Propelling Utilities to a Digital Future

Back when I was working as a young system integrator there used to be a well-worn phrase rolled out by people in technology or software procurement

"You’ll never get fired for hiring IBM"

I am sure you know it. If not, you’re most probably a digital native and therefore never heard of the saying.

Back in 1998, IBM was the biggest American tech company by revenue. IBM was so dominant in the tech sphere that hiring IBM was almost like buying a product with a cast iron, money-back guarantee. Don’t get me wrong, IBM is a great company. We do exciting projects together. IBM recently registered 1,900 cloud patents and 1,400 AI patents in a single year. But the sentiment behind the phrase fits a time that has now gone.

It’s a sentiment that says: Make sure you choose something safe; Make sure you choose something that everyone else chooses; Make sure you choose something that has always worked in the past.

Living with a disrupted Energy sector

Now we live in different times (and Apple is number 3 in the Fortune 500 list). Waves of disruption and innovation are the new normal for power utilities. When the times change, you need to change with them. The ‘safe’ choice is not so safe. Choosing the solution that has worked in the past, that everyone else has chosen, is a good way to go out of business.

The approach for today’s utilities must be: How can we approach this in an innovative way? How could we do this better? Staying with the safe option indicates a lack of awareness of the challenges facing the utilities sector. Doing what has always been done is the way to fall behind.

"You’ll never get fired for breaking new ground"

Utilities need innovative ideas to stay in business. According to ElectraLink, the enterprise operating the datahub underpinning the UK’s energy market, in 2012 the UK’s ‘Big Six’ power suppliers had over 97% of market share. Now the figure is less than 73%. Utilities must become innovative organizations and lifestyle providers to thrive in this environment; they must become digital utilities. They must become a Platform Digital Utility.

Digital Transformation and building a Platformed Digital Utility

What does a Digital Utility look like? In a recent survey of UK utility leaders, 78% thought that new technologies would be the top driver of change in the industry over the next five years. Utilities are already successfully running pilot projects using emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence. Simply adding these new technologies to your existing utility business model is not enough to build a Digital Utility. Utilities must build Digital into their DNA. Changing technology is the easy part of the process, but utilities have to change both their mindset and operating model to foster innovation.

Building Digital DNA through an innovative operating model

Building Digital DNA is critical to a utility's success. Introducing an innovative business model where the utility can become a platform provider is essential to this process. IT infrastructure must become agile, responsive, flexible, secure, scalable and simple to manage. This infrastructure enables utilities to become digital entities and is a catalyst for innovation. It allows utilities to become a platform for innovation, integrating Electric Vehicle charging, local energy production and renewables.

Changing the mindsets and thought processes of the people working in utilities is a key part of building Digital DNA. Only when this happens can new operating models be introduced and innovative technologies be used to their full potential. Changing mindsets is the hardest part of building Digital DNA.

The well-worn phrase of today’s digital utilities, those with digital in their DNA should be:

“You’ll never get fired for choosing the innovative approach”

or maybe it should even be

"You'll get fired for just choosing safe" ?

Feel free to connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, or comment to start a discussion how we all can accelerate utilities digital transformation.

About the Author

Thorsten Heller is the CEO, Co-Founder and Chief Innovator at Greenbird Integration Technology AS.

Greenbird offers out-of-the-box system integration for utilities. We are a true DevOps company, delivering unique time-to-market and reliability. We were named a Gartner ‘Cool Vendor’ in 2018 because of our domain specific and flexible integration capabilities, crucial for creating easy-to-consume integrated solutions.

Utilihive empowers utilities to manage their data flow faster and smoother than traditional system integration models while accelerating the journey towards the energy revolution. To learn how you can unleash the value of data while removing silos click here and request your copy of the Utilihive executive brief.

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