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Innovation Insights

Put Down the Raw Water and Turn on the Tap

The raw water trend is all over the news. It’s a top hot thing—drinking unfiltered water straight from a spring (though sometimes diverted through a bottling plant and available in stores for nearly $20 a pop). It’s a trend that would make John Snow roll over in his grave. (No, not “Game of Thrones” Jon Snow. Read on.) The real-life John Snow was the father of a major component of the modern water system as we know it, though perhaps not in a way most people would immediately recognize. But let’s start at the beginning. Humans have been moving water a good long time—since before actual time, really, since what we like to label “prehistory.” Storing and moving water is, in fact, an early sign of civilization (in infrastructure form). Stone was favored originally for the moving. The ancient Greeks invented pressurized piping and indoor plumbing (of sorts). So, for eons we focused on the moving of water, but that’s not the full snapshot anymore with water systems. So, where does Snow come into this evolving water picture? Well, he didn’t have anything to do with moving water, but he had everything to do with making it drinkable (or, as they like to say in the biz, “potable”)—and decidedly less deadly. An English doctor, John Snow made the connection between dirty water and disease during a London cholera outbreak in the 1850s. But, he was honestly making a very educated guess based on observational data hot spots. It wasn’t until Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke showed the world all the stuff floating in water (with the use of the microscope) that we really understood that what looks clean may not be clean. (That deserves repeating today: What looks clean may not be clean.) As that knowledge became more accepted, water utilities started to filter their drinking water and treating their wastewater, and that filtering has saved a lot of lives and prevented any number of disease outbreaks in the last nearly 100 years or more as we refined the systems. Water quality has advanced pretty far since those early days, and we’ve added in chlorination and UV light cleaning practices as well. This field encompasses a whole slew of standards and regulations, such as the Clean Water Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act here in the U.S. and the Drinking Water Directive in Europe, as well as data comparing and contrasting allowable particle ratios and, of course, the rather subjective views on taste. But, in an amazing world John Snow (and, probably, Jon Snow, too) could only dream of, we can drink water straight from the tap in almost any place in the U.S. and Europe. (In fact, Louisville Water, a utility in Kentucky, is so proud of their water quality and taste, they’ve branded it Pure Tap and actively promote doing just that—drinking that water straight from the tap for all events and functions, from family to corporate.) We’ve become so used to this behind-the-scenes filtering and easy-to-use infrastructure that we sometimes forget that note we repeated earlier—that what looks clean may not actually be clean (and that you can’t see microorganisms without the proper lens but they can still make you very sick). So, what sort of items are we cleaning away/clearing out with filtered and purified water treatment in the modern water plant? In simple terms: protozoa, bacteria, viruses, algae, parasites. In scientific terms—the Googling of one of which will make you grateful for real-life John Snow and all who came after for at least a week if not a year— amebiasis, giardiasis, cholera (which was once common in water systems) and E.coli, just to name a handful. (And, yep, you heard that last one correctly: E. coli. So, yes, poop—maybe tiny, tiny particles of poop, but still poop.) We know we’re not the first to tell you that drinking raw water is a bad idea. The Washington Post has weighed the issue. So has The New York Times. In fact, Vox used those exact words—well, they said “drinking untreated water is a very bad idea.” So, they added a “very” to our conclusion. With all that, we realize we’re not going out on a limb here, but we do hope that this particular discussion helps you have a shade more respect for your local water utility and the work they do every day to make what comes out of your tap safe to drink without, usually, the need for a single second thought about it all before you sip. So, put down that raw water and turn on your tap. It’s cleaner … and cheaper, too.   Read more water stories from us: The Best Water Utility Accounts You Should Be Following Right Now How to craft the right data/water balance On tapping pride and laying pipe to the future of the water industry Dear water utilities: does your work and asset management measure up? 5 trending topics in the global water industry 6 words of water wisdom Best practices in customer communication from top American water utilities    

The raw water trend is all over the news. It’s a top hot thing—drinking unfiltered water straight from a spring (though sometimes diverted through a bottling plant and available in stores for nearly...

Customer Care

Seeing “The Princess Bride” as a brilliant customer service tutorial

One '80s flick is practically overflowing with fabulous lessons in behavioral science: “The Princess Bride.” I’ve been a fan of the movie since it hit theaters in 1987. When I was a preteen, it was delightful quote-bait, especially anything that came out of the mouth of Mandy Patinkin’s character Inigo Montoya. As I get older, “The Princess Bride” holds a safe, warm, nostalgic spot for me, and it struck me recently as also brilliantly spot-on with showing and predicting natural human reactions (even if it is a stylized version). That’s behavioral science in a nutshell. Quite simply, it’s the study of how people will react (not how we want people to react or how we hope they will react but how they will actually react). Despite the fact that we’re all human, when we get into groups that are socialized or culture-siloed, we tend to forget our normal human reactions and believe, instead, that people are motivated along that siloed thinking. Companies have, traditionally, been very bad at sinking into siloed thinking and ignoring behavioral science (utilities, too). That is slowly changing. We are pondering more and more about the customer and not just how we want the customer to respond but what motivations are required to create those responses—what nudges, what carrots, what comparisons. Whether you’re putting together a marketing push or a demand response program that relies on residential participation, you need good info on just how your consumers will react. Here are our top three lessons on behavior from “The Princess Bride” (TPB) that you can apply to your program planning and marketing strategy today: 1. Keep it simple: summarize and advise. After my favorite TPB character, Inigo, saves our hero from death, our hero remembers nothing of the previous story. Inigo replies, “Let me explain …. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” And he does. And they go on to win the battle, save the princess and conquer the day. Utilities, you get way too caught up in explaining. You know you do. I have this battle with engineers every day who want to put every number, every dot and every dash into the details. But, with the exception of that engineer mentality, most people don’t want to know every single dull and dreary moment of their power delivery and use. They want the executive overview, the important highlights, the major points. They want the Cliff’s Notes version of their problem, and then they want an answer to it. So, summarize your data points and then jump off from those data points with helpful hints: Turn your AC up two degrees. Run your pool pump at 2 am. Check your refrigerator for efficiency. This is how you become your customer’s trusted energy advisor—the place and space every utility wants to inhabit in the future. It’s not from dumping details in the customers' laps and letting them sort things out. (That’s a way to create a lot of lesson #2.) Being a trusted energy advisor comes from making sense of those numbers for your customers and then helping them find a solution. It’s from you doing the heavy lifting, not them. 2. Remember: anger is, unfortunately, a really, really great motivator. We continue this short list with more Inigo examples. He’s spent 20 years tracking down his father’s killer. He’s dedicated his life to this anger. He’s got speeches ready. He’s got sword-fighting techniques in hand. He’s prepared. Now, your unhappy utility customers—whether annoyed at an outage or confused about billing practices—aren’t going to dedicate their lives to destroying you. Luckily, you’re not dealing with quite that level of upset. But, you have to keep in mind that one unhappy customer will badmouth you more often (and for a longer period of time) than a happy one. Humans like happy, but we tend to dismiss it quickly. Problems and anger fester and settle and make us think more, which makes us touch that moment again and again and again in our minds. True, no matter what you do, you can never be perfect. You’ll always have some negative reactions to deal with, but remember these things when faced with angry consumers:  approach calmly and sympathize. (And we mean truly sympathize. Get into your customer’s head; feel his pain.) Solve the pain point quickly (and do not pass this problem along the chain). Be honest if there’s a problem, and, in the end, talk to that customer like a person and not a number. Finally: apologize. Customer communications is a two-way relationship and an ongoing conversation. Trusted energy advisors know when to say they're sorry. 3. On the positive side: true love never dies. This brings us to the basic plotline of TPB. It’s a love story—one that overcomes odds and clears hurdles from Greenland-native giants to a battle of wits (to the death). That enduring love-conquers-all may be the fairytale inside the book, but the frame of the movie (where the grandfather is reading the story to his sick grandson) is the real lesson, and the real love, in the movie: deep, honored, interconnected and with a long history. (It’s no coincidence that the grandfather says “as you wish” to the grandson when he asks to be read the story again tomorrow, a phrase we learn from the start of the storybook means “I love you.”) This is the love you’re looking for from customers. It’s what all the brand-building is all about, and you can see it with retail customers most clearly: buyers who prefer Nike shoes. Drinkers who opt for Jim Beam. The worldwide adoption of Swatch watches at one time. If you get the love right (and keep the love going), you can become not just a part of the customer’s daily life but a part of how they see themselves. That takes constant work and constant attention, but it can be done. You can become that trusted energy advisor to your customer. Just remember to say to them, constantly: as you wish.   When Oracle Utilities bought Opower, we got our own valuable lessons in behavioral science and customer focus, which is still incorporated into all of the great products in our Opower line. Take a look at how we can help you apply these TPB lessons to your own programs. Get details on self-service, peak management, energy efficiency and proactive alert options for your utility. Lead art courtesy of artist Charnchai via Pixabay. 

One '80s flick is practically overflowing with fabulous lessons in behavioral science: “The Princess Bride.” I’ve been a fan of the movie since it hit theaters in 1987. When I was a preteen, it was...

Innovation Insights

How to be an innovator: The Oracle OpenWorld meta edition

With all the synonyms for innovation at play in tech writing today—transformation, evolution, revolution, change, breakthrough—the one we never hear much is metamorphosis, although I’d say that’s perhaps the most accurate for what we’re experiencing. This is, in fact, a staged, stepped flip we’re all immersed in—a flip from something we once saw as a simple organism to something that’s now complicated and interconnected and a “meta” (or self-referential/self-reflective) form of ecosystem. The classic stages of a metamorphosis (as described mostly with insects but thoroughly skipped over by Kafka entirely) can be best summed up in the traditional butterfly example: egg, larvae, pupa, and, finally, adult. Think of our tech metamorphosis as always seeking to be a better, smarter, faster adult. We’re never happy with the adult we are. Instead, we are constantly changing to become the adult society needs (and expects). To become our next, best adult requires a whole lot of planning, some serious work internally and a willingness to cocoon ourselves in data and details to figure out how to survive the next stage. Data and details are essential to this process—as essential as hormones to the more classic sense of metamorphosis. We’re labeling this #InnovateWithIntent—the idea that you’ve got to pair those details and data with a more scientific approach. But where do you get all this data and all those details? And how do you interpret them with intent? We’d suggest you can get a handle on some of that data and a lot of those details at Oracle’s upcoming OpenWorld conference in San Francisco. (By the way, we’ll be live blogging from the show with examples of that ongoing metamorphosis.)   Here’s a short list of options for utilities sessions: Learn how Oracle Utilities, Accenture and some of our select customer partners envision the new industry future at the opening keynote session on Monday, Oct. 22. Plan your journey to the cloud with Oracle Utilities insiders on Tues., Oct. 23. Look deeper at grid model data management with Oracle Utilities and EPRI on Wednesday, Oct. 24. Explore how to get the most from your Oracle Utilities products with in-depth, hands-on sessions throughout the week, ranging from DSM details to network concepts.   Embrace the metamorphosis with #OOW18. Get general information on show registration and housing here. Can’t come to the conference? Follow all the utility industry details from OpenWorld on this blogsite, or through our Twitter feed.

With all the synonyms for innovation at play in tech writing today—transformation, evolution, revolution, change, breakthrough—the one we never hear much is metamorphosis, although I’d say that’s...

Innovation Insights

How to craft the right water/data balance

We’ve all heard about the energy-water nexus—how energy is required to make water usable and how water is required to make power work. The energy-water nexus is an important one, but it’s not the only nexus in the utilities mix. There’s another that we are beginning to talk about more and more—how much data is increasingly required whether you’re making power or cleaning and moving usable water (or moving gas, too). We’re calling this the utility-data nexus (because we’re not creative enough to find an entirely new name). Two sessions at CS Week influenced our discussion here on a subset of that nexus, the water/data balance, basically that data nexus with an eye on just the water side of utilities—no offense to power or gas utilities intended. Josh Bond, Manager of Business Technology with California Water Service, discussed analytics, efficiency and customer satisfaction in the “New Customer Values Through Smart Analytics” session, while Chad Moore, Supervisor of Customer Care at Las Vegas Valley Water District, examined field work and meter data in the “Improving Accuracy and Reducing Costs with Drive-By Data” session. Both speakers admitted, in different ways, that water may be a few steps behind (when it comes to data) but they’re not out. Yes, power and gas utilities are moving faster when it comes to conquering the big data equation, but water is taking nice steps into the arena and won’t be too far behind at the finish. So, what else did we learn in these chats about water utilities and data? Here’s our short list of takeaways to help you find that balance. Plan for timing: It can take months to pull in all the data you need at the start of any numbers-heavy project. Keep that timeline in mind and understand that it will need to get faster in the future, yes, but it won’t start off in real-time by any means. Don’t forget performance, reliability and security: Those make the foundation of any water utility project. Even as you reach for the cloud and real-time data use, you can’t ignore the basics. Push for new data projects to shift cash: There’s a move from OpEx to CapEx and more and more of these projects are being allowed to clock in on the CapEx side of the equation—a positive trend. Think out of the box: The exciting (and frightening) thing about data-based projects is, many times, there aren’t already established rules and guidelines. It’s a great opportunity to really have new conversations about new ways of making connections. The new mantra: unconventional is good. Clearly define your use cases: Before you get to the development stage, this is positively key. In order to integrate big ideas, you have to start with a smaller scale and pilot things. (And then work toward a point where you can trust the data, but, at the start, verify.) Educate new and shiny data system users: Utility insiders may not be the tech savvy kind. So, establish training to use this data in the ways you want. Don’t just assume they’ll get it automatically. Don’t roll the truck; trust the data: The old mantra of “when it doubt, roll it out” is over (once you’ve got your data to a true trustworthy point). Now, it’s “when it doubt, dig it out”—by delving into the data and working that angle. Accept that the future is in the cloud (and with natural language): Dashboards, trend analysis and nice, clean graphs that explain all the insights that field supervisors need to know are all available in the cloud today. And that will continue, with more and more spoken language/natural language queries—you know, like people already talk, whether those people are your employees or your customers.   Prepare for CS Week 2019 with more conference content: Engagement isn’t just about the customer Tampa Electric’s Nancy Tower offers 10 tidbits on customer culture and engagement PG&E turns direct outreach into a bump in SMB customer happiness Saving the water: Oracle Utilities and utility partners give back Finding synergy: on utility industry trends, analytics and crafting one amazing customer experience

We’ve all heard about the energy-water nexus—how energy is required to make water usable and how water is required to make power work. The energy-water nexus is an important one, but it’s not the only...

Technology and the Cloud

How will your utility weather our new industry future? Our strategist has one word for you

And that one word has options. It can be four (abbreviated) letters, or it can be longer. You’ll find the answer here somewhere. (We’ll even point it out.) But, first, let’s chat a little. We talk a lot, in this industry, about topics and concepts: blockchain, IoT, the shift to the cloud, grid modernization and growing customer demands. And these are all worthy themes to dissect and plan strategy around, for sure. But, there are people behind making blockchain a reality, connecting each bit of technology to smarter devices, smoothing the data flow to that cloud, fixing those interop problems with new grid hardware and thinking ahead to what customers will want tomorrow. It’s time we talked about some of those people pushing those topics and concepts, making them a reality for utilities around the globe from here inside Oracle. And so, the 3Qs blog series was born. For our next 3Qs conversation, we sit down with Mike Ballard, a Utilities Industry Strategist based in Devon in the UK and ask him—as the name of this series hints at—our three big questions.   Question 1: How did you get involved in utility business, and what makes (and keeps) you passionate about it? Ballard: My father was a nuclear engineer, designing power stations in the UK.  During the ’70s and ’80s, we had various materials, diagrams and an amazing old HP 85 computer, which he used to help with his calculations. He would teach me to program, and when I left school, he found me a job as an office administrator in the IT department of his power company. Within 18 months, I went from changing tapes on an IBM mainframe and ordering office suppliers to ordering and installing network servers and PCs (brand new in the ’90s) at the various power stations around the UK. Based almost entirely on my work experience, I got a place at university studying computing.  All my vacation was time spent back at the power stations, earning extra cash. I graduated at the top of my year with First Class Honors and within the year was back in the utility industry, where I remained for most of the next 20 years. I believe the utility and energy industries, globally, have both a unique opportunity, and responsibility, to solve world’s major challenge of securing supply of energy and water that is both affordable and environmentally sustainable.  I believe that technology is a key enabler to meeting this challenge, and I intend to continue playing my part in accelerating innovation in this sector and inspiring others to do the same. (Editor’s note: If you missed it. That was your answer. It’s “technology,” which we prefer in its four-letter “tech” format.)   Question 2: What's the top problem for utilities you work with today, and how do you advise they solve that problem? I am extremely fortunate to spend at least half of my job meeting and sharing with utilities around the world—every size, shape and type.  Delivering a compelling vision of what the industry is doing—and what the utility should be aiming for—is actually pretty straightforward.  Defining the roles of emerging technologies such as CX, IoT, AI and blockchain is more challenging, but a well-structured, comprehensive, real world scenario really helps their understanding and buy-in. However, the biggest problem for utilities, by far, is being unable to realize that vision and to properly leverage those technologies in any meaningful timeframe.  No utility is starting from a blank sheet.  Every start position is different; every market is different. The skills and budgets available are all different. In the most valuable strategy meetings I have with customers and prospects, we spend the last half-hour of our meeting white-boarding their current IT & business landscape and start to bring to life how it may evolve with new solutions and capabilities. (And you know when you have struck a chord when they want to take photos of the result! Sometimes with us all in the picture!) Overall, utilities need to own their own IT and business roadmaps.  Systems integrators will come and go. The utility will remain in place for decades.  So I strongly believe that we in Oracle should be partnering with customers—not just for the initial sale but throughout the delivery and beyond.    Question 3: What's your touchstone--the idea that you keep coming back to--and how do you apply it to what you do every day? Enthusiasm is infectious, and a well-crafted phrase can be devastating! Combine the two, and you can change minds—and change futures, too.   Mike Ballard, Vice President of Industry Strategy for Oracle Utilities, has been with Oracle for five years, coming over from EDF Energy, which happens to be where he met his wife Sally. They live in Devon with their two children Christopher and Emily. Our favorite “fun fact” about Mike: He once tried to drive from the UK to Australia in his Land Rover but was turned back in Pakistan due to military coup.

And that one word has options. It can be four (abbreviated) letters, or it can be longer. You’ll find the answer here somewhere. (We’ll even point it out.) But, first, let’s chat a little. We talk a...

American Gas Magazine April cover story: Take Six

With 4,000 employees, 3 million customers and operations in six states, Southern Company Gas’ recent CIS consolidation across six of its natural gas utilities was a major undertaking. But so are the benefits, from better customer interactions to greater employee satisfaction. A new customer care and billing system could be expected to achieve increased efficiency, lower costs, fewer errors and better customer interactions. But when six of the seven utilities of Southern Company Gas consolidated their customer information systems, the companies also began to see greater satisfaction among employees involved in the customer experience. That satisfaction was evident via increases in both the companies’ promotion rate and employee retention rate. “We did know there would be a change dynamic,” said Sandra Broughton, director of Customer Experience with Southern Company Gas. “Our goal was to not lose people, but we saw that even the rate of natural separations slowed down,” dropping 8 percentage points from the average 20 percent. That unexpected benefit sweetens the already positive results of a three-year project to transition from using two separate CIS’s and an expensive old mainframe to the Oracle Customer Care and Billing system, or CC&B.   GETTING STARTED The transition started in 2014 with a discovery phase and was completed in the last half of 2017. Five Southern Company Gas utilities—Elizabethtown Gas, Virginia Natural Gas, Florida City Gas, Elkton Gas and Chattanooga Gas, affectionately referred to internally as “the AGL5” in reference to the utility’s former name, AGL Resources—successfully consolidated their 11-year-old customer management application system and their 25-year-old Axiom CIS mainframe into the Oracle platform. That platform was already in use by the sixth local distribution company involved, Nicor Gas, which had adopted it in 2006, five years before becoming a Southern Company Gas subsidiary in 2011. Another Southern Company Gas subsidiary, Atlanta Gas Light, was not involved in the consolidation because of the deregulated natural gas market in Georgia. There, customers buy their gas directly from marketers. AGL provides the transportation service, maintains the distribution lines and bills the marketers, creating a need for its own stand-alone CIS. Once the successful transition went live during a three-day period in late August 2017, 900,000 customer accounts migrated to the Oracle system, adding to the 2.2 million accounts already in place with Nicor Gas. As complex as the project was, its goals were simple: to consolidate the field and customer information systems of the utilities in order to operate with greater efficiency, prepare for future growth, standardize and improve business processes, and ease the integration of new technology that might come along in the future.   COMPLEX PROJECT, COMPLEX ISSUES One of the first decisions needed was what CIS to use in order to bring together the differing systems. While the utility did some system exploration, Oracle’s CC&B was an easy choice since Nicor Gas was already using it successfully. “Nicor Gas’ internal experience with supporting CC&B since 2006 was a key factor in our implementation, as well as in handpicking external resources for key functional roles,” said Cindi Reyes, director of IT at Southern Company Gas. Next came the complex task of planning and starting the consolidation with the discovery phase, which began in March 2014. Employees at Nicor Gas and the AGL5 companies already had experience at successfully implementing new technology in-house, from their work establishing call centers in the 1990s and re-insourcing customer service, which had been outsourced to India in 2006. So, project leadership decided to organize and manage the CIS consolidation project with internal resources while ensuring that all locations’ and functions’ concerns were addressed. “We felt like we had the in-house expertise, anchored by Nicor Gas,” Broughton said, “but core team members from various locations and different functions were going to be impacted. From both an IT and business side, they had an equal voice at the table.” As in any major change, the project needed strong communications and change management systems in place to educate and align employees across the enterprise. The objective was to deliver clear, concise and targeted messages to engage Southern Company Gas employees and ensure they understood the changes taking place and when those changes would happen—and to provide training for those whose jobs would be affected. Considering the companies have nearly 4,000 employees, 3 million customers and operate in six states, some complex logistics would be involved. Southern Company Gas is based in Atlanta, but customers and employees of the six utility subsidiaries were located in Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee and Florida. But that was just part of the complexity. The age of the legacy system, multiple locations of core project team members, system and licensing constraints, 52 different data systems interfacing with the customer system, changes to customer account data, different regulatory requirements, differences in business processes and competing business initiatives added levels of complexity as well. And, since business must go on, changes and upgrades to other vital projects across the enterprise continued—separate from the CIS consolidation. Obviously, this was no small project. The organization called in more than 350 employees across the enterprise who would become key contributors for the project’s successful planning and execution. The cross-functional core team included staff members from departments including billing, call center, field operations, credit, collections and remittance, finance, resource management, construction operations, corporate communication, utility business systems and IT. One might think that such a large project would be implemented incrementally, with each company adopting the new CC&B system gradually to work through bugs and give people time to get accustomed to the new process. But the project team decided early on that a gradual transition would be more difficult and costly in the long run, deciding instead to “go live” with all the companies over a single weekend. The team divided the project into four phases: discovery, requirements gathering and fit gap, design, and development and testing. To keep everybody on track, the team developed five guiding principles: Understand and limit impacts to work volumes. Understand and limit impact to customers. Keep online performance and batch completion times equivalent to today’s. Understand changes and impacts to interfaces. Continue working as a team to meet project deadlines. The team broke the project up into manageable areas of focus, assigning a team of business, IT and other leaders to each track. After the kickoff in March 2014, the project teams went through the various steps to consolidate and customize the Oracle product to exactly fit their needs, working through 2015 and 2016 to achieve the objective of going live with the new system in the third quarter of 2017. “We conducted weeks of workshops with business partners to analyze unique, complex processes that we could improve through strategic customization,” said Kerry Hogan, director of Meter Reading and Billing for Southern Company Gas. “Identifying these areas for process improvement early on proved to pay off once we went live with our new system.” As the system was built and tested, adjusted and became closer to being ready, the team began working on a plan for the training necessary to teach the employees who would use the new system. “Internal resources were integral in developing the testing scenarios and training documentation. This was essential to meeting tight project deadlines,” said Hogan. The scope of the training included about 1,000 employees who had utilized the old customer management application and/or the Axiom CIS mainframe. The team conducted training on navigation, order processing, billing, meter reading, credit, collections and the new online help tool. Since knowledge retention for such a new program is vital, training classes were done with small groups of 10 to 12 students. The training used a blended style of instructor-led courses, computer-based modules and a “hands-on” environment. The team scheduled intense training to be as close as possible to implementation of the new system. The training team spent about 6,000 hours of development time and over 3,000 hours of classroom facilitation to prepare end users for the all-important “go live.” In all, they delivered 30,000 hours of training. Along with training, the core team established an Ambassador program to support communication and change management surrounding the project. Ambassadors, selected from the business and each LDC, served as communications liaisons. Ambassadors traveled the service areas and conducted quarterly updates to provide new information on the status of the project and the process and terminology changes, and to demonstrate the system as it was being developed. “We formed a team of ambassadors at all locations, established regular meetings to share pertinent and real-time information, and facilitated roadshows across our footprint for executives, super users and impacted employees,” said Hogan. Meanwhile, technology partners, who were assigned or loaned business resources, logged more than 130,000 hours to design, develop and test the new system and its integration with other applications. Dozens of employees were dedicated full-time to support the project, plus scores of people who contributed part-time.   GOING LIVE With nearly 40 months of work and tens of thousands of hours put into the consolidation, anticipation began building for the third weekend in August, when the team decided it would be ready to go live. While employees across the enterprise were kept informed of the consolidation project and state regulators were kept up to speed, the company chose care in talking about the consolidation with customers. “We wanted the implementation for the customers to be seamless,” Broughton explained. “Customers don’t see your internal system, nor do they want to be impacted when you change your system. They want to be able to get their service and pay their bills without any problems.” Company websites informed customers that their ability to interact with the company electronically would be limited during the three-day go-live period of Friday, Aug. 18, through Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. “When we did mention the project to customers, we took the opportunity to let them know the system upgrade would allow us to expand on our billing and payment options,” Hogan added. During the go live, customers could still call in and make service requests, but call center employees handled the requests the old-fashioned way—with a modified manual approach—saving the non-emergency service changes and orders to enter once the new system came up. Perhaps similar to what many gas utilities did during the Y2K flip from 1999 to the year 2000, Southern Company Gas utilities did extensive planning in preparing for the changeover. More than 200 employees staffed nine war rooms around the companies’ service territory, stationing key personnel in IT, business and support roles across project tracks and business functions. The preparation paid off, and four of the war rooms were able to close by day four. As expected, there were some issues. On the first Monday of the new system, customer care center call-handling times for customer service and emergency response were slower than they had been under the old CIS. “But with focused floor support and side-by-side coaching from the ‘war room’ staff, service levels rose from 76 percent on Day 1 to near 90 percent the first week,” Broughton said. “We had little hiccups that needed fixing, but they were not major, by any means. I think we planned, and we delivered.” The companies were thrilled—and relieved—with the success of the consolidation and transition from the old CIS to the CC&B system. But it wasn’t luck or happenstance that made the transition so smooth. It was lots of planning and work. Company leaders credit a high level of leadership and employee engagement at all levels in terms of diagramming the needs, assigning key roles, clarifying roles and assignments as the project progressed, identifying gaps and making organizational changes to fill those gaps. Of course, the business readiness planning, change management, communications planning and the many training sessions and workshops throughout the four-phase project kept people informed and on track. Now, the Southern Company Gas utilities have a consistent CIS across six utilities, enabling shared contact center coverage and reducing contractor support costs. The system is less costly than the two systems in use before, and that old mainframe is being retired after many years of service. Billing, credit, reporting and other direct customer-contact experiences are improved. The project came in on budget and slightly ahead of schedule. But perhaps the most visible proof of the success lies in that satisfaction among employees. “Employees are now more adept and comfortable with remote work teams, collaborating via Skype, video conference and other electronic forums,” Broughton said. “Functional and geographic silos disintegrated with this CIS consolidation.”   This article was the American Gas Magazine cover story for the April 2018 issue of the magazine. Reprinted here with express permission. 

With 4,000 employees, 3 million customers and operations in six states, Southern Company Gas’ recent CIS consolidation across six of its natural gas utilities was a major undertaking. But so are the...

4 notes on innovative grid restoration from 3 utilities

Hurricanes and other extreme weather that blow out masses of power infrastructure in giant sweeps seems to happen in clusters—as if by some serious, if sad, planning. Utilities may go a decade without a hurricane coming only to find two or three hit them in a year with a particularly bad season. Three utility executives—two in the U.S. and one from Europe—sat down on the last day of Oracle Industry Connect 2018 to talk about the storms they’ve weathered (literally) and what they’ve learned from those storms (figuratively). While they all noted that there are no silver bullets to take out the monster of mass outages, they do have some steeped-in-experience advice. Here are the top four tidbits from their conversation: 1. Simplify the restoration process. Those automated items that you rely on during regular weather patterns are going to be overloaded during a big outage event. So, having a streamlined version that you can tap into during a large event could save you tech time, customer satisfaction and employee frustration. Some concepts: During a mass outage, don’t do individual tickets. Do mass ones by geography until post event. Color online maps in regions rather than, again, individual houses and businesses, allowing for a bit more elbow time as you work. 2. Make field communications the top priority. In the everyday world, field services is important but not the top of the hierarchy. When large areas of your geography have no power, your field services people (and the outside crews you bring in to help) are now front-line soldiers in the battle back to civilization. So, give them the best weapons for the fight, and making their ability to be aware—situationally, regionally, tech-wise and team-wise—constant will be the smartest way to get back to the status quo your customer is used to (and that your customer expects). 3. Educate the end customer and your people, too. When? Before a storm hits. Shift messaging from prep for the storm to restoration information, including feasible timing. Train and retrain staff to deal with customer emotions and reactions. And then, during the event, have sympathy. People out of power get upset. That’s natural (and, by the way, they’ll likely now text you or go through your app rather than call). 4. Go superhero with your tech. Smarter outage management systems that focus on both communication with customers and having all those distributed assets talking, too, is key to start this up. It may take some trial and error to get the equation right, but there is no doubt that better, faster, newer is going to help. Give the right tech people the ability to put their right tech into top gear during a storm event, and you will likely find they bring you real-time info, forecast info, outage info in practical ways that you never would have been able to plan for (or thought of asking for). Sit those data scientists in with the GIS peeps and see what they can uncover, for example. After all, the word “innovation” has good connotation for a good reason: You get good results. To quote one of the speakers today, “Innovation drives you toward reliability. They are not mutually exclusive.”   Read more from Oracle Industry Connect 2018: In a New York minute: 2 quick (but important) takeaways from Oracle Industry Connect today Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light Lessons in customer behavior from PwC and J.D. Power Choice is pushing the utilities industry into an era of customer consciousness On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy and the next Oracle Industry Connect NYPA’s CEO on restoration, reform and REV Passion, progress and practical lessons from New York’s Energy Czar Who is the true New York energy customer? An electric legacy: Con Edison’s Ketschke on his business, his city and his dad

Hurricanes and other extreme weather that blow out masses of power infrastructure in giant sweeps seems to happen in clusters—as if by some serious, if sad, planning. Utilities may go a decade without...

Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light

Michael Webber is one fast talker—but in a good way. (Maybe even in a great way.) Webber keynoted the energy and water track of the Oracle Industry Connect 2018 conference today, tossing out great jokes and amazing insights in energy, water, oil, gas, electric vehicles and more—pretty much the entire energy/water nexus, as we like to call it. Webber, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin by trade, is also the deputy director of the Energy Institute, Josey Centennial Professor in Resources, and co-director of the Clean Energy Incubator at the Austin Technology Innovator. And all of that can be summed up this way: He’s spent a lot of time thinking about energy, technology and how they make sense together (and where we could, perhaps, use a little more sense in the equation, too). In an amazing fast stream of concepts, Webber name-dropped Rick Smalley (the much revered discoverer of the buckyball); talked water, energy and toilets; rapid-fired consumption and waste data and showed us all what President Trump would look like with a man bun. He even told us a very interesting story involving a tea-kettle created energy spike in demand in Britain tied to the popular soap opera “East Enders.” In other words, he humanized the data behind all this infrastructure we deal with as an industry. Webber centered his discussion, actually, around Smalley’s list of ten “grandest human challenges.” What’s at the top of those varied 10? Take a guess. (Yep. It’s us. It’s energy.) Despite that desperate (and sometimes dire) energy challenge, Webber noted that, in reality, actual energy tech changes very slowly. “The entire modern global economy is running on old technology,” he lamented to the  utility executive audience. Even electric vehicles—something we, as an industry, tend to think of as high-tech and cutting edge—was first thought of in 1839. “It’s like there are no new ideas under the sun in this business,” he added. “But,I hope you have some. And, if you do, let’s get those adopted soon.” With the challenges in mind, Webber offered his solution in the form of an Aesop’s fable—that of the reeds vs. the oak tree. (In an abbreviated summary: the oak is teasing the reeds that they bend and he doesn’t, that they are pushovers and he wasn’t—until a big wind comes along and topples the oak, but the reeds endure.) He likened the energy industry to the ecosystem of that fable—that you need both the reliability of the oak and the flexibility of the reeds. You need power that is a heavy-duty powerhouse and things that can adjust and make up when that powerhouse isn’t as strong as it could be. Webber’s biggest suggested “action item”: switching our industry to a load-following mindset and getting away from our supply-following mindset. And how do we weather the time it takes to make that shift, you ask? We use classics: data, IoT and conservation, of course.    Read more from Oracle Industry Connect 2018: In a New York minute: 2 quick (but important) takeaways from Oracle Industry Connect today Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light Lessons in customer behavior from PwC and J.D. Power 4 notes on innovative grid restoration from 3 utilities Choice is pushing the utilities industry into an era of customer consciousness On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy and the next Oracle Industry Connect NYPA’s CEO on restoration, reform and REV Passion, progress and practical lessons from New York’s Energy Czar Who is the true New York energy customer? An electric legacy: Con Edison’s Ketschke on his business, his city and his dad  

Michael Webber is one fast talker—but in a good way. (Maybe even in a great way.) Webber keynoted the energy and water track of the Oracle Industry Connect 2018 conference today, tossing out great...

Customer Care

Lessons in customer behavior from PwC and J.D. Power

We talk a lot about customers these days in the utilities industry: what they want, what they need, what they’ll choose, what they’ll run from, what they’ll like six months from now, what they’ll expect from their utility tomorrow (that may not be visible to that utility today). Jim Curtain, a partner with PwC, and Jeff Conklin, Senior Director with J.D. Power, sat down with industry insiders at Oracle Industry Connect today to reveal what they know (from research and studies and outreach) about those utility customer desires. Their top insights: Your customer is going to measure you by others. They’re going to come to you with expectations they learned in retail, in banking, in insurance, in healthcare. Every customer is mobile. Even the customer who doesn’t identify as mobile, doesn’t think of himself as mobile (i.e., doesn’t shop on his phone) is mobile. Your customers who don’t talk to you may wander. If you don’t keep your customers in the conversation, they may be talking to someone else. Customers today expect that you know them. This applies to every transaction. Recognize them by name, know their pain points, know their account history. If you make a customer a promise, keep it. Customers don’t like when a problem occurs, but it’s much, much worse if you’ve told them a timeline or a result that doesn’t happen. Work backwards from the customer. Don’t just talk to them. Listen to what they have to say, and then put it into use, into practice. Customers will give you a grace period (sometimes). If you’ve been consistent on projects and results, customers will be forgiving with a bad situation. But, you have to have started this in a positive space. Your customer judges you on the basics. Reliability and value drive customer needs. They always have. They always will. No matter how you’re applying it. Customers love convenience. So you have to be on all channels, not just the ones easiest for you (and not just the ones most of them use). Be available however a customer wants to talk. Work on your consistent customer message. They want every message across every medium to connect and be consistent. (And the tolerance for differences in channels is declining.) If your customer is aware, your customer is happier. If they know your programs from the details on down, they feel more comfortable and are, essentially, more delighted with you. All customers respond to one phrase. It’s simple, but J.D. Power numbers prove you’ll get a satisfaction boost from those two simple words your mom taught you to say: thank you.     Read more from Oracle Industry Connect 2018: In a New York minute: 2 quick (but important) takeaways from Oracle Industry Connect today Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light Lessons in customer behavior from PwC and J.D. Power 4 notes on innovative grid restoration from 3 utilities Choice is pushing the utilities industry into an era of customer consciousness On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy and the next Oracle Industry Connect NYPA’s CEO on restoration, reform and REV Passion, progress and practical lessons from New York’s Energy Czar Who is the true New York energy customer? An electric legacy: Con Edison’s Ketschke on his business, his city and his dad    

We talk a lot about customers these days in the utilities industry: what they want, what they need, what they’ll choose, what they’ll run from, what they’ll like six months from now, what they’ll...

Technology

In a New York minute: 2 quick (but important) takeaways from Oracle Industry Connect today

“Go outside. Then look up,” advised Con Edison’s Matt Ketschke to the crowd at the opening general session of Oracle Industry Connect. “Well, OK. Don’t just stop in the middle of the sidewalk. New Yorkers are notoriously in a hurry, and you may get run over. So, go outside. Step to the side. Then look up.” Why? To see all the power in play, all the energy at work in the city that never sleeps, to get a good visual of these details. We found a few details to share ourselves—on energy and innovation in New York—during the first two sessions at Oracle Industry Connect this morning. Here are the two notes you need to know.   1. We’re going faster—but we need to continue to speed things up. “We have always been an industry of evolution; what’s changed is the pace,” Ketschke told the audience of utility executives and industry insiders inside the Hilton Midtown in NYC, noting that the first commercial power plant, Pearl Street Station, is only a few miles down the road. Ketschke and John Rhodes, Chair of the Public Service Commission and Chief Executive Officer, Department of Public Service, both pointed to New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) plan as the state’s attempt to both meet the pace of change and speed up that pace of change to make sure innovators and new market players can dive in more quickly. But Rhodes noted that, yes, it all needs to be done much, much faster. “We’re trying to figure out how to build the most effective and efficient energy delivery system for the future,” he added. “We have to be able to accommodate the speed of innovative business. We’re not fast enough yet.”   2. Innovation is found outside of the traditional culture box we’re used to, and we need to be OK with that. “The space to allow potential failure and, therefore, learning is huge,” said Marisa Uchin, Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs at Oracle, noting that new systems and thinking such as REV is opening doors to let this traditionally risk-adverse industry really evolve from doing. But, that new thinking isn’t available across-the-board, and pockets like New York are just that right now: pockets. There are still gaps. “There’s an extreme silo with most utilities,” added Matthias Kurwig, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Enervee. “Figuring out how to bridge things, cross budgets, is key.” “Radical innovation often doesn’t fit an RFP,” noted Lawrence Orsini, Chief Executive Officer of LO3 Energy. Orsini agreed with Kurwig that it can be difficult to make these new ideas and new concepts work within those old silos and budget structures. But both added that the problems with those silos and culture boxes are starting to become quite obvious. And, to quote Don Henley (and reference point #1): In a New York minute, everything can change.   Read more from Oracle Industry Connect 2018: In a New York minute: 2 quick (but important) takeaways from Oracle Industry Connect today Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light Lessons in customer behavior from PwC and J.D. Power 4 notes on innovative grid restoration from 3 utilities Choice is pushing the utilities industry into an era of customer consciousness On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy and the next Oracle Industry Connect NYPA’s CEO on restoration, reform and REV Passion, progress and practical lessons from New York’s Energy Czar Who is the true New York energy customer? An electric legacy: Con Edison’s Ketschke on his business, his city and his dad  

“Go outside. Then look up,” advised Con Edison’s Matt Ketschke to the crowd at the opening general session of Oracle Industry Connect. “Well, OK. Don’t just stop in the middle of the sidewalk. New...

Customer Care

Your thinking, your customers and your grid, too: looking for tomorrow in today

Tomorrow is so yesterday. We’ve been talking about the future for so long, surely we must be knee-deep in it by now. But the problem with tomorrow is this: It’s always in flux. It always needs planning for. It always need another look at strategy before it all comes rushing into today. For today’s utility looking to get a handle on tomorrow, knowing what to plan for (and how) can be a conundrum. There’s a wealth of items to tackle and a plethora of information to wade through. So, let’s cut to the chase. We simplified your tomorrow down to three main areas: thinking, customers and the grid. Here’s what you need to own, develop, get and craft in those three areas to make your utility’s tomorrow a rosy one.   Tomorrow’s thinking today When it comes to utility strategy, there’s always been a struggle between reliability needs and the concepts of new business and new models. We’ve been mulling: Are we forward-thinking new market visionaries ready to shed the core, or are we back-to-basics hardware hoarders who still think first about SAIFI?  But, good news, that battle is over—because it cannot be won. To truly innovate for tomorrow, you must consider both what’s coming and what you need today. So, neither new business nor core business can come out the winner. It is not more important that you develop new customer products than it is for you to maintain clear rights-of-way, and it’s not more important that you invest in transformers than it is to invest in customer analytics. You must maintain your core business; you must also look to new business offerings. Neither surpasses the other, even though, as an industry, we’ve been wrestling with which to put on top of the pile for years.  In this way, innovation requires even-handed, two-fold planning. But, how do you balance this dual thinking and make it a part of your future self? Here’s your innovation strategy to do list (from our recent Utility Innovation Blueprint study with Navigant): Own the two-fold approach. This doesn’t mean switch back and forth when you have changes in executive thought, cash flow or priorities. This means keeping both in mind in every moment. Outage response shouldn’t derail new product thinking, and you can’t neglect infrastructure for the next uber-cool customer app. Develop a foundation with established processes. To help make that two-fold approach second nature, you’ll need to put in place markers that help you evaluate accountability and risk, as well as let you track progress. It’s going to feel terribly unnatural for a while, but that will change quicker than you think it will. Get on the tech train. Whatever you want to do—whatever you need to do—to make your business thrive is available in the market today. Dive deep into your system. Know the details, especially the problems. Then find the right solution, whether that solution comes as SaaS or cloud or a new sensor or two. Craft a culture shift. This is a sea change. Walking away from the hardware vs. software, infrastructure vs. analysis, today vs. tomorrow environment we’ve established will be difficult. But the right executive sponsorships and those already processes should help you take that shift one baby step at a time.   Tomorrow’s customer today Let’s talk about the prosumer. You know the prosumer—even if you may not personally know a prosumer. The prosumer isn’t passive. She wants unprecedented info, numbers and communication options with her electric supplier. The prosumer is that neighbor at the end of your street who wants to know her own energy consumption numbers—and know she’s beating energy consumption numbers for every other household on that block. The prosumer is that millennial calling you once a week asking questions about when you’ll pay more attention to clean energy and how he might be able to get in on the ground floor of that. So, how do you know just what that coming prosumer—that future customer—wants? Here’s your customer contentment to do list (from the SECC’s 2018 State of the Consumer report): Own the conversation. Waiting until asked is old-school. Proactively initiating a dialogue on just what that prosumer wants from you is how you make sure you’re on track for the future. (But, while you should definitely make the effort at that first contact, don’t forget to listen when they respond—actively listen, as our grade school teachers would say.) Develop other relationships. The prosumer may be the one pushing you today, but other customers will become more and more energy-involved tomorrow. Use what you learn from those already-engaged prosumer conversations to find common ground with other customer segments, too. Get in the “all channels” game. Some people want to talk to you in person, some on the phone. Others want email options or mobile or even chat bots. Some want a “people factor,” and some would prefer to avoid people altogether. Don’t neglect any communication channel, even if one is much more heavily trafficked than the rest. Craft a bill that opens doors. Always start with the basics of bill payment, but remember that this bill is sometimes the single communication you will have with your customer that month. It’s a delicate balance to offer the options that customers want to see in a way that’s simple and not overwhelming. But it can be done and done well. (It has been done and done well, in fact.)   Tomorrow’s grid today Tomorrow’s tech is innovative. Tomorrow’s customer is savvy, and tomorrow’s grid is distributed, with energy resources reaching out to the customer edge of things. (That’s where most of the innovation will happen across the board, really.) While many inside the utilities’ industry today see distributed energy resources (DER) more as a way to keep those prosumer customers happy than a serious energy option, it has the ability to benefit more than the customer. DER saves money on grid management costs, and it’s certainly cheaper for a grid operator to pull generation from DER rather than dispatchable resources. Plus, customer-owned DER can be used as a demand response source. But, how do you create the right environment to allow DER to flourish (but not get away from you)? Here’s your DER to do list (from field research and customer conversations): Own your customer-driven grid planning. It’s a fact: customers are initiating today’s energy demand, and utilities need detailed information about their assets. So, constant communication will be key. Develop deep visibility into your grid resources. Marry customer information about DER assets with grid intelligence, and you can understand every nuance involved in the perfect performance of the grid. Get real-time awareness of asset performance. Utility assets have to perform at their optimally to deliver energy reliably, and you’ll need customer asset performance information as well to get a grasp on equipment issues. Craft agile field work and resolution. This will help smooth both DER penetration into your grid and customer expectations about your grid and that new, shiny DER. ​ We sat down and turned our favorite new tech dream, The Cloud, into your next comic book superhero obsession. (The Avengers ain’t got nothing on us.) Read the first issue here: 

Tomorrow is so yesterday. We’ve been talking about the future for so long, surely we must be knee-deep in it by now. But the problem with tomorrow is this: It’s always in flux. It always needs planning...

Innovation Insights

SaaS is your next innovation enabler

Fact #1: Utilities, like most businesses, need multiple back-office IT systems from CIS to MDM to ERP. Fact #2: These IT systems are typically deployed on-premise with necessary customizations to meet each utility’s unique business processes.  Most of them are replaced every 7-10 years, with each replacement being a major internal project that could last 1-3 years. Thus, at any given time, chances are pretty darn good that a utility’s IT staff is nearly completely consumed working on a mission-critical backend infrastructure project that involves upgrading or replacing a major back-office system. The disruptor of those facts: The energy industry, even in highly regulated markets, is increasingly facing competition from new players with disruptive business models selling directly to its customers. Thus, utilities are under a constant pressure to innovate in order defend the business. And a utility’s IT department is a huge differentiator in bringing these innovations to reality. The problem behind those facts and that disruptor:  IT is now being pulled in two different directions. First, there’s the need to keep mission-critical systems updated, secure, humming along with high reliability and predictability. (That’s Fact #2 at work.) On the other hand, there’s the need for quick agile innovations to prove out new business ideas. (That’s the disruptor in play.) With only so much time and utility manpower available, there is an inherent conflict between the two. In the end, the need to keep core business systems running almost always wins. This traditional-over-tactical victory often leads to utilities outsourcing their innovation projects.  And, as a result, a lot of innovation in the industry is happening at the startup level rather than within utilities themselves. These startups are typically “born in the cloud,” consuming cloud-based SaaS services internally in order to be lean and efficient (but also developing SaaS software, which is then deployed by the utility). The underlying question to all of this: Why is that utilities with large capital outlays are not able to organically innovate when startups with small budgets & borrowed capital are able to?    The answer to that question: Almost all resources at a startup are productive resources that directly contribute to creating new products and services. Most of the supporting services are either automated internally or are SAAS services procured from other SAAS vendors, freeing up the internal resources to doing the productive work. (In other words, they’re not bogged down by those Fact #2 responsibilities.) Which leads us here: So how can utilities bring innovation back in house? Free up bandwidth. How? By minimizing the time it takes to keep existing on-premise systems running. This typically means choosing configuration over customization of COTS applications and  minimizing or eliminating bespoke software (unless it is a significant business differentiator). This translates to deploying standard software with minimal or no customizations.  And deploying standard non-customized software is a SaaS sweet spot. (In fact, the business case for on-premise deployment is increasingly becoming harder and harder for all but a few niche cases.) So, SaaS allows that return to innovation and an increase in bandwidth to focus on the new and the now. You could even say SaaS can make the average utility into its own startup. Moving to a SaaS solution  brings in a host of benefits which all work together, creating room for innovation. The rundown: How SaaS can make your utility think like a startup. Automating the mundane everyday: SaaS providers automate the process of applying routine patches and upgrades of new releases across the software stack, allowing that old majority of time taken by IT to be freed up for innovation projects. (Bonus: Since missed security patches and typos during hand-configuring software create headline-grabbing security breaches, automation avoids many of these issues as well.) Keeping up with the latest thinking: SaaS software continuously evolves by adding new features and functionality in quick iterations since the automation factor makes it relatively cheap to test and deploy. Eyeing the investment involved: Most SaaS software is metered--meaning you pay for only what you use. There’s no need to over-provision. You can easily scale up or scale down the hardware resources as your business needs dictate. Having on-demand elasticity without having to overbuild/over-provision the capacity is one of the biggest selling points of any cloud offering. Looking attractive to the right people:  Legacy/propriety custom software drives away talent.  It is always hard to hire developers you can maintain and grow using legacy technology. (No one wants to work on an old project and a siloed system that gives them little chance to make real change or learn new things.) SaaS leverages modern software tools and practices, attracting talent which, in turn, drives innovation. (Bonus: Innovative projects attracts ever more talent, creating a positive cycle!)   The final result of that facts/disruptor battle: SaaS takes away the grunt work of maintaining and running your routine back-office IT systems, while simultaneously enforcing good IT practices. And you get more bandwidth to boot. You just have to choose configuration over customization. Take advantage of SaaS to bring innovation back in-house. The bottom line: Flip the switch and outsource the task of babysitting your infrastructure, not your innovation.   We sat down and turned our favorite new tech dream, The Cloud, into your next comic book superhero obsession. (The Avengers ain’t got nothing on us.) Read the first issue here: 

Fact #1: Utilities, like most businesses, need multiple back-office IT systems from CIS to MDM to ERP. Fact #2: These IT systems are typically deployed on-premise with necessary customizations to meet...

Customer Care

Choice is pushing the utilities industry into an era of customer consciousness

The energy consumer ain’t what he used to be. But, then again, neither is the energy industry. What used to be static is now constant flux. What used to be about infrastructure and hardware is now about customers and software. The future isn’t now in our industry. The future was yesterday, and tomorrow is a whole other eon with a brand new energy consumer: one who is tech-savvy and questioning. “Technologies are giving consumers different choices these days,” said Lawrence Orsini, CEO of LO3 Energy and a panelist at our upcoming Oracle Industry Connect conference in NYC this April. To Orsini, that new consumer is why the industry is seeing all this change—or at least one of the main reasons. “Consumers are driving this shift by recognizing that they have choice, which is what is starting to shift the existing paradigm,” he added. “We’ve been ratepayers; we’ve been obligated to pay what the utility decides and when the utility decides we should. Those days are coming to an end. People and communities are recognizing that, through tech, they have new options and new choices. They don’t want cheap; they don’t want free. They just want choice.” But Orsini pointed out that, really, these changes have been seen before in other industries: retail, hospitality, even healthcare. But the most parallel evolution is likely telecom, where taking the phone off the wall changed the world. The utilities industry is facing a similar shift; it’s just not about phones. It’s about meters. “We’re going to take the meter off the wall and there will be different services and different choices and there will be new markets, and that new customer will be happy,” Orsini added. When those new consumers meet that new market, the utilities industry won’t be solely about their traditional electricity, gas, water delivery businesses. Instead, there will be a new layer: services. And once everyone—from customers to utility execs to regulators—finally see the benefits of these services, that new eon of utilities will “take off like a rocket,” according to Orsini. Those new markets to make for happier new consumers will likely have one interesting and innovative element at their core that Orsini, especially, is well-versed in: blockchain. (Full disclosure: Orsini and I have talked about blockchain before in my previous life as an industry editor. You can read our first discussion on the topic here.) Orsini’s company is leading the Brooklyn Microgrid project, a peer-to-peer solar exchange built on blockchain that allows local residents to augment their own power (or buy, sell, trade extra energy to others). But, he warns that, despite its real potential, most of what we’re seeing around the industry these days is just hype. While, yes, blockchain is revolutionary, it’s still new and still evolving. (And there still aren’t a lot of real uses for blockchain in the utilities industry in play just yet. The Brooklyn Microgrid is often cited as the only one really up and running in the U.S.) “The real movement is aligned with accessing, securing and making permissible data,” he noted. “Putting a fake cryptocurrency in the middle of a transaction—between the producer and the consumer of a kilowatt hour—is selling snake oil. And you’ll know pretty quickly who’s selling that snake oil. They’re fresh, new MBAs walking into utility offices and saying, ‘We’re coming to change your business model,’ and you’ll think, ‘Kid, you don’t even understand my business model. You don’t know the business. You don’t know the industry. You don’t know the regulatory issues. And you don’t know how I make money.’” Orsini estimates the blockchain hype around 60% of the chatter in the industry today, but he stressed that this will change. The hype will give way to reality, as that new eon of energy progresses. Despite his own group’s project in Brooklyn, however, he doesn’t think real cross-the-board, flip-the-switch change will happen in the U.S. first. He points to a country dealing with more immediate problems and needing more immediate solutions as the first point of change, especially in the areas where blockchain works best (transactive energy). And that country? Australia. The U.S. timeframe Orsini envisions is about the seven-year mark from now when we see consumers really driving changes in regulation. Until that time of real transactive change, though, there’s always the unique lessons from Orsini’s Brooklyn Microgrid and other programs opened up under the NY REV processes.  “I’ve talked to regulators all over the globe,” he said. “They all have strong interest in what’s happening here. This regulatory evolution is slow, but it’s still head and shoulders above the rest.” As we make that transition to more interactive, transactive energy, Orsini already has a list of lessons utilities can apply right now to make that move easier going forward: Look to the grid-edge first, rather than focusing on the grid center. Talk to regulators—and keep on talking—about changing the old thinking about capital and compensation. Don’t be all in. You don’t need to own it all anymore. It’s time to invest in co-investment.   Learn more from Orsini at Oracle Industry Connect this April. Along with other New York state/REV players, he’ll dive deeper into the NY energy scene in our NY State of Energy panel session. Request an invitation to the conference right here.   Read more from this series:  On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy and the next Oracle Industry Connect  NYPA’s CEO on restoration, reform and REV Passion, progress and practical lessons from New York’s Energy Czar Who is the true New York energy customer? An electric legacy: Con Edison’s Ketschke on his business, his city and his dad    

The energy consumer ain’t what he used to be. But, then again, neither is the energy industry. What used to be static is now constant flux. What used to be about infrastructure and hardware is now...

Company

Our former utility CIO reveals a bit of your new energy future

We talk a lot, in this industry, about topics and concepts: blockchain, IoT, the shift to the cloud, grid modernization and growing customer demands. And these are all worthy themes to dissect and plan strategy around, for sure. But, there are people behind making blockchain a reality, connecting each bit of technology to smarter devices, smoothing the data flow to that cloud, fixing those interop problems with new grid hardware and thinking ahead to what customers will want tomorrow. It’s time we talked about some of those people pushing those topics and concepts, making them a reality for utilities around the globe from here inside Oracle. And so, the 3Qs blog series was born. For our inaugural 3Qs conversation, we sit down with Martin Dunlea, a Utilities Industry Strategist based in Dublin and ask him—as the name of this series hints at—three big questions.   How did you get involved in utility business, and what makes (and keeps) you passionate about it? Dunlea: Having qualified as an engineer, my first involvement with the utilities industry was the early implementation of a GIS-based network management and modelling system. It gave me a great insight into how technology could be used to manage the unique challenges facing utilities in the design, operation and support of linear assets. I then spent a number of year supporting a number of large network and infrastructure projects before taking up the position of CIO with a gas and electricity utility. I’ve now been with Oracle Utilities for 9 years. As an industry, utilities are experiencing unprecedented challenges, some as a result of advances in technology and operational efficiencies. But it is the amount of external factors, influences and changes that are most challenging and continue to make it an incredibly interesting and innovative industry to work in. It would have been difficult 20 years ago to envisage how advances in renewable energies, connected technologies and advanced analytics could combine to fundamentally change the traditional energy delivery model. What we know for certain is that as technologies and solutions continue to mature, the final chapter on the future state of the utility business is far from complete.   What's your touchstone—the idea that you keep coming back to in this field—and how do you apply it to what you do every day?  Dunlea: One idea I find fascinating is the progressive move towards self-power and the prospect that, in the future, off grid energy solutions will be a reality. Storage prices are dropping dramatically and with a growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and residential based solar panels, storage can now be deployed both on the grid or at an individual consumer’s home or business. This means that the idea of combining solar with storage to enable households to make and consume their own power on demand instead of exporting power to the grid is beginning to be a realistic option for customers. This evolution towards consumer-managed “closed-loop energy systems” is an exciting development that has financial benefits for end users and significant challenges for the energy industry, which can expect even more disruption to the traditional business model and existing revenue streams. If electricity prices continue to increase, then the momentum towards partial grid defection will only increase as well. And that presents more challenges for energy companies.   What's the top problem for utilities you work with today, and how do you advise they solve that problem? Dunlea: Over the next 12 months, the biggest challenges for power and utility companies will be to build a comprehensive customer experience, drive operational efficiency and excellence, and embrace big data opportunities. But rather than look on these as discreet, unrelated challenges, utilities would do well to embrace new technologies that can interpret consumption data, empower customers to manage their service and help utilities companies reshape their business models and their relationship with customers. In the short term, the most immediate challenge for utilities is how quickly the traditional business model of distribution network management is changing into something dramatically different. Consumers are turning to cheaper distributed energy generated from rooftop solar panels, wind turbines and diesel generators. A smart approach to these emerging business challenges that includes an effective data analytics strategy is essential to making the most of DERs and guaranteeing users a reliable energy supply. It provides utilities with dynamic, real-time data on flow conditions across the network to help them better manage the integration of distributed energy sources. Finally, if utility companies embrace these operational changes, they will gain greater visibility into, and control over, the distributed energy resources that are increasingly being used in today’s energy market. From there, they can drive benefits for both prosumers and themselves.

We talk a lot, in this industry, about topics and concepts: blockchain, IoT, the shift to the cloud, grid modernization and growing customer demands. And these are all worthy themes to dissect and...

Deciphering India’s theft problem: 4 solutions and 1 very shiny gem

When I think about the massive, beautiful power of electricity and the massive, beautiful country of India, it always brings to mind the Syamantaka Mani—the classic story of the sun god’s jewel. Of course, any good sun god—any good god in general, for that matter—would have massive, beautiful things: homes atop mountains, chariots that circle the sky. But, in this case, Surya’s jewel was so massive and so beautiful that it created the stunning light and radiance that came with the god’s every step. And that jewel had additional powers as well. It was said that whomever possessed it would be prosperous and would be able to ward off any natural disaster. That’s where its connection to electricity comes into play for me, for what does electricity do but allow for industry and culture (making things prosperous both financially and emotionally) and help keep us warm when it’s too cold and cool when it’s too hot (and, thereby, warding off a little natural disaster or two)? There’s a second connection between the Surya’s favorite necklace and electricity, though, and that’s theft. After all, anything both massive and beautiful, both able to bring prosperity and ward off a little weather—well, that’s a thing to have, even if you don’t own it and didn’t pay for it. The sun god’s jewel was pilfered most famously by a lion (though later recovered); electricity in India has, as far as I know, never been stolen by the local fauna, but it is stolen—a lot. According to a number of academic sources, in fact, India rates the highest for electricity theft in the world, with annual estimates ranging from $10 billion (U.S.) to $16.2 billion (U.S.). This mainly impacts the distribution end of the system, of course, because that’s the side of the electric “gem” that people can physically touch. That means that distribution companies (or DISCOMs, as they are often called in the region) bear the brunt of the loss—both monetarily with lower income in the coffers and physically when something burns out, burns up or takes down a bit of tech in the attempt. Like the tale of Surya’s jewel, though, the story of electricity theft in India isn’t a new one. Still, even if it is an old problem, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a bevy of newly found, new tech solutions to help DISCOMs (whether private of government-owned) tackle the issue.  Here are four of our favorites: 1.) Get the community involved. Private DISCOM Tata Power is using the age-old method of community activists to walk local areas, knock on doors and get the word out about paying bills and respecting company property and equipment. Bringing someone from the area into the DISCOM fold to act as a bridge between company and culture is a low-cost, high-touch, low-tech way to change the mindset behind widespread electricity theft. 2.) Get those cables underground. The simplest—though, yes, likely most expensive—solution to the theft problem doesn’t take activists. It takes shovels—big, huge shovels. If you can get those wires and cables out of sight and out of reach, you can make a real difference in the amount of power theft you see. This idea has been a huge one for Prime Minister Modi, with a year-long burial effort paying off in losses dropping from 45% to less than 10% in spots. 3.) Get that tech in the game. Activists to change patterns are a good long-term strategy, and burials are a good short-term one (though not always physically feasible). To complement both efforts—and fill in the gaps—DISCOMs should turn to the evolution of modern tech and software solutions, from AMI to automation to analytics. A better eye on the system overall means a better overview of problem areas (and granular data details that can help push responses from reactive to proactive). 4.) Get into an innovator’s mindset (and stay there). Having the right patterns and the right tech means having the right tools. But, putting those tools to use to solve issues like loss prevention takes new thinking—about keeping things reliable, functioning and functional, as well as laying foundations for a future where India isn’t topping the list in electricity theft. This means crafting a new utility culture that both honors the traditional and opens doors to new worlds. It’s a difficult balance, but it’s a balance that’s absolutely necessary for the new utility—a business where that shining electric jewel belongs to both the company and the community.   To get a more in-depth handle on this dual thinking in #4, download our partner study with Navigant, the Utility Innovation Blueprint: How to Manage the Challenge of Dual Innovation, available for free here. To review a few Oracle Utilities’ products and solutions to help you tackle #3, just click here.  

When I think about the massive, beautiful power of electricity and the massive, beautiful country of India, it always brings to mind the Syamantaka Mani—the classic story of the sun god’s jewel. Of...

Customer Care

An electric legacy: Con Edison’s Ketschke on his business, his city and his dad

What brought Matt Ketschke, senior vice president of customer energy solutions at Con Edison, into the energy industry in the first place? Well, you might say it was in the Ketschke blood. As a kid, Ketschke would go to work with his dad, who started his career at Boston Edison. So, the electricity business is an industry Ketschke grew up with—and grew to love. After some co-op work during his college years, Ketschke was lucky enough to get a job with Con Edison, a company he’s been with ever since. He’s maintained network transformers for the energy company. He’s rescued and rehabbed underground equipment. He’s run a few field crews in his time. He’s even done a stint in HR. Ketschke saw each of those jobs as a real opportunity to work on something unique and tackle a new personal challenge, though he admits his favorite was his time as a field supervisor, which let him go out into the streets. “NYC is a vibrant city,” he told us in a phone interview in February. “You see and experience things that are incredibly interesting. It was a great job connecting directly with people every single day.” Beyond personal favorites, the Con Edison job Ketschke is most proud of remains his work on the city’s 9-11 recovery, and Ketschke continues to watch over NYC’s people and places—albeit from outside the neighborhood nowadays—with his current role in the customer solutions area of Con Edison as the company, the state and the industry overall continue to adjust and evolve. “Tech is changing, but one of the things that will remain constant: the grid will remain vitally important,” he said. “As the grid operator, we’ll have to figure out how to evolve our role and keep that grid reliable, keep it best for all customers.” Ketschke and Con Edison are running a number of options to figure out those best practices with grid evolution, including their favorite—non-wires solutions. What are non-wires solutions? Anything that doesn’t make the utility physically build infrastructure up and out (or string up wire, hence the name). Or, as Ketschke put it: “engaging customer-side resources to meet grid needs.”   His favorite is the Brooklyn Queens Neighborhood Program to defer transmission and distribution build outs in certain fast-growing neighborhoods. (Instead, the company works with customers to help them reduce their need.) And the numbers are an impressive proof point in this non-wires story: With the Brooklyn Queens Neighborhood Program, the company closed a 52 MW gap, deferred a $1.2 billion substation and met goal with $60 million leftover. The Brooklyn Queens Neighborhood Program is just one example of how Ketschke and Con Edison is interacting and interfacing with customers more than ever—and often on the customers’ own turf these days. So, given Ketschke’s experience all over Con Edison and all over NYC, we asked him this: How would he characterize the New York consumer? (We realize we’ve already covered this turf recently with some SECC research, but we were curious for an insider’s viewpoint: Is the NY consumer truly different than the rest of the country, or is every consumer, including the NY one, basically evolving in similar ways with similar wants and needs? Turns out: yes … and no.) “New York State is not all that different than the rest of the country,” he said.  “NYC may be more so. NYC is a very EE-knowledgeable group to begin with. The typical NYC residential customer consumes 300 kWh per month, a third of the national average.” Ketschke added, “So, you’re already talking about a population that uses energy pretty efficiency compared to the rest of the country, one that’s already interested in EE and in the environment.” And, he pointed out, a number of NY customers across the state are more engaged today than they were five years ago, a trend that both Ketschke and Con Edison predict will continue. (In fact, they’re betting on it.) And Ketschke is also betting on this: consumers five years from now, whether inside or outside Con Edison’s footprint, will want easy engagement, more choices and easy access to those choices. “Every utility, us included, needs to meet customers where they are,” he said. “It’s really all about that.” From his father’s time in the industry to even a mere decade ago, customers were load, but now, as Ketschke noted, utilities are thinking about customer segments and customization and varied needs, expectations that have come to the utility business from other industries but are here to stay. “It’s fascinating to think about all the change that’s happened so recently, driven by policy and customer expectations and technology. It’s a faster change than I’ve ever seen before, certainly a faster change than my dad experienced in his entire utility career. And it’s not about to slow down anytime soon,” Ketschke added.   Read more: In a New York minute: 2 quick (but important) takeaways from Oracle Industry Connect today Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light Lessons in customer behavior from PwC and J.D. Power Choice is pushing the utilities industry into an era of customer consciousness On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy and the next Oracle Industry Connect NYPA’s CEO on restoration, reform and REV Passion, progress and practical lessons from New York’s Energy Czar Who is the true New York energy customer?    

What brought Matt Ketschke, senior vice president of customer energy solutions at Con Edison, into the energy industry in the first place? Well, you might say it was in the Ketschke blood. As a kid,...

Company

What's so darn awesome about Oracle Industry Connect?

Oracle Industry Connect is on the way. This utility executive conference will be flying into NYC in April, but is it the right conference for your busy schedule? The thinking behind the show: Utilities continue to face massive disruption caused by DER to IoT, big data to even bigger customer expectations. They're transforming—becoming more agile and flexible. They're also adapting by investing in their core business to provide safe, affordable, and reliable services. Balancing this dual innovation is key to conquering disruption, and Oracle Industry Connect's Energy and Utilities program offers insight on how to do just that. Map out your future with advice from industry thought leaders, grow your peer network, and experience in-depth customer-led sessions showcasing how to: Build new business models and products/services Incorporate cloud and analytics Become a more resilient, efficient digital utility If that thinking aligns with questions you have and problems you need to solve, then Oracle Industry Connect may be the spot to do just that. (And there are also programs in other industries that you're welcome to additionally attend for cross-industry knowledge gathering: communications, construction and engineering, financial services and insurance, health sciences, hospitality or retail. We're all talking innovation and transformation this year. What better way to get the next great utilities industry idea than to pilfer it from an industry already doing the heavy lifting on that idea?) Not sold just yet? Here are some additional stats and highlights from last year's shows so you can run the numbers for your 2018 attendence with the comprehensive infographic on the left: quotes, attendees, and loads of show contentment. Still got a few questions you'd like answered before jumping into our NYC OIC with both feet? Check out our review of the 2017 conference in Orlando here.  And get a sneak peek at what we anticipate will be one of the hottest sessions at our 2018 show, the New York State of Energy panel session, by following our NY State of Energy blog series, a handful of which are listed below: On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy and the next Oracle Industry Connect NYPA’s CEO on restoration, reform and REV Passion, progress and practical lessons from New York’s Energy Czar Who is the true New York energy customer?   Ready to request an invite to Oracle Industry Connect? Just click here.

Oracle Industry Connect is on the way. This utility executive conference will be flying into NYC in April, but is it the right conference for your busy schedule? The thinking behind the show: Utilities...

Customer Care

3 utility industry lessons we can all learn from remembering the Alamo

At DistribuTECH 2018 in San Diego, there was one recurring question all around the floor that wasn't about low voltage or meter-to-cash or grid management, nor about distribution issues or DER or the juggling of old assets. That question: Have you been to the Alamo? In mythology, it’s a San Antonio staple, a monument to against-the-odds heroics, with a wild cast of characters from former politician and self-made folk hero (even before Twitter-posted selfies) Davy Crockett to pioneer and legendary knife-wielder Jim Bowie. In reality, the Alamo monument itself is small and unassuming, sandwiched between a Ripley’s wild and weird museum and a small park with a gazebo that seems perfect for a nice family picnic when the weather is pleasant. But the story of the Alamo and it’s complicated political, technical and cultural layers speaks volumes. And you can’t escape those volumes on the streets of San Antonio. So, to wrap up a week of industry knowledge in a spot overshadowed by a battle that happened nearly 200 years ago, what lessons can we cross apply to us in the utilities industry? Let’s mull it over. 1. Small is still powerful.   With odds similar to the Greek/Persian battle of Thermopylae (which is actually referenced at the Alamo), this fight involved about 100 fort defenders hunkered down against around 1500 soldiers. Granted, Crockett and company didn’t win this fight, but they held out for about two weeks, an amazing feat when someone’s lobbing cannonballs at you. What can we learn from this? You can move the needle on your next massive project with a tiny but mighty team. Not everyone needs to be involved. Instead, you need to get the right people involved. Whether you’re contemplating a smart meter rollout or the replacement of a legacy CIS system, pick a handful of the brightest people from all sides and have a sit down. Then use that tiny but mighty group to drive change. 2. Legacies are made from moments. The multiple skirmishes that we tend to lump together as the battle of the Alamo happened between Feb. 23 and March 6, 1836—just a few days. Today, you can go right down the street from the Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center after the show closes, walk those few blocks to the Alamo, and I guarantee you there will be a line. 200 years after the fact, there’s a line. There are people waiting to see the remains of a battle that, in all honesty, had little actual impact on either Texas or American history. But, those stories, that tale, those calls to remember—well, they worked. Songs have been written about that moment. Movies have been made. And it all centers around the mythology and the emotion of what was happening in those few days. In this industry, we tend to think we’ll be remembered for our cumulative averages: great SAIFI, SAIDI and CAIDI numbers; average call center times below a minute; capacity capabilities to meet any peak. The truth? Your reputation will not be made from research, averages and a wide viewpoint. Your reputation will be built—is right now being built—on moments, specifically customer ones. How long am I going to be sitting in the dark? Why can’t I text you there’s an outage? Why did it take so long for you to respond when my pole-top transformer in the alley caught fire? So, get ahead of this issue by crafting positive community and customer moments to balance out—maybe even drown out—those moments when, inevitably, you’re going to fail. 3. It’s all about timing.  The battle of the Alamo was lost from a series of timing problems. First, Bowie was sent to actually shut the place down and roll out the artillery. Instead, he was persuaded to stay and bring in reinforcements. Expected reinforcements didn’t make it, though, so, in the end, timing doubly did them in. In a parallel universe where Bowie did as told, the Alamo story wouldn’t be ingrained in our cultural mythology. Even in this industry, it’s not about your strategy or your tech or your workforce. Those things are important. They lay foundations. But, it’s really all about timing. And, we’re talking two-fold, here. First, getting ahead of a changing utility business landscape, yes. That’s the obvious one. Second, however, is literally figuring out the tech to make real-time data, feedback and response possible across your system because the future grid will be right now and on-demand, as everything else in this world is becoming. And, in the very near world of that very near future, even 15-second meter ping delays will seem archaic and ancient and quaint and, well, feel about 200 years old.   Read more from DistribuTECH 2018: Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light 5 fabulous customer engagement insights from CPS Energy’s Felecia Etheridge No lie: your utility customers want digital data, options and more How utilities can help make a city smart without breaking the bank (and the back) How fast can a utility evolve?

At DistribuTECH 2018 in San Diego, there was one recurring question all around the floor that wasn't about low voltage or meter-to-cash or grid management, nor about distribution issues or DER or the...

Technology and the Cloud

How fast can a utility evolve?

That’s a leading question in our title, we know—a succinct but open-ended one. So, here’s your succinct but open-ended answer: As fast as a utility can innovate. That’s our simple summary of “The Digital Utility Relationship with Innovation and Reliability” session at DistribuTECH 2018 conference. If you only have five seconds to read this article, that’s your takeaway. If you have more than five seconds and would like some great insights on just how to make that innovation actually happen, take a few more minutes and read on. “It took more than 45 years for the electric utility industry to reach 50 million customers,” said Bradley R. Williams, Vice-President, Industry Strategy, Oracle Utilities, in the session opening. “Twitter passed that in two years.” And that new Twitter speed is impacting that old electric utility industry, making the entire industry push, pull and change a little faster. That change is driven by three factors, according to Matthew Ketschke, Vice-President of Distributed Resources Integration, ConEdison: technology that’s being developed (especially at the grid edge), policy globally and locally, and customer interest. “The interest among customers—at least a subset—has changed. There is now a subset of consumers really interested in engaging in their energy in new ways,” he added. Bryan Pham, Senior Engineering Manager, Southern California Edison (SCE), added to Ketschke’s focus on policy with an emphasis on clean energy. (In fact, SCE, has a white paper on the subject titled “The Clean Power and Electrification Pathway.”) Pham noted that SCE can’t meet those clean power and policy goals without better tech and automation. Williams posed the question to his panelists about whether we are really thinking through all the variables of technology before we implement them: What are the implications? Should we really learn as we go? Do we have to? Ketschke agreed that, yes, there’s a tension between innovation and reliability sometimes. “As we introduce new things to this system, it’s always possible those things will have consequences,” Ketschke admitted, pointing to the challenges in updated old systems to fit new thinking.   “One of the fun things to talk about with this is microgrids,” chimed in Doug Houseman, Grid Modernization Lead, Burns & McDonnell, giving a personal example of his own at this innovation/reliability battle. “It’s super sophisticated to turn on and off a microgrid correctly, but it seems simple. The innovation is great. The island that you can island is wonderful, but there are a lot of systems to put in place to do this right.” Pham added that, in the beginning of all technology changes, that antagonistic relationship between innovation and reliability always exists, what we have to do is work to make that smoother, to get past each implication and potential problem one at a time. “We try to test everything as thoroughly as possible at SCE,” Pham added. “But no one’s record is perfect. It’s not possible.” Williams followed up his innovation vs. reliability question with a second on developing the right recipe for conservative utilities to embrace faster times to see value (faster times to market in the retail sense). “We have traditionally had this general sense of risk aversion in this industry, but as you think about the innovation space, there will be a three-way partnership that’s necessary,” noting that those are utilities, regulators and vendors. “You need all of those working together to make things work.” Pham agreed at that risk aversion culture but revealed that SCE is trying to work this faster with real-condition labs and in-depth research, which allows them to accelerate with a “fail faster” idea in a controlled environment that doesn’t impact the customer. Before Houseman answered Williams’ question himself he asked the audience: How many of you have a cell phone? All hands went up. He followed up with: Now, how many of you read detailed technical white papers before you bought that cell phone? No hands when up. Houseman’s third question: Now, if you knew you had to keep that phone for 40 to 60 years, how many of you would have done that research? All hands returned. His point? That regulation and requirements from policy owners and stakeholders on longevity has created a stranglehold on getting tech up and out faster. His suggestion? More R&D capability to allow for much quicker change and capability in the real world. “We want to go faster? We need to have more places we can play, where we can break things—in a place safe for us to break things so we can understand what happens with failure,” he added. So, a better, smarter, faster, more evolved utility has to do one thing first (and a lot): fall on its face. And then learn. Because, with all innovation, failure happens. But failure isn’t bad … if it doesn’t impact your customer.   Read more from DistribuTECH 2018:  Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light  3 utility lessons we can all learn from remembering the Alamo 5 fabulous customer engagement insights from CPS Energy’s Felecia Etheridge No lie: your utility customers want digital data, options and more How utilities can help make a city smart without breaking the bank (and the back)

That’s a leading question in our title, we know—a succinct but open-ended one. So, here’s your succinct but open-ended answer: As fast as a utility can innovate. That’s our simple summary of...

How utilities can help make a city smart without breaking the bank (and the back)

Cities, they are a-changin’, to paraphrase Bob Dylan. They’re getting smarter and more efficient, as well as both more connected and more distributed—at the same exact time. Juggling the tech and timing that goes along with those changes can be difficult for city stakeholders, from electric utilities to water companies to city transit. How to manage that juggling act—to save time, to save tech, to save money—was the theme of the “Stakeholder Engagement for Energy Transformation of Cities” session at DistribuTECH 2018 in San Antonio this week. “If you have pride in being able to solve unrealistic problems on unrealistic timeframes, raise your hands,” H.G. Chissell, Founder and CEO of Advanced Energy Group, who run a smart cities platform for city stakeholders looking for a better, brighter, bolder future. The question Chissell asked is: What do we do to make those problems disappear on the timelines that seem impossible? His answer? Getting everyone involved and everyone talking. There was a grid operator, two utilities, industry management specialists and global vendors in the room, and Chissell noted that this was a microcosm of just what he suggests is necessary to make the problems of smart cities opportunities won. Chissell introduced Mike Desocio, Senior Manager, Market Design, New York Independent System Operator, who opened with how much and how often they’re thinking about what the grid—what they exist to support directly—will look like in the future. “There’s a lot of power in markets, and New York is a great example of that,” Desocio told the audience. “Markets are very possible, and we need to harness those markets to conquer the challenges of the future.” Desocio added that that the future will have more distributed energy, energy storage, variable resources on the bulk system and behind the meter, along with some major changes in public policy. (To get a look at some of their thinking on distributed energy, read NYISO’s DER roadmap here.) “We envision tomorrow’s grid to be much more dynamic that today’s grid,” he added. And to smooth that change, Desocio carried the torch that Chissell championed at the start of the session: stakeholder integration. For the New York ISO, that a lot of integration of public policy, working on both a little “harmonizing” (as Desocio put it), along with market assessments when it comes to policy. Desocio and Chissell were also supported by Steve Wemple, General Manager, Utility of the Future, ConEdison. (ConEdison is a delivery company working on getting things “that final mile” to the customer, as Wemple noted.) Wemple added that the game changer to get to their utility future is actually figuring out whether utilities can trade out big builds for customer-located tech and customer-reliant two-way grid. “We’re investing in a platform ahead of the [customer] adoption to make that [future] adoption as seamless as possible,” Wemple revealed. “In the past, we had curtailment programs with one-way notification. Now we need a must more dynamic process where we try to keep a pulse on what customer behavior looked like yesterday and this morning so I can plan for this afternoon and tomorrow.” On the customer stakeholder side, ConEdison is looking at updates and changes to net metering and other programs to find the right price and the right program to move customer behavior and get them into the smart city community picture. The rest of the session panel included James Cater, Boston City Liason, Energy Efficiency, Eversource; Tom Eyford, Global Industry Specialist, Operations, Oracle; David Glenwright, Principal Consultant, Black & Veatch; Michelle Isenhouer, Lead Associate, Booz Allen Hamilton; Doug Staker, Vice President of Global Business Development, Demand Energy.  Together, they offered this advice on how we can move forward on the smart cities concept and get past the that’s-not-possible pushback. Here are their top tidbits:   Look at infrastructure efficiency to the smallest level: lightning changes to the light bulb and utility pole use across departments. Evaluate pockets to start new infrastructure build-out: where to put EV chargers, for example, and how that will impact consumers and businesses. Tackle the political issues you know are coming head on: build relationships, listen, but understand that step one may involve in lots of defensive thinking (and it will take work to get past that). Believe that your utility can be the trusted energy advisor in this project: even when the customer behavior needle isn’t moving and the partnership engagement is faltering, you’ve got to keep the faith (to quote Billy Joel). Understand that smart city cybersecurity is scary but manageable: just keep that in mind and talk about it constantly, especially to your vendors. The more you think, strategize and plan and communicate, the less scary it will be. Think about scale: how can you make this slice of the project bigger and better? How do you make that bigger and better easier from step one not step five? Get flexible cuz things will continue to evolve: this isn’t a one-and-done project. You’ve got to be able to replace, change, update and adjust everything in the future. This isn’t a static project.   Read more from DistribuTECH 2018:  3 utility lessons we can all learn from remembering the Alamo Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light 5 fabulous customer engagement insights from CPS Energy’s Felecia Etheridge No lie: your utility customers want digital data, options and more How fast can a utility evolve?  

Cities, they are a-changin’, to paraphrase Bob Dylan. They’re getting smarter and more efficient, as well as both more connected and more distributed—at the same exact time. Juggling the tech and...

Customer Care

5 fabulous customer engagement insights from CPS Energy’s Felecia Etheridge

Every time I hear Felecia Etheridge talk, I want to become her very best friend in the whole wide world. Etheridge is the chief customer engagement officer of CPS Energy, and the word “engaged” probably describes her personality just as well as it describes her job. Today, she spoke at the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative’s symposium co-located with the DistribuTECH show in San Antonio this week and shared a few of her local utility’s insights into empowering customers. “My job is to ensure that all our 1.1 million customers have a good experience across all our channels,” Etheridge said as she opened up the discussion. And they do that with one simple philosophy: people first—whether those people be employees, consumers or the larger community. “It really sounds very simply, but I can’t tell you how hard it is to get an internal culture to adapt to that,” Etheridge said. “I’ve been asked to make bullet points and a mission statement, but it really is simple to understand. It’s just difficult to accomplish.” That people first starts with the customer at CPS Energy, and Etheridge described the evolution from the old world of ratepayers to the current world of customers to the near future world of consumers who are empowered and informed and want it their way right now, with more control than ever. “It’s all about how we build that empowered relationship with customers as we move forward,” Etheridge added. How does a utility do that? Well, here are some pointers from Etheridge and CPS Energy. 1. You have to have what the future consumer wants. CPS Energy doesn’t just talk to customers about their current use, they also have loads and loads of customer programs, products and services from Simply Solar to Casa Verdi to My Thermostat Rewards. They have lots of options to “fit every need or want,” said Etheridge. 2. You have to be flexible and mobile. CPS Energy isn’t just talking about being digitally engaged and having a mobile-adapted website someone can access on their phone. Nope. This brings in people first. Etheridge was talking about physical mobility—going out into the community and talking, sharing and helping when there’s an emergency. 3. You have to have great partners. CPS Energy is not evolving alone. They bring in vendors, products, services to create “new energy economy partners” to develop an ecosystem that makes that empowered consumer even more empowered. 4. You have to look for the right tech. CPS Energy doesn’t fall into the “tech for tech’s sake” chasm that some evolutions do. They are looking at tech with the “people first” mantra (and they are on board with the smart city concept, too). 5. You have to talk to the customers with empathy. CPS Energy’s mantra means understanding and listening, and then adding that info into the processes involved. From there, representatives, field workers—whomever works with customers regularly—will really know that customer individually and make things personal. “Everybody has a dream. Energy powers that dream,” Etheridge said as she outlined how the largest municipality in the U.S. is shifting from customer mindset to the future empowered consumer mindset. “Our customers want us to be on parity with every other business that they deal with, and we have to get there,” she added. “We will get there.”   Lead art: Power to Dream artwork part of the CPS Energy campaign of the same name. Find out more here.  We love this campaign and are happy to spread the word a bit for CPS.   Read more from DistribuTECH 2018:  3 utility lessons we can all learn from remembering the Alamo Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light No lie: your utility customers want digital data, options and more How utilities can help make a city smart without breaking the bank (and the back) How fast can a utility evolve?

Every time I hear Felecia Etheridge talk, I want to become her very best friend in the whole wide world. Etheridge is the chief customer engagement officer of CPS Energy, and the word “engaged”...

Customer Care

No lie: your utility customers want digital data, options and more

When we talk about utilities, we tend to talk about infrastructure (pipes, wires, transformers, citygates) and the digital ways and means of evolving that infrastructure (new data points, analytics, the cloud). We can’t help it. We’re rather MacGyver-ish geeks that way about hardware and tech. It’s exciting stuff. We also talk about employees and field services and vendor partnerships, too, but there’s another person in our equation today beyond us—the consumer. And we’re starting to create conversations around them: what they want, what they need, what they don’t like, what that hardware and digital evolution means to them. And we’re starting to listen to them to. And that’s really as it should be for us to really grow as an industry. Listening to the end-use utility customer is the mantra of one industry association above all overs, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC), who recently announced new information on what the utility customer really wants when it comes to digital energy platforms. Do they care? Do they not care? If they do care, how much and about what about exactly? Can we get them to care if they don’t? So, what are the answers to those questions? Here are the short versions: Do customers care about digital platforms? Yep. They’re interested. And that interest in growing, especially in the areas of energy use info and recommendations. (This is likely not a new idea for you. It’s one you’ve been mulling for a while, if you work at a utility. But, it’s getting to be a larger area of interest with more acceptance. It’s becoming reality, you might say.) Since they do care, how much do they care? We’re up to about 50/50, really. Is it as exciting as we’d like? Of course not. But it is significant progress, really, for an industry that not-too-long-ago called customers “rate payers” and just mostly left things at that. SECC’s research has found that 49 percent of those they surveyed would said they’d “probably” or “definitely” use a consumer platform that brings together their info, program offers and analysis, too. And, since they do care, what do they care about? The SECC researchers offered a choice of options beyond the simple customer platform, including an e-commerce marketplace, an energy manager and online rewards. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed said they’d use one of the tools listed. (And one-fourth said, “I’d use all of those.”) And what was the most popular listing? A solar hosting program that allows utilities to install panels on a customer’s roof for a bill credit. You can read more about these consumer desire to connect digitally online at the SECC website here. And, today, I’m sitting in on one of their annual discussions to learn more about this and other consumer-focused conversations. The Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative labels their one-day conference “transforming the customer relationship,” which parallels the overall co-located and three-day DistribuTECH conference theme of “transforming power.” If the larger show exists to talk about the bigger picture, the smaller symposium offers a specific slice, a slivered one, that focuses entirely on what happens when that bigger picture gets right down to the nitty gritty customer end. Learn more about the symposium going on today during the DistribuTECH conference here, and follow our live coverage of this symposium and the larger DistribuTECH conference on Twitter.   Read more from DistribuTECH 2018:  3 utility lessons we can all learn from remembering the Alamo Spitballing energy challenges and potential solutions at the speed of light 5 fabulous customer engagement insights from CPS Energy’s Felecia Etheridge How utilities can help make a city smart without breaking the bank (and the back) How fast can a utility evolve?

When we talk about utilities, we tend to talk about infrastructure (pipes, wires, transformers, citygates) and the digital ways and means of evolving that infrastructure (new data points, analytics,...

Company

5 data-driven reasons to sign up right now for Oracle Industry Connect

The world is all about data, whether qualitative or quantitative. We study every word. We weigh every move. We think about affects and effects, benefits and drawbacks. We want to know exactly what we’re getting from our next move before we make it—and it doesn’t matter if that move is massive or miniscule. We do this with car purchases, with college selection, with dinner dates. And, in the business world, nothing gets more scrutiny than conference attendance. We mull: Is it really worth the time away? Is it really worth the travel? Will I truly get something from this conference that I can’t get anywhere else? Let us help you mull Oracle Industry Connect attendance. Here’s what you’ll get from coming to this executive show this April in New York City. 1. An occasion to expand your horizons: The utilities business isn’t the only industry represented at Oracle Industry Connect. Every global business unit under the Oracle umbrella will be there, from communications to health sciences, from retail to hospitality—offering you technology insights and lessons not just from inside our own industry but from other viewpoints. What’s financial got to say about blockchain? What’s construction and engineering got to say about smart cities? Get outsider and insider insights alike in NYC this April. 2. A peek inside the unique stuff going on in New York: Anyone who’s read the state’s energy plan knows that New York is truly looking to clean up its power play—and succeeding. The plan is all about energy that’s leaner, cleaner, cheaper and greener, and its signature push is REV (Reforming the Energy Vision), which has an equally singular goal: making the economics of energy more even, open and balanced in the future. In this Oracle Industry Connect session, you'll get the view of people elbows-deep in shifting that vision from planning to reality. We’re gathering those in the know from NY Energy Czar Richard Kauffman to Con Edison’s Matt Ketschke to discuss. 3. A chance to get questions answered: Yes, we’ll have some awesome speakers to talk to you about the future, about technology, about new thinking in this new age. But, you’ll also have access to a massive group of Oracle Utilities insiders, from the chief on down. Got product questions? Got concerns before making a purchase? Just want to talk about options specific to your utility? We can find you someone for that—an onsite, personal 1:1 sit down to get you anything and everything you want to know about our products, our services and our support team. If you have an Oracle question, we’ll get you an Oracle answer. 4. A moment to rub elbows: Beyond those Oracle questions you might have, let’s talk about getting down to the business of utilities with other utilities. From attendees to featured speakers to roundtable leaders, there’s not an hour that goes by at Oracle Industry Connect without the opportunity to do just that—connect. Peers abound, and many are already slated to lead discussions on customer desires, new technology, how to innovate and how to adapt, too. So, consider that bonus 1:1 time. You can talk to us about anything, and you can talk to other utilities about anything. Seems like a lot of your questions could get answered at Oracle Industry Connect. 5. An opportunity to see the Big Apple like a tourist: Did we mention we’re not just in the state of New York but in New York City? When’s the last time you got to go to there? We know you have a NYC bucket list. Well, we know we have a NYC bucket list and suspect you have one, too. Ours: Billy Joel at the Garden, the Met, Chinatown, Lady Liberty, Spongebob on Broadway, a Law & Order tour. (Surely, there’s a Law & Order tour somewhere, somehow.) Take the day before. Take two days before. Take a day after. Get both professional and personal benefits from this conference time. (We hear Spongebob is actually getting good reviews.)   Ready to request an invite to Oracle Industry Connect? Just click here. Still on the fence? Still thinking things through? Take a look at the sessions for details on who’s talking and about what. The Oracle Industry Connect session catalog is now live. Just click here.

The world is all about data, whether qualitative or quantitative. We study every word. We weigh every move. We think about affects and effects, benefits and drawbacks. We want to know exactly what...

Technology and the Cloud

How the cloud is already changing your utility business for the better

Don’t let anyone tell you differently: utilities are already in the cloud business. The cloud isn’t the future. It’s today. It’s now. It’s happening in this very moment, in this very step. And anyone who tells you different is sorely misinformed. Our first utility cloud survey of electric, water, and gas utility executives back in 2016 found that 45% of them were already using cloud tech, with another 52% planning on it. And almost all of them (97%) said they had in business tech contact with the cloud, even if there were a couple of degrees of separation to still sort through. Our second utility cloud survey, released in 2017, confirmed one thing we already knew: the cloud is going to be big for utilities, a “paradigm-shift,” a game changer as all the business execs like to say. The cloud is coming to every aspect of your world, according to this year’s report. And, today, those degrees of separation we saw in the first study are getting thinner and withering. In some cases, they’ve disappeared completely. So, what are the top areas where cloud is capturing, controlling or conquering in the utility business? Where are those high-bar arenas that make the cloud a business case you can take to the bank? 1. Getting the most of meter data: This one was at the top of the cloud list two years ago and still is today. All that data needs a home, and most utilities can’t scale their own IT infrastructure fast enough to keep up. Today’s smart meter can shift a utility from shack to house to mansion (in terms of data storage sizing) in just a few weeks. It’s, by far, the largest area ripe for a complete cloud takeover—eventually. 2. Delightfully dumping legacy systems: There’s a two-fold problem here. First, there’s definite data overload, as with the meters above, but there’s a more overarching problem—namely that a lot of legacy systems (CIS, ERP, work and asset management, outage management) need updating or replacing. And what’s easier than replacing, overseeing and patching up that infrastructure as it, once again, goes through an aging process? Outsourcing and adapting. So, here comes software-as-a-service (SaaS) and hosted solutions to the rescue. 3. Fully exploring distributed energy: With this, you don’t just have a data size issue, you have a connection and direction issue. Utilities need smarter, more sophisticated tech to make that new world work, and cloud solutions and partnerships can pave the way to a DER-heavy future with a bit less heavy hardware financing. 4. Completely embracing the unknown: Owning is expensive. Upkeep is difficult and time-consuming. Now, in some areas, ownership is a must, but in the areas with data insights and data options, the cloud can keep utilities leaner, meaner and more flexible. As the world gets more real-time, being able to react in the same manner is paramount. It’s a must. After all, shifting SaaS is simpler than shifting structure. So, where do we go from here with utilities and the cloud? What are the next steps for this industry? After MDM, CIS and DER will we be talking about the cloud takeover of microgrids, smart cities, and grid-embedded EV infrastructure? Or, are we laying the groundwork for those very changes by simply using the cloud in the smartest ways we can right now with what we have—and crafting the future by unleashing the cloud today? After all, if you ask us here at Oracle, the cloud reigns already.   We sat down and turned our favorite new tech dream, The Cloud, into your next comic book superhero obsession. (The Avengers ain’t got nothing on us.) Read the first issue here:      Thanks to Oracle Utilities own Julia Lundin for crafting the lead art for this blog from pipe cleaners and letting us immortalize that amazing skill here.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently: utilities are already in the cloud business. The cloud isn’t the future. It’s today. It’s now. It’s happening in this very moment, in this very step. And anyone...

Our tip-top 17 blogs of 2017

In the grand tradition of year-end countdowns, we’ve spent the last two weeks on Twitter and LinkedIn sharing our top blogs of the year, from Princess Bride insights to Indian overviews to the details hidden in a single drop of water. Revisit all your favorites from the countdown here.   #1. Seeing “The Princess Bride” as a brilliant customer service tutorial As I get older, “The Princess Bride” holds a safe, warm, nostalgic spot for me, and it struck me recently as also brilliantly spot-on with showing and predicting natural human reactions (even if it is a stylized version). Whether you’re putting together a marketing push or a demand response program that relies on residential participation, you need good info on just how your consumers will react. Here are our top three lessons on behavior from “The Princess Bride” (TPB) that you can apply to your program planning and marketing strategy today. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.     #2. Build your very best digital roadmap with these suggestions “We’re not being measured against our own—against other utilities,” said Eric Karcher, Manager of Digital Strategy withEversource Energy. "We’re being measured against other experiences, other industries.” Karcher and James Langdon, Digital Strategist with Eversource Energy, gave a little insight in their utility’s own plan to build out digital and transforming from reactive to proactive in that area during the “Building a Digital Strategy and Roadmap” session at CS Week 2017 in Fort Worth. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #3. IaaS, PaaS and SaaS of the energy cloud Distributed energy resources, smart energy management systems and virtual power plant technologies are changing the way consumers buy, use and even sell energy.  Navigant recognized these trends in the industry and released a whitepaper in 2015 which coined the term “the energy cloud,” an umbrella term used to refer to these profound changes. Being closely associated with energy industry and working for Oracle—a leading cloud provider—the term “energy cloud” immediately prompted a question for me: if energy can truly be thought of as a cloud, what are IaaS/PaaS/SaaS equivalent?  READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #4. 4 ways your consumer is changing your biz—with or without you We managed to sneak a slightly early peek at the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative’s (SGCC) most recent “2017 State of the Consumer” report being released today during their symposium “Beyond the Grid: Connecting Tomorrow’s Consumer.” (This annual symposium happens in conjunction with the DistribuTECH conference.) After reading through all the details, we have a few suggestions on what the report teaches us all (and how utilities can prepare a little bit better for the coming consumer-centered universe). READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.    #5. Life lessons in becoming customer-centric for utilities from utilities I would wager that just about every utility in America has been told—on more than one occasion these days—that they are now being compared to online platforms, that customers now expect from each utility experience a customer service equivalent of what shopping brings them. I don’t think the utilities industry is quite there yet, but I would wager we all see it coming (and have now been repeatedly told it’s coming). So, what are utilities doing about it? READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #6. Crafting a better home energy report for all—that’s you, me, and the utility, too I was reminded of that first experience with the home energy report (or HER, as they are commonly nicknamed in the industry) when chatting with Oracle Utilities coworkers about the latest version of the Opower-signature home energy report product, which recently saw a few upgrades as well—all the shinier, easier, more helpful and prettier pieces that worked on me and a few more practical options, too. What do the end customers get? Tips that are more personalized and adjust over time and season, plus a smarter design adjusted and redeveloped directly from user feedback to make it a better experience overall. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #7. NYPA’s CEO on restoration, reform and REV When I sat down to talk to Gil C. Quiniones, the president and CEO of the New York Power Authority (NYPA), about the state’s transformative strategies for this installment of our New York State of Energy blog series, he’d just returned from hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico two days before. Despite his focus on getting back to running the largest state public power utility in the U.S., the plight of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) was still weighing on him. So, instead of leading with all the amazing future-proofing NYPA and New York State are doing with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative, we began by talking about the very immediate, very human outreach that working for a utility sometimes requires, especially after natural disasters. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #8. This Navigant study advises: To innovate, think twice A new study by Navigant Research (and commissioned by Oracle Utilities) examines this dual footprint of innovation—both the one we traditionally view as the loner trek (the one with the future-changing “a-ha” moments) and the one that runs quietly beside that a-ha path in parallel (the each-and-every-day dedicated focus-on-the-core proposition).  The study, “Utility Innovation Blueprint: How to Manage the Challenge of Dual Transformation,” distills practical advice to keep both innovation tracks up and running, with direct input from utilities around the world on how they’re working both angles. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #9. Utility 2B: How to be the best future you This industry change that we’re experiencing has all the best elements of an artistic movement: excitement, new forms, new uses, challenges, naysayers, champions—and beauty in the eye of each unique beholder. To find the beauty in our industry changes, we advise that utilities should keep a close eye on four developing arenas: expanding customer engagement, growing meter capabilities, flourishing analytics and a reigning cloud. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #10. Passion, progress and practical lessons from NY’s Energy Czar  It’s usually a lifelong path to the coveted czar-ness. For Richard Kauffman, New York’s Energy Czar, that journey began with the American love of cars and the energy crisis of the 1970s. (By the way, Kauffman’s more official title is Chairman of Energy & Finance for New York for the Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, but pretty much everyone just calls him the New York Energy Czar.) We sat down for a Q&A with Kauffman about his trajectory, the state’s and the insights those two converging trajectories reveal to the bigger energy industry as a whole. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #11. How the utilities industry can learn from losing Winning may bring shiny trophies, but losing brings life-long lessons. As our own utilities industry continues to sprint down an unknown path of investments, innovation and evolution, it’s inevitable that projects aren’t going to work out sometimes, that the best-laid plans will implode, that there will be problems. That’s not negative thinking, my friends. That’s statistics. Those are the numbers. It’s inevitable that we’re going to lose a few of those revolutionary and evolutionary industry sprints. So, since we’re not always going to get the gold medal, what can we take away from this race? Here are three lessons that losing can teach every utility. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #12. Utilities don’t fear a total eclipse of the sun In August, tons of Americans scoured 7-elevens for special glasses, pinged Bill Nye for science fanatic insights, and even piled into cars, trucks and RVs with “totality or bust” cardboard signs—wandering off in search of the perfect view of #solareclipse2017. We tracked the path of the eclipse from West Coast to East Coast—and the fates of each of the utilities in its path. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #13. Blindsiding bikes and brilliant insights: on the ground at European Utility Week If you didn’t make it to Amsterdam this year for EUW, we worked hard to bring a little show flavor to you wherever you were using the blog as a bit of a global medium. We were your feet on the ground at the RAI conference center. Dig deep into our show coverage with this flavorful mid-show conference piece (with links to all of our EUW coverage). READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #14. The digital revolution goes global: Focus on India We sat down for a short chat with Francois Vazille, Vice President, Oracle Utilities, JAPAC, about evolving smart grid technology and the emergence of the digital data-driven utility in part one of this interview series. (Read part one by clicking here.) This talk focuses solely on India’s strides. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #15. Dear water utilities: does your work and asset management measure up? Many water utilities face getting the most reliability from older and older infrastructure—with safety and performance their most consistent issues. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, almost six billion gallons of treated drinking water are lost due to leaking pipes daily, with an estimated 240,000 water main breaks occurring each year. And now you are tasked with making sure the CEO’s words are true and that next water main break on tap isn’t yours. How do you do that? READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #16. Great insider advice on analytics investments at your utility Utilities are hearing quite a lot about data, the cloud and analytics these days—seemingly from every side and every source in the industry. So, to get you the best insider knowledge—knowledge that might actually help you make better decisions on data, the cloud and analytics—we went to an inside source: The Utility Analytics Institute, a member-based organization that spends all its time talking to utilities and vendors alike in this space about one thing and one thing only—that awesome opportunity that is analytics. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.   #17. Personal and professional lessons from our latest innovation study Knowing that writers learn a lot on projects and knowing that we’ve recently worked with some fabulous writers and analysts at Navigant Research for our recent project on innovation in the utility industry, I was personally curious about our main writer’s takeaways on the project. So, I reached out to that principal project analyst at Navigant Research, Stuart Ravens with a few questions about his personal lessons from putting together our latest Utility Innovation Blueprint study. READ THE FULL BLOG HERE.

In the grand tradition of year-end countdowns, we’ve spent the last two weeks on Twitter and LinkedIn sharing our top blogs of the year, from Princess Bride insights to Indian overviews to the details...