“The digital utility starts here …”

Posted on: June 20, 2018 by Celestino Guemes Seoane

How many industries have been transformed by digital technology over the last ten years? In financial services, online banking has become the norm. In media, digital consumption has more or less put an end to fixed program schedules. In retail, the Amazon effect has fundamentally changed our buying habits.

With utilities, we have not yet seen changes on this scale. Sure, we have seen the partial introduction of smart meters. We have got used to online billing and to the emergence of switch-and-compare services.

I believe this is about to change – that the real period of digital transformation in utilities is happening right now.

Why and why now?

The network has always been at the core of the utility sector – for electricity, gas and water.

Right now, we are witnessing a fundamental and permanent change to the network, and here we find the root of digital transformation too.

The model of centralized generation and pure consumption on the customer’s premises no longer works. The technical, social and commercial viability of genuinely distributed models of generation and consumption have changed this forever.

But this change is dependent on digital tooling, not least because of the importance of real-time information in the new model.

When, for example, local generation exceeds the requirements of local consumption, the complexity of balance and forecast can only be managed through digital modelling – it’s digital capability that makes a smartgrid smart.

Work and culture

But the digital utility is about much more than managing this increasingly complex model of generation and consumption – soon to be radically changed again through the arrival of viable storage options.

Digital transformation also has a dramatic impact on the ways in which people work right across the utility industry. Some roles have been reliant on IT for years: energy traders have been keyboard warriors since the big bang.

The same goes for thousands of administrative jobs, from account administration to HR.

But now this extends out into the field, both to employees and contractors. Within the next ten years, all employees will be digital natives – people who have never known a world without permanent mobile access to digital information and interaction – and this changes both expectation and behavior. Utilities are set to take advantage of “extended mobility”: a world in which Augmented Reality (AR), wearables, and even robots and drones will radically alter field work.

These changes are also massively evident with customers too. Both consumer and business customers expect greater transparency, environmental responsibility and control – and this spreads out beyond utility billing and account management. Customers will expect new and personalized services – services which deliver an “energy experience” above and beyond the basic resource. These new services will increasingly need to transparently integrate utility information with related third-party capabilities. White goods, e-vehicles and building management services are just some of the new integration areas.

New landscape – new opportunities – new threats

As the utility landscape becomes more and more data-driven, new business opportunities, often based on partnerships and alliances, start to appear.

We’re seeing the rise of multi-utilities, sometimes companies which own infrastructure, and sometimes operating as service brokers. Atos has also been involved in tentative moves to greater collaboration between utilities and local authorities in smart city initiatives.

With electric vehicles now gaining market momentum, there are further opportunities for creative business alliance, always backed by data-driven insight and reward-share. Just think, for example, about the point at which automotive (with their cars), retail (with their massive car parks) and utilities meet. What happens when recharging and shopping become one and the same experience?

As with any data-driven transformation, however, there is also a raft of new threats – and specifically the danger posed by breaches in cyber-security.

With some of the most extensive customer data-sets of any industry, the utilities’ own client records need to be protected like never before.

Utilities also need to be ready for a whole new assault on their operational technology systems – just ask the citizens of Kiev what it’s like to suffer blackouts caused by malicious attack on power control systems in the middle of winter.

Digital transformation in utilities

As our utility clients become increasingly focused on the changes to process, delivery and business models, so the importance of digital transformation increases.

Whether in innovation workshops, in encounters at industry events and trade fairs, or here online, our specialist utility team is enthusiastic about sharing ideas and experience in this period of critical industry change.

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About Celestino Guemes Seoane
Solutions R&D and member of the Scientific Community
Celestino Güemes is in charge of Solutions R&D at Atos Worldgrid Spain, and is the lead architect of the Industrial Data Analytics for Smart Grid Applications platform, where he researches for innovative Big Data analytic solutions to help reinvent its clients' energy businesses. He is also member of Atos Scientific Community, in charge of “Digitalization of Energy” track. He firmly believes in a humanistic, positive view of technology as basic engine for the progress of society. Addicted to reading in any format, electronic or not, he’s an avid participant in social networks (@tguemes), and, as any good, old geek, he is essentially harmless.

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