

If Abastible kept the same business model, the company feared it would inhibit growth. With the expansion of the company across South America to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, Abastible had prioritized innovation to help it compete for both B2B and B2C consumers in these markets.

One example of Abastible’s customer-focused innovation is an app that allows people to order propane gas, measure how much is left in their cylinder (in Latin America gas is delivered to homes and businesses in cylinders,) or check their account at any time. Previously, these activities required a phone call to customer service during regular business hours.

But Toro points out that Abastible’s efforts to become more customer focused and think digitally about innovation required a culture shift using SAP SuccessFactors’ cloud-based human capital management solutions to help build a more innovative mindset.

“SuccessFactors helps us to be much closer to people. It also supports our employees’ effort to have more agility in all the operations,” says Toro. Previously, her team used a manual system to engage with employees. Now they have education and self-service tools – all available on mobile devices. She continues, “People see us differently, more available to help people.”

But more important, she says that since the system went live late last year, “the perception is that SAP Success Factors is helping employees to think digitally. Because we’ve moved to self-service digital HR processes, it’s helped build a digital mentality amongst employees.” In future, Toro hopes that SAP solutions will help management to understand what employees think and feel about various corporate initiatives.

Abastible also uses SAP for its enterprise resource planning (ERP); the Colombian subsidiary has deployed SAP S/4HANA, the latest version of SAP’s flagship ERP suite.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, Edenor is the biggest power company with 3 million customers in Buenos Aires city and the northern area of the country, and 5,000 employees. The company has used SAP since 1997 for core business functions including field operations and maintenance of its powerlines. SAP solutions also form the IT backbone that supports all back office and administrative activities.

Like Abastible, Edenor is undergoing a digital transformation and similarly, cultural change is critically important. Luis Lenkiewicz, Chief Information Officer, says, “The company is changing its internal culture. Before we were oriented to the field, not the client. Now we’re more focused on our customers.”

He explains that the company has had to adapt to new government regulations for utilities in Argentina. Since the economic crisis of 2001, the government had subsidized and set energy tariffs. “But two years ago, the new government deregulated our industry and we were able to set prices. So now we need to focus on the client experience. This has really impacted our process, culture and technology,” says Lenkiewicz.

Industry experts also see a corporate trend towards becoming more customer focused across Latin American. “In Latin America, 37 percent of businesses mentioned that their digital transformation goals are aligned at the enterprise level to near-term strategy — and include digital customer product and experience initiatives,” said Juan Pablo Seminara, program manager for consumer and enterprise research in Latin American at analyst firm, IDC.

Lenkiewicz explains, “We’re trying to become a customer-focused company so it’s really important to have the technology to support those processes.” SAP Success Factors and SAP Jam Collaboration (a cloud-based collaboration tool,) have helped the company align employees towards its new mission and encouraged them to work together, breaking down silos across departments.

In one example of early success, the company has optimized its supply chain. Now, with a more efficient way to predict and procure the materials required to create power, Edenor can provide better customer service and respond to problems more efficiently. For example, if a blackout occurs, the team has the resources it needs to restore power more quickly.

Moving forward, the Edenor team is working with partner, Edison, to map out a digital footprint for all its business processes. This will help improve and simplify workflows, allowing Edenor to increase agility and provide a better experience for customers.

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I’ve been in the technology industry for over 15 years, communicating stories about products, innovation and corporate social responsibility. I’m passionate about technology – how it works, how it impacts people and how it can be used for social good. Before my career in tech, I was pursuing my PhD in American History. Connect with me on Twitter here: @robin_meyerhoff

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