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Operations

Visibility and control: the role of smart inverters in the customer-centric grid

There is no question today that the energy landscape is changing. At a macro level, the transition to a digital, more distributed and customer-centric world has begun. However, the aspects bringing forth this change from technology, regulatory initiatives and creating revenue through new business models progress along at various rates depending on where you live. Though some regions have different challenges than others when it comes to managing the grid, certain technology solutions stand out in ubiquitous fashion—as is the case for smart inverters. Fueled by the IEEE 1547 Standard, smart inverters have taken center stage for some time now as a technology that can build a bridge to the future aligning customer and utility interests. The combination of power conversation and intelligent, four quadrant, control has the potential to provide pinpoint voltage control to manage voltage and frequency fluctuations. However, enabling this seemingly “golden app” is much more complex than the technology itself. As the penetration of smart inverters with residential PV systems increase, the more impact local control has on the grid as a whole. In addition, customers will demand compensation with the ancillary benefits brought to bear from their smart inverter installations. Before coming to any conclusions, there is a compelling need and ability for greater visibility of the distribution grid spurred by the deployment of new IoT sensors and other intelligent electronic devices (IEDs). Traditionally at substations and on the medium voltage lines, these new monitoring capabilities are driving the need to develop comprehensive modeling, simulation, and analysis tools incorporating low-voltage distribution grids into standard distribution system models. Combined with the ability of smart inverters, assessing and preventing potential service disruptions and disturbances associated with DER operation can be at the utility’s fingertips—but it’s not as simple as the push of a button, yet! Stay tuned. To peel back the layers of this complex undertaking, EUCI is hosting a conference on IEEE 1547 – 2018 Standards, Related Codes and Advanced Inverters providing “What the Power Industry Needs to Know to Leverage for DERs on the Grid and Behind-The-Meter.” Our own Brad Williams will be on-hand to discuss some of the key areas impacted by the deployment and potential use of residential smart inverters for grid control—balancing the scale of communications, transparency vs privacy, and the influence of blockchain and transactive energy. Join us and other industry experts in learning the latest challenges and opportunities related to smart inverters: Review IEEE 1547-2018 and IEEE 1547 family of Standards and related codes Examine advanced inverter performance under conditions of growing DER penetration Discuss real-time DER performance monitoring and appropriate communications protocols Examine the impact of high penetration DG on distribution feeders Review existing codes and standards influencing inverter functionality Identify distribution storage opportunities utilizing batteries IEEE 1547 – 2018 Standards, Related Codes and Advanced Inverters runs Sept. 13-14, 2018, in Sacramento. Get more information on the conference here.

There is no question today that the energy landscape is changing. At a macro level, the transition to a digital, more distributed and customer-centric world has begun. However, the aspects bringing...

Customer Care

How to grade your utility’s digital footprint from the consumer POV

Figuring out just what information to make available on your utility’s customer-facing website can be heatedly debated. Depending on what department your team members are from, they may have completely opposite takes on what should “lead” the digital push for your utilities: new promotions, bill pay, community involvement, troubleshooting, energy efficiency projects, new builds, personalization efforts …. It can be a very long list. And all of them are customer-centric efforts. They all have benefits to the customer in one way or another. So, whose digital desire goes to the top of heap? Here’s a hint: no one internally. Let’s start thinking externally. What the customer wants (not a discussion about how a customer benefits) should be at the top of your thinking when building out any digital project. And your customer’s top desire is usually a simple one today when it comes to visiting a utility website: They want to find, fix, finish. Don’t leave them in a classic U2 throwback moment. (In other words, don’t leave them in a bind after spending too much time on your website where they still haven’t found what they’re looking for.) Customers think it should be simple. They’re going to sign in and, right away, find exactly the information they need (which is almost always what they owe). Unfortunately, utilities are not really meeting even that basic expectation right now, according to a both J.D. Power’s annual Digital Experience Study and a recent Accenture research piece on the subject. (That study conducted more than 9,000 interviews across 18 countries.) One major issue unearthed with this data: Customers simply couldn’t find what they were looking for on the utility website (and sometimes the website seemed to offer contradictory, inconsistent details, too). The lesson: Customers don’t want a scavenger hunt. They want their basic information easy to find. (And what they mostly want is bill info—by a far margin.) So, here’s what to do (and what not to do) to make your customers’ desires a reality (and your relationships with them better ones). What not to do: Bury the lead. Obscure the customer’s needle in a haystack of stats they already know and links they don’t really care about at the moment. Even after a customer has signed in and the account is verified, some utilities show a customer’s full address and account number as the first thing on this page. While this is meant to resemble the paper bill customers get in the mail—with the thinking that people like the familiar—it  serves to make the space busier. Savvy digital consumers don't need the online information to perfectly mirror the paper anymore. (And customers are getting more digitally savvy by the minute.) Additionally, we all circle back to our “people need to know everything up front” thinking, and we end up with lot of information on the page all in the same size font in the same size boxes with similar colors, which leaves the customer skimming the page with no clear answer. When everything is visually equal, nothing stands out at all. As customers skim around all of that very good information, when they don’t find what they’re immediately looking for, frustration builds. I have actually heard a utility customer say (about the digital experience with his Midwestern utility’s website), “I just want to know what I owe. Why is that number so hard to find? Why isn’t it the biggest thing on the page?” What to do: Make the most important information bigger, bolder and up front (and center). Keep things simple, and check for clarity and consistency. Listen to that utility customer. Make that “what I owe” number a big, bold number on the page. It may seem to you that you’re making a molehill into a mountain and telling the customer they’re just a cold number to you, but that number, at this moment, is exactly what that customer is looking for. Don’t be shy about it. Don’t be coy about it. And, honestly, if a customer can find what they owe with ease, that will open some opportunities for you—just keep those opportunities to the bottom of the page in smaller font. And clear out the information overload. Not everything has to be on the front customer-facing account page. That important digital real estate should be kept clean and pristine: lead with billing information that’s easy to find. Then follow up with additional info that’s also directly about the customer account (use data, for example). If you do choose to add usage data, our UX team suggests simple, graphic and timely: the last month in a single chart or a year-to-year comparison with links you can click through for more information. We know it can feel socially awkward and emotionally counter-intuitive to make the bill numbers the most important items on the page, but it truly cuts down on customer frustration to not hunt for the information they came for. It’s OK to see some of those important customer moments as transactional and basic—because some of them will be. But, if you do transactional and basic well, customers see your organization as working seamlessly. And, that’s building brand loyalty the right way.     Read more of this deeper-dive, short-read web series into grading your digital footprint. Start with the first in the series here.   And you can kick off your own deep dive into crafting a digital strategy with our interactive digital maturity calculator here.  Take the nine-question assessment to better understand where to focus your digital strategy. Evaluate three distinct areas of your utility: the customer experience, your workplace, and your IT capabilities.

Figuring out just what information to make available on your utility’s customer-facing website can be heatedly debated. Depending on what department your team members are from, they may have...

Technology and the Cloud

Utilities, regulators unearthing common ground on cloud investments

We talk to utilities a lot. It’s our job—and it’s our pleasure, too. We want to make sure we’re a good partner for now and for the future. These days, we talk to utilities a lot about the cloud. Ninety-seven percent of utility executives in a broad recent study told us that their utility is using cloud-based software right now or will be very soon.  (And they also revealed that regulatory treatment of the cloud is slowing their adoption of cutting-edge technology, with one executive using the word “impeding” when framing the discussion.) At the same time that regulators are seen as a bit slow on the cloud pick-up, they also tell us they want utilities and utility customers to see the benefits of the cloud.  In fact, one regulator recently said that favorable regulatory treatment “helps to align the interest of regulated utilities with the expectations of 21st century consumers.”[1] While these two statements may seem, on the surface, like a bit of a disconnect over the cloud, underneath it’s all good news.  It means everyone agrees on one thing: that utilities should move to the cloud. It even has a secondary bit of great subtext: that the cloud should get favorable regulatory treatment. Now, how do we get there (and, really, what does “favorable regulatory treatment” mean?) Defining “favorable regulatory treatment” all comes back to how utilities make money and what utility customers pay for what utilities produce. Let’s start with how utilities make money. It’s simple (on the basics level). They charge prices to make and/or move power (or gas or water)—prices that are approved by a regulator. The regulator determines the reasonable price for that utility to charge by examining how much it costs the utility to provide the service.  If it costs more to make sure the lights come on when someone flips the switch, then the power will cost more. Now, there are two big types of expenses that go into a utility’s costs: investments in assets (like pipes, if we use gas or water as an example) and ongoing operating costs (like the fuel that goes into some generation plants, if we use power as an example).  Because utilities put money at risk when they make a big investment, regulators allow them to earn a profit on those investments to compensate them for the risk.  For operating costs, though, the utility isn’t putting money at risk, so the regulator doesn’t give them a profit on those particular costs. Think about the incentive that this sends.  Utilities earn a profit by investing in assets, but not by spending money on operating costs.  This is where we circle back to the cloud.  When utilities buy traditional on-premise software and house it on a server that the utility owns, that’s an asset.  But when utilities sign a contract to have a vendor deliver that exact same software as a service and deliver it via the cloud, most people think of that as an operating cost.  Obviously, then, this means that utilities have a real financial incentive to buy on-premise software. Today, forward-thinking regulators are trying to level the playing field between cloud-based on on-premise software—and forward-thinking utilities are also finding ways to move make that a reality sooner, too. In fact, this discussion is labeled one of the hottest when it comes to regulatory policy this year. So, it’s quite possible that those ninety-seven percent of utilities surveyed that we talked to earlier in this piece may see cloud investments even sooner than expected (and we’ll hear no more talk of “impeding” and regulators in the same sentence). Oracle is hosting a panel conversation among industry leaders representing the utility and regulator viewpoints at the upcoming Managing Disruption 2018, a TMG Utility Forum in Las Vegas Oct. 2-3.  Please join us in Las Vegas in October to learn more about the path forward for favorable regulatory treatment for the cloud.   Read more cloud content: Pursuing the perfect cloud path How the cloud is already changing your utility business for the better SaaS is your next innovation enabler Looking for tomorrow in today   [1] Chairman Gladys Brown, Pennsylvania PUC, statement in Docket R-2016-2580030   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: 

We talk to utilities a lot. It’s our job—and it’s our pleasure, too. We want to make sure we’re a good partner for now and for the future. These days, we talk to utilities a lot about the cloud. Ninety-s...

Company

This Oracle insider works through change with an inventive leadership touchstone

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 this summer’s 3Qs conversation, we sit down with Matt Gleeson, our vice president of alliances and channels based in Australia and ask him—as the name of this series hints at—three big questions. Us: How did you get involved in utility business, and what makes (and keeps) you passionate about it? Matt: Initially what brought me in to the utility business is actually what has kept me here all this time as well—the transformational projects that are happening on a regular basis in these corporations. I had developed a real passion for project management while working on some major trading data publishing and archiving projects in the stock market space, as well as supporting 24/7 mission-critical solutions that had catastrophic financial ramifications if they were unavailable during trading windows. Seeing, within utilities, a similar challenge of massive data volumes (which have expanded ad infinitum in the past eight years with smart meters) and critical solutions that underpin the lifeblood of the corporation and the customers it serves attracted me then—as it still does now. I also have a tremendous passion for helping foster the growth of both individuals and organizations as they seize the opportunity to approach transformations to their business model and their personal and organizational roles in a greater context. I get excited being a part of helping organizations take the substantive steps forward to improve the way they serve their customers, or remodel the way they think about managing their grid infrastructure, or even to form new corporate context in the light of regulatory change and/or pressure. But, if I am honest, what I love the most is seeing the people that make up those organizations (either within or around them) challenge their own neural programming and come up with new inventiveness and adaptations that give them and their organization a valuable sense of worth and distinction. Us: What's the top problem for utilities you work with today, and how do you advise they solve that problem? Matt: I think the challenge today is similar in many ways to what we’ve observed in utilities for a long period: the ability to adapt and innovate is hampered by a number of factors. The first is an unwillingness to make a shift change in business procedures at a granular level (I call it their internal ALRM – Automated Legacy Retention Mechanism). The second is the creation of a system of structures that limit the flexibility to pivot rapidly to new market opportunities (again this is both technological and heuristic). The third is a reflex to stifle innovation instincts within their own employees, leading to low talent retention rates for all generations post Gen X. I’d love to say that there is a golden ticket/bullet/process/system that solves all these problems, but there really isn’t a single answer. Instead, I think it becomes a challenge to set a course for the cultural mindset of the business to explore new ways to advance. I’ve seen some great innovation bubbles in utilities get started and produce great results—and then get torn apart when they are brought back in to the mainstream. This is why so many of the new players in the retail utility space can have such a dynamic impact. They start fresh and stay that way. You’ll notice I didn’t say “change the culture of the business” because many utilities have tried this at least once and then come back to a position one degree wide of their initial starting point. I would say that many of these advances were driven from within and, as such, were always going to meet the three challenges I noted above and the results would be somewhat predictable as a result. Sometimes it is the fresh-eyed outsider who can guide you on how best to pivot, and I have seen some tremendous examples of this in utilities willing to define a new tomorrow for themselves. Us: What's your touchstone—the idea that you keep coming back to—and how do you apply it to what you do every day? Matt: I was fortunate enough in 2014 to study under Robert Quinn who authored the excellent book Deep Change. Robert planted seed in my mind—perhaps Robert is as big a fan of the movie Inception as I am—that I refer to every day, and it relates to what Robert calls the Fundamental State of Leadership. For me, when I was learning of this, I built a mental image of how I want to approach and focus tasks in my life—be they work, family or other—and that image has remained crystal clear to me ever since. It drives my motivations and behaviors every day. I know that if the actions I am planning do not create a greater good, do not allow for new approaches to old problems or allow us to pursue new horizons in a way that is true to my values—then I start over. I know I can achieve greater accomplishments if I move back in to the Fundamental State of Leadership and think it through again.   Editor’s note: Matt admits to having a bit of a “messy workspace at times,” but he’s still letting us share this shot of his desk space and the visual reminder he really does keep on his desk to reference his touchstone daily. (We think he has nothing to worry about with the messy thing. We’ve seen lots worse.)   Read more from this series: How will your utility weather our new industry future? Our former utility CIO reveals a bit of your new energy future And for the latest blogs and updates, visit our front page here.

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...

Customer Care

How to grade your utility’s digital footprint from the emotional intelligence POV

If you grew up on old reruns of the original “Star Trek” as I did, you learned one major thing from Leonard Nimoy’s fabulously dry and wry Mr. Spock: Humans are the opposite of Spock’s Vulcans. We’re just, sadly, not very logical. I’d like to be able to trace for you a direct correlation between those old episodes of “Star Trek” I used to binge on during Saturday afternoons in the ‘80s (when old-school UHF TV channels were still a thing) straight to the rather new (and exploding) psychology field of emotional intelligence because that’s how I see it: Spock says it; we listen to it (and then later study it). But, alas, my Spock sense tells me that correlation is purely my own attempt to apply my personal patterns to the universe. Plus, there are all sorts of forums and discussions—both academic and otherwise—debating the emergence and history of this psychology term, from a ‘90s book by Daniel Goleman back to a ‘60s academic paper and then way, way back to a ‘30s dive into Edward Thorndike’s work in “social intelligence.” Back here in the digital world of right now, Psychology Today defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” But I still like my throwback Spock simplification: Humans are emotional creatures. Enough said. (I added that last more modern part.) So, let’s boldly go where lots of people have gone before and see if we can apply some lessons in knowing how people feel to your utility’s growing digital footprint. In other words, how will your customers react to what they see and what they’re expected to do as they navigate the information you provide them online? What is the emotional intelligence point of view (POV) on your web approach and digital design? Emotional intelligence lesson #1: You do not have to compete with Amazon (at least, not right now). That’s the good news. Your utility customers don’t expect the world of you. They really don’t. They don’t log-in to their utility accounts expecting you to have Uber’s tracking capabilities, Match.com’s Missed Connections options or the up-to-the-minute wait times for rides that Disney World’s mobile app manages. They know you provide the power to enjoy all those options, but they don’t expect to get online and instantly see usage broken down by appliance in real-time or constantly available Facetime chats with your customer service representatives. So you can stop believing you’re in a digital race with the Amazons and Alibabas of the world. You’re not. Your customers are more than aware that you’re not a retail giant out to sell them everything from industrial door kickplates to custom decorative aglets. (Aglets are those little plastic or metal tubes at the end of your shoelaces, by the way.) Emotional intelligence lesson #2:  You do still have some web hurdles to clear (as fast as possible). Sorry. You’re not totally off the hook digitally. Your customers do want a few things from you online—not to the level of great shopping expectations, but they do have some basics. We connected a little research on the subject, looking at over 300 customer feedback sessions, conducting over 6,000 surveys and behavioral experiments, pouring over nearly 100 utility websites and spending over 250 hours with utility customer service providers. What did we learn? Your customers desire simplicity, timely details and ease-of-use. We know you want happy customers. You want those customer to walk away from each interactive online moment completely and utterly content. You put into practice those three things, and you’re golden. With every step, think: Is everything simple from an outsider’s perspective? Is everything as close to real-time as currently possible with our metering tech and software? Is everything that a customer interacts with truly easy-to-use (as in “see it/click it”)? The easiest way to know if you’re on track with those emotional desires is also the most logical (Spock would be proud): Bring in someone from the outside to come in cold and take a customer walkthrough in order to make your digital planning live long and your customer-facing programs prosper.   This is just the beginning of a deeper-dive, short-read web series into grading your digital footprint. Next, we’ll discuss how to strategically approach simplifying your digital experience for the customer from that emotional intelligence standpoint. Can’t wait for the next blog in this series? You’re in luck. You can kick off your own deep dive into crafting a digital strategy with our interactive digital maturity calculator right now right here.

If you grew up on old reruns of the original “Star Trek” as I did, you learned one major thing from Leonard Nimoy’s fabulously dry and wry Mr. Spock: Humans are the opposite of Spock’s Vulcans....

Here's what we learned from the data of 30 million smart meters

Oracle Utilities recently tested our Meter Data Management solution in a benchmark test designed to emulate the smart meter processes and real business scenarios of the largest utilities in the world. The benchmark included data from 30 million smart meters, reporting nearly 100 reads per day and configured to replicate 60 million data channels. The result? In a five-hour window[1], Oracle Utilities Meter Data Management solution processed over 2.9 billion meter reads and generated billing determinants for 1.35 million customers. That equates to an impressive read-processing rate of over 642 million reads per hour.   Building a Benchmark … The Details Behind the Data. For readers interested in looking at the details behind the data, here’s how we built the benchmark. Our 30 million smart meter replication was configured for a 15-minute interval channel and a daily scalar channel. The data were generated using PL/SQL to closely emulate production scenarios, and our team took great care to ensure that the transactional data was distributed to mimic real production data.    Data profile for test “Utility” Oracle Utilities Meter Data Management and Oracle Utilities Smart Grid Gateway were set up to run on a half-rack Oracle Exadata Database Machine X5-2 and a half-rack Oracle Exalogic X5-2.  The test executed typical validation rules for meter readings, 10 validation rules were used in this test.  The test produced and validated billing determinants, for 1.35 million accounts, deriving time of use values from interval data for 1.2 million accounts and summarizing register reads for another 150 thousand accounts.  Using Oracle Exadata Hybrid Columnar Compression, the overall storage footprint was reduced by 50-60% as compared to traditional Advanced Compression. Smart Flash Logging, Infiniband Network between all nodes and excellent DB storage IO help enabled extreme scalability. Technical Configuration for Benchmark   [1] To scale IMD upload processing further, it is recommended to create additional OSB-MDB Clusters. When fully utilizing the half-rack of Exadata with additional OSB-MDB Clusters, the IMD load time is estimated to be approximately two hours.  

Oracle Utilities recently tested our Meter Data Management solution in a benchmark test designed to emulate the smart meter processes and real business scenarios of the largest utilities in the world. T...

Operations

How transformative tech changes us from brainwaves to bulk distribution (part 2)

We—meaning both the world in general and us here at Oracle specifically—have teams of data scientists who essentially play “what if?” all day long. You remember that “what if” game you played as a kid: What if I could fly like a bird and take my dad to work every day so he didn’t have to drive through all that traffic? What if dogs could talk and I could send my dog next door to see what the neighbors are having for dinner and prove to mom that not every family is having liver? What if I had a robot hand and could fly and could pick up our house and move it to Disney World so I could visit every single day forever? Our data scientists play “what if” the adult way, layering on planning and logical and strategy: They’re building product models and working with other data scientists to help them build their own models. They’re using modern open-source libraries, sorting petabytes of data and working with utilities to collect ground truth—the data that helps machine learning models truly learn and improve as they go along. It’s all serious stuff, but, let’s be honest: It’s also fun. “What if” thinking is tons of fun, and if that “what if” thinking can become reality—well, that’s fun with a side order of productivity. And that’s what every one of us is aiming for with our “what if” questions. Here are some “what if” questions we’re mulling right now. What if you could actually predict, in advance, the damage that a forecasted storm will have on your network? You could then proactively move equipment and work crews into place based upon where the damage is predicted to occur, and be able to immediately begin repairs as soon as it is safe to do so. What about smart home thermostats and peak load events? What if we could enable automated in-home device control based on utility price and event triggers? Here’s how that works: When your utility runs a peak pricing event day, you tell your customers to reduce energy consumption from, say, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in exchange for a rebate on their bill. That pricing trigger can automatically update the customer’s thermostat—raising the temperature at which the air conditioning kicks in by 4 degrees, for example—or automatically turn off the lights, or turn off major appliances like pool pumps or electric vehicle charging. The traditional, linear model of generation/transmission/distribution/consumption is rapidly being replaced with a circular system allowing for multi-directional energy flow, within which customers can actively react to changing system demands and provide valuable services back to the grid. If you think about it, it’s a brilliant example of “what if” thinking. As solar panels have decreased in price, customers are investing in them, wanting to be more involved with their energy consumption and even in the type of energy they are consuming. Not too long ago, there were only two options available to those customers: living completely off the grid, which was an enormous investment in battery technology, as well, or net metering. But what if technology could provide a way for those customers to be active participants of the grid? The customer-centric, digital energy grid does precisely that: It’s a new model of the distribution grid from generation to transmission to distribution all the way out to consumers’ distributed energy resources at the grid edge. The “grid platform” leverages this digital energy model to optimize both the controllable distribution grid AND distributed energy resources to provide a safe, reliable and resilient distribution grid.  Here, I want to give you one final example of what happens when you take an outside of-the-box approach to connecting specific applications across the grid platform. So, what if you could tie your network management system and your demand-side management program application together with an IoT control system to identify load capacity issues and at-risk transformers and feeders, and then target the customers connected with those devices with demand response programs? Here’s one way in which this could play out: Say a large penetration of rooftop solar is predicted to cause intermittency on a partly cloudy day, causing voltage violations in a specific neighborhood. Once this network constraint is identified, the network management system identifies available DER resources that can mitigate the constraint. The utility’s demand side management application then engages those customers to participate in the event, and requests permission to control their DER device for the event. (This can be done a week in advance of the actual event, based on “look ahead” forecasts of future grid constraints.) The network management system then sends the control signals to the optimal customer locations and, if additional response is then needed, sends out control signals to an additional set of opted-in customers. Following the event, the utility’s demand side management tools would provide settlements to reward the participants who did what they agreed to or penalize those who may have failed to meet their agreement. This is the utility distribution grid of the future—one that allows the customer to be an active participant, and optimizes that participation, managing distributed generation, EV charging, grid resiliency and restoration after outage events and is agile enough to deliver innovative new products and services in the future. In the world of technology, we’ve found, taking this unique thinking approach has shortened the innovation journey from “what if” to “what next.”   This is part two of a two-part series on innovation and planning. Read part one here. Ready to get more in-depth on outside-of-the-box thinking and innovation? Dive into our recent innovation blueprint we created in partnership with Navigant. You can get that for free right here.

We—meaning both the world in general and us here at Oracle specifically—have teams of data scientists who essentially play “what if?” all day long. You remember that “what if” game you played as a kid:...

Customer Care

Sometimes simple isn’t simple: leading customer program concepts from frontrunner utilities

What truly separates (and connects) customer and utility differs by point of view. From the customer angle, it’s simple—a narrow definition. They see one thing only. What’s between them and the utility is the meter. (They pay cash for what the meter tells them they use. The end.) No matter what they expect the utility to supply them on usage data and billing information, on product offerings and management sets, on marketplaces and renewable possibilities, in the end, they still only really see that singular meter transaction. Utilities have a much wider field of vision. They see all the layers involved in both making the power and moving it. Of course, their view includes that meter the customer sees, but they also know what’s behind the meter: hardware (poles, wires and transformers) and systems (outage management, distribution management and especially customer information) and employee enablement (sweat, tears and sometimes overtime, too). Utilities know there’s actually a lot of work involved in pulling that power down to the plug and completing the simple vision that customers see. (There’s a whole lot of effort happening behind the meter to empower the invisible and the assumed, basically.) But no matter the sometimes Herculean effort on the utility side of this business relationship, we’ve learned this major lesson over the years: what faces the customer must remain simple—easy to use, easy to understand, easy to manage. If you don’t keep things simple and easy for your customer, you can bet it will negatively impact satisfaction numbers in the future. So, we know, as an industry, that we will conquer the complex to keep things simple and easy for our all of our customers, but where do we start? Take to heart these lessons from other utilities:   1. Simple doesn’t mean analog. Yes, your customer wants to keep that simple version of your business relationship, but they also want that business relationship to be seamlessly translated across every communication option they may want to use, from a walk in office to a mobile app (and, increasingly, simple and easy will tie to mobility for your consumer). Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), headquartered in San Francisco, serves some of the most technologically savvy consumers in the world from their California home turf. To meet those growing expectations, PG&E has invested deeply in digital tools from more personalized communications to website designs that take into account behavioral psychology. That investment has paid off in numbers: they’ve seen a bump in web pages on bill comparison numbers (up 34 percent with unique visits), home energy checkups (up 24 percent with unique visitors) and ways to save (up 78 percent with unique visitors).  They’ve also avoided over 900,000 calls and saved $16 million with operational cost reductions.  Learn more about how PG&E is keeping it simple for consumers by investing in more detailed digital engagement here.   2. Simple sometimes requires complex planning. Unfortunately for the utility, customer simple means new thinking and new strategies, especially with customer information systems (CIS), which now must incorporate customer desires and customer needs in ways and means most utilities never really imagined before. Before, in the old days of utility monopolies and an insulated business model, the CIS was a simpler breed: It was all about billing, pretty much. Today, it has to handle connections to more in-depth consumer communications, to digital self-service web applications, to demand-response programs and other services. Arizona Public Service (APS), which serves the greater Phoenix area in the U.S., took on a huge overhaul of their CIS in the last few years, which started with in-depth preplanning efforts and included not just planning for customer expectations but elbowing out room for the utility to grow and adapt as with changing requirements and desires. They began with identifying stakeholders and those stakeholder needs (and required a lot of deep diving into business processes and the evolution of those processes), and one major key takeaway from this step was to include vendors in this early planning (not just at the RFP point or at the end). Learn more about the planning steps APS employed in this CS Week-related webinar here. (It’s free and open to access.)   3. Simple can be fun. We’re at an evolutionary point in the utilities business. All the relationships are new (though not surprising from a big-picture perspective), whether between systems such as MDM and CIS or between the utility and the customer. What used to be separate and distinct is being blurred by data, by demands and by digital. And this convergence affords some marketing opportunities that utilities have never seen before. Yes, they still want messages that are easy and simple—ones that speak to their lives and their needs—but they are, for perhaps the first time in the history of the utility industry, really open to those messages. We usually talk about reaching out to utility customers in terms of communications, education, notifications—in terms more academic and more, let’s face it, what we consider noble. But, these days in the modern, moving, electric and electronic world, we also need marketing—things that are fun, things that are, in the words of Travis Brickey, Senior Program Manager of Communications at TVA at a conference last year, “memorable.” These memorable moments may not be as educational as usage breakdowns and savings calculators, but they establish relationships. And sometimes that simple notion is the most important customer lesson of all. (TVA’s memorable, fun marketing to customers involved trading card packs of the utility’s dams, which became a huge hit among both customers and employees, too.) Learn more about TVA’s fun, simple messaging (and what SaskPower is doing to make safety messaging more memorable and fun as well) here.   The final goal: The customer journey should be seamless from billing to customer service, whether mobile or old school. In other words: it’s okay that your customers will never see anything but the meter. You don’t want them to see anything but the ease, service and simplicity that meter symbolizes. It should all remain a narrow focus to them, even as you deal with the devils in those expanding details. As with many open doors, sometimes the way forward can’t be completely seen. There’s a leap of faith with digital transformation—faith in yourself, faith in the numbers, faith in technology reliability and faith in your strategy. Growing pains aside, customer demands that reflect a more retail-based simplicity and ease are pushing you in the right direction to compete in a more flexible, more fascinating, more opportunity-laden energy landscape. You just have to keep in mind that old K.I.S.S. principle.   And we’re here to help with the heavy-lifting on those details. Our software enables customers to adapt more nimbly to the complex, evolving utilities future. Find out how we can become your trusted advisor at www.oracle.com/utilities.   

What truly separates (and connects) customer and utility differs by point of view. From the customer angle, it’s simple—a narrow definition. They see one thing only. What’s between them and the utility...

Operations

How transformative tech changes us from brainwaves to bulk distribution (part 1)

Innovative thinking typically starts with a problem. Adults tend to dissect the problem from a million different logical aspects, and they start dismissing concepts immediately based on that thinking. Kids don’t. Kids go naturally to the “what if” game: What if I could fly like a bird and take my dad to work every day so he didn’t have to drive through all that traffic? What if dogs could talk and I could send my dog next door to see what the neighbors are having for dinner and prove to mom that not every family is having liver? What if I had a robot hand and could fly and could pick up our house and move it to Disney World so I could visit every single day forever? Kids believe. Adults call this “magical thinking”—mostly because we’re amazed kids say it and think it could come true. As we get older, all that amazing magical thinking inherent in the “what if” game morphs a bit. We don’t think it will instantly come true. We stop focusing on gifts for ourselves and getting amazing powers. But, it still—kind of, sort of—exists in every one of us adults in small doses. We adults say we’re “thinking outside the box.” That’s the modern adult equivalent of magical thinking. And, as long as you don’t revert to believing it will all happen in a nanosecond without hard work and planning, the old/new “what if” game is a great way to encourage open-ended, innovative problem-solving within the utilities industry. Here’s how. We know utilities have a unique imperative: They have an obligation to deliver safe, reliable, affordable service, while at the same time preparing to take on industry disruption. And distributed energy resources, or DERs—particularly customer-owned DERs—are one of the big disruptors currently challenging this industry. So, where do we start? Outside-the-box thinking. But, outside-the-boxing thinking not with the magical connection of childhood but with that added layer of adult logic and planning. What would that look like, and how might we go about it? We’ve learned that the key to thriving within disruption is a platform upon which both core business processes and new business models can be transformed—a common technology platform that supports that necessary balance between reliability and agility. Thriving requires both tracks to work in tandem—so that while core business processes are strengthened and streamlined with automation and deeper customer engagement, new, agile models of innovation can be explored and defined as well. It’s a technology platform that allows grid operators to simplify management of thousands of miles of wires, while also getting ahead of the demands and opportunities of the increasingly distributed and connected grid. We’re talking about the concept of dual innovation, blending that “what if” game with smart adult logic and an eye on both the status quo and the future. Other transformative technologies then build upon the strength of that common innovation platform to help both the utility survive and the customer thrive. Because, today, it’s all about the customer. Utilities are facing an evolution in their relationship with their customers. What used to be a purely transactional relationship is turning into more of a partnership, a customer-centric approach to doing business. Today, creating meaningful customer value and really putting customers first engenders the most—and the longest-lasting—business value.  Technological innovation has spurred this evolution of the customer experience, enabling more choice, and customers now want from their utility providers the same instant access to the most up-to-date information—on the platform of their choice—that they receive from their other service providers. Let’s expand on that growing customer service focus with a few “what ifs” we’ve been working on: What if personal energy insights could do more to help with load shifting by educating customers on time-of-use rates and encouraging them to shift their electrical usage to more economical times? This could also be coupled with demand response and smart thermostat control to reduce load on the grid and defer the need to build new generation and the heavy costs associated with it. And what about those customers with rooftop solar generation? What if you could provide them with a whole new set of customer experiences centered around providing them with information about how to understand their solar generation, how their solar equipment is performing, how their bill is different with net metering, and so on. All of these personalized “what if” customer moments rely on big data and analytics, and big data and analytics have proven to be wonderful places in which to play that thinking game. We’ve learned a lot from the “what if” questions we’ve asked in this arena (and the answers are enabling all that customer-service dreaming we’re doing now). One thing we’ve learned as we continue to innovate in our technology efforts is the importance of both layering analytics over the entire platform but also—and even more importantly—embedding analytics in every utility technology solution across the enterprise to further enhance the value and actionable insight that can be derived from all of that data. Machine learning, in particular, has made remarkable strides in the utilities industry in just the past few years, now permeating all parts of the utility enterprise—from back office work to field work to touchpoints with the end customer. It all circles back to the customer (and we’re working on solving the problems and building the things they want—and will want—as quickly as possible). As our analytical thinking improves, we’re getting closer to making magical thinking a reality—and having those “what if” questions come true in real-time. Here at Oracle Utilities, we’ve built an amazing set of analytic insights off of the world’s largest smart meter data repository, and we’ve proven to over 100 utilities that we can use those insights wisely to help boost customer joy—not just customer satisfaction. And we’re just at the beginning of what’s possible—with the right thinking.   This is part one of a two-part series on innovation and planning. Read part two here. Ready to get more in-depth on outside-of-the-box thinking and innovation? Dive into our recent innovation blueprint we created in partnership with Navigant. You can get that for free right here.  

Innovative thinking typically starts with a problem. Adults tend to dissect the problem from a million different logical aspects, and they start dismissing concepts immediately based on that thinking....

Customer Care

What utilities can glean from classic comics to pen a better future (spoiler alert)

Wonder Woman saved Steve Trevor (and at least one war). The Avengers saved New York—at least the parts they didn’t flatten. (Recently, they tried to save the world, but we won’t talk about that sad story today.) Green Lantern saved the universe once, and Dr. Strange tried to save multiple timeline versions of the universe to the point of exhaustion. Being a superhero seemed fun as a kid. As an adult we know the truth: Being a superhero is time-consuming hard work that you don’t get paid for. So, be glad you’re not one. Still, you can learn from all those evil-scientist overturns and big, bad brouhahas without having to find the energy to wade into the whole canon of it all (as in the literary variety). Instead, let us tell you the three lessons you can glean from the comics universe(s) to pen yourself—and your water, electricity or natural gas utility—a better future right here in the real world. 1. Sometimes might ain’t right. Sure, there’s Thor and Thing, there’s Hulk and She-Hulk (yes, really), there’s Wolverine and Wonder Man (yes, really). And, we’re not going to insult your intelligence and tell you a lie. It’s true that sometimes the happiest ending comes after a big ol’ battle with a big ol’ problem, and, yes, whacking hard at that big ol’ problem can be almost as satisfying as solving it. But then there’s Ant-man, who has found the brilliance of being able to get inside (albeit more literally than we’re talking about here) the problem. Big battles create big bits of destruction. (We’re looking at you, Avengers.) Being able to size your might to the fight can save you lots of headaches. For the average dude-in-distress from a comic, those headaches may be loss of life or limb or pocketbook. For the average utility, those headaches come more in the form of regulatory negotiations, investment costs and manpower. So, the lesson here is really all about scale—because bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes, it’s overkill. 2. Keep an ear to the ground. Granted, Aquaman had a telepathy angle which made it less ear-to-the-ground and more mind-to-the-swell, but he was listening—deep listening. He still knew what was going down in his fishy underwater world almost instantly. Then there’s Beast Boy (a character I still think Manimal ripped off royally for his ‘80s TV show); he could change into any animal, some with super enhanced hearing. I’ll pause here a second while 86% of you pop up a new browser window to Google “Manimal.” Another fave in this hearing heroine category: Banshee. Granted, you hear most about the screaming, but there was that extra tidbit of super sound gathering, too. The point: No one had to call these people twice—on the phone or otherwise. They didn’t need to be asked again. They didn’t need to have the whole story retold to another superhero a fourth or fifth or twentieth time. They heard the first time, no matter how faint the “help me” cry. Now, it’s hard to do that in the real world without the benefit of super powers, but the joy is, we’ve got some of those “superpowers” already these days: sensors to spy problems, spots to store data that also allow for real-time analytics, systems that talk to each other so that nothing is lost in a long game of problematic tech “telephone.” Today, whether that “help me” goes through your CSR or comes from a distant sensor, you want to hear the whole story at first shout, because the world is going to move faster and faster, with time for repeats reserved only for Marvel movie sequels, not ongoing infrastructure issues. 3. The best hero is a self-made hero. Superman came to this planet with his powers intact, but, fortunately for the comic book Earth, had decent adoptive parents to help him develop enough integrity to keep his ego/id in check, cuz he could squash all of us like tiny bugs if he wanted to. (And we all know he sometimes secretly wants to.) Spiderman got his powers entirely by accident—the best side effects of an arachnid bite in the history of anything (as anyone ever bit by a widow or a recluse can attest).   But then there’s Batman, the original self-made superhero. (Iron Man came along later, thank you.) Batman’s just an ordinary guy underneath—granted, an ordinary guy with millions and all, but no internal x-ray vision or inside super strength. His powers are motivated by a whole lot of good tech thinking. Basically, Batman is the R&D fan's superhero, the one any of us could be given the right tech team. And, these days, every utility needs the right tech team. The perfect people to push this industry into the future know data and the cloud—and how those data details intersect with every utility’s thinking on resilience, DER, customer service, demand response, sensor-heavy grid networks and even more compatible smart city components. Inside every utility today are a whole lot of Batmans, basically, with a whole lot of good ideas waiting for the opportunity to build them out and show what they can do. It’s time to let your inner Batmans come out and join the fight.   With that self-made superhero thinking in mind, 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.

Wonder Woman saved Steve Trevor (and at least one war). The Avengers saved New York—at least the parts they didn’t flatten. (Recently, they tried to save the world, but we won’t talk about that sad...

Utility insiders talk culture, cooperation and challenges

Here at Oracle Utilities, we like to keep the lines of communication open with everyone across the industry, from engineers to customer service reps to utility executives. If you have a problem or a question—about our products or about the utilities communities in general—we’d like to hear all about it. This summer, we were able to take that open-door, lend-an-ear policy one step further by picking the brains of the insider audience at Edison Electric Institute’s annual convention. Through a series of polls, we got some further insights into innovative tech, corporate culture, cooperation and the challenges the industry is facing head-on. Here’s what we learned: 1. We know blockchain has value, but we’re not sure just how to wring all that value from it just yet. All of the respondents on this question agreed that blockchain is going to be an important technology for the utility business. That selection was chosen above finding it simply an interesting concept or thinking that all this talk about blockchain is hype with the whole thing being way overvalued. 2. We’re going to be big in the mobility side of things. Again, as with blockchain, all of our respondents at the EEI convention saw utilities playing a central role in smart mobility, well beyond just providing the “fuel” for those electric vehicles. No one saw utilities roles in smarter transport being confined to a minimal part (or no part at all). 3. We want some hand in EVs and smarter mobility, but we don’t see full control. Building on our question about smarter mobility, we asked the EEI audience whether a utility should be able to exercise control over EV charging to optimize peak loading. While the audience split a bit, a clear majority said no. 4. The footprint of energy storage in the utility business will continue to grow. Almost all respondents to this question said they were either already incorporating grid-based energy storage or were planning to in the near future. Absolutely no one said it was totally off the planning charts for them.       Note: This informal poll was for entertainment purposes only and should not be misconstrued as objective research into these subjects.

Here at Oracle Utilities, we like to keep the lines of communication open with everyone across the industry, from engineers to customer service reps to utility executives. If you have a problem or a...

Customer Care

2 forward-thinking forecasts on innovation speculation in the utility industry

Sometimes innovation is discovered in hindsight. I think the best story to illustrate this point is the history of aluminum. The original techniques to refine it were so very expensive that aluminum was a major player in the jewelry market of the 1800s—right up there with gold and silver. It was hard to get, and its use was reflective of that uphill trudge. Then two fellows—one American and one French—hit upon new and cheaper ways to refine aluminum. As aluminum got cheaper and lighter, it became much more affordable. And, when the need for cheaper and lighter intersected a World War (the first) and air power, we found that leap-ahead moment in aluminum as it jumped from element to invention to innovation. Not even the fellows that made aluminum cheaper could have foreseen how it would impact air travel. Even electricity itself has gone down this road. It started out as a natural phenomenon that people like our own Ben Franklin studied to death. When it was harnessed, some honestly wondered why you needed to go to the expense of wiring homes and businesses just for lightbulbs—which were super expensive, of course—when gas lamps do the same work easier. Not even Edison and Tesla could have predicted how electricity has made our world more interconnected. As we look forward with the utility industry overall, we have to understand that sometimes planning for innovation doesn’t cover all the innovation that’s to come. So, it’s important to move ahead two-fold: first, laying a foundation for leaps ahead we know we can do and, second, allowing those leaps flexibility and elbow room for new innovations we don’t know anything about just yet. We call this the dual foundation for innovation, and it was the center of a report we recently did with Navigant. You can read the details on how utilities are putting dual innovation into action in the report here. (And you can watch a Zpryme webinar discussion on dual innovation with us and Navigant here.) But today we want to dream about those new undiscovered innovations that may come from today’s foundation laying. While we know that we can’t predict the future, can we figure out what areas may change the most—even if we can’t fully know the end result? Let’s try. We have two big candidates that come to mind that may be the most changed when today becomes hindsight and innovation becomes history: 1.) Demand management and energy efficiency: It’s a broad category, yes. It encompasses a lot of territory. So, let’s dive down further. We expect innovation in this arena to explode on the personalization front—getting customer information front and center to utility customers and insights into not just what those customers are doing but what they can do, what they should do and what ways their utility can help make those goals happen. (That last one, especially, is ripe for exciting and unexpected hindsight.)  To get some solid details on the foundation possibilities that utilities are focused on today, check out the webinar we recently did with MEAA, Columbia Gas of Ohio and ComEd. You can get the full replay here. (Two notes: 1.You do have to sign up, but it’s free and the replay starts immediately. 2.There was a sound tech problem at the beginning. Speed ahead to about 4 minutes in.) 2. Real-time data insights and actions: Whether on the customer side or the operations side of your utility, all this data has got us thinking longer and harder about possibilities. And while we may have started with the possibilities of facts and stats, we’re thinking less about terabytes these days and more about timing. What could that mean for the future of the grid and the future of the customer? What if we could know about outages, problems and power quality issues instantly and fix some of them nearly as fast by sending a set of AI-programmed, self-healing nanobots right down the line (nanobots potentially powered by the line itself)? What if customers could “order” audits of not just their overall energy but by appliance by, say, asking their smart home device for one, and you could supply that immediately (with data history and analysis included) and even have a customer service chatbot follow up through the same device? We can see the start of this world today in sensors and cloud use. But what excitement will it bring tomorrow? To figure out the first steps to a cloud path and the journey to an AI-filled, nearly-instant world, read through our latest blog on the cloud here. So, we started out this hindsight-on-innovation conversation talking about the after-the-fact leaps and bounds of aluminum and electricity. In the end—at this end—we’d predict that most of you have seen the foreshadowing: that aluminum and its innovations and electricity and those innovations have come together, as the benefits of aluminum now make it a popular replacement for copper in electric wiring. You think Charles Martin Hall (the American engineer that helped figure our large-scale production with aluminum) or Paul Heroult (the French engineer who figured out the same) or Edison or Tesla saw that particular dovetail coming? Probably not, though, the smartest innovations always do seem to come together in the end. What do you see coming for the utilities industry when it comes to innovation? Tell us today on Twitter using #utilityinnovations.   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: 

Sometimes innovation is discovered in hindsight. I think the best story to illustrate this point is the history of aluminum. The original techniques to refine it were so very expensive that aluminum...

Technology and the Cloud

Pursuing the perfect cloud path

We’re at an evolutionary point in the utilities business: Everything must now feed off and work with nearly everything else—systems tied to systems, rerouted, reconnected and with real-time changes always in the mix. To make those real-time changes possible, the daily life of the utility now centers almost entirely on data—data to better the customer experience, to make the technology more efficient, to support smarter modeling. Now, as you gain more valuable information about your customers, your systems, your tech and your modeling techniques—their wants, their needs, their anxieties, their choices—and need immediate access to that data from anywhere, where can you put it to make this real-time rebirth not just possible but probable and even practical? Our suggestion: the cloud. In an Oracle Utilities-sponsored survey, the top two areas where utilities said they planned to leverage cloud have been front and center in this ongoing real-time discussion: meter data management (89%) and customer information systems (69%). As with many open doors, sometimes the way forward can’t be completely seen. There’s a leap of faith with digital transformation—faith in yourself, faith in the numbers, faith in technology reliability and faith in your strategy. The percentage of utilities taking that cloud leap is growing. In that same survey, nearly half of surveyed North American utility executives said they were already using cloud technology, with even more planning on new uses in the near future. (In Europe, 68% of those surveyed said they were using the cloud or will do so within the year.) The good news with that not-yet-fully-formed path to the utility cloud future: You can still conquer it. You can still plan ahead. There are some definite things we know will be part of the vision: the cloud, analytics, a vibrant customer experience and automation at the core. Here’s how you pursue that perfect path to the cloud. Step 1. Set your sights on solutions that are cloud-born. Despite it being one of the hottest tech trends these days, the cloud actually has some serious utility history—at least in the data-build department: We're now twenty years in on making the back-office more digital. Operations is working with more system information than ever before. IT infrastructure is moving outside the utility itself. All of these changes mean the cloud will soon no longer be an option. It will be a necessity. So, when shopping cloud services, what should you look for? First, you need a solution made for the cloud (not forced into it). This will keep the total cost of ownership low, but to get there you need to do your homework—find that deep knowledge to make an informed choice. Learn the gap between cloud options and know which the best fit is for you. A helpful hint: Seek out package solutions architected together so they work best together. Step 2. Make sure your solutions have the right angle on analytics. As we’ve talked about throughout our chat here, your new, real-time rebirth of interconnected systems generates lots and lots of valuable data. Now, the best solution leverages this data to unearth new ways to lower cost, increase reliability, deliver better customer service and find new revenue sources. So, when shopping with the idea of using your valuable data to its fullest in mind, what should you look for? First, you need a solution with analytics at its heart, not separate or offered as an add-on, and grab one that’s agnostic to data types from assets to meters to smart devices—and able to aggregate that data across your universe. What you need is a system pre-loaded with quick-value algorithms (such as detecting billing issues). A helpful hint: Don’t buy tech that isn’t industry-specific and isn’t built to handle utility use cases. Step 3. To truly innovate, get a solution that automates. Statistics say that most utility employees are still working to keep core operations up and running. To incorporate a secondary focus on innovation, it’s time to free up that manpower with automation. So, when shopping with innovation as your end point, what should you look for? First you need a solution with pre-built integrations tying to your common systems (MDM, customer, asset management). The first step to automation is robust integration, after all. And seek out an integration with real staying power, that’s agile. (Most integration work is outdated as soon as one system is upgraded.) A helpful hint: Get a consolidated solution grouped by business process. Step 4. Keep that vision of a worthy, worldly customer experience in mind. It’s a retail world these days: completely centered on customer wants and needs. In short: the customer is king. While that’s a bit new for utilities, you’ve accepted it. In fact, you’re already building on your brand—one that’s taken you 50, 60, even 100 years to develop. It’s always reflected reliability. Now it also needs to reflect customer service. So, when shopping with customer joy as your goal, what should you look for? First, you need a solution that has built-in customer experience channels, especially digital self-service, and look for a partner that both thinks like your customer and knows the utility business. To stay up with retail expectations, get applications rooted in personalization—from data to communications. A helpful hint: Avoid platforms that require building the customer experience from the ground up. This will be expensive for you and disappointing for the customer.   Read more: How the cloud is already changing your utility business for the better SaaS is your next innovation enabler Your thinking, your customer and your grid, too: looking for tomorrow in today   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: 

We’re at an evolutionary point in the utilities business: Everything must now feed off and work with nearly everything else—systems tied to systems, rerouted, reconnected and with real-time changes...

Operations

Making progress in-between a rock and more than one hard place

The common adage we hear today about the grid, especially when associated in discussion around poor infrastructure grades (hint: it’s not good), is if Edison were around today he would still be able to recognize and fix the electricity system nearly ninety years after his passing in 1931. Whether or not you’ve agreed with this point, there is no question the 21st century grid is moving away from the traditional centralized model to one that considers the complexities of any customer also becoming a producer—enter the era of the prosumer. Utilities, commonly known for their conservative ways (you’ll know why in a minute), are now embracing the challenges involved with managing a decentralized network. Holding onto the old way of doing things is no longer up for debate.  In the age of demand response, distributed energy resources, renewable portfolio standards and the energy efficiency audit, utilities from the top down—both from the technical and business perspective—recognize adjustments are necessary in the way the grid must operate. The big issue today is that fighting the inertia of a century-old process remains rather difficult. Even with the technology in place, customers in demand, and willingness of utilities to deliver, the construct for which to foster innovative approaches must be in place. With performance-based regulations entering center stage in a few states, regulatory policy is making a concerted effort to align with this prosumer-era approach.  However, safety will always continue to be #1 priority of utilities and their regulators. The consequences of improperly integrating new technology into the grid, no matter how noble the intentions, can be dire. New systems—software, hardware or a combination of both—must always be carefully vetted to meet the threshold of prudent investment. Understanding the utility practice and helping to improve this overall process of integrating new technology into the grid is just as important as providing the solution. It is a delicate balance all utilities must walk.  On one side, you have a backlog of customer demands for taking an active role in managing both their own usage and generation while on the other you must continue deliver in a reliable, safe and cost effective manner to every customer.  All this while balancing operation under an increasingly antiquated business model with anticipating adjustments yet to formally take effect. Talk about being between a rock and more than one hard place! I was happy to gain this utility perspective on managing the electric grid while attending the festivities of one PES Day celebration.  With the events that took place at IEEE PES chapters across the globe, last month marked the 10 year anniversary of the official name change to IEEE Power and Energy Society.  Having changed from its original “Power Engineering Society” moniker, the rebranding effort has succeeded at being inclusive to a wider population involved in the electric energy field. Now members can boast that, with only 10% of the overall IEEE membership, they are involved in 40% of all published IEEE standards. There is no question industry challenges lie ahead in managing a grid unrecognizable by Edison himself, which is why there was no better time to show a united front with PES Day in recognizing the opportunities that lie ahead. Utilities know distributed energy resources are the key in the way the grid is transforming and it’s happening while maintenance, resiliency, customer satisfaction, and affordability expectations around energy delivery are all on the rise.  Unfortunately, the answer is not as easy as a flip of a switch, but the power of the IEEE PES community shows us that we can all get there, together. Read more on the prosumer, the energy future and DER: The dangers and deliverables of DER Your thinking, your customers and your grid, too: looking for tomorrow in today Our former utility CIO reveals a bit of your new energy future Prepping for the prosumer with the right playbook

The common adage we hear today about the grid, especially when associated in discussion around poor infrastructure grades (hint: it’s not good), is if Edison were around today he would still be able...

Operations

The dangers and deliverables of DER

We’re still full of questions about the utility future, but the nature of those questions has morphed dramatically in the last few years. We used to ask “where” and “what” questions: Where did our certainly go? What happened to our stable customer base? Where will changes impact our infrastructure? What happened to our once-predictable industry? Now that we’ve lived with the changing landscape for a bit and are more comfortable with our adjusting roles, our questions are more focused on timing: When will the customer truly become the center of the utility universe? When will a more transactive energy market be the backbone of interactions? When will distributed energy resources (DER) officially shift from outlier to touchstone? The answer to all those questions is simple: soon. Utilities have been seeing themselves as more customer-focused for years, comparing their customer service to that of retail businesses and banks, and that investment is near fruition. Additionally, transactive energy and the concept of more open, real-time markets is seeing a big boost from innovative new tech concepts such as the potential of blockchain, an idea opening a lot of potential doors in its jump from bitcoin to the power business. And even DER is moving from maybe to mostly as numbers continue to clock in. (Navigant thinks the world will see over 500 GW of DER in the gen mix by 2024, in fact.) So, it’s all in process. It’s all in flux. And it’s all tied together: Utilities are more focused on the customers' wants and needs. The customers' wants and needs will require more flexibility with both market and grid, and distributed energy resources offers just that—lots of flexibility. While the flexibility of DER could make it the cornerstone of your customer-centric grid in the future, we recognize this push forward still has a few hurdles to leap. So, let’s talk the Ds of DER: the dangers and the deliverables—because what you really want to know is how this can all pay off in the end.   The DER dangers While utilities are tasked with delivering safe and reliable energy, things are changing rapidly around them, specifically their customers' energy choices on that edge: rooftop solar, electric vehicles, storage, microgrids, appliances, energy management systems are all in mix. Consumers are choosing the “options” option, so to speak, including the adoption of DER in larger numbers and at a faster pace than anticipated, and utilities have to keep up, whether that means investing themselves (in microgrids and storage) or simply figuring out how to juggle consumer investments in the area (in EVs and solar). While DERs, like the rest of the utilities’ world, continues to get smarter and more data-driven, there are still questions about these new, non-traditional sources. Reliability concerns circling around DERs these days aren’t really about the technologies’ capabilities for control and reliability but about getting down to brass tacks on modeling, interconnections, operations and regulations. In the end, planning for those DER dangers and pitfalls on the horizon will win utilities the game, and whether the DER is controlled by the utility itself or by the consumer on the edge of the grid, it all has to work together to deliver.   The DER deliverables Utilities—together with association partners such as the Energy Storage Association and vendor partners such as Oracle—can turn the DER challenge into opportunity by supporting the growing adoption of that DER and integrating all of it into the network model. Whether your DER growth is driven by the customer, the utility executive or renewables standards, you can inject reliability and stability into all that growing flexibility by planning ahead in these four areas. Register any customer-owned DER asset: Get this information into your system and make it transparent across the board from the CIS to the ADMS. And keep it updated on all sides, from ops to sales and all the way out to fieldwork. Model your DER load: It may be difficult. It’s going to take trial and error, but it can be done. Mix that customer registration info we just discussed with weather info and data on your system. Toss in existing distribution models. And keep working those numbers. Optimize your grid: That DER is coming in. Use it wisely to tweak your operations. It will take some adjustments and some balancing, but, in the end, your system will be more flexible for it. Bring in the customer: DER is a form of community outreach, essentially. Pull some new programs out and get customer input and feedback. Craft a focus group or two around peak reduction programs, for example, and help the grid and your customer service numbers. Smoothing the path to fuller DER adoption makes for a smarter utility and a smarter overall community as well. It enables cities to reduce costs by extending the life of assets and helps them deliver on programs for greater efficiency and reduced emissions—an opportunity to establish the utility’s central point in the growing, interconnected, intelligent energy landscape.   But don’t feel like you must conquer the Ds of DER alone. An Oracle Utilities expert is always available to work with you to find the right ways to manage that DER and the impacts on your system. Visit us at oracle.com/utilities.

We’re still full of questions about the utility future, but the nature of those questions has morphed dramatically in the last few years. We used to ask “where” and “what” questions: Where did...

Company

Engagement isn’t just about the customer; it’s about employees, too

We have a lot of industry conversations about customer engagement, but we don’t often, in this industry, discuss employee engagement. But engaged employees make for a better-functioning utility overall and, in the end, a happier customer at the end of the process. In other words, employees are crucial to making all of your customer engagement projects work. Erin Owen, Contact Center Assistant Manager at Greater Cincinnati Water Works, told a packed room of utility contact center peers at CS Week 2018 free ways to drive engagement: communication, conjoining objectives, goal setting and acknowledging achievements. Owen said you must start with a good connection between employee and supervisor, which impacts the daily operation process. And this communication—constructive conversations—is vital to keep a high-performing person to continue that high performance. She also advises a variety of connections from weekly check-ins (that don’t talk about performance but about the employee) to recognition programs that work in real-time (not at the next meeting but right now when a customer calls out the good works). These moments establish trust, which makes it easier when you do have to dive deeper with more complicated issues because it’s not the first time you talked to them. (You’ve established a relationship.) And those moments can be as simple as “hello” and “good morning” in a walk around. They don’t all have to be deep or in-depth. (An audience member added that she sent absolutely everyone on her 546-person team birthday wishes—another simple way to really connect to employees as people.) Owen added that these moments need an additional layer of uniformity when coaching is part it. That doesn’t mean a single style for supervisors but simply agreed-upon suggestions to how to fix or manage a problem so employees hear a single voice from the company no matter who is saying it (which also fits into Owen’s “conjoining objectives” advice as well). The objectives portion is about tying the employee to the customer, in the end—making the connection between their time sending out emails to just why the company is doing so and how the customer is impacted by that email. Owen admitted that figuring all that out for simple employee tasks can be difficult, but the final result—having the employee on board—is worth extra effort, especially when it gets an employee excited about the work and excited about helping customers. Being on the same page bridges the gap between conjoining objectives and goal setting as well—not just seven calls an hour but seven quality calls—can come from goals set up correctly and explained to your employee succinctly. Employees need clear and understandable goals—they can require a stretch for them, and probably should—but no employee should get to the end of the year’s evaluation and be shocked at what’s on there, Owen advised. Along with setting those big goals, Owen noted that you need to recognize when they meet those goals—big or small. And not just “employee of the year” award acknowledgement but praise and lesser (and more often) recognition. Do you have an amazing employee that doesn’t know they’re amazing because you just assumed they knew and you don’t have to say it? In the end, Owen gave the audience one last piece of advice—to keep an open door/open mind policy so that employees feel empowered to come to you no matter what the issue and continue to loop you in with everything from feedback to birthday parties to their next huge idea for efficiency improvements that changes your world.   Read more from CS Week 2018: Tampa Electric’s Nancy Tower offers 10 tidbits on customer culture and engagement How to craft the right water/data balance 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 have a lot of industry conversations about customer engagement, but we don’t often, in this industry, discuss employee engagement. But engaged employees make for a better-functioning utility...

Customer Care

Tampa Electric’s Nancy Tower offers 10 tidbits on customer culture and engagement

It’s a brave new utility world with the customer in charge today. They’ve morphed from generic, lumped-together “ratepayers” to segmented, targeted, and labeled groups that we’re figuring out how to market to in all the right (and sometimes occasionally wrong) ways—but, hey, even a wrong way is a lesson. After all, as Edison said about working on that famous lightbulb, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” Failure can be the best learning experience. Then again, a failure in customer outreach can bring some very angry phone calls and some serious political repercussions. So, indeed, maybe it’s best to aim for success in this customer conversations. So, let’s pave that way to customer engagement success by using some ways that worked from a utility in the know. We'll take our notes from CS Week 2018 keynote speaker Nancy Tower, President and CEO of Tampa Electric, who revealed how her company created their new customer-centric culture. So here are the 10 tidbits we gleaned from her insights into Tampa’s hard work. 1. Customers want an effortless experience (with people who show them empathy in the process). 2. Customers need people who are truly listening to them. 3. Customers must feel valued. 4. Customers must be the center of your utility’s vision, core values and brand promise. 5. Customers need to see that all your employees—not just the professional service reps—have them at the center. 6. Customers get good service from employees who are empowered. 7. Customers want simplicity and transparency. (So, you should invest in that.) 8. Customers are coming to you through the “new front door,” which is digital. (So you should also invest in that.) 9. Customers will continue to change and evolve; to serve them well, you’re going to have to continue to change and evolve. 10. Customer culture is simple to discuss and difficult to maintain: innovate, learn, listen, repeat.   Read more from CS Week 2018: Engagement isn’t just about the customer How to craft the right water/data balance 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  

It’s a brave new utility world with the customer in charge today. They’ve morphed from generic, lumped-together “ratepayers” to segmented, targeted, and labeled groups that we’re figuring out how to...

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 2018 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.   Read more from CS Week 2018: 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...

Customer Care

PG&E turns direct outreach into a bump in SMB customer happiness

In the wide-ranging discussion about the wants and needs of the utility customers, we often forget the small and medium business (SMB) segment. It’s not large enough to get the big interests that large commercial and industrial (C&I) does, nor does it see the political or cultural discussions of residential customers. But, SMB has unique customer needs that don’t fall into either category (but does have a few connections to both other categories). Cali utility powerhouse PG&E wanted to look into their satisfaction numbers of SMB recently and shared the project lessons from that in their CS Week 2018 session “Utilizing Big Data to Enhance SMB Customer Outreach.” The teams led by CS Week speakers Sarah Jin, Strategic Analyst, PG&E, and Tina Williams, Supervisor, Customer Care, Business Energy Solutions, PG&E, found a series of pain points around bill understanding and rates. So, PG&E kicked around a solutions strategy and came up with a direct one: Let’s call the ones who have shared their concerns and show them exactly the tools available to them to get a better handle on these bills and rates. Jin created an evolving algorithm that selects customers to talk to based on basics such as valid phone numbers, geography, business types and 1-3 day load spikes and layered on additional data including average daily bill increases, billing date and even previous interactions. Jin noted that the satisfaction score for SMB saw an increase over the timeline of the project, which she labeled an “early sign of success.” To get that success in another utility with a similar project, Jin suggested having data and analytics but also adding human insights must be added into those models. Williams added that the prep and training process for those reps reaching out to the SMB customers was another key with this project’s success. Additionally, they noticed a positive response for PG&E reaching out proactively to these customers. On each call, the reps walked customers through the process to register their account online so each customer could get a more detailed picture of their bills and usage—daily, weekly or monthly, however often the customer wants. The reps helped the customer avoid surprised by setting up details in the account, including notifications and alerts, as well as showing SMB customers how to review rates and run rate analysis. Reps also showed SMB customers how to analyze their energy use to identify times and activities that may be impacting bills: Do you need to use timers? Is something cycling on while you’re closed that shouldn’t be cycling on? Williams finished with adding that SMB customers, if they take action, could save those businesses up to 25% off their annual bills—just with the right behavioral change and energy efficiency programs—and this project, specifically saw a lot of positive feedback, including customers calling this simple outreach “a really great service.”   Read more from CS Week 2018: Engagement isn’t just about the customer Tampa Electric’s Nancy Tower offers 10 tidbits on customer culture and engagement How to craft the right water/data balance Saving the water: Oracle Utilities and utility partners give back Finding synergy: on utility industry trends, analytics and crafting one amazing customer experience

In the wide-ranging discussion about the wants and needs of the utility customers, we often forget the small and medium business (SMB) segment. It’s not large enough to get the big interests...

Company

Saving the water: Oracle Utilities and utility partners give back

After the action-packed Synergy program on the first day of the CS Week conference in Tampa, the Oracle Utilities team, along with utility program attendees, did a little good works. Everyone gathered for a team-building charity exercise where the group built seven emergency water filtration systems for the Water Works Program. The Water Works Program is a project which is operated by an organization called the Helping Hands Program Pty Ltd. Their main goal is to maximize their impact in the world by getting involved in and funding life-changing charity projects,  and Water Works, especially, has one of the most life-changing, as it offers clean water. The stats with water are staggering: Nearly 1 billion people worldwide have no access to safe drinking water. Unsafe drinking water is the biggest killer of children under the age of 5 – 1.8 million children die every year – that’s 5000 every day. 50% of hospital beds world-wide are taken up by those suffering from water-borne diseases. So the seven teams were excited to make an impact on those staggering stats—even if just a small impact. First the team elected official builders—mostly by a democratic process. The official builders were then blindfolded. (The blindfolds are symbolic of trachoma, a water-spread infection that is a leading cause of blindness in the world, and are meant as a physical reminder of this burden.) The builders are allowed touch everything in the kit’s box. Everyone else is allowed to see but not touch what’s in the box. (So, yes, truly an exercise in team work.) But, instead of another 1,000 words, here are some pictures to tell the story.     Read more from CS Week 2018: Engagement isn’t just about the customer Tampa Electric’s Nancy Tower offers 10 tidbits on customer culture and engagement How to craft the right water/data balance PG&E turns direct outreach into a bump in SMB customer happiness Finding synergy: on utility industry trends, analytics and crafting one amazing customer experience ​ And read more on water at these links: Put down the raw water and turn on the tap 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  

After the action-packed Synergy program on the first day of the CS Week conference in Tampa, the Oracle Utilities team, along with utility program attendees, did a little good works. Everyone gathered...

Company

Finding synergy: on utility industry trends, analytics and crafting one amazing customer experience

The very best, most awesome moment of any conference is on the first day. That’s when you have the highest energy levels, hit the most sessions, plan the most booth visits. It’s when you bring your conference A game. On the first day of CS Week in Tampa today, we’re taking advantage of that out-of-the-gate, A-game feeling with an intimate meeting to discuss what’s going on in the overall utilities business and what’s going on inside Oracle itself as we plan ahead and bring strategy into making what’s needed tomorrow happen today. Here are the top insightful points from that intimate meeting that you can take home to your utility. Think about scary change issues—and then think even more. The old adage that “the utility industry is changing” is a massive understatement. Instead, think disruption—an order of magnitude well past “change” and well into “game changer.” And now if you’re already a big industry player, you’re behind the game in areas like agility for a number of reasons, including heavy infrastructure investments and cultural weight. But acting more like a startup has real value in making fewer excuses to not change and creating more ideas about ways to make real change happen. Get those analytics moving. While we realize utilities have barriers to their analytics efforts, ranging from the expense of building data lakes to the problems of planning for a future you don’t have details for, there are ways to get analytics into your picture. You start with getting the data, move on to understand the data and using that understanding to predict some outcomes. Then, you add in fully using the data with process automation and enabling your data to be action-oriented back into the applications. Put customer mobile at the top of your list (and think field mobile, too). It may be on the edges of your customer thinking right now, and it may seem like something you can backburner; but customers want that mobile option, and they want it right now. The longer you wait to make that mobile option easy-to-use and real-time connected, the more unhappy that customer base becomes. Yes, it is not a core requirement for all your customers, but this is just the beginning. In no time at all, it will become the core requirement for all your customers. So, the time to get ahead of that is right now. Get a full view of your customer. What are their customer histories? What are their premises/abodes like? What are their personal preferences? For one customer, knowing they are more interested in green options and that she prefers email contact, you could email them about new solar programs coming soon. For another customer, realizing their concerned with savings and prefer texting allows you to reach out via a text about a potential high bill. Having the data and the ability to connect detailed, granular customer data to accounts are the future of customer service that’s coming to utilities right now from other industries such as retail. There’s no turning back on those expectations. Make one fabulous, seamless customer experience. It’s true that customers don’t care how things work or how complicated things are for you. They only care about the moments they see, the moments they interact with you. So, how do you craft that amazing across-the-board experience that makes customers happier but doesn’t make you, as their utility, want to pull out your hair? Here’s your three-point answer: Find vendors with products that enhance meter-to-cash features (with advanced billing options for the customer and easy-to-understand management dashboards for you, too), bump up support for integration (which, really, is all about making things easier for you) and offer a clear look at total cost of ownership and tech (so you understand just how these enhanced options for all can, in the end, actually save you money).   Read more from CS Week 2018: Engagement isn’t just about the customer Tampa Electric’s Nancy Tower offers 10 tidbits on customer culture and engagement How to craft the right water/data balance PG&E turns direct outreach into a bump in SMB customer happiness Saving the water: Oracle Utilities and utility partners give back   ​    

The very best, most awesome moment of any conference is on the first day. That’s when you have the highest energy levels, hit the most sessions, plan the most booth visits. It’s when you bring...

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...

Operations

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...

Operations

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...

Operations

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...

Operations

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...

Operations

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...

Operations

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...

Operations

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 of 2018 so far—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: 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 of 2018 so far—drinking unfiltered water straight from a spring (though sometimes diverted through a bottling plant and available in...

Operations

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...

Customer Care

Who is the true New York energy customer?

People have been trying to define the true New Yorker since New York was called New Amsterdam, it seems. Some say you must be born there; some believe true New Yorkers are made elsewhere and imported. Former New York City mayor Ed Koch famously quipped that you didn’t have to be from NYC to be a New Yorker. Instead, you could claim the title even after a mere six months if after those six months you did everything—walk, talk, think—just a little bit faster. A little bit faster, after all, could be seen as the New Yorker way. As part of our ongoing New York State of Energy blog series, we’ve covered a lot of aspects of New York’s energy scene. We’ve talked to Gil C. Quiniones, the president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, about hands-on utility work and planning strategy, and we’ve sat down with the NY Energy Czar Richard Kauffman on the regulatory promise of the state’s vision. But now it’s time to get a profile of the most important person in New York’s energy equation, the customer. Earlier this year, our friends at the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (formerly called the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative), tried to define the true New Yorker in their own way—albeit it more of a state-of New Yorker rather than just the citified variety Koch was talking about. And, unfortunately, it seems that the average New York energy consumer may not be walking the walk, talking the talk or thinking very deeply about energy, even with the state’s REV program making a unique splash in the U.S. utility conversation. According to the Collaborative’s New York Consumer Pulse report, there’s a gap the size of Manhattan between the regulatory actions and strategies in the state and the awareness of the average New Yorker about that strategy. Their study indicates only one in five know anything about REV, leaving a large portion of the state’s utility consumer population at least figuratively in the dark. But the news isn’t all bad. The undercurrent of concepts, topics and motivations at the heart of the REV program and the state’s modernization efforts are popular—even if most New Yorkers can’t name REV exactly. Examples? Well, when REV’s goals were unpacked for survey participants, almost 60% fully supported those listed goals. Additionally, almost 80% wanted clean energy investment to be a priority and over 70% wanted to make energy affordable for low-income neighbors in their communities. So, the heart of what’s inspired those changes in the state is inside every New Yorker, even if they’re not able to name programs.  There simply remains a grand opportunity to engage and educate the New York public on the energy and utilities programs that continue to pick up momentum and speed all around them. In other words, there’s a grand opportunity, you might say, for each and every one of them to become the well-informed, fully-up-to-speed, true energy savvy New Yorker. This is the fourth installment of our New York State of Energy blog series leading up to Oracle Utilities’  executive conference, Oracle Industry Connect, which is coming to NYC in April 2018. One panel session at the event will focus exclusively on what’s happening in New York, with insights from Con Edison’s Senior VP of Customer Energy Solutions Matthew Ketschke, LO3 Energy’s Founder Lawrence Orsini (Brooklyn Microgrid) and NYSERDA's John Rhodes. Dying to see that 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  

People have been trying to define the true New Yorker since New York was called New Amsterdam, it seems. Some say you must be born there; some believe true New Yorkers are made elsewhere and imported....

Operations

3 items hiding in your grid “pantry” that you can exploit

I have a psychological theory about pantries, and it’s a simple one: The inside of your kitchen pantry is an excellent reflection of your cooking skills (or lack thereof). My pantry is cleaned and staged “like you’re taking realtor pictures tomorrow,” as a friend noted. It’s like that every single day. I like things simple, easy-to-get-to and streamlined to purely, minimally functional. (Here’s the thing, though: I also don’t really cook unless Pop Tarts count somewhere, and I don’t think they do unless you’re still in college.) So, while my organized pantry reflects my sometimes over-organized brain, in the end it also reflects the fact that I don’t actually use that pantry very much—not for holding all the amazing options intended. It doesn’t get thoroughly worked. It doesn’t see heavy traffic or hide forgotten recipe ideas. If your pantry is overstuffed and over-used, it’s probably the opposite of mine—a bit of a mess, you might say. There are cans in the back that slipped your mind months ago—maybe even years ago. But, what all of those not-so-tidy layers say is: I’ve got deeper plans. I’ve got recipes percolating in my sleep, and I need the technology to make that amazing cooking happen. A good bit of grid—whether in New York or San Antonio, whether in New Delhi or Santa Domingo—is messy. It’s an amalgamation of tech recipes completed and capacity concepts invoked (and also some thought of and started but not finished yet). And, like the pantry of a good cook, most of those grid bits have items utilities just haven’t fully exploited just yet. So, in this time of belt-tightening and getting the most for your money, let’s talk new recipes from old elements that you can accomplish with your grid ingredients today.   1.  Metering and modernization The EIA reports that we have about 65 million smart meter installations in the U.S.—and that number continues to rise. Frost & Sullivan noted that just the year 2015 alone saw a global market of 115 million units for smart metering infrastructure, with an expected average of around 85 million each year through 2025 and an eye on Europe, which will become the single largest market in just three years. And while we may all be getting good insights into customer use with those smart meters, it’s time for next steps in this exploitation.  Are you looking at those meters and their real-time capabilities to move a step past use and help you execute new billing models and rate options, for example? Are you planning for how they can help you more easily involve customers in demand response and energy efficiency programs? Yes, I know you’ve thought of these things. They may even be part of that incomplete recipe you’re fiddling with in your head, but is it time to dust off the AMI and get down to planning for these next moves? After all, to get all the ROI from AMI, you’re going to have to think, well, outside of the “meter box,” so to speak.   2. Standards and serendipity Yes, the talk of standards often brings a world-weary sigh from utility insiders and engineers and a lecture about how “compliance isn’t security” and that simply meeting standards isn’t a guarantee of anything in particular, but, in today’s collaborative, “we share everything” world, that old thinking just is no longer true. Standards bring one major benefit, and there’s a hint in the word itself: standardization. Let’s be honest here. The world isn’t getting bigger. It’s getting smaller. And the more we follow similar tech, asset management and security paths, the more likely we all will be to just get along—whether technologically or conceptually. While unique workarounds make for good thinking, common standards make for good business in an era where utilities are no longer islands unto themselves but are increasingly taking a community approach to everything from outage restoration to automation. And, you’re lucky, in most cases that collaborative approach has already been thought out to the nth degree by organizations in the business to make your business more efficient. Now, are you really taking full advantage of those standards, or are you still just living a by-the-next-compliance-date-ing game?   3. Automation and analytics The Internet is now officially everywhere, from your meter to your feeder. It brings you data from places on your network that, let’s be honest, you’re not entirely sure you need data from at this particular point. But, tomorrow is a different world, my friend, and who knows what data you may need in that future—and into just what far end points of the grid automation may go. But maybe we should be thinking more about those automation options. We’ve traditionally tied that term to the substation, but a form of automation—the specific form being the AI-infused chatbot—is suddenly a possibility on the outage notification/customer communication side of your grid business. (Full disclosure: This isn’t such a pie-in-the-sky concept. Exelon has been building a chatbot function based on Oracle capabilities.) But, a few years ago we were having serious, head-nodding panel sessions on whether utility customers were comfortable with longer waits and more complicated IVR menus before they talked to a CSR. Now, thanks to someone who brought together natural language processing and customer data, they may never talk to a CSR. And, yes, they are surprisingly OK with that. So, maybe we need to look at being more so—embracing automation, analytics and all that data all the way across the board. Rather than a sad-tinged “What do we do with all this data?” question, let’s unpack that question and really answer it. It seems like there are amazing options we can exploit if we think about it hard enough.   What areas of your grid—from physical tech to regulatory hurdles—are you thinking about in new ways? Tell us all about it on social media. You can find us on Twitter @oracleutilities and on LinkedIn. Use #gridpantry.  

I have a psychological theory about pantries, and it’s a simple one: The inside of your kitchen pantry is an excellent reflection of your cooking skills (or lack thereof). My pantry is cleaned and...

Operations

The path to ISO 55000 compliance is a journey, not a destination

Asset management is a strategy, one involving detailed planning, financial thought leadership and a little bit of magic, too. (You do, after all, have to see into the future a bit.) Do you have a true asset management strategy, or are you just scratching the surface? Without a strategy, you can end up with unnecessary operational cost. In one example, EPA Source noted that water and wastewater plants are some of the largest energy consumers for municipalities—sometimes 30 to 40 percent. And energy can account for as much as 40% of operating costs for drinking water systems. What if such high operating costs could be reduced by 15 to 30 percent? Can you do that? Can you accomplish those numbers? Indeed you can—with better asset management, which improves energy efficiency practices. Implementing industry standards for asset management, such as ISO 55000, has become a popular guide for utilities because it provides a great framework for curbing just the kind of waste EPA Source described. However, developing an ISO 55000 compliant asset management policy for your organization (and growing your work and asset management system to comply) can be a challenge. At the upcoming International Maintenance Conference,  Marc Yarlott, Veolia North America Asset Management Project Manager, and Kimberley Herrala, Oracle Work and Asset Management (WAM) Product Manager, will talk about how to map your asset management plan for ISO 55000 compliance—and just how to overcome that challenge. (In 2015, Veolia adopted ISO 55000 as their asset management framework.) In their talk, Yarlott and Herrala will discuss three basic building blocks to ISO 55000 compliance: Building the foundation with an asset registry, Optimizing the workflow, and Using auditing and feedback to keep your program on track. In that first foundation-building step, visibility into your assets—how they are used and what condition they are in—is critical. You need a foundation that helps you put all your asset-related data in one place: simplifies and improves decision-making; and provides platform for implementing best practices such as those popular International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 55000 standards discussed earlier. To truly optimize workflow in step two, you’ve got to get down to real details. This isn’t a general thought process; it’s a specific one. For example: What if energy consumption is used to calculate asset condition?  That may help you detect when pump wear rings need to be adjusted and bring your plant up to maximum capacity. This prevents an unplanned failure while keeping energy costs down. In the upcoming session, Yarlott will discuss case study about one of Veolia’s 300 MGD plants located in Milwaukee with a single pump that consumes 1/3 of the power used to operate the entire plant, giving you a detailed look at that optimization in action. In the last step, you need to evaluate the total asset management process, establishing a cycle of continual improvement based on reality—the reality that plans are evolving and processes will never be perfect. To create this cycle, plans and procedures must be continually analyzed for areas of improvement, using hard data and metrics. That analysis should then get fed back into the planning and scheduling process lifecycle, adjusting it where necessary to achieve measurable improvement.   Learn more from Yarlott and Herrala live and in person at the International Maintenance Conference, December 11 at 1 pm.  

Asset management is a strategy, one involving detailed planning, financial thought leadership and a little bit of magic, too. (You do, after all, have to see into the future a bit.) Do you have a true...

Operations

Passion, progress and practical lessons from New York’s Energy Czar

Everyone wants to be a czar. In the rather dull work world of managers, directors and presidents of this and that, czar has got to be the best title ever created, even better than being chief of something. But, unless you’re a long-lived, long-lost descendant of Russian royalty, how do you get this title? It’s not easy, really. 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.   Oracle Utilities: So, just how did you get into the energy biz? Kauffman: My first year in college was also the first year of the energy crisis. I saved my money throughout high school to buy a car, but it seems the very minute I got the car, there were gas lines. At that time, the reasons for the crisis didn’t have to do with actually running out of energy, but there were forecasts that the world was running out of resources. That propelled my academic work. And that when I first started learning about renewable energy: 1973. That was the start.   Oracle Utilities: And how far have we come since 1973? Kauffman: In some ways, we’ve come quite a long way. In some ways, we really haven’t. Certainly, renewable energy and technology costs have declined tremendously since then. And their deployment has increased. But, if you look at the transition from fossil fuels to a cleaner, more modernized energy system that can adapt to today’s environmental challenges and what’s really needed in the energy system going forward, well, we’ve got a very, very long way to go. Take the grid, for example: the architecture of the grid is largely the same as it was 100 years.   Oracle Utilities: Tell us a bit about your strategic vision for energy in the state of New York. Kauffman: Here’s what we’re trying to do in an analogy: we’re still in the mainframe era right now, but we want the power sector to resemble more today’s progressive IT. And we must make this transition if we’re going to have EVs, if we’re going to reduce emissions, if we’re going to shoot for greater energy efficiency and a large quantity of renewables.  And we are definitely shooting for those things.   Oracle Utilities: What would you say was the catalyst for this innovative, new way of thinking about energy in New York? Kauffman: That’s an easy one to answer: Superstorm Sandy. After weeks of cold, miserable time in the dark, we learned lessons about outdated technology and affordability. And that’s where this vision and these policies began. Today, we have a clear strategy: we want to build a grid with a mix of central and distributed solutions where electrons flow in more than one direction, where it’s more flexible, more agile and smarter. We’re aiming for less (or no) cold, miserable time in the dark for the energy future.   Oracle Utilities: How do you get there? Kauffman: By changing the whole system. It’s not just a single part at fault. It’s a system of systems. The physical power system is not only built, owned and operated by utilities, it has independent power producers, independent companies—all surrounded by regulation. We have to change the system of systems if we’re really going to achieve our objectives, which requires a change of business models, culture and attitude.   Oracle Utilities: Are you making progress? Kauffman: Absolutely. Utilities across the state have profoundly changed their approach to capital planning. In the past, we heard about growth, about demand, about hardware needs. Now we hear questions about non-wire alternatives, about storage, about potential answers outside simply buying more hardware. Just the questioning is progress itself. But the questions have also led to the deployment of solutions that aren’t just good for the utilities but provide benefits to the entire grid, which makes the grid more resilient, affordable and clean.   Oracle Utilities: So, what will the energy industry look like in the future if this progress continues? Kauffman: Edison invented the lightbulb and the value of electric lighting. Before him, people were in the dark. This was an incredible transformation of humanity. But the world changed, and, now, lighting is a tiny percentage of what we use electricity for. We use energy for convenience, comfort, entertainment, health. The question is: are we again standing at the same threshold moment in history as Edison? He couldn’t imagine how we would use electricity beyond lighting. And there may be more options for us in the future, too, ones we can’t imagine now without a smarter electric grid. What I can imagine: autonomous electric vehicles and smart energy systems that could more easily enable home health care with automation. But, whatever comes about—whether we can see it now or not—it will revolve around the customer. And that’s what we’re laying the groundwork for now, a customer-first approach to enable that next leap—a major cultural and business model transformation.   Oracle Utilities: And in New York? Kauffman: In New York, utilities are just wires companies. They transmit and distribute electricity but they have no power to produce it. So utilities need to look at what they used to call ratepayers, or as other industries call them, customers. Utilities now also have to look at the intermediaries that are offering services and value to the system for the customer. The intermediaries may be better at figuring out what customers want and how they want them, and utilities need to recognize that and see these options as partnerships, a collaborative approach with new technology in mind.  Putting the customer first with the markets finding the solutions. We provide financial incentives where utilities can still make money, even if someone else is developing a superior relationship with the old ratepayer. And it has been a transition in its early phases. Utilities here have just begun to see the solar industry as a partner and a customer, not as the enemy, for example. But you can see that progress, that change, and that potential Edison leap forming here in New York.   Oracle Utilities: What do you see as takeaways/advice for other states from NY's plans? Kauffman: The current system is not only energy inefficient, but financially inefficient , too. We all see that now. So, bringing in more companies, more vendors, more partners with new ideas, new technology and new thoughts on how to make the system of systems more efficient is just good for everyone from individual customers to the state itself. I think we’re proving that.   Oracle Utilities: Any work in this environment is a juggle of competing visions, needs and desires. How do you get consumers, utilities and vendors (like us) all on board? What's your secret? Kauffman: The interesting thing is no one was really happy with the way the New York system was—not the consumers, not the utilities, not the vendors. Utilities recognized that there were growth parts of the market they weren’t participating in. They were sensing change but couldn’t get in there. The independent renewable companies saw the possibilities but didn’t have the financing to get in or the incentives to do so. The power plant owners were unhappy at how often they were idle, and their revenues for capacity payments were inadequate. So, no one was completely happy with the old system. That gave us the opportunity to make these changes and to make more people in the industry happy by changing the rules involved.   Oracle Utilities: So the key is finding a way to make unhappy people happier? That sounds like a life lesson, not a business one. Kauffman:  It’s both really. And it all goes back to that focus on efficiency in both energy and finance. There are tremendous opportunities for a company like Oracle in a place like NY to help us achieve our objectives. And it’s just adapting what worked in other industries and opening the door, opening up the cage of regulation. We’re trying to open that cage—stretch some of the bars wider, make the utility industries more permeable to solutions that are good for all, including utilities and vendors and consumers. It really is about making everyone happier.   This is the third installment of our New York State of Energy blog series leading up to our executive conference, Oracle Industry Connect, coming to the New York Hilton Midtown April 10-11, 2018. Read more from the series: On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy and the next Oracle Industry Connect NYPA’s CEO on restoration, reform and REV Who is the true New York energy customer?

Everyone wants to be a czar. In the rather dull work world of managers, directors and presidents of this and that, czar has got to be the best title ever created, even better than being chief...

Innovation Insights

3 takeaways from Utility Analytics Week

Utility Analytics Week—sponsored by the Utility Analytics Institute—visited San Antonio this fall. The conference gathered utilities and vendors together to unpack the details on analytics and all the ways those lovely numbers are being used—and can be used in the future—in this industry. I came away from the conference with these major thoughts.   1. Utilities need to invest in analytics as a core capability.   They can't just pick off use cases one by one anymore, or merely “dip their toes in analytics.” Raiford Smith from Entergy talked about this in his session “Enterprise Analytics Journey—A Truly Enterprise Approach.” But he wasn’t the only one to mention it during the conference. In reality, utilities aren’t alone here—nor are they forging new ground. The Harvard Business Review has been surveying Fortune 1000 companies since 2012, and almost half of the companies now say their businesses are “achieving measurable results from their big data investments.”  They are decreasing expenses, finding new pathways for innovation and launching new products and services. Utilities just need to get on that bandwagon. (And the prevalence of this discussion during the show assured me they definitely are.)   2. Utilities face a lot of analytics uncertainty. As they think about those investments, they face a lot of ifs and maybes.  Technology is changing. The market is changing. Customers are changing.  So, evaluating the flexibility of your strategy is critical. I’m struck at how this particular takeaway is supported by work we’ve done with Navigant on the “Utility Innovation Blueprint: How to Manage the Challenge of Dual Transformation,” One utility exec was quoted in the study as saying :  “We’re having to really rethink how [to] work in a much more accelerated manner … We need to be more responsive and more flexible.”   This uncertainty (and flexibility) is certainly influencing utilities’ technology investments. Rather than planning for a specific outcome or market change, utilities are investing in a core capability around agility and making both their business and technology more adaptable to change.   3. Utilities are really investing in internal data science.  I met more utility data scientists at this conference than I ever have in my life before.  Beyond that, everyone is focused on enabling the "Citizen Data Scientist" as they realize more of their new grad employees, even those that aren't analysts, come out of school with an inclination to analyze data.  The Exelon Customer Analytics team talked about tools they built to enable these “citizen data scientists,” and I heard this term countless other times from utilities. We presented too on the new cloud analytics platform we are building that will connect our full utilities suite.  While we have focused on utility data science for a long time, from Opower personalized energy management insights to DataRaker's revenue protection algorithms to Oracle Utilities Analytics insights about network operations and more, a lot has changed since we launched these solutions.  Our new platform will enable more self-serve data exploration and analytics, and it will speed up our ability to launch new analytics across all our products.   Look out for our new analytics roadmap in early 2018, and let us know if you are interested in our December 14 SyncUp in Chicago where you'll have an opportunity to influence our direction—especially the analytics use cases we attack first.    

Utility Analytics Week—sponsored by the Utility Analytics Institute—visited San Antonio this fall. The conference gathered utilities and vendors together to unpack the details on analytics and all the...

Demand Side Management

Japanese partnership focuses on the environmental positives of residential energy efficiency

As part of the Ministry of Environment’s (MOE’s) effort to promote a “Japanese model of information-based, CO2-reducing behavioral changes in the residential sector,” Oracle Japan will work with five Japanese utilities to leverage energy efficiency tools in residential markets. (This project was announced at a live press conference with the participants Nov. 13 in Tokyo.) Francois Vazille, Vice President, Oracle Utilities, JAPAC, was on hand for the announcement and greeted the team, the crowd and the press that gathered for the event with a few words of wisdom. We sat down with him to elaborate a bit on those words and the truly global scope of this project.   Q: Why is this project so important to Japan? Vazille: It will greatly help them meet their climate change countermeasure plan and Paris Agreement commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by fiscal year 2030 (compared to fiscal year 2013 levels). With nearly 70 percent of the average Japanese household’s carbon footprint stemming from energy use, Japan’s Ministry of Environment (MOE) commissioned a nationwide study to measure the potential of residential behavioral energy efficiency programs as a means of reaching Japan’s fiscal year 2030 CO2 emissions reduction goals—of which a 40-percent reduction is required in residential-sector emissions alone. This project is part of that overall push to meet those goals.   Q: How does Oracle fit into the project? Vazille: Oracle Utilities’ Opower Energy Efficiency Cloud Service will be utilized to provide personalized energy efficiency guidance to 300,000 selected households across the country.  But we’re certainly not in this alone.   We’re working closely with five major Japanese utilities including Hokkaido Gas, Ltd.; Tohoku  ​Electric Power Co., Inc.; Hokuriki Electric Power Co., Inc.; Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc.; and Okinawa Electric Power, Co., Inc. to deliver home energy reports—personalized energy consumption communications—to 60,000 residents in each utility territory using our platform. I think it’s also important to note that this is Year One of a planned five-year program. Going forward, there is an opportunity to increase the number of utilities participating, raise the number of sample households across the program, and add new capabilities as the Japanese market responds to this initiative.   Q:  Would you elaborate a bit on how the reports will be used? Vazille:  Each resident will receive reports with personalized insights that are designed to raise energy efficiency awareness by making consumers’ energy consumption easy to understand. One example: comparing each household’s gas or electricity usage with that of similar homes and providing tips tailored to each household on how they can reduce waste where it makes sense for them to do so.   Q: How do these reports contribute to energy efficiency? Vazille: Opower first introduced the Home Energy Report nearly a decade ago. Since that time, the company has been a leader in using behavioral design to motivate people around the world to save energy.   We want to motivate people to use less energy. And not with incentives or devices, but instead with information—the basic facts about their energy use over time, contextualized in a way that motivates them to use less. What does that mean? Framing energy usage in a way that is both universal and personal, so anyone can understand it and it actually means something to them. So, we use data analytics to help utility customers understand how much energy they are using compared to their neighbors; how their energy use changes over time; how their home uses energy; or what energy saving tips are most important for them. By providing the right information to the customer at the right time, we provide meaningful insights at the moments that matter. Oracle sends proactive home energy notifications to 16 million households around the world, and our web tools reach 60 million households. This behavioral approach to energy efficiency has been very effective: Today, Oracle Utilities Opower Energy Efficiency Cloud Service saves more than 4 TWh of electricity every year. By the end of 2017, we will have saved a cumulative 17 TWh (equivalent to taking 1.5 million homes off the grid for an entire year), and saved customers more than $2 billion.    Q: Why use a cloud-driven behavioral energy efficiency program to help to reach Japan’s CO2 emissions reduction goals? What are the benefits? Vazille:  A cloud-based behavioral energy efficiency program can be scaled quickly, with no new R&D necessary by the utility, to show verifiable greenhouse gas reduction impacts in Japan’s residential sector. Home energy report programs also deliver significant customer engagement benefits beyond the energy and greenhouse gas reductions and are a powerful platform for building customer trust and energy engagement.   Q: How much do you anticipate the initial 300,000 homes contributing to Japan’s energy efficiency goals? Vazille: In the customer experience and energy efficiency programs we have run over the past decade, customer energy efficiency efforts have yielded an average of 2% energy savings per household. While a 2% reduction may sound small, if just 2% can be achieved throughout all of Japan, it has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 3 million tons a year. This is equivalent to about half of the total CO2 emissions (5.62 million tons) that the Japanese Government plans to reduce via “national educational campaigns” by 2030—in just a single year.   Q: How do you track the CO2 emissions reductions? Vazille: The energy usage of the 300,000 Japanese homes participating in the program this year will be compared to a “control group” of Japanese homes not participating in the program to determine energy usage reduction of the participating group. This is a unique, global best practices approach to ensuring that the estimated energy efficiency savings impacts are valid.    Q: So, Home Energy Reports are the first step. What’s next? Vazille:  Within Oracle Utilities, we are expanding our demand side management and energy efficiency footprint. We started with our Home Energy Report, and then expanded those insights to email Home Energy Reports and a full set of web energy management tools. From there, we further expanded our offerings into demand response, high bill alerts, smart meter engagement, and other types of communication with customers. Our goal for the future is to reach deeper into self-service. We want to help our utility clients throughout the entire breadth of the customer experience, using the same formula that we have used to date in our demand side management products to motivate customers and get them to save energy. We have spent more than a decade talking to our utility clients, collecting data and feedback from customers and industry experts, and understanding what they expect from our products. In response, in the past year and a half, we have completed the migration of our utility clients over to a new visual design and user experience for our Home Energy Reports, and also a more flexible energy reports platform, to create a great user experience for their customers. We’ve also totally re-platformed our web to become mobile-responsive and flexibly integrated with a utility’s website.  And we’re moving forward to evolve the program from what it is today—an energy efficiency resource—to being a resource utilities can bake into their portfolios with their generation assets, so they can deploy energy efficiency and demand response more strategically, based on optimizing the load curve. As we continue to optimize the programs that we’re already running, we’re also planting seeds for innovation to help transform our programs for the future.   Q: Beyond Japan, what other utilities have you worked with on similar customer-facing utility projects? Vazille: Our customer engagement programs have been run in more than 10 countries across North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific. For example, we partnered with Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), the largest electricity company in Malaysia, two years ago to launch a pilot customer engagement program to give customers greater insight into their energy usage, and empower them to control their usage and save money on their monthly electric bills. TNB serves 8.6 million customers in the Malaysian Peninsula and is the first utility in Southeast Asia to launch a program of this kind. The program pilot began initially with 200,000 households in Klang Valley, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca. Both personalized Home Energy Reports and an online portal provide clearly defined information including customized energy-saving tips based on past energy usage and household characteristics. Customers also receive targeted help saving energy.   For more details on the announcement, read the press release from Tokyo here. Additionally, photos of project participants (and identifications) are available on Oracle Utilities’ Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. The lead art of this story is named Soratan and is the icon of the project (seen also in the example home energy report above).

As part of the Ministry of Environment’s (MOE’s) effort to promote a “Japanese model of information-based, CO2-reducing behavioral changes in the residential sector,” Oracle Japan will work with five...

Company

How to thrive within disruption

In October, I had the pleasure to be amongst peers at European Utility Week in Amsterdam. Across all the topics discussed at the conference, I saw one central theme: disruption.  Disruption in the way we produce and exchange energy, disruption in the way we operationalize data, disruption in the way we serve customers—disruption is here.  The only difference throughout Europe is the pace at which energy companies are feeling that disruption and from where. So what can retailers do to prepare to not just survive the disruption but thrive within it? We have the advantage of learning from those who went before us. For instance, according to McKinsey, telecommunications saw a 365% growth in mobile revenue pool throughout the industry’s heaviest years of disruption. Nearly all of that new revenue was captured by new entrants ready to disrupt the traditional models. We must look to examples like this and learn.  Why did disruption in the telecom industry favor new entrants? The answer: Change necessitates agility. Traditionally incumbents have been slower to change and less able to adapt. Retailers in the utility industry must be at once reliable and agile. The key to thriving within disruption is a platform upon which both core business processes and new business models can be transformed. One that supports the balance between reliability and agility.  Thriving requires both tracks to work in tandem—so that while core business processes are fortified with automation and deeper customer engagement, new models of innovation can be explored and refined.  It is only when teams fiercely commit to these dual tracks that we achieve the agility required to thrive within, and even begin to fuel disruption. Let’s dive further into these three key areas that are necessary for retailers to nurture both the core business model and new business innovation: engagement, automation, and agility.   ENGAGEMENT For retailers, engagement embodies that customer-centricity that must be at the core of the business. Based on an Accenture global survey of utility customers, customers only spend 9 minutes a year interacting with their utility. Compare that to Facebook, where the average user spends about 50 minutes per day on the website. Per day. These moments represent opportunities to both improve the core business but also pivot towards new business models of selling value-added services. But to take advantage of these moments, retailers must have the context to make those moments matter- they must understand how to personalize not only the information they communicate, but how they communicate it, they must be able to personalize the service they deliver to each customer. Often, customer systems get in the way of this context though, siloing the data needed to understand the customer, and the business processes needed to engage fully. NRGi is a fantastic example of a utility that saw that challenge, and the critical need for customer-centricity. NRGi kicked off a digital transformation project to put the right customer platform in place to nurture engagement in preparation for Danish market transition. NRGi established a new cloud-based, complete meter to cash platform. The complete meter to cash to customer approach gives NRGi the context and the business process continuity to engage with each customer on their terms. While taking advantage of cloud gives NRGi scale and flexibility to continue to change and grow as needed.   AUTOMATION Automation, the second critical piece of the platform for success within disruption. If we think about it, we’ve all become quasi employees—we do our own banking, check ourselves in to airlines. Automation across industries has enabled that. Retailers can leverage automation to fortify core business processes, streamline the amount of staff time and technology required to support it. But to be truly transformative, automation is crucial across all processes, not just self-service, not just automating the happy path. Retailers that automate throughout front and back office gain the ability to mitigate issues or fallout that arise from typical utility customer challenges. Take Green Mountain Power, for instance, in Vermont. The people of Vermont know what a bitter cold winter can feel like. Green Mountain Power recognized that these harsh winters were a major burden on many of its customers who simply could not pay high winter heating bills. GMP put in place a Heat Pump Rental program, to automatically target those customers who were most vulnerable to high bills in the winter, getting them enrolled in programs to provide more energy efficient options and avoid unexpectedly high bills. GMP leveraged automation and a great deal of customer-centric thinking to find a resolution to a common and devastating challenge many of its customers faced. Utilities around the world have continued to pilot new methods for automation as well. For instance, Exelon is leveraging Chatbots with Artificial Intelligence to deliver 24/7 customer service – with machine learning these chatbots grow more and more intelligent as they interact to provide not just responses to questions, but advice. And as we look down the line, we see so much potential to use automation to streamline core business processes and enable new services – like using drones to heat map solar panels. We’ve seen this in utility-scale solar to monitor performance, what if we used this as retailers, to heat map neighborhoods and automate outreach to good candidates for a new solar program?  There is so much potential that we can achieve when we remove barriers to automation in technology systems and business processes.   AGILITY And finally we get to agility, the third crucial piece of the retailer platform. This continues to be one of the biggest pain points we see for retailers facing disruption; as we said previously, change in the industry requires adaptation, and quick adaptation at that. Incumbent retailers, and even new entrants, often find that they simply do not have a foundation that supports the level of agility they need. Some of the biggest pain points we hear about are rigid systems that don’t communicate, don’t share data and information efficiently, or siloed technology that stifles innovation – how many times has your marketing team come up with a great idea that sits on a shelf because legacy architecture simply cannot support it? So much of this pain comes from customer systems that were designed for an outdated approach. To thrive within this disruption around us, we need to throw out everything we know about that CIS. We need to focus on the new retailer platform that was architected for flexibility and modularity, that balances reliability and agility, and one that supports a customer-centric, scalable data model. This is where we get that flexibility, that agility to pivot when disruption requires us to do so, to strengthen our customer engagement, to automate our core business processes, while exploring new business innovation. Some of the largest retailers in Europe that we work with are breaking the traditional CIS model, driving instead from a customer-data centric model—deconstructing systems into a micro-services model; throwing away the traditional rule book of the CIS, look instead at the right data model to enable a federated approach to flexible, scalable, AGILE customer-centric systems. We continue to architect this customer-centric, agile platform to allow retailers to step away from the old transaction business and step into a relational business. Why is this important? Because this is exactly where retailers shift from surviving disruption, to thriving within it and even fueling it.   Want more insights from one of Europe's largest utility conferences? Look back on all the details from European Utility Week here: Here’s your cheat sheet to smarter digital planning The growing pains of the utility business are global, but so are the opportunities European utilities, associations tackle local markets, global consumers and a blast of winter Blindsiding bikes and brilliant insights: on the ground at European Utility Week Talk more about an agile workforce, not an aging one Betting on the new and shiny world of innovation  

In October, I had the pleasure to be amongst peers at European Utility Week in Amsterdam. Across all the topics discussed at the conference, I saw one central theme: disruption.  Disruption in the way...

Customer Care

Behavioral economics is officially mainstream (and public policy is better for it)

Last month, the Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to behavioral economist, Richard Thaler. Commonly referred to as the Father of Nudge Theory, Thaler was recognized for his groundbreaking work in debunking outdated economic market assumptions that individuals operate rationally. Instead, Thaler asserted that not only do individuals behave irrationally, but economists can actually predict the irrationality of individual behavior. This has huge implications not only in economics, but also in public policy more broadly—and in spots where that policy impacts industry, as with utilities.  The ability to predict and address human behavior is critical in designing effective policies and programs—something we at Oracle Utilities fully embrace.  Oracle Utilities’ Opower products are based on a foundation of behavioral economics. Our ability to motivate customer action and drive energy savings is steeped in behavioral science principles. Intuitively, we think people will conserve energy for economic or environmental purposes—of  course people will reduce to save money or save the planet. But what behavioral science has taught us—what Richard Thaler pioneered—is that people’s values and beliefs don’t necessarily compel people to act. Instead, it’s their sense of how they are doing relative to their peer group and the social norm that drives people to act. Leveraging this knowledge, Oracle partners with over 100 utilities across the globe to nudge their customers to conserve energy by sharing personalized insights and using behavioral science techniques to motivate them to be more energy efficient.  These nudges result in small individual changes that add up to massive savings. Over the past 10 years, we’ve helped customers reduce energy by over 16 TWh. That’s equivalent to taking more than 1.2 million homes off the grid for an entire year and nearly $2 billion in bill savings for millions of people all over the world.    So congratulations to Richard Thaler, and thank you to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for recognizing the critical importance of accounting for human behavior to ensure the effectiveness and success of public policies and programs.    Read more on the consumer, behaviorial science and human behavior: Are utilities ready for a now, better, faster customer base? Your customers want digital options, and they want them right now Seeing “The Princess Bride” as a brilliant customer service tutorial

Last month, the Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to behavioral economist, Richard Thaler. Commonly referred to as the Father of Nudge Theory, Thaler was recognized for his groundbreaking work...

Customer Care

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. We talked about his trip. This wasn’t Quiniones’s first trip since the island was hit twice by hurricanes. He first went with Cuomo on Sept. 22 to bring trucks and generators for power system assessments, and bring some relief to Puerto Rico.  During this second visit, Quiniones got a better visual—including a helicopter tour--of the problems PREPA is facing. What surprised him the most was the excessive damage to steel transmission structures, which will take time, equipment, manpower and more helicopters to repair. Quiniones was part of a New York State team requested by the government of Puerto Rico to help assess damage to power infrastructure. Also included on this 20-person team were some drone pilots and those he calls “the MacGyvers of NYPA” because they can troubleshoot just about anything and are the “hands-on tinkerers and fixers here.” While Quiniones may not be the hands-on MacGyver sort these days, he is a bit of a fixer and a tinkerer himself, at least when it comes to the policies and projects in his home state. As any industry insider can tell you, New York is unlike any other state when it comes to the policies and processes of power. (For more details on how the state is set up and the general lineup of people involved in those policies and processes, read our first blog in the series.) Quiniones has been in the business of power—and in New York’s business of power specifically—since the late 1980s when he leveraged a consulting gig with Consolidated Edison into a full-time job building up the utility’s demand-side management programs. (He’s a mechanical engineer at heart.) After 16 years at Con Ed, he served as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s energy and telecom adviser. And then it was on to NYPA, where he’ll celebrate a decade of work on Oct. 27. Given his history with the power business and his knowledge of the nuances of New York State, I had to ask him the obvious question: In all those years, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough,” he replied quickly. “That’s definitely first. Then, focus and speed.  Those are my principles that I’ve adopted and that I’ve been trying to follow since the beginning of my career.” Quiniones is at a point in that career where the industry is seeing real and significant changes, especially in his home state—and where his mantra of “focus and speed” could now be applied across the board. And all of that focus and speed, according to Quiniones, is with a specific ending in mind for New York’s transformative story—an ending that makes power more affordable across the state; makes an antiquated one-way power system consistently two-way in nature; and is much more capable of handling changes, adjustments, evolutions, and the inevitable natural disaster or two. The utility unveiled a strategic plan in 2014 called Vision 2020, and this year issued a refresh that builds on the original plan.  What’s the big goal of Vision 2020? Well, it’s simply stated but pretty ambitious. “We’re on our way to create the first digital utility, end-to-end in the world,” Quiniones shared.  “We’re digitizing the customer experience and our own assets. We’re creating digital twins, or replicas, of our assets to do data analytics work. We’re working with the New York Independent System Operator to digitize the New York State power grid, as well. Because of that, we are able to create new products and services that our customers value. We’re excited about it.” And while NYPA is on track to meet its timelines and goals, Quiniones said he wants projects to move along even quicker, to bring value even faster—right back to another of his mantras. “The industry is changing fast,” he added. “The cost curves for solar and wind are rapidly declining. I’m just seeing more and more with innovation that’s translating quickly (especially with car batteries and grid storage). We need to innovate just as fast.” But Quiniones says that, in an industry that’s a bit more traditional like energy, that’s not an easy task. And the “toughest part,” as he labels it is the change management required within utilities and regulatory bodies. It’s hard to keep that mindset, this culture and those processes up to speed with innovation. “But we have to make sure that we keep up,” Quiniones said. “Otherwise, the great things we’re doing become stale very quickly.”   To keep up with the faster-more-better pace of innovation today that’s seeping into the energy industry from our larger, more digital culture overall (and to avoid becoming stale), Quiniones advises regulatory bodies and utilities in the larger power industry to take a page from the REV processes and NYPA’s support: 1. Think like a startup. Adopt design thinking and leaner concepts. Fail fast and iterate fast—a concept that takes Quiniones’ personal principal of “focus and speed” to the next level 2. Put the customer at the center. NYPA has had the “consumer in control” mantra since 2014, and practices by actively asking “what’s the customer value” with every project 3. Realize that disruption is here to stay. There is no more “safe place” or “slow pace” in this industry. Even the grid edges are seeing ripples of disruption these days. Everything is getting smarter, and everything will continue to get smarter. There is no more resting on laurels anymore. It’s all forward, and all forward faster “You have to think big,” Quiniones said. “And then figure out a path to get those big things done. That’s what we’re doing here in New York. That’s all that REV is really—a methodical, all-stakeholders-involved process to getting that big thinking (about customers and disruption and the future) done.”   This is the second part of our New York State of Energy Blog series leading up to our exclusive invitation-only utility executive conference, Oracle Industry Connect, coming to the New York Hilton Midtown April 10-11, 2018.  Read more from this series: Who is the true New York energy customer? Passion, progress and practical lessons from New York's energy czar On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy, and the next Oracle Industry Connect     Photo info: The lead art and inserted picture are artistic and literal renderings of the Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station in Lewiston, New York, near Niagara Falls. Photo Courtesy of NYPA.  

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...

Customer Care

Pulling personal and professional lessons from our very latest innovation study

Remember when you were a kid and your mother or your teacher or your coach or some adult in authority over you admonished you to learn something new every day? I would imagine just about every kid was told that at some time in her childhood. But how often—now that you’re an adult—do you really practice it? What have you learned today? While it sounds ridiculously corny—and, yes, we all realize it sounds ridiculously corny—all writers learn something from each project we create; we still live that “learn something new” childhood mantra. It’s the “bonus” to our job. When you work in the power industry, the variety of learning may sound narrow, but it’s more varied than you might assume. You learn all over the cultural and tech map, from behavioral science and emotional intelligence (for customer service) to data analytics and hardware automation (for operations). So 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. Kathleen: What's the most interesting thing you learned from the study research? Stuart: I wasn’t prepared for how different each company’s approach to innovation was. Different companies, different constraints, different drivers. For example, smaller utilities—particularly those that are municipally owned—are doing great things with limited budgets. We saw a great connection with their communities, and they’re often the most customer-centric. A number of them have ambitions to punch well above their weight, you might say, and they’re using fresh approaches to IT infrastructure investments. That smaller utility niche, in particular, was absolutely fascinating. Kathleen: Without naming names, of course, who was your favorite interview and why? Stuart: That’s difficult to answer—to single down to one. But, UK Power Networks has fine-tuned its innovation process, and I was really impressed with how they maintain momentum with their innovation products. They’re a great example of how to do more with less and how to engage the wider business with innovation. Then Yarra Valley Water also has to make the cut. It’s amazing how they embed innovation in their community through citizens’ juries. Kathleen: How did researching this study change your view of the global utilities business? Stuart: I didn’t necessarily change my opinion, more a confirmation that a lot of the industry transformation we discuss as an analyst is actually happening. Kathleen: It’s not just talk anymore. Stuart: Exactly. Some businesses have stopped talking about their futures and are now actually changing their businesses—fundamentally changing them. That push beyond chatter to action should also be a wake-up call for any slow-moving utilities out there who could soon find themselves at risk of irrelevance. That kind of claim is not just hot air banded around by vendors to sell utilities new products and services. It’s now a fact. Kathleen: Looking at the study from an overall lessons standpoint, what would you say are the "personality traits" of a truly innovative utility? Stuart: Most importantly, innovation happens at a happy organization. If your employees aren’t motivated and engaged with delivering a broad strategy, they aren’t going to submit ideas for innovation projects. And ideas come from the shop floor; it’s workers, not middle managers, who understand what is wrong with existing processes and how they can be changed. But, that being said, if idea generation is a bottom-up process, governance has to be top-down. The C-suite has to be the driving force behind this. They have to ensure that the right rewards are in place to encourage idea creation. They have to put in place the right governance frameworks, they have to ensure the right balance of finance is in place to support innovation. Stuart learned all of this by writing our Utility Innovation Blueprint. Now you can learn something today by reading it. Get full access to the study absolutely free. Just click here. 

Remember when you were a kid and your mother or your teacher or your coach or some adult in authority over you admonished you to learn something new every day? I would imagine just about every kid was...

Oracle Utilities

This Navigant study advises: to innovate, think twice

We think of the true innovator as a loner: Darwin following in the footsteps of unusual finches in the Galapagos, Tesla toiling alone in Wardenclyffe on his massive transmitter, Marie Curie busy isolating isotopes in a converted shed outside the École Normale Supérieure. But, in reality, innovation doesn’t take seed and blossom in a vacuum. There are people, ideas, concepts and thinking that came before to lay groundwork, and there are “to do” lists for today and every day that make the on-going potential (and financing) of innovation possible. In other words, innovation has layers, fingers and new growth. It’s messy and not-so-very loner after all. Darwin chased his theories alongside a now relatively unknown naturalist—at least in pop culture—named Alfred Russel Wallace. Tesla lived in a scientific world made financially and physically possible by Edison. Curie built on the X-ray work of Wilhelm Roentegen and Henri Becquerel while teaching. 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. One U.S. utility already sees the importance of both tracks for this rather traditional utilities industry. “Our mission is to be a catalyst, a fire-starter, a spark,” a representative told Navigant. “We want ‘innovation arsonists’ to get more fires started.” Sometimes prepping for that fire is the hardest part of innovation planning, and the Navigant study recognizes that fact. “’Everybody is running around trying to be innovative, but no one is really sure how,’ said one utility executive in his personal interview for this study. Innovation is new for many utilities, some of whom may find it a daunting prospect. While no utility is the same, and each will have different priorities, there were many strong examples of innovation best practices, enabling the creation of this Utility Innovation Blueprint,” writes Stuart Ravens, the Principal Research Analyst for the paper. The blueprint tells utilities—including the fellow quoted—just how to innovate. It lays out a utility directive on building foundations for innovation, accelerating innovation with technology and crafting a culture that will make both the “a-ha” and the efficient core dual tracks of innovation work smoothly. The most groundbreaking thinking in this study may be having that truce called—that neither the “new business models” innovation track nor the “core business” innovation track, as we’re choosing to call them here, is more important than the other. 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 track surpasses the other in importance, even though, as an industry, we’ve been wrestling with which to put on top of the pile for years.   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? With this study, the battle is over, and the winner is neither (or both). It’s a tie. And now it’s time to move on to just how to balance these two necessary tracks. With point-by-point discussions on how to plan and insights from utilities such as UK Power Networks, Eesti Energia, NiSource and Yarra Valley Water, this new blueprint offers practical advice on how to stop the tussle between core work and new concepts at your utility. Instead, you can see both as part of the innovative, collaborative future still to come—a future you need to lay out the catalysts for today. It’s time to roll up sleeves and get down to the business of thinking twice about innovation. Read the blueprint and learn more. Just click here.   Stay tuned. This is the first in our series about utility innovators. Next month, we’ll sit down with the Navigant analyst for this paper, Stuart Ravens, on what these interviews taught him about utility innovation. And then we’ll continue the series with direct utility interviews—intimate chats with utility insiders on their innovative projects in play. (Got a nomination? Know a utility perfect for a discussion on innovation? Email me directly at kathleen.davis@oracle.com.)

We think of the true innovator as a loner: Darwin following in the footsteps of unusual finches in the Galapagos, Tesla toiling alone in Wardenclyffe on his massive transmitter, Marie Curie...

Technology and the Cloud

Crafting a game plan to deal with disruption

There has been a lot of talk about utility industry disruption and transformation in recent years, as recurring trends such as pressure to grow margins are joined by new ones—evolving customer relationships, big data technologies in grid operations, environmental pressures, cybersecurity incursions, and flat growth—forcing change in the utility world. Rodger Smith, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Utilities, didn’t mince words in his remarks for the utilities track of Oracle OpenWorld 2017, held in San Francisco last week. In the opening session, Dual Innovation: A Blueprint to Navigate Through the Disruption, he plainly stated the utility case: “Revenues are basically stagnant around the world. It used to be that we’d plan for two percent to three percent growth. We’re not seeing that globally any more. Revenues are flat. So, as a result, what we’re seeing is huge movement to cut costs in order to maintain margin. And what are we going to do to gain revenue? We’re going to start looking for new energy solutions.” But that presents a complex business challenge, Smith noted: “You have to run your daily business, but you have to do that better than you ever did before. You’ve got to be more efficient; you’ve got to drive costs out of the business because you’re being asked to create margin. The banks are putting pressure on: if you can’t grow top line, you’d better grow margin. So, you’ve got to run your core business as efficiently as possible to generate margin, and to set the platform for whatever new innovation you’re going to add to incent your customers.” While the utilities industry is no stranger to exploring new business value opportunities to build growth, this time there is a dual imperative: “Efficiency is going to keep growth per customer down, so you have to add more customers or other opportunities,” he said. “So, you have two things you have to focus on: core innovation, because you’ve got to create margin, and new business innovation to grow the top line beyond the traditional ways you have grown revenue in the past.” The solution: A dual approach that includes both core business innovation and future business innovation simultaneously. In the core business, utilities will need to innovate with automation, analytics and cloud services to increase business productivity. “If you’re spending 80 percent of your time just maintaining your systems, you need to get out of that business. You need to spend 80 percent of your time innovating on new systems,” Smith cautioned. “Do you think your IT group is going to be moving as fast as they need to move on machine intelligence if they’re spending 80 percent of their IT spend on maintaining old systems? You’ve got to change that paradigm.” For future business innovation, apps will be where it’s at, he added: “You have to be able to move quickly and fail fast.” Utilities will be able to use a modular approach to digitization, using technology to look for new revenue streams. By layering applications on top of existing systems of record, it is possible to quickly stand up, iterate and test new business concepts, decide what works and what doesn’t, and repeat the process moving forward. Jack Azagury, Accenture’s senior managing director—resources, for North America, echoed Smith’s sentiments. Accenture, which sponsored the Utilities Track for this year’s OpenWorld, has done comprehensive research on the utility consumer for nearly a decade, and Azagury focused on a handful of recent trends utilities need to heed. These included: A digital veneer on analog processes, or a true digital experience? Utility consumers are seeing a lot of the former from their utilities, whereas they’re getting the latter from tangential competitors such as Google and Amazon. “So, the question is, how do we transform that digital experience for the consumer to make sure that, five years from now, we don’t have this digital disappointment?” he asked. Personalization. “Consumers are willing to give you more data, give you access to more information, and buy more from you, but they want that experience to be personalized,” he said. “Don’t just sell me 20 products. Tell me the one or two energy efficiency products I want. Tell me the one or two things that are good for me, and then I’ll buy from you.” Automation + artificial intelligence = greater efficiency. Building an ecosystem of partners is important for R&D. In the end, Azagury said, transitioning to the next utility model is an extremely complex process, but can be boiled down to four key steps. The first is to transform the core: get more efficient in what you do today. The second step is to grow the core. “The core is 90 percent or 95 percent of your earnings, and if you want to deliver 6 percent growth, you can’t afford for that core to shrink. So investing in the core has to happen, even though in 10 years you need to be somewhere else,” he said. The third step is to scale the new. “You have to think about new businesses and you have to innovate. You have start creating that innovation environment,” he said. “And we can have that debate: should that be separate from the core of the company? Will the core of the organization or the core of the company destroy that innovation engine? Or do you keep it close to the core? But you have to innovate.” Finally, the fourth step is the “wise pivot”: How do you make the change, especially when you’re dealing with a transition that is 10 to 20 years long? “Every company is going through this. There is no company who is immune,” he concluded.  

There has been a lot of talk about utility industry disruption and transformation in recent years, as recurring trends such as pressure to grow margins are joined by new ones—evolving...

Technology

Here’s your cheat sheet to smarter digital planning

We’re all focused on innovation and digitalization in this industry. A number of tracks and sessions at European Utility Week (EUW) covered these concepts so extensively I could like write a full book about it—perhaps a true tome, the War & Peace of utility transformation. Likely, though, that book isn’t going to happen anytime soon. And, if you didn’t have the time (or budget) to get over here and make those personal connections about all this amazing, fascinating, deep-dive stuff, we’ve got you covered—and in a much shorter version than War & Peace. Want to start thinking out of the box? Thinking about just burning that old, restrictive box entirely? Here’s a 10-step “cheat sheet” from the EUW sessions about getting your digital transformation off and running: 1. Get a cross-company team together, and build a path. But know it will change. (You will be changing constantly. Don’t get angry about change. There’s no going back. And keep that team together so you can return to them with new ideas, challenges and thinking. Leverage that collaboration.) 2. Be ambitious. Step out of your comfort zone. How much can you do? And then, can you do more? How much more? How far can you really go? How about one more step past that? 3. Tie back to your business and operational needs with everything. Being digital is cool, yes—super darn cool, even—but that cool stuff needs to actually work for you, from the grid to customer service. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time and money and will be set aside and forgotten pretty quickly. 4. Give up some control and think about partnerships (with vendors and customers alike). Get fresh thinking, fresh tech, fresh systems and experience, too. (You don’t always have to go searching for a sexy start-up. Go searching for a partner who can actually bring you what you need.) 5.  Put yourself in your customer’s place and think about what they’re going to ask you about all of this transformation, from “why can’t I do that on my mobile since you said you’re digital now?” to “what is this going to cost me on my bill?” Have an empathetic answer, not just a short, factual one. 6. Connect your analytics and operations people together—with coffee and tea and comfy chairs and time to really interact. Otherwise, the ops people think the analytics people are playing with meaningless numbers all day, and the analytics people think the ops people are “old” and will just never, ever “get” it. 7. Think about the cybersecurity connection in every cool, innovative digital thing you do. Always. No exceptions. And while it’s tempting to secure things by just cutting them off, remember that in this digital transformation, it’s just not an option anymore. That’s old security thinking. You need new security thinking to go with your new digital makeover. 8. Learn fast and fail fast. (And then get back up and do it again.) You’re going to fail with this—probably more than once. Steel yourself. Failure is part of innovation—and, honestly, part of this business, too. Edison made 1,000 errors in making the light bulb. But, it led to one amazing success. 9. Model. Model. Model. Model. And then model again. From ops options to churn propensity. Tie this into your planning and involve those teams that now knows each other so well (both your planning team from step one and your cultural cross-over team from six). 10. Get excited. Seriously. This is fun stuff. This is amazing stuff. Yes, it’s complicated. But, keep the attitude up—yours and your team’s—and that will keep all of this planning and creativity easier, smarter, quicker and, in the end, a better story for you. And we all want a good story to tell.   Our coverage of European Utility Week (EUW) is now complete. You can look back at the coverage on both the blog and on Twitter, too (#EUW17). Or read more here: The growing pains of the utility business are global, but so are the opportunities European utilities, associations tackle local markets, global consumers and a blast of winter Blindsiding bikes and brilliant insights: on the ground at European Utility Week Talk more about an agile workforce, not an aging one Betting on the new and shiny world of innovation

We’re all focused on innovation and digitalization in this industry. A number of tracks and sessions at European Utility Week(EUW) covered these concepts so extensively I could like write a full book...

Innovation Insights

Betting on the new and shiny world of innovation

I’d gamble good money—maybe up to 20 whole Euros today—that you hear the words “innovation” and “digitalization” more times at industry meetings and conferences than you used to hear the phrases “smart meters” and “smart grid.” We all want to be innovative, and no one can ignore the push to digital. So we all agree these newer discussions are good beginnings, but what are the next steps? How do we dig down into the details to make all this innovation and all this digitalization actually happen? And what are the hurdles to getting there? “Yes, this industry is in the midst of a significant transformation,” said Martin Dunlea, Utilities Industry Strategy with Oracle, while opening the European Utility Week session Technology and Innovation: Thinking Ahead on the last morning of the show. He added that looking for value and understanding how these innovations and transformations align with real customer use cases, IT requirements and cultural issues. “We’re talking about making digital transformations a reality today, but maybe the question is how can utilities get the most from that transformation?” he told the audience while introducing his speakers. Olivier Grabette, Vice CEO of RTE (the French transmission operator) built on Dunlea’s question about squeezing the most value from all this digital innovation, telling the audience that as his company is expecting to see global demand stabilize or decrease in the near future, and this means a whole new role for their transmission grid—and a whole lot of thinking about innovation to make up for that dip. “Our ambition is to build a new grid that intimately couples digital and electricity,” he said, revealing, of course, that this ambition will not be met without a few problems to solve: how to integrate new digital solutions into traditional infrastructures, how to shift a transmission system operator into a smart grid operator and how to incentivize the development of digital solutions. Etienne Gehain, Business Development-Energy Communities at Engie discussed his company’s hurdles with innovation and digitalization in similar terms as Grabette: how to balance global and local, how to balance the individual and the community and how to figure out when you need human smarts of AI. So there are still a large number of small details to examine and unpack as the utility world gets more data and more ways to use that data. “Self-disruption is the only way to go,” Gehain concluded, putting the onus of transformation details back on utilities themselves. In other words: Don’t let other people disrupt you. Disrupt yourself before that happens (and before you’re blindsided by it). The next speaker, Kaspar Kaarlep, CTO of Elektrilevi talked about the details of doing just that, self-disrupting (and in ways beyond just another pilot program). “Investing is easy. Using it is hard,” Kaarlep noted. “Just putting a digitalization bolt onto existing business processes will not create a digital utility.” Kaarlep’s company considers their smart metering program as the backbone for their digitalization and are now building up and out with analytics. What have they learned from this process? Two major lessons: A digital utility has “digital built in,” and tech choices must support the organization and the business. After all, you’re not digitizing for the mere sake of digitizing. You’re in it to win it—to make it work for you as your utility more completely and full evolves. Want a short cheat sheet on how to make all this innovation and digitization work? Click here.   Our coverage of European Utility Week (EUW) is now complete. You can look back at the coverage on both the blog and on Twitter, too (#EUW17). Or read more here: The growing pains of the utility business are global, but so are the opportunities European utilities, associations tackle local markets, global consumers and a blast of winter Blindsiding bikes and brilliant insights: on the ground at European Utility Week Talk more about an agile workforce, not an aging one Here’s your cheat sheet to smarter digital planning  

I’d gamble good money—maybe up to 20 whole Euros today—that you hear the words “innovation” and “digitalization” more times at industry meetings and conferences than you used to hear the...

Operations

Talk more about an agile workforce not an aging one

We’ve been talking about the aging workforce and the loss of experiential knowledge in the utilities industry for years—since I started writing about the energy business nearly two decades ago. But, as the industry evolves, so does that particular employee discussion. When we chat about workforce needs today, we’re not discussing so often the loss of experience with engineers aging out. Now, we’re talking about new skillsets that center around the concept of innovation. Makes sense, right? If the utility industry is evolving, so must those people we see as the “next-gen” utility worker. “The industry is changing and changing quickly. And that means the workforce has to change, too,” said Stuart Ravens, Principal Research Analyst at Navigant, as he introduced the session: Future Utility Workforce: How will different innovation strategies impact the utility workforce? The European Utility Week session took place on the Initiate! area of the floor, which was aimed at students and new, younger engineers (and potential future utility employee). Linda Jackman, Group Vice President at Oracle, followed Ravens on stage to bring in the latest pillar to change management, which circles back to that innovation idea, which is actually a rather recent one for utilities. Jackman told the old Edison joke: That while Alexander Bell would never recognize his invention in today’s phone, Edison would still recognize his invention in today’s grid—but maybe not so much in the last few years. That’s shifting fast and shifting far as digitalization flows out through the industry. Would Edison recognize his grid in 5 years? Probably not. Would he recognize the utility worker? Absolutely not. So what does the new utility worker need to be jump into this innovation wave? First and foremost, they need a manager and a company that’s digital-first. Jackman gave an example of a Denmark utility that has already advanced heavily in the digital concepting, including the thinking that customers don’t want to talk to them. Customers want to text them or access their data on mobile. They want to solve issues online, not on the phone. Now think about this: Your digital customer is also your future digital employee—if you want her (and you do). So, how do you get her? Kedar Deshpand, co-founder and co-president of European Energy Students Network (EESN) had a few answers for the audience from a recent study they did on just this concept. Deshpand discussed a change at the utility that also involves just what they are looking for. Are you considering diversity? Are you considering both internal and external brand management? As he noted, the younger worker has a real need to connect with brand, to believe not just in the brand they’re purchasing but also in the brand they’re working for. An audience member added in the concept that user experience and understanding what the digital customer wants is a skillset for the new utility employee is well. “When you get to roles, I don’t think it’s about age though,” Jackman added into the end of the discussion, which had shifted to hiring practices, internships and millennials. “It’s about talent. It’s about fresh views,” she said—that new utility employee could be 24 or 44 or 64. It’s essentially about attitude, not age. Are they innovative enough to be a valued member of your innovative utility team?   Our coverage of European Utility Week (EUW) is now complete. You can look back at the coverage on both the blog and on Twitter, too (#EUW17). Or read more here: The growing pains of the utility business are global, but so are the opportunities European utilities, associations tackle local markets, global consumers and a blast of winter Blindsiding bikes and brilliant insights: on the ground at European Utility Week Betting on the new and shiny world of innovation Here’s your cheat sheet to smarter digital planning   Editor’s note: Navigant and Oracle partnered on an innovation-themed project this year. To read more about that partnership, click here. 

We’ve been talking about the aging workforce and the loss of experiential knowledge in the utilities industry for years—since I started writing about the energy business nearly two decades ago. But,...

Customer Care

Blindsiding bikes and brilliant insights: on the ground at European Utility Week

In Amsterdam, the bikes come out of nowhere. They fly along with books, bags, babies and sometimes buggies in tow. Beyond minding the gap, you have to mind the bike lane or risk being nearly rundown by a left-turning school group cycling along—as I almost was this Wed. morning walking in. Thank goodness those kids were all clad in bright orange safety vests. Seems that was a smart idea both for their safety and for my own. That near-miss was outside Amsterdam’s conference center, the RAI. Inside, the industry insights can blindside you just about as fast as those young bike enthusiasts flying through the crisp autumn air. We’re about halfway through the second day of European Utility Week (EUW), and whether you’ve chosen to dive deep into market design, new business models or the growing focus on customer centricity, there’s a lot to uncover. You can hit traditional conference sessions, pop over to a workshop-based, student-focused spot on the floor or wander specialized co-located shows on smart buildings and trading. Oracle has been a large presence at EUW for years and is proud to once again be both speaking and exhibiting. Our focus this year is the next-gen utility, which means we want to talk to you about all that fancy digital networking you need to do. Whether you’re still working on prying apart the silo or have managed that but are now eyeing new business opportunities, we’d be delighted to chat. (Or come see one of the many Oracle speakers adding their wisdom to the program track.) If you didn’t make it to Amsterdam this year for EUW, we’re working hard to bring a little show flavor to you wherever you are using the blog as a bit of a global medium. We’re your feet on the ground here at the show. Yesterday’s opening session featured utilities, associations and a government entity that exists in the Netherlands to promote energy innovation. (The Netherlands, in all honesty, has been on the forefront of tech innovation for years, from agriculture options to smart city concepts.) The discussion during the session mostly centered on seeing the growth of clean energy as a real opportunity (rather than an overwhelming challenge). “The transitions we’re seeing are truly an event in the European setting and driving change worldwide,” said Adnan Z. Amin, the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (more commonly known as IRENA) during the session. “It’s exciting. There are immense opportunities with this growth of transformation and a new face taking us toward a sustainable future.” Read more insights from the opening session here. And the insights have been fast and furious both in the sessions—such as the opening plenary—and on the floor as well. Here are few things I’ve picked up and thought about so far while wandering the RAI (without worrying about flying bicycles). The number of utility executives with “innovation” in their titles seems to have tripled over the last few years (and one from a very large, very powerhouse European utility widely warned in one session that this industry must innovate or die). The most popular word on the floor—whether we’re talking signs, conversations, materials or titles—is digital and digitalization (whether you spell that all American like me or all British). The utility industry really is a small, small world after all. Despite living in the wild redneck middle of America for most of my adult life, I still ran into old friends and old coworkers at this very large European show (at least two of which asked me point-blank as the “grammar girl” whether that British digitalisation was “spelled wrong”). The customer concept here isn’t about branding, marketing or even services to sell, as we talk a lot about in the U.S. Here in Europe, it’s centered about the utility’s role in society, one that hinges on supporting/assisting the average citizen, about the social role of power in helping the individual. There’s a lot of talk—and I do mean a lot of talk, no exaggeration—on the role of the distribution system operator (the DSO). Multiple sessions and discussions and details. (You can read insights from one particular session on DSOs and clean energy here.) The list of items for utilities to embrace (beyond digitalization) continues to grow and now includes: complexity, data, energy efficiency, decentralization, revolution, partnership, blockchain, sustainability, transition, disruption and “the new electricity value chain” (that one’s from ENTSO-E’s Secretary General Laurent Schmitt). I must share one of my favorite quotes from the show: “Electricity is the lifeblood of the energy transition. The European power sector is determined to lead the way to a decarbonized, sustainable society.” That one is from Kristian Ruby, Secretary General of EURELECTRIC (and courtesy of the EUW at-a-glance show guide that’s now tattered and dog-eared and may, in fact, fall apart before this show ends tomorrow).   Our coverage of European Utility Week (EUW) is now complete. You can look back at the coverage on both the blog and on Twitter, too (#EUW17). Or read more here: The growing pains of the utility business are global, but so are the opportunities European utilities, associations tackle local markets, global consumers and a blast of winter Talk more about an agile workforce, not an aging one Betting on the new and shiny world of innovation Here’s your cheat sheet to smarter digital planning        

In Amsterdam, the bikes come out of nowhere. They fly along with books, bags, babies and sometimes buggies in tow. Beyond minding the gap, you have to mind the bike lane or risk being nearly rundown...

Operations

European utilities, associations tackle local markets, global consumers and a blast of winter

Despite its rather seasonal name, the Winter Package of the European Commission is regulatory thinking for all seasons. The eight proposals inside—presented last November—cover the beginnings, the baby steps if you will, to the new clean energy economy that Europe sees coming full force. To pave that way forward, these concepts adjust and amend existing legislation and craft new market designs with these cleaner concepts at the center. During European Utility Week 2017 in Amsterdam, associations and utilities sat down to discuss how the new concepts are moving forward across the continent in the session The Clean Energy Package de Profundis. Christian Buchel, Deputy CEO of ENEDIS & Chairman of the EDSO (an association created in 2010 with 34 members in 18 countries that represents power distribution companies) examined how grids are the platform for this energy transition we’re seeing in Europe (and around the globe), including the one to that clean power economy this Winter Package is aiming for. Buchel praised the Winter Package for recognizing the key role of distribution system operators (DSOs) in this legislation and the discussion on DSO-related market design, regulation, directives and risk preparedness.  It’s all about allowing DSOs more flexibility and establishing just how storage and EV ownership to really rely on those all-powerful grid connections and opportunities. Blanca Losada, Chief Technology & Engineering Officer at Gas Natural Fenosa, joined the discussion to show platforms working in Spain—a local market point of view on the larger push toward a clean energy economy and the winter package. Losada began with a short discussion of the energy policy in her country, looking at how it’s getting more difficult to balance policy basics from security of supply to competitive prices, from environmental sustainability to economic sustainability. “The energy consumer is both a taxpayer and a citizen. So, it is also critical to discuss social perception,” she added. “When we look at objectives within the EU, we also have to look at the global picture as well,” she continued, adding that renewables is becoming a larger competitive player, which she noted was a very clear difference from the past. Losada circled back to Buchel’s discussion bringing in how much DSOs need to be a part of the entire ecosystem in the changing global design for energy policy. Joao Torres, CEO of Portugal’s EDP Distribuicao, discussed their six million customers and their work in smart grids, along with their digital push to build a smarter, newer role for the DSO in the region in his local angle on the Winter Package and progress. He went on to discuss how the distribution market has been open in Portugal for a few years with almost 30 retailers (and most of them “very active”) and emphasized his company’s work with digital innovation, saying “we’ve done good work, but there’s more to do.” Catherine Leboul-Proust, Strategy Director at GRDF, brought in the view of a gas DSO in France, including how to work this Winter Package along the longest natural gas network in Europe.  Leboul-Proust pointed out that her company is mirroring the company’s logo, which shifts from blue to energy-friendly green. (There’s a bigger push for renewable gas or biomethane these days.) “For us, it’s a complete revolution, a complete change in business model,” she told the audience, adding that are rolling out 11 million smart meters through 2022 to promote energy efficiency. (10,000 smart meters are set to roll out every day in France.) Overall, the local stories in this session pushed the need for more digitalization, flexibility, and storage options for smarter distribution and quicker, more interactive markets. In other words, the Winter Package is bringing a faster, greener world to distribution across Europe (whether power or gas is moving along those pathways), and even with  a few hurdles in the way, these utilities see it as a positive start indeed. Our coverage of European Utility Week (EUW) is now complete. You can look back at the coverage on both the blog and on Twitter, too (#EUW17). Or read more here: The growing pains of the utility business are global, but so are the opportunities Blindsiding bikes and brilliant insights: on the ground at European Utility Week Talk more about an agile workforce, not an aging one Betting on the new and shiny world of innovation Here’s your cheat sheet to smarter digital planning  

Despite its rather seasonal name, the Winter Package of the European Commission is regulatory thinking for all seasons. The eight proposals inside—presented last November—cover the beginnings, the...

Demand Side Management

The growing pains of the utility business are global, but so are the opportunities

Adnan Z. Amin, the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (more commonly known as IRENA), opened European Utility Week (EUW) in Amsterdam today with insights into growth, clean energy, generation and Europe’s role in the global metamorphosis in the energy business. “The transitions we’re seeing are truly an event in the European setting and driving change worldwide,” he said. “It’s exciting. There are immense opportunities with this growth of transformation and a new face taking us toward a sustainable future.” He shared with the full audience of the #EUW17 opening session that the industry’s digital revolution are completely reforming the business of supplying and distributing energy. “This changing energy landscape offers new opportunities for bold leadership and action and utilities will play a key role,” he added. “The transition to a sustainable energy future is underway not only in Europe but around the world. It’s altering the entire paradigm of the power sector that we’ve been used to for the last decade,” he said. Everywhere we see the signs of change, and he suggests incentives to bring in regulatory frameworks that reward distribution operators for performance. (And he mentioned one of our favorite interesting U.S. programs, New York’s REV.) “No one can predict precisely how the energy in the future will operate, but the imperative is clear,” Amin concluded. “It’s innovate or die,” said Manon Janssen, chair of the Netherlands Topsector Energie, following Amin in scheduling and paralleling his progressive thoughts (though hers were specifically on the Netherlands. Janssen outlined a series of innovation hubs where the government puts in half the cash and raises the other half of the hub money for the markets. “To be the driving force, we widened our definitions. It’s not just about technology. It’s also about creating a culture among our people,” she added. Janssen admitted that, even with the innovation being looked at and studied, most of their energy comes from fossil-based fuels which “isn’t what we want.” They’re working on the changes not just with the innovation hubs and new thinking but also digitalization. “Really important, we think, is the role of government,” Janssen noted about the Netherlands. And she mentioned there are two types on innovation: one in processes and products and one on coherent tech and infrastructure. “You don’t know. You don’t need me to tell you the role of utilities is changing. You must be looking for a new role. Are you going to be an aggregator? Are you going to be a service provider? It’s encouraging, though, that other industries have gone before you,” she added. “You aren’t selling kilowatts. You’re enabling life itself,” Janssen advised the audience. Building on Janssen’s thoughts, Ernesto Ciorra, Head of Innovation & Sustainability with the Enel Group, Ciorra equated innovation with the Star Wars connection of the force and how the force has, well, a dark side, pointing out that worldwide leaders and global changes in many markets and industries rather quickly passed from dominance to death. This he labeled “the dark side of innovation.” “Will we have energy companies in 2027?” he asked, or will utilities, too, fall to the dark side of innovation. That is the question. So, Ciorra had a little advice for utilities to start prepping themselves again a potential dark side, and the idea is simple: whatever change you believe will happen in a decade is going to happen in two years or less. So, plan for that, not for the decade. You plan for the decade change, and you fall to the dark side. And no one wants to fall to the dark side. No one.   Our coverage of European Utility Week (EUW) is now complete. You can look back at the coverage on both the blog and on Twitter, too (#EUW17). Or read more here: European utilities, associations tackle local markets, global consumers and a blast of winter Blindsiding bikes and brilliant insights: on the ground at European Utility Week Talk more about an agile workforce, not an aging one Betting on the new and shiny world of innovation Here’s your cheat sheet to smarter digital planning

Adnan Z. Amin, the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (more commonly known as IRENA), opened European Utility Week (EUW) in Amsterdam today with insights into growth, clean...

Innovation Insights

Get 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. For this first installment of our new series on analytics inside the utilities industry, we posed a few questions to Kim Gaddy, Managing Director at the Institute—questions about the status quo, what’s coming and what advice she’d give from her insider perspective. Oh yes, and we asked about one our favorite subject’s here at Oracle, too—the cloud. But first, let’s talk about what she sees right now.   Oracle Utilities: How are analytics initiatives changing the utility world right now? Gaddy: In the world of utilities, analytics is changing how utilities operate. More utilities are relying on analytics to answer questions of strategic importance and not just of tactical necessity. Utilities are becoming more proactive enterprises as a direct result of analytics. Predictive models detect faulty equipment that can be repaired or replaced before outages occur, minimizing customer impacts, shifting work from unplanned to planned and reducing operational expenses. On the customer side, utilities are using analytics to deliver a more personalized customer experience. Every utility business process is being impacted by analytics. They’re exploring the use analytics to enhance asset management, workforce management, storm response, vegetation management, customer marketing, load management, integration of distribution energy resources and more.   Oracle Utilities: What new changes are coming with analytics in the near future? Gaddy: There is a growing recognition that a strong analytics foundation is essential. In the coming years, more utilities can be expected to implement organizational models to support analytics success, to adopt rigorous data management processes, to invest in enterprise analytics platforms and to develop analytics roadmaps. The diversity of analytics initiatives will continue to grow. Analytics will be embedded into more business processes, driving decision making and actions and often in an automated fashion. Issue identification and problem resolution will more frequently be automated and accomplished in near real-time. Cognitive solutions, machine learning and artificial intelligence will speed resolution of long-standing problems and emerging challenges.    Oracle Utilities: How important is the cloud in all of this? Gaddy: An ongoing question is to what degree the slow adoption of cloud-based solutions limits the industry’s analytics progress. It’s is a good question as some analytics solutions are offered solely via the cloud. To date, the industry’s use of cloud-based solutions has been largely restricted to peripheral systems and applications. The reasons for the slow adoption range from information security concerns to the inability to capitalize cloud-based analytics investments to challenges related to quickly moving data to and from the cloud. In the short run, the impact is generally low as there are plenty of untapped premises-based analytics solutions. Longer term, failure to leverage cloud-based solutions will put the utility industry behind other industries that are taking full advantage.          Oracle Utilities: What advice would you give utilities on planning for the right analytics programs and pushes? Gaddy: A strong analytics foundation will help ensure that utilities pursue the “right” analytics programs and pushes. Implement an analytics organizational model to enable analytics success Create an analytics roadmap Adopt robust data management and change management processes Implement an enterprise analytics technology architecture Develop a plan to acquire and retain needed analytics resources Like everything else, utility analytics is changing fast. Utilities with a solid analytics foundation have moved quickly up the analytics maturity curve while others have made little progress. Those utilities able to harness the data asset will be much better positioned to adapt to the changes underway in this industry. Don’t get left behind. Invest in analytics.           The Utility Analytics Institute (UAI) has 140+ utility and analytics solution provider members, and Oracle Utilities is proud to be in that group. (Editor’s note: UAI started under the Energy Central umbrella but was recently acquired by Informa.) UAI’s upcoming conference on analytics in the industry, Utility Analytics Week 2017, is in San Antonio, Texas, November 1-3.

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...

Take a deep breath and dive deep into the wild waters of utility marketing

Yes, utility marketing. I put those two words together. I know it’s odd. I know it’s unheard of, really. We usually talk about reaching out to utility customers in terms of communications, education, notifications—in terms more academic and more, let’s face it, what we consider noble. And we all want to be noble. Or we think we do, anyway. But, these days in the modern, moving, electric and electronic world, we also need marketing—things that are fun, things that are, in the words of Travis Brickey, Senior Program Manager of Communications at TVA, “memorable.” Brickey’s biggest “memorable” marketing idea, which he passed out to the audience at the E Source Forum 2017 “Bridging Hyperdigital and Authentically Analog: Marketing and Communications in a Polarized World” session, made the people noticeably respond (and sometimes giggle). Me? My first reaction was to feel for whether it had gum. (It did—just like this product had when I was a kid.) The product? Trading cards. We each got a pack of TVA Dam trading cards, which, like the traditional trading card types have a handful of options and lets you know you can “collect all 25.” This was a hugely successful marketing product for TVA. They’ve had 50,000 packets of these cards distributed so far, despite purposefully making the cards hard to get. And TVA connected the cards to their digital space with a photo contest (which is, conversely, also advertised on the pack itself, making it work both digital and analog). They also expand the stories of each card on the website as well, really making it a complete advertising package. Additionally, TVA had done a physical “record” (which is shaped and sleeved like a musical record but is actually a list of literal records, including info on flood control, power, recreation and water quality). It does not, unfortunately, actually play “Free Bird” or anything, though still awesome. Their next upcoming push: an Instagram road trip featuring a TVA historian traveling across TVA territory and putting those notes and photos online. Brickey was followed by (and matched by—though not one-upped by) Todd Lazurca, Communication Services Manager at SaskPower, who discussed a more granular customer marketing campaign not with a general aim but with a targeted, segmented safety aim. Lazurca pointed out that his particular utility in Saskatchewan has “more power poles than people,” and that one of their biggest issues are physical grid issues because “people and beavers keep touching [our grid].” So, one of SaskPower’s marketing programs is focused on safety—specifically on keeping construction equipment and farm equipment from taking down power lines and other hardware in the area. They had gone traditional routes with posters and stickers for safety, but those options didn’t seem to really speak to the heart or mind of the customer. They were easy to ignore. They didn’t connect emotionally and didn’t bring in the experience factor. Lazurca revealed that the utility saw 975 contacts by farm and construction equipment last year. So, they knew they needed something more, something extra, some new way of thinking beyond their traditional message. They needed to put a spin on it. For construction, they started with this message:   Handling large equipment? Remember to #LOOKUPANDLIVE   But how do they start the conversation? They didn’t have access to construction workers and teams directly. They weren’t the people providing safety advice to these people. So what did they do? They thought INSIDE the box—well inside a very specific box, namely: the men’s room. They modified the signs a bit, added humor and posted them inside men’s bathrooms. One example of the humor modification:   Distractions cause a real mess. Remember to #LOOKUPANDLIVE   They also took their traditional “five steps to safety” message and put it on hats rather than posters. Not on the outside, but inside the rim on the hat liner (with a larger #LOOKUPANDLIVE on the underside of the brim itself where that safety message is always in their line of sight). Since the hats were attractive with the safety message inside rather than covering the outside, they became very popular giveaways for the utility. So what do these outside-thinking marketers want you to take away for your utility marketing experience? Think like your customer: what catches your attention as a consumer? Use that knowledge. Talk to your customer: send some people out there—to fairs, to neighborhood events. Join your customer’s community: If you don’t have the money to make, sponsor. (SaskPower sponsors a popular kiss cam at football games, for example.) Make your customer think about you differently: Erase that inner assumption they have of how you are supposed to be.   Other reads from the E Source Forum: Are utilities ready for a now, better, faster customer base? How to make your utility customer love you lots (while also being strategy clever) Demand-side management grows up   Think outside the box even more with these fun reads: Utility 2B: how to be the best future you On Billy Joel and the New York state of energy How the utilities industry can learn from losing Seeing “The Princess Bride” as a brilliant customer service tutorial   Lead art from the website for TVA's trading cards.

Yes, utility marketing. I put those two words together. I know it’s odd. I know it’s unheard of, really. We usually talk about reaching out to utility customers in terms of communications, education,...

Demand Side Management

Demand-side management grows up

In the old days, demand-side management (DSM) was almost exclusively about turning things off—pool pumps, air conditioners—in order for the local utility to survive those peak electricity use moments with a bit more breathing room (and no breath-holding). Now, DSM encompasses a wide array of new options including one of our favorites: energy efficiency—making the same things work smarter with less energy. E Source Forum 2017 showcased a variety of new DSM concept programs from across the U.S. during their annual Denver conference. The “Lightning Round: Innovative DSM Programs” session brought together utilities as regionally varied as AEP Ohio and Con Edison to talk concepts from commercial new construction programs to partnerships with communications companies for better connected energy programs. Here’s a quick rundown of these varied examples in DSM evolution (and links to more information, too).   AEP Ohio: New Construction Program Al Kohler, Energy-Efficiency Program Manager, noted that the utility has had a buildings-based efficiency program for years that was very successful but that really ended up in one major category: lighting. So, they thought: Let’s get ourselves involved earlier in the process, during the very discussions about (and before) construction, hence the development of the New Construction program. Offering a financial incentive to builders willing to hear them out whole-building efficiency options has led to more extensive technology use and a successful push to make new construction in the area have a smaller energy impact.   Focus on Energy: Recharging Rural Wisconsin While not a utility itself, Focus on Energy does have 108 utility partners in its mix—and that mix is a $100-million set of programs aimed at DSM. Their website describes Focus on Energy as “Wisconsin utilities’ statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program. Since 2001, the program has worked with eligible Wisconsin residents and businesses to install cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.” Andrea Hansen, Director, Marketing & Communications at Focus on Energy, discussed a new project in their mix during the session, a $26-million program to increase bring better EE benefits to rural customers. Since EE often requires strong communication options to make devices work, Focus on Energy reached out to communication providers, giving them incentives to work with customers on energy efficiency options and offering connected-device kits for those customers, along with bill credits toward installation or monthly service as well.   SMUD: CHEER SMUD—along with other partners such as the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, MEEA and NEEA—are working on the Coalition for Home Electronics Energy Reduction (or CHEER). Cheri Davis, Strategic Business Planner at SMUD, discussed the thinking behind the coalition as an evolution. As we finish off the low-hanging EE fruit of lighting, opportunities are dwindling. So, it’s time to find (or make) new opportunities. Where do they see those ops popping up? In one of the largest categories of power suckers in the home: electronics. SMUD and CHEER are looking to target TV and peripherals with tier 2 advanced power strips that shut down TV (or sound bars and the like) if no signal is received for 60 to 75 minutes. And, instead of the utility pushing out this program to consumers, they’re eyeing pay TV provider to offer and install the strips. SMUD launching a pilot now with 4,000 homes and two providers already on board. CHEER is hoping to expand this idea nationally.   Con Edison: Connected Homes Demonstration Project Cristina Coltro, Manager, Distributed Resource Integration revealed that this project was one of the first launched under the New York REV initiative to test business models and increase distributed energy resources (DER) adoption. Coltro separated this project into two buckets: elevating awareness and offering options. First, the utility selected 275,000 customers and used our Oracle/Opower platform for home energy reports to develop specific, targeted and personalized campaigns. Second bucket: an online marketing place where customers can shop for appliances and compare models by energy score, price and customer reviews. They also used data analytics to best match customers to the right products and services using their own utility customer data, as well as public data and partner studies and research, discovering early on that themes around “trending” “customer” and “smart” were nearly twice as effective as those with the more traditional “cost savings” and “energy savings” labels.   SCE: BYOT Thermostat Program Back in 2012, Southern California Edison (SCE) saw the growth opportunities in the thermostat category, said David Kaintz, Senior Program Manager, New Product Development. So, the utility launched a pilot in 2013 with 3,000 customers on how they could optimize EE & DR with the thermostat in mind. That pilot was very successful. They saw about 681 watts of load reduction every hour over a four-hour event.  So, from the pilot (and a couple more, too) came a program: Save Power Days Incentive Plus which offers a $125 incentive, along with bill credits. The program currently has 43,000 customers enrolled, according to Kaintz.   City of Fort Collins: Solar Affordability Program By far the newest kid in this DSM program mix, the Solar Affordability Program is actually a bit of a hybrid, combining renewables and efficiency projects into a single purpose. John Phelen, Resource Conservation Manager, and Pete Iengo, Utilities Program Coordinator, described their unique thinking to the E Source Forum audience this way: The Solar Affordability Program combines clean energy, electricity, efficiency and conservation education into a single package, with a very structured, very direct link tying clean energy and efficiency. The program provides solar bill credits in exchange for a commitment to work through a structured efficiency process, and each efficiency program is examined for the needs of each individual customer. The utility admits they’re still in the questioning/testing phase: Is the solar benefit enough to incentivize customers for efficiency? Is a year-long enough? Does it work with all types of residential structures? Their short-term goal: to reduce the energy burden to approximately 4%. Their long-term goal: to truly create behavior change.   Other reads from the E Source Forum:  Are utilities ready for a now, better, faster customer base?  How to make your utility customer love you lots (while also being strategy clever) Take a deep breath and dive deep into the wilds of utility marketing    

In the old days, demand-side management (DSM) was almost exclusively about turning things off—pool pumps, air conditioners—in order for the local utility to survive those peak electricity use moments...

Are utilities ready for a now, better, faster customer base?

“Thirty years ago when I worked at a large East Coast utility, we were talking about the importance of the customer in our business,” said Filomena Gogel, Senior Vice President, Consulting at E Source, during “The Future of the Utility Customer Experience” session at E Source Forum 2017. But, she added, the conversation back then was about deregulation issues, process mapping, pain points, IVR. It was all incremental change. Today, that customer conservation is new and significantly more expansive, with top topics in 2017 that didn’t exist even a handful of years ago. “New markets are opening up and new players are looking to own the relationship with your customer,” Gogel said. “So today the relationship with your customer is more important than ever because this is the time when you actually run the risk of becoming irrelevant to your customer.” There have been five shifts in those top topics in the customer conversation, said Keenan Samuelson, Analyst, Customer Experience at E Source. “Consumers change over time, and their expectations change over time,” Samuelson said. “It’s not static.” Today, Samuelson sees a desire for more buying choices (both types of products and kinds of products), a need to establish/build social status with purchases (or moving beyond what a product does for them to what a product says about them to the world), an expectation of complete convenience and total flexibility, an assumption of speed and efficiency and the extensive ability to customize. Are utilities really ready for those specific customer conversations? That depends on what part of the utility-customer relation we’re talking about, Samuelson noted. Some don’t have many options at the moment, but in arenas that cross into other industries—billing, customer service, etc.—there are coming tech options to lay that foundation for the future: AI that allows for better, smarter chatbots online, for example. Eric Meade, Senior Organizational Strategist at RS Tipton, emphasized that AI, while fabulous with data and efficiency, may crash into the very human need for, well, humans. In the end, people want to talk to people (at least right now), though Bob Tipton, Founder, CEO & Senior Change Architect at RS Tipton, pointed out that this particular emotional note will also change as today’s generation grows up being almost partially raised by AI options. “Let’s try not to think of this change as AI coming at us, though,” Meade noted. “Think of it as trying to live my life and this all makes it easier to live my life.” Utilities have invested (in parts in portions) in one particular tech that can make their own work like easier, and that’s augmented and virtual reality, added Samuelson. (His examples involved power outages and augmented reality use on how to flip breakers in a home, though even today utilities are looking at these reality variations with efficiencies and maintenance in substations, which, while not a direct relationship to the customer but, in the terms of keeping that power on, is definitely a factor in customer satisfaction.) Tipton added that all of this new technology can allow for the very thing that speakers have been talking about across the E Source Forum this week: the idea of empathizing with the customer (as opposed to sympathizing). “Don’t fear these new tech options. They will allow you to actually empathize, to actually see what the customer sees and feel what the customer feels, which can only help you tackle those shifting customer desires,” Tipton said. So, specifically, where do the experts in this session think you should invest best to tackle those growing customer wants and needs, including getting to that all-important empathy point?  Give customers omni-channel options that share info. Give predictive analytics some love and elbow room. Give AI a real chance and space in what you do. Give your workforce the option and opportunity to truly engage--with customers and with tech.   Other reads from the E Source Forum:  How to make your utility customer love you lots (while also being strategy clever) Take a deep breath and dive deep into the wilds of utility marketing Demand-side management grows up  

“Thirty years ago when I worked at a large East Coast utility, we were talking about the importance of the customer in our business,” said Filomena Gogel, Senior Vice President, Consulting at E...

Customer Care

How to make your utility customer love you lots (while also being strategy clever)

“Electric vehicles will be the biggest new load since air conditioning,” said Wayne Greenberg, CEO of E Source, during the opening plenary session for E Source Forum 2017 in Denver today. “It is a coming thing. It is a real thing. So, the transformation from oil to electricity is coming to you.” Other major paradigm shifters Greenberg noted: autonomous vehicles, smart homes, integrated solutions, disrupters out to do just that—disrupt your business model—who “couldn’t care less that you work in a regulated environment” and a group of companies that is pushing to running at 100% renewables. “Some are companies you’d expect like Google and Apple. But they also now have Walmart, Lego, and Bank of America. You need to be aware of this shift. Is it a threat or an opportunity? Something to definitely think about,” Greenberg added. Greenberg set the stage for finding the balance between end-customer wants, utility needs, industry research and what’s possible during this session titled “The 30-year journey of customer inspiration—where do we go next?” He went on to note that utilities have been working from moving to demand-side management for customer-side management for years, and that journey continues—a journey he labels “the energy experience.” “We can see a future where you’re both trusted by your customer and wanted by your customer to supply their energy needs,” he added. He suggests your utility needs to focus on new products (and bringing those to market), data (and leveraging your massive data stores to your advantage), and partnering with those disrupters with you in their sights. Doing those three things, Greenberg advised, will spark that customer trust and then build it up and out the same way utilities have always through about reliability and outage planning. Along with this forward thinking, Greenberg also lauded the good work the utilities industries does today, especially given the hurricane issues with Harvey and Irma recently. (In fact, he noted that the conference itself lost about 50 attendees and speakers from utilities that stayed home and pitched in with recovery and repair efforts in Texas and Florida, whether they were personally from those areas or among the legions of repair crews from outside the ravaged regions who are simply pitching in to help. And that includes, in fact, crews from this hometown state of E Source, Colorado.) Bill LeBlanc, Chief Instigation Agent at E Source, followed Greenberg with ideas on how utilities can change their world and create a new one where utilities are a treasured brand for their customers for a variety of energy services, not just the simple delivery of power. In polling the audience on the spot about this creation, he noticed a few trends. First, that utilities were more concerned with changing internal culture than they were with regulatory restrictions. Second, that creating new products and services is imperative to creating that new world.  Third, that energy efficiency and revenue generation are their important areas to focus on when crafting the strategy for that new world. “We have to design the future we want, and we have to do it with our customers, not for our customers,” LeBlanc added. “We get into personal and corporate habits that distract us, though.” “In the end, we’re talking about designing for empathy,” he said. So while we’re thinking about those disruptors who don’t care about our difficult environments, our strategy for new products and our need for culture change, the first and most important point to making that future customer culture work for everyone: empathy. Indeed: Let’s all think about that. Other reads from the E Source Forum:  Are utilities ready for a now, better, faster customer base?  How to make your utility customer love you lots (while also being strategy clever) Take a deep breath and dive deep into the wilds of utility marketing Demand-side management grows up  

“Electric vehicles will be the biggest new load since air conditioning,” said Wayne Greenberg, CEO of E Source, during the opening plenary session for E Source Forum 2017 in Denver today. “It is a...

Customer Care

A customer-centric approach to grid-connected distributed energy resources

Electric utilities—like all utilities—are in the service business. For many years, that was a straightforward, one-way delivery process: the utility provided electricity to its customers, and the customers paid the utility for the service. Providing service to today’s electricity customer, though, is a different kettle of fish entirely. The electricity distribution grid is quickly evolving, fueled by an explosion in the number of customer-connected distributed energy resources (DER) such as solar rooftops, batteries, home/building energy management systems and smart appliances. As customer interest in these grid-connected, customer-owned technologies continues to spread, new electric distribution network technologies are necessary to accommodate them, and a fundamentally different approach to the electricity grid is needed. The growth of DER generation outside the utility’s direct control presents an operational challenge: the ability to control and optimize a more distributed grid requires utilities to have visibility and to be able to model grid resources all the way down to the consumer level. Legacy distribution systems were never designed to take granular customer DER into account: they can’t provide visibility to grid-edge devices to any scale. Further, most of these new devices and services empower consumers to make energy decisions to meet their own needs, not those of the whole system. In this respect, this latter factor is tilting the grid toward customer-centric distribution systems.   Defining the customer-centric distribution grid Typically, the term “customer-centricity” means putting the customer at the center of the focus of your business, with an understanding that creating meaningful customer value and really putting customers first engenders the most—and the longest-lasting—business value. Customers now want from their utilities the same instant access to the most up-to-date information in the platform of their choice (telephone, e-mail, text, web portal, etc.) that they receive from other service providers. As well, as the cost of rooftop solar photovoltaics has dropped, customers want to have more control over their electricity source as well as their consumption. So, while the utility customer has historically been a more passive customer, this is no longer the case today. Active customer participation is putting the customer at the center of the grid equation like never before.   The customer-centric grid and DER lifecycle management Customer-centricity is particularly important when we look at the changes the distribution grid must undergo as DER continue to proliferate at its edge. For the utility to fully integrate, manage, model and optimize DER in real time, a new lifecycle management model is necessary; one that will ensure the utility can also continue to maintain the safety, reliability and efficiency of its distribution network while still supporting this exponential growth of customer-level DER adoption. This new DER lifecycle management process starts with the customer, and ensures that he or she remains engaged throughout the entire cycle.   Taking DER lifecycle management step by step There are six key steps in the DER lifecycle management process: connection and energize, operations and control, service and maintenance, risk analysis and planning, outage and distribution management, and customer interaction. Connect and energize. Utilities already have established new-connect processes, which can be extended and modified—and automated—to account for the new complexity involved in connecting new customer DER as well as capturing the key DER attributes needed to model and manage the grid connection. The connect-and-energize process is also an excellent opportunity for the utility to increase customer engagement and build a different relationship by ensuring customers are aware of all the incentives they qualify for, or aiding them in understanding how they can adopt ongoing technical planning and management of their DER. Operations and control. Much like sensor-based field devices and smart meters, DER create high volumes of complex data, and though DER are decentralized, they are still part of the utility’s grid infrastructure. Extracting value from that data (for demand response programs, outage management, load shifting and other benefits) begins by the utility treating DER as a grid-side resource so that the work of integrating them into the network model—where they are visible can be expedited. To scale up to the millions of devices expected to popular the new, distributed energy grid, utilities will need automated information management processes in place with customers and/or their contractors to populate a DER device asset registry that can, in turn, be used to model customer connections and related grid impacts. Service and maintenance. Once the DER is visible to the utility and managed within the context of the network model, it’s all about being able to deliver value-based service to the customer wherever possible. While these services will vary by regulations and by geography, they could include: Alerting customers when their output is dropping and their rooftop photovoltaic system needs maintenance, and connecting them directly with third-party service providers to affect repairs.  Increasing customer choice to participate in programs such as demand response, load shifting, and the sale of excess and stored DER generation into other markets. Connecting and communicating with customers when and how they prefer. Risk analysis and planning. Once the DER has been integrated into the network, the utility can begin to incorporate its data within its ongoing planning process. Most utility regulators assume distribution grid-side resource benefits in the DER feed-in tariff or net-metering retail rates, and so it is up to utilities to fully leverage their value in planning and operating models to avoid any excess costs of T&D infrastructure capacity. Outage and distribution management. Looking ahead, the substantial penetration of customer DER, combined with the utility’s ability to aggregate, prioritize and control it could eventually support islanding, which would permit the utility to isolate parts of a grid and power each individually using local solar gardens, batteries, backup and rooftop generators and even demand response to balance load requirements in real time. In the case of an outage, islanding would permit power sharing, which can significantly lower the negative economic consequences of widespread or prolonged outages. Customer interaction. Ultimately, if the utility has successfully incorporated all the lifecycle steps above, it will be able to circle back to its customers with new information, new programs, and new models for continuing engagement. The customer-centric approach becomes a win-win, both for the DER customer and for the utility.   This article originally appeared in CIO Review magazine. Republished here with permission.

Electric utilities—like all utilities—are in the service business. For many years, that was a straightforward, one-way delivery process: the utility provided electricity to its customers, and the...

Customer Care

Utility 2B: How to build the best future you

In the art world, the future dates back to 1909. And the future began in Europe—Italy, to be exact. The Futurism Movement was, hands down, the most important Italian art movement of the 20th Century. And it saw technology and industry as beautiful things—beautiful things to be celebrated with the right curve, the right color, the right creativity to showcase it all. The future can still be a beautiful thing—a symmetry of stockholder profit and stakeholder benefit, a balance between company and customer. (And even a non-artist can see the truth in one Futurism belief that still holds strong over 100 years after its Italian heyday: It’s all about constant, constant movement.) We took up the banner of that Futurism legacy—that everything today is all about flux—and examined the beauty that could be had in that flux (and in the evolution of the utilities industry) during a webinar in conjunction with Engerati. After all, 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, the webinar advised that utilities should keep a close eye on four developing arenas: expanding customer engagement, growing meter capabilities, flourishing analytics and a reigning cloud. “The relationship and type of engagement challenges that utilities are facing is changing…and continues to change. Utilities must adapt … and continue to adapt,” said Martin Dunlea, Global Industries Lead at Oracle Utilities in the webinar. Let’s dive a little deeper into these four arenas.   LESSON 1: MIND THE CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT GAP. Your new customers aren’t your old consumers. In the webinar, Dunlea drew a distinct line between how utilities once thought of customers (with the same needs and the same wants) and how utilities need to think about them today (with different needs and different wants). “Customers are now bringing key relationships and experiences they have enjoyed from other service providers and asking utilities to create the same personalized experiences,” he said. He added that the industry has struggled to keep up with this dramatic shift, with lags in customer insights and productivity exacerbated by disjointed customer experiences and IT support. The good news: Customer satisfaction is the top priority for utility executives, and they’re hard at work on it, according to a customer engagement survey we did with IDC (that was also reviewed in the webinar). Utilities and energy retailers will continue to close that gap between what customers expect and what we can provide. There’s a lot of good work being done to make that gap disappear with the right solutions and the right programs. We just have to keep at it.   LESSON 2. THINK ABOUT THE METER AND THEN PAST IT. Beyond the meter capabilities will require new types of solutions that augment CIS and CRM. When we return to the IDC survey discussed in the webinar and in part one of this blog series, as well as the list of capabilities laid out during the webinar, a clear picture emerges: Those capabilities that complemented legacy systems get the lion’s share of new investment in the industry. “The CIS & CRM are both core systems needed to run a utility, but these new advanced capabilities are really distinct,” said Neel Gulhar, Senior Director of Product & Strategy at Oracle Utilities during the event.   LESSON 3. USE BETTER, FASTER ANALYTICS. Analytics will separate the leaders from the laggards. You’ve heard about analytics from a hundred different sources with a hundred different concepts, business plans and options. So, let’s whittle it down and distill the message to its essence: Customer analytics can bring you a competitive advantage. Revenue management, contact center analysis, load forecast and churn analysis aside, to get that advantage, you have to begin by making marketing analytics a top priority (and according to that IDC survey most utilities are). Despite the clear advantage of an analytics investment, we realize that the whole category is a bit of a scary maze to run. In no way do you have to tackle that analytics challenge alone.  Look for a partner such as Oracle Utilities, one that develops and deploys leading-edge analytics, woven into each and every solution. The right partnership will bring you smarter and faster insights without having to build data warehouses or find the funding for a data scientist on staff.  “We must think about each analytics-gained insight through the entire lifecycle—with what business value it will deliver at front of mind,” said Neel Gulhar, Senior Director of Product & Strategy at Oracle Utilities, during the webinar.   LESSON 4. EMBRACE THE CLOUD. Want to be cutting edge? Want to be the shiniest Utility 2B you can be? That takes the cloud. Circling back to the IDC study once again, the data showed a number of energy retailers in Europe and Australia ready to move away from traditional IT models to deliver those advanced customer capabilities discussed earlier. In fact, 68% use (or plan to use) cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. As utilities continue that path to the cloud and cloud expansion, it’s clear they can finally visualize the one huge bonus of a move to the cloud: innovation. We’ve all become used to change and used to the constant of change in the last few years, the speakers noted in the webinar. That means legacy systems and processes can’t keep up. But shifting data burdens to more flexible cloud technology is a quick fix to the problem. Investment in the cloud also makes the rest of these items to keep an eye on easier to accomplish. You can close that customer engagement gap tomorrow if you had the power of the cloud behind you today. You could expand you capabilities out and beyond the meter tomorrow if you had the power of the cloud behind you today. You could tackle ever-more-complicated analytics tomorrow if you have the power of the cloud behind you today. “In many cases, utilities are dealing with complex IT infrastructure as well as complex and fragmented processes. The lack of responsiveness from both of these challenges will drive a number of utilities to cloud solutions,” said Martin Dunlea, Global Industries Lead for Oracle Utilities, during the webinar.   Visit the replay of this webinar here. Read about our latest cloud study here. Dive into hot topics on our blog here. Reveal your utility’s place on the Digital Utility Maturity Model here.   Notes on art: “The Cyclist” by Natalia Goncharova (Russian), example of futurism art movement, public domain (lead art) & “Brooklyn Bridge” by Joseph Stella (American, Italian immigrant), example of futurism art movement, public domain (end art). 

In the art world, the future dates back to 1909. And the future began in Europe—Italy, to be exact. The Futurism Movement was, hands down, the most important Italian art movement of the 20th Century....

Innovation Insights

IaaS, PaaS & SaaS of the energy cloud

We are all too familiar with the changes happening in the utility industry. Some people compare it to transformations in telco industry, while others point to the rise of prosumer (producer consumer) and compare it to changes that AirBnb & Uber/Lyft bought to the hotel & taxi industries. 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?  Let’s explore that. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) In the traditional cloud computing world, IaaS solves the hardware infrastructure problem for its consumers by providing a reliable, elastic, cost efficient and highly available hardware infrastructure. Customers only pay for what they actually consume rather than having to make the full investment themselves and, in return, they get the benefit of state of the art hardware infrastructure and freedom to deploy the software infrastructure (operating systems, middle ware, servers) and applications of their choice. In the energy cloud world, IaaS has been around since the early days of the grid. We are all used to paying the transmission and distribution charges as we leverage the grid to consume energy. Those of us who live in deregulated world are already familiar with leveraging this infrastructure by choosing the energy supplier of our choice. We do this by paying for the use of infrastructure based on amount of energy actually consumed while enjoying the freedom of energy supplier.  The grid, in fact, has all the characteristics of a typical cloud: elasticity, scalability, resiliency, multi tenancy, etc.Thus, we can argue that IaaS is an existing service model for the utility industry.   Platform as a service (PaaS) In traditional cloud computing world, PaaS provider adds the basic software layer on top of the IaaS. This software layer typically includes operating systems, databases, middleware, other software tools, and managed services—freeing the consumers to focus on actual application development. This removes the consumers from tasks like patching, maintenance and provisioning of essential software and hardware infrastructure that their application depends on. The parallel in the energy cloud would be providing basic major appliances that most consumers need in a typical household. These appliances include things like air conditioners, furnace, water heaters, fridge, cooktops, etc. Providing these appliances as a service would free a typical household from routine maintenance hassles of these appliances.  The monthly fee for this appliance could be offset by the utility retaining the ability to maintain demand consumption (think demand response). There are already examples of utilities validating this idea particularly with water heaters   Software as a service (SaaS) SaaS service model refers to service delivery model where the entire software is hosted and maintained by the service provider and consumers pay a subscription fee to access it.  Consumers typically do not need to have any technical/IT chops as all the inner complexity of the software/hardware is hidden. They just need to consume the service and pay the corresponding subscription fee. In the energy world, this would be analogous to users consuming the energy without having to worry about where the energy is coming from (grid, solar, battery), when or how they are consuming it (TOU/demand rates that try to shape consumer behavior) or having to optimize their energy usage. Think: equipment servicing, or tricks like precooling, load cycling, etc.  This is an area of great interest to the startup community, and we continue to see innovative ideas that leverage technologies like transactive energy, thermal envelope modelling, integrating PV & EV, and automated demand response to create a seamless experience for the user optimizing for cost and comfort and hiding all the underlying complexity. The end applications would be an autonomous system that would map out the energy needs of the house in advance, coordinate with the energy sources (utility, PV, ES), other external factors such as grid issues and weather, and then switch to the most effective source throughout the day.  This autonomous software would decide the best time to heat up water, pre-cool or heat the house, charge the battery, use solar energy vs grid, or sell excesses energy back to grid etc.  Consumer merely lets its preferences known (cost vs comfort trade off) without worrying about the energy plan. It is interesting to see IAAS, PAAS & SAAS parallel in both the IT & energy worlds today, and cloud technology are rapidly evolving both in both worlds, setting the stage for new innovations and compelling applications that benefit not only the consumer, but also service providers and, ultimately, the planet, too.

We are all too familiar with the changes happening in the utility industry. Some people compare it to transformations in telco industry, while others point to the rise of prosumer (producer consumer)...

Operations

Utilities don’t fear the total eclipse of the sun

This weekend, 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 set to sweep across the U.S. today between 10 am PT and 3 pm ET. The average American is excited about this once-in-a-lifetime/once-in-a-centennial event, but there are a few fears, usually about eyesight (hence the glasses). Here inside the utilities industry, our eclipse fears don’t really touch on proper eyewear as much as proper planning. Our insider fears, instead, fall into two categories: (1.) will a solar eclipse impact solar generation and (2.) will that drop in solar energy cause issues in the interconnected BPS (bulk power system) that’s basically tied together across large swaths of the country (to boost reliability)? We can all breathe a sigh of relief and continue our collective download of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” this morning (for eclipse background music of course) because the answer to both of those questions is a short and sweet: no problem. It’s true that, as an industry, we sometimes concern ourselves with what’s lumped together as “space weather”: solar flares and other issues can, in fact, cause problems, not just with solar production but as far-flung as transformer performance. But, the good thing is: We’ve seen #solareclipse2017 coming for a while. Lots of time to study. So much time, in fact, that the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC)—the regulatory authority with “electric reliability” as their compound middle name—even released a report on the potential eclipse impacts last week. In the report, fittingly titled “A Wide-Area Perspective on the August 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse,” NERC starts by examining how Europe handled a similar incident in 2015, specifically the planning and response of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E).  During that event, each transmission system operator looked at its regional issues and the potential drop in production and developed a plan to simply disconnect part of the utility-scale system early and then reconnect post-event. After looking at the European event, NERC ran numbers with case studies simulating the eclipse happening today in North America with 522 potential scenario variables. In the end, after all those 522 case studies ran their respective courses, NERC came to this conclusion: Today’s solar eclipse can easily be handled by utilities across the U.S. with a little planning. From the report: Controllable system resources that help to balance the electrical characteristics are necessary for the BPS. The analysis performed in this study showed no reliability impacts to BPS operations. Advanced coordination to address ramp issues and secure non-photovoltaic resources for August 21, 2017, can be readily obtained. NERC did note that, as we become more tied to distributed energy—and as distributed bits like solar grow in use—the next eclipse (which is only 7 years away here in the U.S.) may impact us more severely, and they suggest a few more studies on that. But, today, you and your power will be just fine—according to both NERC and utilities, too. Entergy reached out to their concerned customers directly with a newsroom piece subtitled “the electrical grid is ready." The utility noted that the impact will be minimal across the U.S., though Cali may see a little bit more of a drop in production. No worries, though. Utilities there are set and ready. “In California, a significant amount of solar energy is produced on a typical August day. But Aug. 21 won’t be typical,” said Charles Long, transmission planning director at Entergy in the blog. “Traditional generation, such as natural gas-fired plants, will pick up the slack for solar plants that won’t be able to produce energy during the eclipse.” Jessica Wells, a staff writer for Duke Energy’s Illumination blog, discussed what the solar eclipse will mean for big power companies like hers earlier this month. She wrote that the utility’s director of system operations, Sammy Roberts, is estimating a quick drop from 2500 MW to 200 MW in that hour-and-a-half it will take for the eclipse to cycle through their area. But, like Entergy, Duke is ready. “Because of its flexibility, operators will have natural gas plants ready to step in during the eclipse,” Wells writes. “In addition to replacing the lost energy with a flexible fuel source, operators can gradually decrease solar production before the sky darkens depending on weather conditions, Roberts said, which would allow them to slowly increase natural gas energy production.” So, the answer to that sudden drop in solar and the fears attached seems to be three-fold: planning, ramping and natural gas replacement options. In the end, though, the first is key: We know this drop is coming. We’ve run the numbers, and we’re ready, from Oregon to South Carolina, all along the path. And while no utility in the U.S. is sounding an alarm about today’s eclipse, they will be studying impacts, numbers, curves and models—even more than past events, though as early as 1925 utilities had already taken up the bar on educating themselves about that pesky space weather. (Atlas Obscura has a fascinating piece on how Con Edison examined a 1925 partial eclipse here.) So, enjoy singing along to Bonnie while trying to piece together a science-class classic, the pinhole viewer, with no worries about how the solar eclipse will impact your summer AC and your frantic search of YouTube for DIY build-a-viewer instructions. Your utility has got you covered.   Learn more about utility asset planning, management and distributed energy options—both operational and customer-driven right here on the Insights for Innovative Utility blog. Bookmark us. You’ll be glad you did.  And Oracle Utilities can help you plan for the next eclipse in seven years—or your everyday asset strategies with our network management system. Ping us. 4:36 pm CT update: A shout out to all the utilities impacted across the U.S. The eclipse went off without a single moment of power panic. Smooth sailing from West Coast to East coast--and not a single visible problem along the way. Artwork: NASA images. Lead art: Photoshopped version of NASA 2014 eclipse image.

This weekend, 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”...

Demand Side Management

Crafting a better home energy report for all—that’s you and me and the utility, too

My first experience with home energy reports is memorable because I didn’t really know what I was looking at. I had moved into a modern, concrete-slabbed studio apartment with windows the size of Texas. And, one day, as is bound to happen, I check my mailbox, and there’s my electric bill. Along with the bill is a one-sheeter of colorful graphs and pie charts showing usage data over the last month and generic averaged data for comparison. I thought it looked like a business school PowerPoint presentation, and I, admittedly, threw it away without much thought beyond, “Interesting. That’s new.” The next month, I got more info. And I read it a little bit closer and a little bit longer before tossing it away in that giant trash can by the mailboxes. It was a slow build, but a few months down the line, I started to examine those charts more deeply, and they managed to make it up to my actual apartment along with the rest of the “real” mail. No more instant dumps into the giant public trash. It likely helped that those reports got prettier over those months: cleaner, easier to understand, more colorful. I have no doubt there was a design factor at play in the back of my mind, drawing me into the information more deeply as the design got smarter. I’m a sucker for shinier, easier, more helpful and prettier as much as anyone else.   A HER for me and you 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. What do utilities get? A chance to incorporate native advertising, to up the branding factor and, of course, to make for happier customers as well.     Telling the right story All those changes to what we internally call HER 2.0 had a simple aim: to help utilities communicate with their customers about usage better. To get there, our team adopted three key design features for the new version. (1.) Improved usability: Using the basics of behavioral science, we wanted the customer to understand what’s going on at a glance. That meant it need to follow the structure of media that the customer was already used to, like a story. So, bold headlines and an easy usage “plotline” that unfolds logically and timely was adopted, along with highlighted “instant highlights” for those who want to scan even faster and defined actions for that customer that are easy to find (and easy to do). (2.)  Better branding: It’s a marketing-based culture-verse these days, but utilities have spent years hiding away as a monopoly staple. But, getting brand names on everyone’s lips and crafting a marketing rep starts with one simple step—being better about labeling your own products. This update puts the utility brand—and that process of brand-building—front and center. (3.) Visual uniformity: Items that look inserted, added on or not a part of the original design process are distracting (and can look to be there in error). HER 2.0 allows for a singular look across the report, from advertising to the personalized notes. It all looks like it “belongs.”   Comparison shopping Oracle Utilities/Opower’s latest home energy report redesign was launched last year to “refresh the report experience” as one team member said, but has it made any real impact on energy savings and customer understanding? The early results say yes. From a combination of program analytics and consumer survey results, we’ve found: 73% of customers surveyed like their home energy reports overall 66% said HER 2.0 helped them make better energy decisions 76% found the HER 2.0 tips useful And, the new HERs are driving the same great energy savings as before, in addition to these new customer experience metrics. Decidedly more sophisticated than my first run-in with HERs, the Oracle Utilities/Opower latest version  looks at design optics (just as those changes in my first HER did over the months),  along with more advanced applications, to up both customer and utility joy factors. And it certainly appears to be working. As we get more details on how the changes are making a splash with customers, we’ll update this blog. Thanks to our crack analytics team, Matt Frades and Sanem Kabaca, for putting together these results.

My first experience with home energy reports is memorable because I didn’t really know what I was looking at. I had moved into a modern, concrete-slabbed studio apartment with windows the size of...

Customer Care

On Billy Joel, the New York state of energy and the next Oracle Industry Connect

For some strange reason I cannot begin to explain to you, American singer Billy Joel is highly polarizing. You either adore his music as ballads of the everyman in all of us—as I do (full disclosure)—or you deplore them as sappy, unrealistic heart-string pulling set to a keyboard’s twang. But, there’s no denying the reality of cold hard cash: New York’s native piano man regularly sells out stadiums—not just in the heartland of Tulsa, Oklahoma (where I’ve seen him in person twice) but also at Madison Square Garden, where’s he got a lifetime gig as a monthly artist-in-residence. Perhaps it’s the grew-up-in-the-80s country girl in me, but when I think of New York City, I automatically think of Billy Joel. They’re rather blended in my mind. In fact, there are many times I’ve been driving down a bare Okie highway singing along to his song “New York State of Mind.”   More full disclosure: I’ve never actually been to NYC (except to fly onward to other international spots), but I’ll get to stop in and enjoy the scene when Oracle Industry Connect, our intimate executive conference, noshes a bit on the Big Apple next spring. So, in honor of that mental pairing of mine—and my upcoming NYC adventure—I’m starting a series here on Oracle Utilities’ Insight for the Innovative Utility blog inspired by the amazing one-two combo: Billy Joel’s New York and Oracle Industry Connect’s energy track. I’m calling it “The New York State of Energy Series.” (Yes, of course, an homage to Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”) So, we’ll begin this “state of energy” series with a quick overview: What are the highlights? Who are the players? Who’s in touch with the rhythm and blues (and who’s out of it) in the state?   The highlights Anyone who’s read the state’s energy plan knows that New York is truly looking to clean up its power play. The plan is all about energy that’s leaner, cleaner 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. There are three major prongs to New York’s roadmap to that future (with fruition by 2030, they hope): (1.) a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels (in the state’s words), (2.) boosting power production from renewables to the halfway point (in our words), and (3.) clocking in energy efficiency at 600 trillion Btu (in our words and the state’s numbers). And those prongs are powered—at least partially—through a clean energy fund run by the state. So, how are they doing with this plan? Pretty darn well, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), anyway, which recently noted that the state pulled nearly a million MWh of power purely from solar in 2016 (and most of that from the distributed rooftop variety). Currently, New York clocks in at 24 percent of their power made from renewable sources in 2016—about halfway to that halfway goal set. That’s right in line with that greener planning.   The players So, who are the people putting this state energy plan into action? There’s a large variety from hometown utilities (ConEd) to international super conglomerates (National Grid), from public benefit government insiders (NYSERDA) to gap-finding, blockchain-utilizing startups (Brooklyn Microgrid), from system operators (NYISO) to system users like the Big Apple (which has a 60/40 ratio to contend with—it gobbles 60 percent of the state’s power but only makes about 40). And each unique player is trying to find a unique path in a system that’s full of twists and turns both old and new. “We have a system which is energy-inefficient because it was never designed to be efficient,” Richard Kauffman told the New York Times for a recent piece on the path energy walks from production to households in the state. (Kauffman is the Chairman of Energy & Finance for New York. He’s often referred to—and was in this piece as well—as the state’s “energy czar.”) Kauffman’s statement could really be said for any state, but New York is one of a handful really pushing for change in that arena. (As Kauffman added in the same piece, the state is busy “rethink[ing] that basic architecture.”) When it comes to efficiency—at least the household energy kind—“New York leads in its commitment,” says the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).  In fact, Big Apple system users can search, sort and apply for a variety of programs though NYSERDA’s online link as well as from many local utilities. And, the New York Power Authority is just doing more of the same (in a good way). They’ve been offering up their own customer energy services for a quarter of a century now. It’s not really surprising that New York is a melting pot of energy options blending together for a progressive vision—not just because it reflects the culture of the area but also because, well, electricity as we know it all started there. (More specifically, it all started at the Pearl Street Station, anyway, the world’s first commercial power plant, and if you want to know lots more on the history of power in New York, read the definitive book on it: IEEE historian Joseph Cunningham’s “New York Power.”)   The rhythm and blues The rhythm of any region—the underlying music and movement—remains those system end-users. Each year, data and analytics firm J.D. Power listens to that music, to that movement and deciphers the underlying meaning for utilities by region. Their Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study is now in its 19th year, and New York is looped into the “East Region” category (along with larger utilities up and down the Northeast from Maine to the Mid-Atlantic). Hanging out in that silver medal spot this year is hometown favorite Con Edison (right behind PPL for the region). They clocked in at 735 (on a thousand-point satisfaction scale), squeezing in just behind top-ranking PPL’s 739 and actually beating out the winning midsize power utility in the same region (Penn Power which came in at 709). No utility across the U.S. ranked above 775 in this 2017 J.D. Power study (and that top 775 honor went to SRP). Even before Con Edison positive turn in the J.D. Power rankings, though, they already had an ear on consumer wants and needs. They had the vision. “From the smallest households to the newest, largest and most sophisticated buildings, our customers want to control their energy usage in real time,” Con Edison President Craig Ivey told a Real Estate Board of New York meeting in June. “They’re interested in being the source of their own electrons, meaning they want to generate their own energy with solar, fuel cells and other technologies. Technology gives us the ability to provide our customers with these options.” He added that the utility is “seeking to be a leader in the transformation of our industry.” That transformation is obvious as New York continues its lead role that started 100 years ago on Pearl Street and continues today across the state. Join us as we prepare to visit the “home state” of electricity in 2018 (and as I move forward in a personal Billy Joel/Madison Square Garden tickets quest). Got ideas for the best New York state energy blog? Holding on to the greatest lead on power insights in the state? Let me know what story you want to read about as we wander the Excelsior State both electrically and electronically. Ping me: kathleen.davis@oracle.com.  Note on the lead art: This is a "landscape" of my own personal Billy Joel/NYC-themed jean jacket. Yes, I own that.   This is the first installment of our New York State of Energy blog series leading up to Oracle Utilities’ executive conference, Oracle Industry Connect, which is coming to NYC in April 2018. One panel session at the event will focus exclusively on what’s happening in New York, with insights from Con Edison’s Senior VP of Customer Energy Solutions Matthew Ketschke, LO3 Energy’s Founder Lawrence Orsini (Brooklyn Microgrid) and NYSERDA's John Rhodes. Dying to see that session? Request an invitation to the conference right here.   Read more from this series: 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?    

For some strange reason I cannot begin to explain to you, American singer Billy Joel is highly polarizing. You either adore his music as ballads of the everyman in all of us—as I do (full...

Utility IoT and the cloud: from connecting assets to enterprise-wide IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) and increasing distributed energy resources and connected devices at the edge of the grid are transforming the electric utility industry. The sheer numbers of devices are phenomenal: smart meter deployments in the United States alone were projected last year to reach 70 million by the end of the year, and to reach 90 million by 2020. And it’s not just smart meters in the new electricity network: utilities are also increasingly deploying smart field sensors, and end consumers and their utilities are both adding distributed energy resources (DER), smart thermostats and the like to the edge of the grid in record numbers. The utility industry is expected to drive exponential growth of new IoT applications to communicate machine-to-machine (M2M) both to these new field devices along the distribution grid as well as to consumer energy technology devices at the edge of the grid. Integration and analysis of the real-time data across these devices and sensors have become essential for 21st century electric grid operations. But, as each smart device has its own unique requirements for maintenance, inspection, firmware upgrades and security, utilities are struggling to manage the lifecycle of these assets in a single, centralized way. At the same time, cloud technologies are seeing increased adoption by utilities seeking to reduce spending on technology infrastructure, keep up with the latest technology capabilities, improve the flexibility of their IT infrastructure, and reduce time-consuming IT tasks to shift focus back to core competencies—in essence, to shift from maintenance mode to innovation mode. A shift to the cloud provides immediate benefits, including scalability, data storage, and real-time data analysis, as well as a longer-term, fundamental change in the way the enterprise deals with more quickly leveraging multiple data inputs for new insights.   An impressive marriage The pairing of IoT and cloud is a logical one: IoT provides a new data environment and a wealth of new data from a variety of sources, and the cloud provides an agile, flexible, scalable infrastructure platform to support it. Two of the leading factors in the adoption of cloud and IoT technologies by utilities are asset performance management and consumer energy technology integration. Utilities can embrace IoT and consumer energy technologies to support strategic interaction with edge-of-grid devices, both to monitor and manage asset health and to optimize the distribution grid. Further, utilities can support consumer energy technologies as a grid resource to keep costs competitive with alternative resources. What is the value proposition? The value proposition in embracing an IoT/cloud pairing is straightforward. It provides the utility with the ability to: Translate vast quantities of sensor-based information into action—the faster, the better. Securely connect devices, analyze real-time and historical data, and integrate to back-end applications. Enable the enterprise to deliver innovative new services faster and with less risk. Track crew locations and remote parts inventories to more efficiently dispatch technicians in the field. Find risks of device failures faster, with increased visibility into the age and reliability of each device. Proactively adjust, update, and repair smart grid and IoT devices as needed. Further, by leveraging a scalable, future-proof IoT cloud platform, utilities can use the most up-to-date IT infrastructure as a service, alleviating the need to continually maintain and upgrade older in-house systems and house vast volumes of data on-premises, all at a reduced total cost of ownership.What does this look like in practice? Let’s look at a few use cases. Use case: Sensor-based device management In addition to being able to receive real-time information from smart sensors along electric distribution lines, it’s important to be able to use that information to ensure real-time reliability of the distribution network. Utilities manage the flow of electricity through thousands of miles of networks of wires. There are millions of meters, monitors and sensors that are used to bring visibility to these extensive systems. All the data from these devices needs to be retrieved, read, and analyzed to provide information about the condition of the networks. Information must be readily accessible to any computer or mobile device at the fingertips of any operator at any location within the system. By utilizing cloud and IoT technologies, utilities can maximize the capabilities of the network, manage the data from the devices and optimize the flow of resources through their systems. With automated processes occurring within the cloud, the utility has distributed intelligence throughout the system, right to the edges, enabling data and information to be available to operational teams whenever and wherever they need it. Use case: Condition-based maintenance for DER Earlier, I mentioned the ability to proactively adjust, update, and repair smart grid and IoT devices when necessary as an important value proposition. This ability should also extend to distributed energy resources (both utility- and customer-owned) at the edge of the grid, and relates directly to the management of these assets’ lifecycles, from the initial registration of the device on the grid, through its retirement or replacement.  DER can bring significant value to a utility if it can be controlled. Modern distribution management requires a data-centric approach to monitoring, control and optimization of both traditional distribution and edge-of-grid needs. This begins with the ability to model the generation output profile of each and every distributed energy resource, accounting for location, condition of use and other attributes unique to each asset. DER and all other edge devices must be brought together on an IoT platform. Once the data is collected by a “gateway”, the information can then be used by the operator for advanced analytics and decision-making to optimally tune the assets. This allows the operator to optimize the capabilities of the DER in real time for the benefit of the system. The control and maintenance of these new generation assets is vital to the utility’s ability to provide reliable distribution management. The use of an IoT cloud platform enables the integration of new and varied technology at the edge of the grid, such as renewable energy generation, at scale, without reliability risk. By pulling the visibility and control of these resources together, an operator can more effectively and efficiently manage the reliability of the network.       The future utility: A way forward    The addition of distributed energy resources to the utility distribution grid is also a new frontier for the industry. Sensor data will continue to be key to ensuring end-to-end visibility, as well as the means to model, manage, analyze, control and optimize DER. The Internet of Things provides the glue connecting all the pieces of the new distribution platform, and the cloud provides the environment for doing it quickly, with reduced risk and lower costs. But traditional utility assets are benefitting, as well. Having millions of devices in the field with the ability to connect via a communications network to the utility, constantly producing volumes of data to be processed and analyzed, is transforming this industry. Being able to house and analyze all that data in the cloud, where it can be accessible as needed 24/7 by whomever within the utility needs to access it for different utility processes, from wherever they are, whether in the office or in the field, is a sea change. The marriage of IoT and cloud technologies, then, provides the utility with the nimble, flexible ability to make the operator’s job of dealing with data from varied devices and vast networks more effective and efficient, all in a secure and proactive environment.   This article first appeared online in Internet of Things Today here. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) and increasing distributed energy resources and connected devices at the edge of the grid are transforming the electric utility industry. The sheer numbers of devices are...

Innovation Insights

How the utilities industry can learn from losing

You know the spiel: The world is all about winning. And you were likely coached as a kid that—with the right pep talk, the right idea, the right amount of sleeve-rolling-up and good old-fashioned hard work—you’ll be the big winner.  In April, Geoffrey Kirui aced the Boston Marathon with the single best time. He was the big winner in that famous race—a race that also clocked in over 27,200 losers. You aim for winning, but you often lose. We all do. That’s life. We all learn from running the race, whether literally (like the Boston Marathon) or the rat version. We all find meaning and depth and more practical “gifts” from the journey. 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. (See those Boston Marathon facts.) 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.    1. To peek outside the front door. Utilities have always been loners. They thought of their customers as ratepayers, and their job involved little more than keeping the lights on and sending out the bills that proved they kept those lights on—and that the lights were used pretty regularly. It was a background service that no one much thought about but kept the world running (which utility employees were rightly proud of). In those bygone days, utilities won the monthly race by mostly being the only game in town. Despite lasting decades past other industry shake-ups (think telecom), that world where no one else is in the utility race is long gone, however. Now there are start-ups looking at how blockchain can run a microgrid and Internet giants looking to horde and move their own cleaner power. We thought we could hold out on our own little industry island, but it’s just not going to continue to be the safe haven it’s been in the past.   2. To ask for help. Being the loner type, if there’s a problem, utilities have always just MacGyver-ed it, fixing it all up with the tools they had on hand, bringing in crews and teams and reams of pole-top transformers and wire. But, today’s requirements are coming faster and they’re coming digitally, which is outside of the typical utility comfort zone of substation hardware and system reliability. So, it’s time to not just consider partnerships for the sake of getting out in the world but for real help with tasks utilities are unfamiliar with and don’t have the same experience guiding.  This isn’t new news—or shouldn’t be. A couple of years ago, Anthony Earley, president and CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric and former EEI chairman, told a conference audience: “Utilities are not going to create this future alone—even if we wanted to, we probably can’t. Our role is going to be about providing the means to integrate all of this innovation. We believe the companies that will be successful at that will be the ones that reach out and develop robust partnerships.”   3. To find the silver lining and keep running. Escaping the siloed loner thinking of our old industry ways has positives. Siloed thinking is blinkered. It’s hard to visualize outside the box you’re trapped in, but it’s easy to see how trapped you were once you escape. So, while utilities may now see areas where they are behind the leader in certain sections of this industry race, that’s not a bad thing. “Losing” in this way isn’t negative, despite what your childhood softball coach taught you. That more realistic thinking alone has brought better value—if only with better planning and newer concepts on execution. It’s always smart to have a better view of our true place in the pack. And, with that lag, one silver lining shines above all else: the benefits of cloud. Getting ahead in industry areas that are racing to catch up—customer service, asset management, efficiency—will lean heavily on the cloud. It has to. All those data points—all that analytics and the backbone numbers of those analytics—will need a place to be (because, with most utilities, there isn’t a place inside the utility made for that). You might think of the cloud in this utility race as a shortcut of sorts. Utilities don’t have to build out data warehouses. They don’t have to hire data scientists. They don’t need to then dig deep about the cybersecurity around all those items. Cloud services and offerings cover all those bases for them. So, luckily, despite the real-world view of where utilities are in the industry pack these days when it comes to customer service and other markers—which is certainly not the pole position, it’s true—that knowledge is valuable. And that position is negotiable with the right cloud silver lining. Sometimes you have to take to heart the “well, that didn’t work out” lessons to find your true path. And, utilities, your true path involves the cloud. We guarantee it.   If you look outside your front door and find you do need some digital help, especially with finding the cloud’s silver lining, reach out to us. We’ll work hard to understand your point of view and your needs, and invest in this partnership to shape your utility future.  

You know the spiel: The world is all about winning. And you were likely coached as a kid that—with the right pep talk, the right idea, the right amount of sleeve-rolling-up and good old-fashioned hard...

Operations

Network automation (with a lot of hard work) saves the day for Kansas City Power and Light

This year’s Father’s Day wasn’t a typical one for Dan Munkers and his team at Kansas City Power and Light (KCP&L). They got hit by what he called “the mother of all Father’s Day storms.” According to Munkers, who is the Distribution System Operations Supervisor at KCP&L, Father’s Day storms are a regular occurrence pretty much every year. However, this was rightfully the worst Father’s Day storm in the history of Kansas City. “We had about 900 linemen and 100 tree trimmers on property along with dozens of other support personnel making every effort to restore power to our customers as safely and efficiently as possible,” he said.   KCP&L kept customers informed of the storm restoration process on social media. (Image courtesy of KCP&L.)   Tracking the situation as it unfolded The weekend left 160,000 customers without power. But Munkers and his team were committed to restoring customers quickly and reducing their interruptions. He explained that the storm damage came in two phases. Severe weather took out 50,000 customers in the first round, but Dan and his team recovered most of them quickly. (44,000 of those customers were restored within 24 hours.) Nonetheless, then came an even bigger storm taking out another 110,000 customers. KCP&L had to reach out to utility peers in Colorado and even in Minnesota asking for help. “The first thousand customers are easy to restore, but the last thousand are the hardest," Munkers added when describing the storm damage and his experience with storms in general.    Managing the impact and tracking success While the outage restoration process is complex and requires coordination among control center, dispatchers, and field crews, at the core of this complex process lies an outage management system (OMS) automating restoration tasks. KCP&L was tracking customer outages during that storm on the Oracle Utilities Network Management System. Additionally, they were also able to track the restorations on the same system as well. (They also utilized the OMS in the field to account for the damages and customers impacted.) Munker’s team was able to restore all customers by Tuesday, within 72 hours of the second storm, an amazing job considering it was a holiday weekend. “Fortunately everything performed as it should and, with the hard work of our internal crews, aided by resources from other utilities and our contract partners, we were able to restore power to all of our customers within just a few days. That was an impressive feat considering the widespread damage to the system,” Munker added.   This graphic shows both the outage and restoration processes during the storm.   Automation is the key  KCP&L is on a mission to automate distribution grid management, and this storm was both an example of how well they are doing on the quest and how much they have left to do. They have already implemented best practices to gather data from field devices and other systems to speed up decision-making, which certainly helped with this storm restoration effort, according to Munkers.  Additionally, even before this monster of a storm, Munkers could see the status of all devices and customers in his Oracle Utilities Network Management System (NMS). Oracle partner LiveData Utilities RTI platform automates messaging to field devices. While the Oracle Utilities Meter Data Management (MDM) filters relevant data such as last gasp messages that makes outage notifications even more efficient for Munkers. With all the automation in place, Munkers could even determine how many crew members he would need to restore customers after the storm, which resulted in happier customers restored faster and even some serious savings with more accurate resource planning. “Oracle Utilities NMS was responsible for getting crews where they needed to go,” he said. “AMI meters through Oracle Utilities MDM gave NMS accurate information to help eliminate wasted trips. Any hiccup in these systems could have had a huge impact on our efforts, causing delays in restoration and additional cost to the company.” Since they were in the midst of an automation quest when this storm event hit, it became a valuable opportunity for lessons learned.  Here are Munkers' key takeaways for his projects: They need more flexibility to interact with field crews—more complete situational awareness for all. To that end, they are looking into extending OMS capability via a mobile application, which will reduce time spent on gathering field data and help them resolve issues faster. For instance, in a storm like this, if a wire-down crew can extract data from the OMS and put that data into spreadsheets and maps.  (And a mobile app, as an additional consideration, will eliminate this extra work: data available at their fingertips versus conducting hours of rigorous work.) Calculating Estimated Restoration Time (ERT) or Estimated Time to Restore (ETR) is important but extremely difficult for everyone in the utilities industry, including Munkers, but that data is key for both customer operations and to boost customer satisfaction numbers. So, Munkers plans to continue working on improving them so they can report them in better accuracy.  

This year’s Father’s Day wasn’t a typical one for Dan Munkers and his team at Kansas City Power and Light (KCP&L). They got hit by what he called “the mother of all Father’s Day storms.” According to...

Operations

How do you get more bang for your asset management buck?

“Let’s put asset performance management (APM) and enterprise asset management (EAM) in context,” said Peter Manos, Senior Editor & Market Strategist, T&D World, while opening the magazine’s recent webinar “Repair vs. Replace: Getting the Most Bang for your Buck with Asset Performance Management.” Manos’ began by examining the two main drivers that push APM and EAM investment: to boost operational performance and customer service excellence. Manos added that U.S. utilities alone have a $1.5 trillion-dollar asset base to manage, according to numbers from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Whether dealing with a large portion of that asset base or a small slice, all asset managers struggle with this balance: when to repair versus when to replace a piece of hardware. There are traditional numbers on this subject. The Society of Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP), in fact, has a rule of thumb: replace it when maintenance costs hit about four percent of replacement value. But, in reality, that rule just doesn’t work in every situation—and it can be difficult to uncouple costs to even figure that number out. Perhaps, rather than zooming in on the rules, asset managers should take a longer look at the bigger picture, a more holistic approach to getting work lined up faster and finished on time, a more complete portfolio system to look at assets not in an individual vacuum but in reality—how it all works together, posed Matthew Comte, Managing Director, NA Work and Asset Management Lead with Accenture, and Brad Williams, Vice President of Industry Strategy with Oracle, as they joined Manos in the webinar’s discussion. Comte set the industry context. In an impromptu survey of the webinar audience, he found that more than half of the respondents spend anywhere from 35-70 percent of their day dealing with asset data, which shows the heavy-lifting of today’s (and yesterday’s) distribution model, a model that Comte labels “under strain.” That strain comes from six basic components: Consumer expectations and behaviors are changing. Demand evolution is destabilizing the cost-revenue distribution model. Grid-related technical risks are a struggle. Targets and restraints from regulators continue to evolve. Competition from all sides is expanding. Greater complexity is driving execution risk. Clearly, as Comte examined, the model is changing, and that evolution has brought asset managers a productivity problem, added Williams. “What can we do to improve performance?” Williams asked the audience, noting that the “wrench time” for asset operations is about 35%, with most of their time spent gathering data rather than using it to their advantage. So, moving that productivity number higher is the biggest goal. But how do we do that? Williams suggests these highlights: Invest time up front to streamline operations and tease out efficiencies. Craft a unified approach and build in each new asset from the moment it hits the system (a comprehensive asset lifecycle management concept). Use all the data that’s available to improve asset reliability and don’t dump any data (a cloud offering can help greatly with this). Create a feedback loop—a continuous improvement cycle—that helps you adjust and evolve that unified approach. But, in the end, getting to those high-level concepts requires some practical “boots on the ground” work. And we’re here to answer that age-old APM question: repair vs. replace. So, how do you know? Here’s his three-step approach to get the right answer in each unique situation: Step 1: Get real-time information about your asset’s health, and have that information at your fingertips right now. Step 2: Use asset health information to define asset condition in real time. Step 3: Take the right business action at the right time with automation. Williams added: whether you’re looking at higher concepts or practical approaches, you will need vendor partnerships and new solutions to help you through design and repair and performance measurement, and Oracle is prepared for that, whether you’re looking to move from reactive to preventative or are hoping to simply improve your condition-based work. To get more details on asset performance in the industry, customer examples and how Oracle can help with those. Dive into the full T&D World webinar replay here.

“Let’s put asset performance management (APM) and enterprise asset management (EAM) in context,” said Peter Manos, Senior Editor & Market Strategist, T&D World, while opening the magazine’s recent webi...

Customer Care

On tapping pride and laying pipe to the future of the water industry

The last couple of years in the U.S. water sector overall has seen a lot of discussion about drinking water—especially because of the problems in Flint, Michigan. “An important place to start is this conversation is how well we actually do drinking water in America,” said Peter Grevatt, Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to an audience at the American Water Works Association’s annual conference. “And how much pride we should all have in the quality of the water we serve up across the states.” “That may not be what’s in the nightly news,” he continued. “But that’s really what we see in the U.S.” In shorter terms: We’re doing a good job. 90 percent of all the nation’s drinking water systems meet our EPA standards all the time, he added. But where do we go from here? Grevatt singled out opportunities to promote partnerships between water systems moving forward. And he stressed that. (One audience member post talk said he “lost count” on the number of times Grevatt used the word “partnership” in his presentation. “But it was over ten,” the utility executive added.) “There’s a whole lot of talk across the U.S. about infrastructure, and about needed infrastructure upgrades,” Grevatt added to that partnership chatter, noting that the vast majority of that need in the water industry is the requirement to replace pipe. Grevatt also talked about the push for investment in both infrastructure and operations of those systems. (In other words, just putting in new pipes and plants isn’t the only thing that needs financing, time and focus. Efficiency and experience in managing those plants and pipes are equally important for a future water industry that keeps that pride in what it does and what it offers customers flowing.) In building that path forward with partnerships and investments, Grevatt stressed that utilities move forward with local, regional solutions—working together to solve problems that go across operations or across states. (If you have a problem, and your neighbor has the same problem, can you solve it together more efficiently?) Of course, the concepts of working together and partnerships leads to lots of questions about rates and violations and what extra regulatory issues you may be taking on. But, Grevatt noted that those discussions are more than worth talking through to get to the positives of partnerships. “When I look across the water sector, and I ask myself about the challenges that are a significant from a public standpoint, I would say many of these challenges come back to distribution—lead, for example,” he continued. But, today, we’re focused on “how do we work together to solve the problem,” rather than ignoring it, he added. And that’s great progress. Another bit of industry progress to be really proud of. It’s the start of that partnership-filled industry future. So, the groundwork is already laid for those needed partnerships on better infrastructure and better infrastructure management, but there’s a hurdle to get past. And it circles right back to Flint. “There’s a gulf we have to jump between the actual safety of our drinking water and the actually safety of our drinking water. That gulf makes improvements like infrastructure investments difficult. All these conversations are predicated on a confidence, an investment that the public has in drinking water utilities. Not to tell the public they’re wrong, but explain what we do, why we’re important, why they should care,” Grevatt added. It's time to show publicly that element of pride water utilities hold privately: that 90 percent of the U.S. flies past requirements (that majority that brings safe and healthy tap water to almost every American). In other words, customers need to know it really is safe (and tasty) to drink from the tap in America—because it is.   Read more on 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 last couple of years in the U.S. water sector overall has seen a lot of discussion about drinking water—especially because of the problems in Flint, Michigan. “An important place to start is this...

Customer Care

Best practices in customer communication from top American water utilities

All utilities wrestle with customer communication issues. It’s a new world for this industry, but we’re all getting better at the task. At American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) annual conference, one session tackled how well water utilities, specifically, are working to put together best practices for these important communiques. First, utilities need to partner up for help getting the word out and the money in. Denver Water’s community outreach program tackles everything from lead services to vulnerable population outreach to line replacements. Melissa Essex Elliot, the utility’s Director of Public Affairs, shared details with the AWWA audience, including the work they did with a partner: the Denver Urban Renewal Authority. That particular partnership includes a revolving loan fund to help property owners with replacements, but Denver Water also works with elected officials, state regulators, the county health departments, housing authorities, regional EPA, public schools, neighborhood associations, child care providers, foundations, environmental organizations, metro area utilities, plumbers and even home inspectors. Elliot suggested that no partnership should be turned down if you can make it work to get the community involved and engaged. Kelley Dearing Smith, VP of Communications & Marketing at Louisville Water Company, called them “stakeholders” rather than partners, but her message was like Elliot’s at its heart: getting the local public health department involved in communication, along with elected leaders and schools and daycares. Louisville water also partners with Homeserve (the home warranty people) to complete the utility-to-customer circle. Second, utilities need to realize that communication isn’t a finite task. It’s constant and ongoing. “The only time your customers see you cannot just be when something breaks or when you need money,” added Louisville’s Dearing Smith to Elliot’s point. “We’re in the community every day. We take drinking stations out into the community. We’re on social media as well.” Dearing Smith suggested getting ahead of the game by telling your story—or stories. The ones about your scientists, about your treatment plant, about the benefits you bring to the community. With Elliot’s utility, Denver Water, they tell their point with a specialized website (Denverwatertap.org) that uploads new articles nearly daily with content journalism mixed into the feed. Third, think about your brand. Yes, this was a utility talking about branding. Kelley Dearing Smith notes that the utility has branded it’s tap water as “Pure Tap,” and they run that marketing program against bottled water in their community. “The water is so good it has a name in Louisville,” Dearing Smith said, whose branding program builds customer trust and continues to build out on that trust with every new branding moment. (The tagline this summer on the Pure Tap Twitter feed is #PURETAPSUMMER.) With those three notes in mind, Elliot and Dearing Smith suggested these tidbits to keep your branding and customer communication clear as clean water (and forward-thinking, too): Proactively communicate. Keep your message simple and honest. Give consumers options to get information that will reduce their risk. Go digital and go digital daily. Tell customers that your program will keep evolving (and your door will remain open). Develop visuals—make things interesting to the eye as well as informative.   Read more on the water industry: Dear water utilities: Does your work and asset management measure up? 5 trending topics in the global water industry On tapping pride and laying pipe to the future of the water industry 6 words of water wisdom   Interested in staying cutting edge with customer communications at your utility? Then save the date for Oracle Industry Connect 2018 in New York City next April 9-11. We hope to see you at our favorite customer case study sessions.

All utilities wrestle with customer communication issues. It’s a new world for this industry, but we’re all getting better at the task. At American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) annual conference, ...

Operations

6 words of water wisdom

We’re listening to water industry wants and needs inside American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) annual conference. Here are some of the best bits of advice, culture building and strategy we heard.   1. Water is the source; respect that. “No water. No coffee. No water. No beer. No water. No wine,” joked AWWA CEO David LaFrance, but the elemental truth of it can’t be escaped. “Can you imagine an urban society that doesn’t exist without clean water?” added Sue McCormick with Great Lakes Water Authority later in the program. She answered her own question with: Of course not.   2. Be proud of water’s spot in the ecosystem—and your work bringing it home to customers. Early in the annual conference’s opening session, Jeanne Bennett-Bailey, AWWA president, showed a video of various water industry professionals commenting on how they felt about working in the water industry. Quotes ranged from “I’m passionate about water and what I do because water is life” to “we protect the environment and we protect public health” to “working in water is tremendously rewarding.”   3. Keep on moving forward (but prep on where you’re headed). Carla Reid, the first female GM and CEO of her utility, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, had three words of advice for the water industry: preparation, process and prosperity. “You have to have proper training and education to be a good industry leader,” she said. “And our leaders need to be self-developed and self-aware.” So, she advises learn from both the good and the bad stuff, process it, use that info to prep for the future and, in the end, you will accomplish the goal—you will “prosper.”   4. Think sustainability. Think about it across the board. McCormick’s key word is sustainability, from its definition of cycling through reliable, affordable service to finding and keeping a workforce that’s experienced and knowledgeable. (They’re looking at community, cross-region partnerships to help with that sustainability.) “We need good solid operations and to serve our communities well into the future,” she added. “That takes a long-term plan and having on-going communications and on-going conversations about everything.”   5. Know this: security issues are coming. You can’t wish them away. William Stowe with Ds Moines Water Works labeled security (both cyber and physical) as an area his water utility—and all water utilities—need to become more familiar with, and he labeled it one of his major concerns for the future. “We’ll hear more and more about it,” he told the audience at the annual conference. “We, like most of you here, continue to invest in automation. With that comes a vulnerability.”   6. Water needs to come out of its shell. Stowe noted a sense of complacency and insulation in this industry that is “increasingly under pressure from both regulators and ratepayers.” McCormick added that the industry needs to “be the voice of reason.” Reid said, “We need to figure out how to tell our story. We need to do a better job of ‘selling’ what we do and why it’s important.” But, all three statements come down to one basic thing: It’s time to talk more—to each other, to press, to communities, to regulators. It’s time for a conversation or two or three.   Read more on the water industry: Dear water utilities: Does your work and asset management measure up? 5 trending topics in the global water industry On tapping pride and laying pipe to the future of the water industry Best practices in customer communication from top American water utilities        

We’re listening to water industry wants and needs inside American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) annual conference. Here are some of the best bits of advice, culture building and strategy we heard.  ...

Operations

Dear water utilities: does your work and asset management measure up?

You’re a manager of operations and maintenance at a top U.S. water utility. As such, it’s your job to make sure service isn’t disrupted—that people’s water flows uninterrupted. You’re doing the best job you can with the equipment and software you have on hand. You’re contentious about your work down to the very last detail, but you have a suspicion that what you have to work with may not be up for the job, not entirely anyway. Then the worst happens: a pipeline collapses, causing a flood.  People lose service for days. And, it happens during a drought, which makes matters even worse. Customers complain. Regulators levy fines. The CEO vows it will never happen again. It’s a nightmare scenario, but not one you’re alone in, unfortunately. 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?   Prevent it: You need to keep problems from occurring, which means doing more maintenance and replacement work and knowing beforehand where problems may happen. This means working on your asset program, scheduling and timing. It means keeping that data handy and touching that data often. And, in the end, it means acting on the data at an orange, yellow (or, ideally, a green) threat level—not when you’re in the red. You need something that helps you get things fixed faster. Put together a dream list: To keep the CEO’s word, you need to think about a laundry list of needs, including design and construction, asset operation and maintenance optimization, end of life and replacement, asset tracking, and whole life reporting. You need something that offers all of this dream list—that lays the right foundation. Prove it: Beyond the actual hard work of management and lining up your assets to work well, work fast and work better than ever expected, there’s also the compliance element in play. You now have to prove you’re doing all that hard work you’re already doing. You need something that helps you track it all. Put it all in one place: You have too many disparate systems recording too much replicated data in multiple formats, which is a nightmare for compliance and proving what you’re doing. You need something that helps you put all your asset-related data in one place. You need something that simplifies and improves decision making, providing a platform for implementing best practices such as International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 55000 standards. Pay the price:  Unfortunately, the CEO’s words didn’t come with a bump in your budgeting. But saving time—as time is money—should have you counting the dollars saved, too. You need something that helps you create work designs and scheduling quicker while also saving money with efficiency using predicative analytics. You need something to help you get the right work done in the right place at the right time to extend the life of the asset, which saves you even more and offers a nice ROI on the initial investment. It’s a short “to do” list but by no means a simple one to accomplish, but every water utility is facing the same goal—to make your CEO’s words ring true in their utility, too. The best news is Oracle lives by this “to do” list, and we’ve developed our latest release of Work and Asset Management to continue to deliver the latest capabilities utilities need to excel.   Read more on 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 On tapping pride and laying pipe to the future of the water industry Best practices in customer communication from top American water utilities      

You’re a manager of operations and maintenance at a top U.S. water utility. As such, it’s your job to make sure service isn’t disrupted—that people’s water flows uninterrupted. You’re doing the best...

Customer Care

Life lessons in becoming customer-centric for utilities from utilities (and an association and ad agency, too)

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 Amazon, that customers now expect from each utility experience a customer service equivalent of what Amazon 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? We reached out to some utility and association friends and thought back on our time at CS Week 2017 in Fort Worth—a utility conference dedicated to the customer. We sat down with our info and came up with tidbits on how utilities today measure up against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ advice to “obsess” over the customer. Are we, as an industry, obsessed yet? Let’s count the ways.   1. We’re looking at how we interact with customers on a more granular level, and that’s a good thing. “The industry no longer looks at and measures the customer experience in a vacuum,” said Hallie M. Reese, VP and Chief Customer Officer with Exelon when we reached out to her with our questions on how the industry and her utility has become more customer-focused (if at all). “[As an industry], we are now very mindful that the expectations of our customers are shaped by their interactions outside of the industry and we must be equivalent, if not better, in the experiences we provide.” So, what’s Exelon doing to keep up? They’re digging deep.        "Exelon Utilities is focused on driving significant improvements in the way we interact with and serve our customers,” Reese added. “We are refreshing key customer ‘journeys’ and using those journeys as the foundation to digital and process improvements along with capturing opportunities to more personalize customer interactions.  We are investing extensively in our grid to make it smarter and more reliable.  And finally, we are also looking at how we can better enable our customers’ lives with new product and services, and strategically implementing pilots across our four utilities to learn more about our customers wants and needs.”   2. We’re aware we’re not Amazon (yet), but we want to be. “Community-owned public power utilities pride themselves on their customer service focus,” Sue Kelly, President and CEO with American Public Power Association, told us when we reached out. “But there has been a shift of sorts in the last decade or so. Companies like Amazon, Uber, AirBnB and Google have raised the expectations of customers when it comes to customer service and increased choices. Our customers increasingly want instant access to their information, engagement across a variety of platforms (including apps and social media), and a seamless customer service experience. Public power utilities will need to listen to their customers and up their customer service game to meet (and hopefully exceed!) these expectations.”    3. We see the hurdles ahead and are planning for them. Mike Guyton, Senior Vice President at Oncor, told the crowd at CS Week 2017 that there are a handful of racing thoughts that keep customer service pros at utilities up at night sometimes, including him. First, we don’t really know what the customer service of a utility’s future looks like yet. We’ve seen glimpses around tech and data and customer preferences, but the vision hasn’t yet congealed. Self-service concepts are getting more popular, but will they truly lead the pack? There are also questions around affordability: How do we improve things, and how do we do them faster, cheaper, better? How will we partner up as an industry to figure out the massive levels of interconnections and IoT involved in the future of utility customer service? How will we all create more customer value and weather rising competition in the future as well? We’re still mulling it over, really. "Competition is everywhere, and if it’s not eating your lunch today, it will be eating your lunch tomorrow,” Guyton told the crowd. “Rather than worrying about who is going to eat our lunch, let’s talk about serving that lunch; let’s shift the conversation.”   4. We know we have a long way to go, but we’re listening and thinking and offering new and exciting things. “The utility industry is becoming more customer-centric, but there is more to do,” said CPS Energy’s Chief Customer Engagement Officer Felecia Etheridge when we reached out to her on this subject. “The first step of becoming customer-centric, of course, is to recognize you need to focus more on customers and I believe all utilities are aware of the need to have a customer focus.” “Utilities are listening to their customers, understanding their needs, wants and expectations, and then taking customer insights to improve the service experience, inform products and service offerings, as well ensure their policies, procedures and business practices are aligned with the customer.  But this is a journey and not a destination, and utilities have just began,” she added. How has her utility adapted to that thinking? “We are very fortunate,” she said. “As the nation’s largest municipally-owned electric and gas utility, we are proud to be part of the fabric our community.  We have the opportunity to personally interact with our customers and community in meaningful ways each and every day, and our customers tell us directly what they expect from us.  We have a People First philosophy at CPS Energy, and this means we look at what we do from the outside in or from a customer’s perspective to ensure that the customers is at the heart of our decision-making. Our customers expect to have the same service experience with us as they do any other provider, which means we have to be connected 24/7/365 with creative, yet resilient solutions to meet their needs.” She added, “We’ve expanded our self-service options, are improving our processes to make it easier to do business with us, and are offering more products and services to give our customers convenience and control. Every day we ask ourselves ‘Are we delivering what our customers want, and what more do we have to do?’ We know our customers’ expectations are always evolving. We have to evolve with them; we have stand ready to respond, adapt and flex.” “CPS Energy is on a journey with our customers and our community as our partners, and we see a future of endless possibilities.”   5. We’re making real progress, but we might want to light a fire under it. For our last note, we stepped a bit away from utility insiders to talk to someone paid to look at them from the outside. We reached out to Ashley Nicholls, Executive Director of Strategy and Principal at KSV, an advertising firm that has specializations in energy efficiency and utility work. Nicholls added, “We've seen a major move from utilities toward a customer-centric orientation. One of the biggest we've seen is a desire to examine the customer experience through the lens of the priorities and journey of the customer, rather than the way that utilities are structured.” Nicholls and company see that positively, but there are still hurdles. She concluded, “One of the biggest challenges we see with utilities is that everything, from program design, to web user experience, to operational structures; it's all built from an inside-out perspective. With the shift to customer centricity, we're moving toward a structure that puts the customer truly at the center of everything we do: every process we build, every offer we design. This is the way the industry will transform, and transform it needs to, as some of the most innovative and customer-oriented companies in the world are entering the energy space.” Read more on becoming customer-centric: Build your very best digital road map with these suggestions Seeing "The Princess Bride" as a brilliant customer service tutorial The 20-year lesson: Con Edison finally builds the website customers want   And come talk with us about your customer journey on Twitter @OracleUtilities.  

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 Amazon, that customers now expect from each...

Build your very best digital road map with these suggestions

“We’re not being measured against our own—against other utilities,” said Eric Karcher, Manager of Digital Strategy with Eversource 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 on Thursday at CS Week 2017 in Fort Worth. Karcher and Langdon followed up with an imagined case study example based on a lot of general common assumptions that most utilities are working with right now: analog still being the main touchpoints, issues with the company being top-heavy and problems moving up ranks—so called “moving the needle.” How do you incorporate Eversource’s direct lessons learned and finally move the needle for your utility.  Karcher and Langdon suggested: Get a North Star. You need a strategy. You need a plan. If you think about things beforehand, you can strategize and prioritize (and maybe avoid a few dead ends). Craft a mission statement. Mission statements can be powerful when they truly state the team’s goals. It needs to be meaningful, not corporate double speak. It should be focused. (To do that, think of it this way: It should be tweetable.) Make an honest assessment of where you are. Is your site usable? Is it functional? Are you really at that stage yet? Are you really ready to push people to your digital space? Are you getting feedback such as: “You want me to send a fax? Are you joking?” or “You want to come to my house to do vegetation management. What does that mean?” or “It’s 2017, man. Why don’t you have an app?” Remember anything is possible. Don’t talk yourself out of your great ideas too early. You’re going to face criticism—from coworkers, from vendors, from partners. But don’t let go without a good reason. Think about compatibility and budget. You have constraints. So, you do have to temper those anything-is-possible dreams with those realities. Make sure you can sustain that dream and it won’t just “die on the vine” when it hits these road blocks. Become customer obsessed. Not just focused. Not just with an ear perked to customer desires and needs, but absolutely zoned in and with no other #1 priority. Do research and analysis. Take your North Star and your mission statement and start laying those against customer expectations. Become a detective. Engage experts. Disrupt your organization. But do keep why you’re disrupting in mind. Don’t disrupt for disruption sake. Have reasons. Have goals. Get as many people on board as possible. Otherwise, honestly, you won’t succeed. So, when disrupting, be charming. Be personable. Think about a little psychology during the process—because you will need those people you’re disrupting to get on board later. If they’re angry, that could be tough. Reassess a lot. Not in 3 years. Not in 18 months. Think about this and reassess it constantly.   Read more from CS Week 2017: Life lessons in becoming customer-centric for utilities from utilities (and an association and ad agency, too) Vectren’s no longer thinking about the customer On analytics, utilities, the cloud and finding synergy 5 ways utilities can exploit the cloud The 20-year lesson: Con Edison finally builds the website customers want  

“We’re not being measured against our own—against other utilities,” said Eric Karcher, Manager of Digital Strategy with Eversource Energy. "We’re being measured against other experiences,...

Customer Care

Vectren’s no longer thinking about the customer

It's true, that title: Vectren’s no longer thinking about the customer. They said so themselves this morning to a packed workshop.  But, it's more semantics than a strange change in strategy. Yes, they are no longer thinking about the customer. Instead, they’re thinking about customers plural.   “Gone are the days where we can think of the customer as a singular entity,” said Reese Hamilton, Director of Customer Service at Vectren, an electric and gas utility headquartered in Evansville, Indiana, while opening the “Delivering the Customer Experience in an Omni-Channel World” session on Thursday morning at CS Week in Fort Worth. Since that customer isn’t a singular anymore, anticipating the customer needs can be much more complicated these days for a utility. Vectren started to tackle that growing customer piece of the utility pie by pulling out and building out a customer experience organization—bringing together the front-office and back-office that touched the customer and creating a team that was solely focused on that new, no-longer-singular customer. It was a team focused on all customers and dedicated to a personal interaction for each and every one. “We are trying to take customer service away from the goal of being task-oriented,” Hamilton noted. And even though they’ve crafted a dedicated org for that customer focus, they also built out the concept that customer service should cut across every part of the larger utility structure. When they sat down to strategize this out, they realized that technology was part of the customer service problem, added Andy Higgins, manager of ebusiness and telecommunications systems at Vectren. “We had a terrible technology platform in our call center. It was very old. We spent a lot of time focused on technology, thinking about how they all need to work together to move forward,” he said. The utility focused on bringing transformation to voice, email and web chat—and to bring them together at the same time. And it was all about moving toward real-time. “We needed the system to work fast and have the data work with it,” Higgins continued. “And we had to fix the ‘machine’ while the ‘machine’ was running.” But Higgins knew the future required them to make these changes quickly and with an eye on ease-of-use. In the end, though, staying with that singular customer concept wasn’t possible. They had to make these changes, and they had to tackle these challenges. The business model offered no other choice. Hamilton chimed in that, as Vectren looked at tech changes and culture changes in house, they had a third pillar in the project—understanding the customers (no longer that singular group ‘customer’). They started developing customer personas and looking to map out the journeys based on those profiles  (plus blending that knowledge into automation work and process streamlining). In the end, even through the tech backbone was the hard work of the project, the bottom line to Vectren’s omni-channel evolution was that central focus on knowing the customers and their varied needs and variations of preference. And that project continues. “We’re just scratching the surface of letting the customer journey redefine the experience. It’s a process,” Hamilton told the audience.   Read more from CS Week 2017: Life lessons in becoming customer-centric for utilities from utilities (and an association and ad agency, too) Build your very best digital road map with these suggestions On analytics, utilities, the cloud and finding synergy 5 ways utilities can exploit the cloud The 20-year lesson: Con Edison finally builds the website customers want                          

It's true, that title: Vectren’s no longer thinking about the customer. They said so themselves this morning to a packed workshop.  But, it's more semantics than a strange change in strategy. Yes, they...

Customer Care

The 20-year lesson: Con Edison finally builds the website customers want

Con Edison has been around the block. Founded in 1823 as the New York Gas Light Company, the utility is quickly approaching a couple hundred years in the utilities business—and for at least the last two decades of those years they’ve had a digital face. Now, if Matthew Sexton, department manager with Con Edison was completely honest—and he was in the “Digital Transformation: Enabling the Customer Experience Through 4 C’s” session at CS Week today—well, that digital face just hadn’t changed very much. Con Edison’s website grew rather organically from an old investor page, and everyone fought for “space” on the site, leading to an overloaded look and a lot of confusion for customers trying to navigate it all without knowing the “back story” of those squabbles. And so the digital face got more effects, more paint, more wrinkles. “It was not an optimal experience,” he told the audience. “We didn’t have one voice. We didn’t have one message. We didn’t have one strategy.” Sexton said that the utility’s “wake-up call” came in the form of J.D. Power surveys that often ranked them very poorly in digital areas and showed the utility that most customers were “skipping” the home page entirely to get to what they needed. So, it was time to rethink that digital strategy—or, rather, to think one up in the first place. But they realized there was a huge issue: they had no real idea what customers wanted. And—in the absolutely brightest move of this light company’s story—they didn’t assume that they already knew. They asked. They got back the four Cs of the session title as answers. Customers wanted: choice, convenience, control and communication. So, that’s where they started. From there, they laid out a road map, looked at comparisons, searched out best-in-class solutions and vendors (including Oracle Utilities’ own Opower) and built a business case. And they kept customers in the loop the whole time. They’d circle back and ask more questions. They did usability studies and learned amazing things about what confused customers and how they felt about certain photos and images on the website. Sexton’s coworker Eric Mastroianni, project specialist with Con Edison, added that, by far, the most useful part of the entire project was the customer interactions from the usability testing. It was all about getting those live reactions from customers. “We got really good feedback,” he said. “We could watch where they hesitated. We could see when they were confused. We could feel their frustration.” What came out of those sessions was a lot of iterations, a lot of versions of Con Edison’s customer page (see lead art)—and some lessons, too. Here are a few top takeaways from Con Edison’s new digital face: Nothing is more important than simple—in design and in action. Don’t tuck 20 items into drop-down menus because everyone thinks they need to be represented. Streamline. Go modular. This way, you and shift and sort and balance. So, if a storm is ravaging one part of your territory but not another, it’s not taking over your website for all your customers, even those unaffected. It’s still all about the money. Most people are coming to your website to pay their bill. Make that front and center. Build off the bill. You can add in information in simple formats that explain why this month’s bill is higher, but keep it simple and direct. Then add suggestions. Personalize. If I don’t care about solar panels, and you send me a ton of information on solar panels, your next important lesson may “get lost in the noise,” Sexton noted. Con Edison knows this project will never really finish. Customer needs will change. Customer desires will change. And this utility is prepared to keep on changing, too. “We feel we’re on the way to the four Cs,” Sexton said. “We’re giving them the choice and the convenience. We’re not finished, of course. It took us 20 years, but we’re finally listening.”   Read more from CS Week 2017: Life lessons in becoming customer-centric for utilities from utilities (and an association and ad agency, too) Build your very best digital road map with these suggestions Vectren’s no longer thinking about the customer On analytics, utilities, the cloud and finding synergy 5 ways utilities can exploit the cloud   Interested in the state of energy and utilities in New York? Then save the date for Oracle Industry Connect 2018 in New York City next April 10-11. We hope to see you there.

Con Edison has been around the block. Founded in 1823 as the New York Gas Light Company, the utility is quickly approaching a couple hundred years in the utilities business—and for at least the last...

Technology and the Cloud

5 ways utilities can exploit the cloud

We are live at CS Week in Fort Worth today, and our utility-filled Synergy meeting is bubbling over with juicy tidbits. We’ve made a lot of lists—of lessons learned and problems to avoid and topics into which we all need to grab a spade and dig a little deeper. And even though we’re here to talk about the customer—CS Week is short for Customer Service Week, after all—the more we want to offer the customer, the more tech, platforms, partnerships and software we’ll need. Highest on that “we totally need it” list is the cloud. From our roundtable discussions with utilities in this closed-door session, here are our best “you just had to be there” secrets. 1. Regulators are on the verge of letting you do cool cloud stuff. In our last survey, nearly 70 percent of regulators in North America have or plan to have committees focused on the role of cloud technologies for utilities—and they’re talking about letting you put it under capital expenses. (Yes, really.) 2. Did you know you can outsource the complex and the scary with cloud? Staying up with the changing market in the utilities biz, which is going to go faster and faster, means you need to give the responsibility for keeping up to a vendor. Don’t take on the adaptability problem yourself. Outsource it. 3. Mull this: Browser-based concepts like cloud means you’re totally mobile. Yep, it's about to be just like buying movie tickets or depositing checks via an app. Everyone’s going mobile these days. Take your data, services, sources and details with you anywhere. And don’t fear the rural. Things your field people are working on offline can be synched later, too. 4. But you don’t have to go whole hog with the cloud right now. We realize utilities are in a lot of different places in their journey to the cloud. Don’t feel like you have to jump right into to a full cloud adoption right now. Perhaps you want a hybrid option. That’s available. You can, in fact, baby step your way to the cloud. 5. Look for a cloud package rather than buying options piecemeal. Vendors are looking more at standard interfaces and the blending of options and best practices to pull together smarter, more complete options to help utilities get the most value—the most cloud bang for your hard-earned buck. So, if your budget is smaller than you think you need when you price out each program, circle back with a request for a bundle.   Read more from CS Week 2017: Life lessons in becoming customer-centric for utilities from utilities (and an association and ad agency, too) Build your very best digital road map with these suggestions Vectren’s no longer thinking about the customer On analytics, utilities, the cloud and finding synergy The 20-year lesson: Con Edison finally builds the website customers want

We are live at CS Week in Fort Worth today, and our utility-filled Synergy meeting is bubbling over with juicy tidbits. We’ve made a lot of lists—of lessons learned and problems to avoid and topics...

Technology and the Cloud

On analytics, utilities, the cloud and finding perfect synergy

“Automation and analytics can transform operations and free up resources for you,” said Neel Gulhar with Oracle Utilities at today’s closed-door utility pow-wow called a Synergy meeting. Inside the room, utilities from across the U.S. rubbed elbows and shared coffee, too. (One audience member came from as far away as Costa Rica—which is quite the trip to Fort Worth for CS Week 2017, where this Synergy meeting came together over biscuits and gravy this morning.) Gulhar discussed the new capabilities Oracle has been mulling the last few years, using a more practical dual approach to innovation—looking at both what’s key for your core business and adding in an eye ahead to the future. (Most businesses choose one or the other rather than approaching business growth from both paths.) He added that, while retail businesses employ perhaps eight or nine call center people per million customers, most utilities have many more per million—around 150. So, what if you could get that number to ratchet down with efficiency and satisfaction to move up at the same time? That’s the innovation we’re talking about with the core business information, but new business models are coming. And those will require a new angle: that utilities will be selling products and services to the customer themselves. (Gulhar pointed out REV as an excellent example of this thinking.) While utilities aren’t often on this bandwagon after a history of simply selling a single product—electricity—Gulhar added that according to a recent Oracle Utilities survey, most people want to buy from their trusted utility company, not new entrants such as Tesla. So, a utility moves forward as a business not by choosing one or the other but by balancing the combination of what works now and what works in the future, both of which will continue to shift and change, to rebalance and adjust. So, flexibility as the world vision of a utility morphs is the new world for utilities—and it will likely never be a static one again. Gulhar circled back to customer expectations and how utility end-customers want the easiest process possible, the one they are used to with Amazon and Uber. And we, as an industry, just isn’t there. There’s the traditional seven-year model, but he pointed out that Blockbuster was replaced completely by Netflix in seven years. And even if you’ve shifted to a shorter three-year window, hoping to complete a project “that fast,” you’re still stuck with a finished project that starts out of the gate three years behind. “So, thinking about what a constant investment profile looks like so you can keep up with technology is now the norm,” he added. And that means thinking not just about what the customers wants right now, but what technology and software and strategies utilities need to make those desires happen—the cloud and analytics. Not every utility can jump completely feet-first into utterly flexible technology (such as the cloud). In most cases, then, Gulhar extolled a hybrid model in this move to doing it all smarter and faster—“a stepping stone to full cloud,” as he called it. We continued to chat about making the most of your core path, leveraging that new innovation angle and just what your customers want throughout CS Week 2017 in Fort Worth. Read more here: Life lessons in becoming customer-centric for utilities from utilities (and an association and ad agency, too) Build your very best digital road map with these suggestions Vectren’s no longer thinking about the customer 5 ways utilities can exploit the cloud The 20-year lesson: Con Edison finally builds the website customers want            

“Automation and analytics can transform operations and free up resources for you,” said Neel Gulhar with Oracle Utilities at today’s closed-door utility pow-wow called a Synergy meeting. Inside the...

Technology and the Cloud

One Danish utility offers a case study in the cloud

Utilities know this: today, the cloud reigns. Traditionally, this industry has been one that focused on building things in house, on keeping hands on. It was a system ingrained from hardware: When the transformer goes bad, you replace it. When the back-up battery dies, you switch it out. When the distribution pole is destroyed by wind, you put up another. This philosophy was carried over from hard infrastructure to software, systems and platforms, too.  When you had an old legacy CIS that wasn’t cutting it, well you replaced that, too. Today, however, the old in-house replacement culture is being rapidly overwritten. The glorious reign of the cloud brings this new feature: the ability to scale up in new areas with new options faster and cheaper—and hands off, for the most part. The global promise of the cloud continues to grow as more bits and pieces of systems and software can be converted, and all utilities will benefit from this major shift in business culture. Some already are, and one has published proof. Denmark’s NRGi, composed of a distribution system operation, a heating company, a renewables business and a retail company, supplies electricity to more than 220,000 Danish households. A recent IDC PERSPECTIVE brief, Digital Utility as a Service: NRGi’s Experience (doc #US40829017, April 2017) noted the utility’s experience with “digital utility as a service” (rather than the classic CIS legacy replacement), a project that included a valuable Oracle lynchpin that helped curb up-front investment costs for the utility as it worked to live up to the transparency that’s now a vivid requirement of the rapidly expanding Danish electricity market. The IDC Energy Insights overview went on to add that this digital utility investment “enabled NRGi to build a solid IT foundation while focusing on functionality rather than software.” It continues: “This case study shows how … NRGi is using process modernization and business model innovation to accomplish its ambitious vision to become the country’s number 1 digital utility.” NRGi’s goals with this project included better profitability, more transparency, regulatory compliance and a happier, more engaged, more digitally active customer. The project involved bringing Wipro on board to personalize and deploy an Oracle platform-as-a-service (PaaS) contract. A rather unique deployment, Wipro later dubbed it “Digital Utility Solution as a Service (DuSaaS).” DuSaaS includes hosted versions of Oracle Utilities’ Customer Care & Billing and our Meter Data Management at the core. (They communicate to the Danish market’s customer data hub with a specific solution designed by Wipro.) The package also contains Oracle Utilities Customer Self Service and Oracle Utilities Analytics, the Oracle Service Cloud and Enterprise Service Bus, along with Oracle’s Universal Content Management and Documaker. (Wipro’s adding IP, services, templates, framework and tools.) The IDC report pointed out the cost savings achieved for NRGi with this project (especially with capex), along with the faster on-boarding with customers it brought to the table. (The first customer went live five months after the project began. Most CIS replacement projects are looking out at least a year, if not more.) Both of those achievements fall right in line with the Danish utility’s goals, proving the Wipro/Oracle partnership the right end-to-end solution for their needs. According to the IDC brief, the deep collaboration and partnership between the utility, Wipro and Oracle made this project “the fastest utility CIS implementation in Danish history.”

Utilities know this: today, the cloud reigns. Traditionally, this industry has been one that focused on building things in house, on keeping hands on. It was a system ingrained from hardware: When the...

Customer Care

Your customers want digital options, and they want them right now

We all know this: A digitally engaged utility customer is a happier utility customer. The numbers bear it out time and again. But how do you shift to a culture more digital? First rule: digital strategies start with the end-user. Utilities who have invested deeply in digital tools make it easier for their customers to engage on their own terms, get the information they need, and take control of their energy use. (To start at the very, very beginning with what customers really want in behavioral terms, click here.) Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), headquartered in San Francisco, serves some of the most technologically savvy consumers in the world. To meet its expectations and evolving regulatory demands, PG&E has invested deeply in digital tools, and they shared lessons learned in a recent CS Week Marketplace webinar “How self-service tools prep your utility for the new customer-centric universe.” (You can watch a full replay of that webinar here.) In the webinar, Susan Norris, senior manager of energy efficient products with PG&E, discussed how a suite of outbound communications, proactive alerts, corporate social responsibility tools and websites—infused with world-class behavioral design and data-rich insights—have empowered millions of PG&E customers to choose self-service that can help them better understand and manage their bills.    Susan was introduced during the webinar by our own Katie Theiss, who leads product marketing and strategy for the Oracle Utilities Opower digital customer experience solutions—a set of solutions that currently enable over 100 utilities worldwide (including PG&E) to transform their relationships with their customers through insight-rich, multi-channel experiences designed by experts in UX and behavioral design. “I think we can all agree that now, more than ever, utilities are focused on the customers—and  customers are focused on digital,” she told the online audience listening in. “Customer expectations are being set from outside the industry by retail banks, telecommunications providers, and digital disrupters such as Uber and Amazon—companies who make digital interactions frictionless and personalized.” Theiss pointed out, however, that because most utilities don’t live up to those consumer expectations: only about 40 percent of customers interact with their utility online every year. Utilities are rising to the challenge: digital is quickly becoming a top priority for utility executives. (Another top priority is investing in software-as-a-service (SaaS) customer experiences that can evolve as quickly as customer expectations do. Theiss quoted one utility executive: “We’re out of the era now where we can build it ourselves.”) Digital has certainly been a top priority for PG&E in the last few years, as Norris noted, though she added that, indeed, they did have to come to accept certain restrictions. “We’re a utility. We’re not Amazon,” she said. “Energy is a low engagement category—maybe once-a-month with bills. Our customers’ baseline expectation hinges on hot showers and cold beer. I won’t exceed your expectations if your shower is hotter or your beer colder, but, if your shower doesn’t get hot or your beer isn’t as cold as it should be, you’ll really notice. And you’ll likely not be too happy about it. It’s hard to exceed that baseline expectation; so we have to seek opportunities to add value in other ways.” As Norris added, while utilities will never see the level of engagement and interaction of Amazon or Uber, they are all recognizing that those more high-energy, high-level retail interactions are now also defining how a customer expects to be able to engage with other service providers. In fact, those high-energy, high-level retail interactions are bringing customer self-service expectations to the utility’s doorstep. PG&E noticed in the numbers that their 2008 “high tech” category—which you could read as those people who wanted the digital interactions—grew by nearly 20 percent just in the few years between 2008 and 2015. And, by 2015, that category was over half of customers in total. And what do those customers want? A simple, modern, and elegant self-service experience. (The bonus is that improving digital channels is actually cheaper for the utility than the call-center culture of old. And moving customers onto digital channels enables utilities to increase customer satisfaction, boost participation in programs, and even cross-sell new products and services.) So, PG&E approached this new outlook on customers and engagement with the following principles: Reach the right customer with the right information through the right channel at the right time. Align resources to deliberately deliver personalized and relevant experiences. Monitor performance and predict future migration to optimize investments. Capture the customer journey. Invest in continuous improvement. That led to some unexpected decisions, including building a responsive web platform rather than having an app and a design that guides and informs the customer without being overwhelming. “It’s not just about educating customers. Education can be motivating, but we also need to drive them to action—and believe that they have the ability to solve their issue or change something easily while in this online experience,” she added. Since the new website launched, they’ve seen a bump in web pages on bill comparison numbers (up 34 percent with unique visits), home energy checkups (up 24 percent with unique visitors) and ways to save (up 78 percent with unique visitors).  They’ve also avoided over 900,000 calls and saved $16 million with operational cost reductions. (Norris added that customers still call the call center, of course. The calls are just getting more complex as customers can manage the easier transactions themselves through the online self-service tools.) To get more details on how Norris’ team and PG&E crafted a better, more agile customer experience, watch a full replay of that CS Week Marketplace webinar here. (Registration is required, but the webinar replay is free.)                  

We all know this: A digitally engaged utility customer is a happier utility customer. The numbers bear it out time and again. But how do you shift to a culture more digital? First rule: digital...

Operations

5 trending topics in the global water industry

We all have desires; we all have wants—the latest smartphone, the newest version of our favorite car brand, the best upgrade on our next international flight. We give a lot of thought to these wants. We dream about them. We write them down. We work out plans—both financial and strategic—to get these wants for our own. We probably think about our wants at least half of every day, but those of us lucky enough to be distracted by wants hardly ever, ever think about our very basic needs: food, shelter, water. Food’s in the fridge or at the store. Shelter’s all around us all the time. Water comes straight out of the faucet. Inside the utilities industry, though, we have to think quite a lot about making that water come straight out of the faucet—and how to make it do so on time, with pressure and as clean as possible. And we’ve been thinking about that basic need for quite a while, in fact. The modern water industry may be one of the oldest industries still up and running, stretching back at least to those Roman aqueducts tourists still gawk at regularly. As we go strong into the future of this industry and leave the past behind, we’re starting to plan even more, to think even more and to strategize about the best path forward to blend water desires with basic water needs, creating the best of both worlds. Here’s what’s top-of-mind for water executives today. 1. Keeping it safe to use. Water helps life grow, but some of that growth runs afoul of keeping water potable—namely in the form of algae and cyanobacteria. It’s a constant fight to stay ahead of those old foes, but, these days, water utilities are also dealing with modern pollutants and micro-pollutants, and the standards of allowable amounts in water continues to become more complicated and more strict. (Europe’s thinking about adding a number of new chemicals to their water monitoring lists in the near future, in fact.) This is a topic that will always be on the planning table with water utilities. Smaller countries with less extensive infrastructure are starting with the basics, but even the most modern, updated water utility is seeing new entrants in this category. In Australia, one of the biggest culprits is now microbeads (those small plastic balls put in beauty products to exfoliate). It’s a run-off problem, a waste water plant problem and an environmental problem, with some estimates saying that thousands are released into the water system with each product used. The Australian government has given a cease-and-desist order for microbeads—or else a ban is coming, they say. 2. Securing the source. Water can’t be made. Just found, cleaned and moved. In many cases, that means a whole lot of sharing as rivers, streams and lakes often cross political, cultural and country boundaries. In Asia, for example, China is the starting point for a number of rivers that go on to feed through a lot of other smaller countries to the southeast. Who owns what and what the expectations are to serve (entitlements), the political environments involved, and growing demand from a burgeoning population and booming industries in these areas are all stressors on this complex topic. Discussions on regulations and market development with an eye on sourcing will continue, undercut by financing questions and, of course, political volatility. Woven into this discussion will be how to make the most out of what you have in order to put less stress on shared water sources, which leads us to the next hot topic. 3. Working the system efficiently. Most of the modern global water industry is dealing with aging infrastructure and the problems that creates—namely water leaks. Trying to balance those problems with keeping outages few and far between—plus the growing tide of recycled water concepts—means figuring out how to make it all work together and do so better. Some upgrades are absolutely inevitable, but some won’t happen for a bit. And both the old and the new need to work together, and work together well—perhaps better than ever before. So, how do you get there? First, you need a more timely view of the system from pipes to pumps to valves. To do so requires a lot of monitoring, some good sensors and an integrated asset performance management plan (with an eye on ISO 55000 compliance). To get that info out to the field, you need a mobile workforce strategy. And to get that information to the customer, it all needs to tie in to your customer care platform. If you can’t see everything, you can’t plan for everything—and you certainly can’t optimize everything. 4. Going customer first. This is a new driver of change for the water industry that’s traditionally been focused on the hardware and hard science of the water business. It seems that the culture of retail is reaching all utilities. First the customer-centric focus came to the power utility and now it’s moved to encompass water as well. Deferred maintenance in this industry has, unfortunately, led to problems, which has led to an increase in customer awareness of those problems. Add to these issues growing water scarcity and non-revenue water concerns (both especially in Southeast Asia), and putting the customer at the forefront of your business discussions now becomes a necessity. Industry venues from the World Water Conference (set for Tokyo in 2018) to the recent Ozwater in Australia and AWWA ACE have customer sessions and tracks on the agenda. From better billing practices to planning for consumer behavior trends, improving the customer service has become a topic-to-watch with water. 5. Shifting to digital. All four of the previous topics have one thing in common: They’re all underpinned by a growing reliance on the digital world—whether you are monitoring pollutants or pipelines, whether you are trying to understand pricing or international entitlements, and whether you’re trying to make a happier customer or a happier CEO.  The modern water utility—wherever they are on the globe—is now looking ahead to analytics to track issues, record those issues and even help resolve those issues. They’re looking to move from the traditional mindset of being reactive to the more proactive and prescriptive stance that’s on the horizon. That means big data and doing lots with that data from clarifiers to the cloud.   Read more on the water industry: Dear water utilities: Does your work and asset management measure up? 6 words of water wisdom On tapping pride and laying pipe to the future of the water industry Best practices in customer communication from top American water utilities  

We all have desires; we all have wants—the latest smartphone, the newest version of our favorite car brand, the best upgrade on our next international flight. We give a lot of thought to these wants....

Operations

The digital utility 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.) Today’s talk focuses solely on India’s strides. Delving deeper into the regions you cover, how is India, specifically, working toward the smarter, more digital utility model? Vazille: The electric grid in India is immersed in a major overhaul to address many challenges: a growing GDP and continuing electricity demand growth, an increased need for digital connectivity—to empower people across the country in many areas of their lives including their power use—and an aging electricity infrastructu​re, in which high levels of aggregated technical and commercial loss have posed major challenges. Through UDAY, the country is focused on power sector reform, as well as plans for a smart, sustainable electric grid. And the leadership recently published a 10-year energy blueprint for enabling 57 percent of India’s total electricity capacity to come from clean energy sources by 2027. Plus, there’s the Digital India Initiative, where digital connectivity is being increased across the country to further support smart city and smart utility efforts. What’s India’s future look like with these programs and initiatives in mind? Will they make a difference, do you think? Vazille: Oh yes. I believe, in the coming decade, extraordinary opportunities will be realized in India as a result of these well-measured steps.  A smarter grid will enable India’s distribution companies to focus more granularly on demand-side management, with particular attention paid to the lowest-hanging fruit first, including grid asset maintenance and optimization, and supply planning based upon analysis of customer usage. India’s continued investment in smart meters and smart grid technologies will make available a massive new volume of data that utilities will be able to use to identify, analyze and then better control technical and commercial losses (including electricity theft), enhance supply planning with a much better and more granular view of customer usage, optimize the use of distributed energy resources like wind and solar, and better predict and address asset failures with pre-emptive asset maintenance. How will these programs and initiatives fold into India’s smart city planning? All of those initiatives and programs—from the smart grid-enabled, data-driven utility to enabling the smart network and energy infrastructure—are necessary to support a smart city. As we watch smart city environments—such as India’s 100 Smart Cities Mission—begin to bloom globally, often the catalyst for the smart city environment is a utility’s smart grid project. Why are utilities so well-suited for this role? It is a well-observed fact that determining a starting point for a smart city or municipality is a difficult undertaking considering the myriad of city functions and political interests it is necessary to pull together in a common direction. A utility smart project makes for an obvious rallying point with well-known benefits to the community it serves. As well, affordable, clean, and reliable energy, water, and natural gas sources are vital elements in a community’s economic development and health. Those elements are also well-established determinates in the quality of life and convenience in a community. As India moves forward with its smart cities initiatives over the next five years, underpinned by the Digital India Initiative, there will be an integral role for smart utilities to play in bringing those initiatives to fruition.   Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.   Oracle Utilities is a proud sponsor of India Smart Grid Week 2018 March 5-9 in New Delhi. Learn more about the show here.   

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...

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 last year, 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.

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...

Operations

On six Shearing Layers, three Pace Layers, two types of illusion, one British architect and your evolving utility

You have one single fellow to thank for the evolution of your utility from a system of top-down processes to the growing focus on innovation, flexibility and change. And, no, it’s not Elon Musk. In fact, our fellow isn’t a tech billionaire. He’s not a regulator. He’s not even a forward-thinking, here’s-the-future-in-a-nutshell consultant. In fact, he’s not a scientist. He’s not into data—at least, not the kind we’re all used to with sensor stats and usage rates and load forecasting. His name is Frank Duffy. Duffy is the British architect and urban designer who brought in one really brilliant concept to facilities management: Shearing Layers. Lost yet? Just wait. I promise it will all connect in an “a-ha” moment in the end. So, what are Shearing Layers? Conceptually, in a nutshell, this is the idea of breaking down the forest into each living, breathing, working tree—rather the flipside of the old adage. Duffy taught European and North American urban designers and architects to stop looking at buildings as a whole entity and, instead, start looking the pieces of it individually: Which take more time to manage? Which take longer to wear out? Which cost more up front? Which cost more in the long run? Keeping the constant of change in mind, how do we then frontload the planning and maintenance schedule to be the most adaptable and flexible? Duffy believed that we’re so focused on seeing these separate layers as a whole that we let them impact each other when they should, instead, be allowed to change organically on their own without restraints from the timelines inherent in other layers. In other words, we falsely believe that a building is a building—that all the things inside of it and under it and on it and through it come together to make it a single whole. Instead, with Duffy’s thinking, the building is nothing. It’s an illusion, a shell, and what exists are those things inside and under and on and through: the land it’s on, the foundation with which it’s built, the surfaces that surround it, the services that it provides, the items it houses. (For you grammar wonks, this is a lot like explaining the difference between compose and comprise.) Writer Stewart Brand came along in the ‘90s and picked up this Duffy thought process. He expanded it into a book, and in about 2012, Gartner began its tech variation of Duffy’s theory with their own Pace Layers. Pace Layers apply Duffy’s idea of the illusion of a whole obfuscating the realities of the working parts to tech-heavy organizations. Duffy had six varying layers; Gartner has condensed to three: systems of records, systems of differentiation and systems of innovation. Duffy shifted focus from the whole to the individual layers.  Gartner juggles those layers into a hierarchy, showcasing how old-school management styles once only suited for systems of record are evolving to more flexible approaches that enable faster change with your systems of differentiation and innovation.  Here’s your “a-ha” moment laid out: All these labels on layers may be confusing, but the changes they wrought in corporate groupthink have become decidedly normal today. Think of the pre-Duffy, pre-Pace-Layers mindset as the old silo approach you once had: everything top-down. This new, separate growth layers approach (with coming change at the forefront of every decision) is already in place—if only by a toe-hold in spots—across this industry. It used to be that those systems you have were thought about seriously—and perhaps replaced—every 30 years, if not every fifty on the grid end of things. And we thought of them as a whole. Now, we are drilled down into those detailed layers, with a need for agility and responsiveness creating a need to think about those details daily. We’re elbows-deep in the details, as my grandfather might say, and Duffy would more than approve. Rather than having to apply this thinking from the outside in (or the top down) and shake off our old, siloed ways over and over and over, we seem to be getting very used to understanding organic growth and change and the reworking our structures to take those into account. We are becoming more agile, more flexible. We are working toward that Pace Layers goal where systems of innovation are naturally in the lead. Concepts become foundational thinking when they begin to work organically without force, and both Duffy and Gartner have seen that evolution first-hand—Duffy over the decades since he first developed the architecture concepts and Gartner over the last five years since they unveiled the Pace Layers. The conscious uncoupling of organizational and technical strata to inspire innovation and embrace change has been 40 years coming in its journey from Duffy’s brain, through Gartner’s reworking, into our industry.  But the customer-centric, distributed, transactive utility market of the future continues to come into focus with that thinking in mind. Both Duffy and Gartner should be proud of their work in this corporate cultural evolution. Soon their innovative layers will simply be how things are and seem natural and pure common sense. Frank Duffy was born in 1940. He came up with the Shearing Layers in the 1970s. Stewart Brand wrote the definitive book on Duffy’s layers in 1994. Gartner brilliantly adapted those layers to organizational thinking and technology in 2012. Utilities are expanding outward to put customer and tech innovation at the front of their strategy planning in 2017. Sometimes, the path to common sense is a long-haul journey. Let Oracle Utilities help you with that journey. Let’s put our heads together and plan ahead for each layer: innovation, cloud concepts and big data analytics.  

You have one single fellow to thank for the evolution of your utility from a system of top-down processes to the growing focus on innovation, flexibility and change. And, no, it’s not Elon Musk. In...

Innovation Insights

The digital utility revolution goes global

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. Before we get into the devil of those details, let's start with jargon and general concepts. We talk a lot in this industry about the smart grid, and, in the last few years, about the Internet of Things. How do you see those two ideas intersecting? Vazille: Well, the smart grid, after all, is essentially the application of Internet of Things technology—smart sensors, two-way communications, and analytics—that allow the electric grid infrastructure to enable better efficiency, improved reliability, the integration of more renewable energy and distributed energy resources, reduced emissions, and more engaged and empowered customers. How will that intersection impact the utility industry? Vazille: You'll see a global impact over the next few years. Our industry is expected to drive exponential growth of new Internet of Things applications to communicate machine-to-machine to new field devices and consumer energy technology devices. But even more important than this machine-to-machine communication is the sensor data being gathered by these machines—and especially how this data can be used more efficiently and proactively by utilities. Can you give us an example or two? Vazille: Armed with data in real time, a utility has a more reliable view of the asset health of its infrastructure and can make better investment and work decisions. They'll know best how to balance compliance, reliability, safety and risk. Proactive work has been shown to reduce asset failure rates and drive down the cost to operate each asset. By scheduling proactive work during normal business hours, instead of having to react immediately to a failure causing an outage, costs are reduced and reliability is greatly improved. If you add automation to this equation, made possible by smart sensor and control devices—many of which are IP-addressable and wirelessly connected—along the utility's infrastructure, you can also add real-time asset analysis and advanced asset risk analysis to the asset management toolset and alleviate problems along the infrastructure while they are still minor. So, it all circles back to the increasing importance of data? Vazille: This more holistic view of utility assets, as well as load profiles, all along the grid infrastructure allows for the ability to reduce losses while optimizing the operation of the grid at the same time. And, yes, it all begins with the view that, if utility data is viewed as an asset that can produce its own value in the same way that physical assets such as poles and wires can, this data has the potential to transform the utility industry, just as it has so many other industries. From smart grid to IoT to the combined next step then? Vazille: Yes, digitization, or digital transformation—enabled by smart grid technologies that provide utilities with automation, self-healing, remote monitoring and control, and more—is vital for the evolution of the modern utility. That's the combined next step, as you call it. At Oracle Utilities, we have focused our research and development efforts on providing the new technology platform and business processes to enable digitization and the data-driven utility enterprise. What does that digital transformation mean for utilities globally? Vazille: As data volumes grow, intelligent device capabilities advance, and consumer expectations continue to evolve, utilities around the world must prepare to take on those challenges and adopt new digital capabilities in order to produce values across the business. For utilities, there are typically three main focus areas for digital transformation. The first is the transformation of information and technology: as utilities transform from reactive to proactive use of information and rely more heavily on analytics, they will require more advanced and integrated technology to take advantage of the full business value of the data. The second area is the transformation of the workplace: improvements in access to information, automation, and integrated business processes will result in new ways to work. And the final focus area is the transformation of the customer experience: digital transformation allows the utility to quickly pivot as consumer expectations and communication trends change, and allows for a deeper level of customer engagement across all channels. I've heard you call this future digital model the "data-driven utility." Could you expand on that a bit? Vazille: The data-driven utility uses focused analysis of the new volume of data coming in from its grid assets—as well as its customer end points—to uncover new opportunities to better manage its enterprise. This type of focused analysis can do any number of things, including pinpointing network losses, identifying peak-demand times, integrating renewable energy resource into the distribution grid, or better profiling customers' energy usage in order to more successfully introduce demand response and energy efficiency programs or other potential energy services. Could you walk us through how Oracle can help utilities evolve into that data-driven utility model? Vazille: Let's track a specific example with growing popularity: EVs. In the case of electric vehicle charging, Oracle DataRaker analytics can identify where EV charging is increasing load on certain transformers. In one documented case, the addition of one electric vehicle resulted in a 71 percent increase in transformer loading. Once this analysis identifies the transformers at risk, the data can be fed back into an Oracle Opower peak management program and used to micro-target utility customers who are charging their electric vehicles during peak hours with an EV-specific peak time rebate offer to encourage them to charge during off-peak hours. Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part interview. Read part two here.

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. Before we get...

Technology

How valuable is the grid? Let’s start counting the ways

Is the grid the problem? Is the grid our solution? Is the grid going away? Is the grid going to be the be-all center of the future utility? These are the questions we’re all wrestling with in the industry at the moment, and Raiford Smith, VP, Energy Technology & Analytics for Entergy discussed a few possibilities in “Building a customer-centric grid in the age of DER” session at Oracle Industry Connect 2017. Smith started with the four trends he sees underlying our current utilities industry culture transformation. First is the larger, faster adoption of distributed energy resources as a whole—that it’s becoming a smarter economic possibility every day. Second is the proliferation of sensors to get us all better info about that transformation, with the third being more movement of the data tying the details of that transformation together. Between the third and fourth trend is where Smith inserts a version of Metcalfe’s Law. As items and widgets and tech on the grid becomes “more commonly coupled, the more value the grid has in and of itself,” Smith noted. This leads to Smith’s last trend: big data analytics. And more of it. “Once you have the data, you can better manage the grid, which is a cycle, really,” he added.  “Better managing the grid leads to more sensors, more assets and then more analytics, too.” But to really have the value proposition come to fruition, Smith sees one big key: a flexible grid that can handle items like DER. So, that valuable grid won’t be the one-way push of power we used to have (and still mostly currently have). We’re talking about an all new version of the grid—but we’re not dumping the grid concept entirely.  Smith titled the future grid, in fact, “a value-created network.” Smith warned of one cultural downfall to the future of this shiny, new grid concept, though, and that’s the current use of the popular use case. “Our management style is to say: I have a problem. I’ll issue an RFP and buy a widget to solve it. This is flawed thinking: being focused on the one problem of the use case rather than thinking about multiple problem, a family of them, even, and solving that larger group,” Smith added. “You have to balance, of course,” he added.  “But I would argue that a utility shouldn’t go into an RFP just to solve an instant problem.” Another area of new thinking to get to that new grid: listening to the customer voice. “The customer is the rationale for why we’re all here,” Smith said.  “We ask them if they are satisfied with their service, but we don’t ask them what they want. Our planning cycle is backwards. We go with a given load forecast and ways to support that load. We don’t do the reverse: Customers want this. What do I need the distribution system to do to make this happen and then how do we adjust the transmission/generation upstream to support this?” So, new thinking and new planning are how we get to that new grid, but Smith, at least, doesn’t see that grid disappearing from the utility equation. “I don’t think we’ll ever be completely without a grid because being interconnected is more valuable than not,” he concluded. Read all the insights from Oracle Industry Connect 2017: Two words will help you survive the changing utility business Defining the evolution of the smart(er) city The most fabulous insights overheard at Oracle Industry Connect Come join us for the next Oracle Industry Connect. Save the date for 2018: April 9-11 in NYC. ​

Is the grid the problem? Is the grid our solution? Is the grid going away? Is the grid going to be the be-all center of the future utility? These are the questions we’re all wrestling with in...

Company

The most fabulous insights overheard at Oracle Industry Connect

Utility executives and industry insiders descended on the Mouse House in Orlando in March to share ideas, problems (and hopefully solutions, too)—and even a funny story or two. Networking happened in every corner of Walt Disney World Dolphin Conference Center. But, if you couldn’t be there in person (or if you were there but couldn't make magical copies of yourself to sit in on every session you wanted to), here are a few of our favorite juicy tidbits to share. From digital anthropologist Brian Solis: If you're waiting for someone to tell you what to do, you're not innovating. Figure out what customers actually value, not what you think or assume they value. Innovation isn't iteration. It's doing new things. How do you actually change a company? It’s all psychology. Even digital change. We can't keep trying to conform people to the way things were. We have to build them a bridge to the future. From Oracle Utilities' Rodger Smith:  Disruption was driven by customers in retail. The same will happen—is happening—in the utilities world. Today IT is an enabler to enhance customer experience & reliability in the utilities industry. We're on the cusp of change in this industry. It's going to be dramatic. From Edison Electric Institute’s Dr. Lawrence Jones: Nowhere do we see tech integration as in the smart city where multiple infrastructures come together. Analytics for what? Know the answer to that. What is it that you want to analyze? So, now, what information mix do you need? Analytics needs to start with a solution. In the end, rather than discussing which cities are smart, it would be easier, really, to just tell us which cities are dumb. Then I can work forward and make the dumb cities smarter. From Southern Company’s Kim Greene: Want to survive and even thrive in the changing energy and utilities future? Be agile. Our customers want more control, more tech, more convenience, more comfort. If we are there for the customer, everything else will work out. From National Grid’s Carlos Nouel: If people feel you are a part of the community & take their interests to heart, you will be successful. Customers are thinking about more than energy; they're thinking convenience, safety, service. From ComEd’s Carol Bartucci: Data is the new AMI. From Oracle Utilities' Bob Weiler: Customers are demanding that we be more agile.  As a bonus to this overheard round-up, we’re sharing a final snippet from one of our favorite panels. Here are four tips from them ( them being Matthew Ketschke at Con Edison, Dan Lipschultz with Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and Louis J. Hutchinson, III from Washington Gas):  Engage the customer to be part of the solution Update interconnection standards. Partner. With. Each. Other. From utilities to government to vendors & beyond. Be more flexible (and this note is aimed at both utilities and regulators, too).   Read all the insights from Oracle Industry Connect 2017: Two words will help you survive the changing utility business How valuable is the grid? Let’s start counting the ways. Defining the evolution of the smart(er) city The most fabulous insights overheard at Oracle Industry Connect Come join us for the next Oracle Industry Connect. Save the date for 2018: April 9-11 in NYC.   

Utility executives and industry insiders descended on the Mouse House in Orlando in March to share ideas, problems (and hopefully solutions, too)—and even a funny story or two. Networking happened in...

Customer Care

Defining the evolution of the smart(er) city

“Who here lives in a smart city?” asked Dr. Lawrence Jones VP of Edison Electric Institute to the audience in the “Optimizing smart networks: the role of utilities in smart cities efforts” session during Oracle Industry Connect’s energy and utilities program. Not a single hand was raised. “Now, if I asked the mayors of your cities, would they think you live in a smart city?” Jones continued, building the idea that, in fact, the definition of a smart city is pretty broad—some would say wide open, even. Jones added, though, that we do need to start whittling it down a bit, and that there are certain underlying features that make a city smart where we can start: information, customers, the economics of it. What is key: integration. “Nowhere do we see tech integration as in the smart city where multiple infrastructures come together,” he said. Manny Cancel, VP of IT and CIO of Con Edison, added this detail to Jones’ definition, “Cybersecurity has got to be baked into this.” Jones certainly agreed. Moderator Brad Williams, VP, Industry Strategy at Oracle Utilities, brought up the subject of analytics (in response to Jones’ inclusion of information in his smart city definition). “But analytics for what? Know the answer to that,” Jones replied. “What is it that you want to analyze? So, now, what information mix do you need.? Analytics needs to start with a solution.” Cancel added that, while he agreed with Jones’ assessment, those problem/solution combos sometimes present themselves. (He used his own utility as an example of this, noting that they were one of the last major utilities to put in smart meters. They didn’t do it until they figured out how they could use the data. But that did happen. They did find the value.) “In the end, rather than discussing which cities are smart, it would be easier, really, to just tell us which cities are dumb. Then I can work forward and make the dumb cities smarter,” Jones said. Panelists did come to agreement on a few ways to make dumb cities, less dumb cities and even somewhat smart cities even smarter. They suggest starting with these six tidbits: Simplify the conversation so the municipal stakeholders aren’t overwhelmed by the conversation itself. Plan out integration. What works together already? What needs to work together in the future? How do you lay out the framework for that? Define your city’s unique problems. If you’re building a brand new city from scratch, you can put in all the “cool stuff” from the start. Retrofitting a community will have layers of issues that don’t exist with the shiny, new smart communities. Be a good consensus builder. Get all those stakeholders and community influencers on board for this journey. Think about cost and investment up front (and get regulators into the conversation). Create smaller proof-of-concept areas to show benefits to the market, and if the market sees those benefits, the market will respond.   Read all the insights from Oracle Industry Connect 2017: Two words will help you survive the changing utility business How valuable is the grid? Let’s start counting the ways. Defining the evolution of the smart(er) city The most fabulous insights overheard at Oracle Industry Connect Come join us for the next Oracle Industry Connect. Save the date for 2018: April 9-11 in NYC. 

“Who here lives in a smart city?” asked Dr. Lawrence Jones VP of Edison Electric Institute to the audience in the “Optimizing smart networks: the role of utilities in smart cities efforts”...

Customer Care

Two words will help you survive the changing utility business

The packed room for Oracle Industry Connect’s energy & utilities program kick-off was a massive elbow-rubbing opportunity with a sea of familiar and trend-setting faces from Rodger Smith, Senior Vice President and General Manager at Oracle Utilities, to Kim Greene, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Southern Company, from Peter Fox-Penner, Professor of Practice, Questrom School of Business and Director of the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy, to Carol Bartucci, Vice President of Information Technology and ComEd Chief Information Officer with Exelon Corporation, and Steve McBee, former Chief Executive Officer of NRG Home and Founder of McBee Strategic Consulting. Fox-Penner, Bartucci and McBee sat down on a panel and fielded questions about the future of the utilities business, centering around old legacy systems, old legacy infrastructure and new approaches to investment. “It’s a great time to be in this industry—during its time of greatest disruption,” Fox-Penner declared, opening the floor to discussion. Bartucci jumped in adding that “power’s sexy now.” It’s no longer a business that speaks to only the geekiest engineers in the bunch. Now the social power of the industry is really being recognized and felt. New employees and customers alike are starting to understand how culture-defining power really is. McBee agreed wholeheartedly, adding, however, that change in this industry is going to move faster and faster. So, while power is being recognized as sexier; it’s also getting riskier. Bartucci responded that Exelon is exploring how to approach all this change and are looking for partnerships to help with that, even with vendor and investment relationships—in fact, especially with vendor and investment relationships—but there are still a number of gray areas because no one really knows what they will truly need in five years (or even just a couple of years). And even though we all know change is coming and necessary, there are still questions. Lots of them, as Bartucci pointed out. First, how do you bill for new services? Yes, a new business model is on the horizon, and we’re all busy unpacking it right now, but what does that mean when it comes to tariffs and charges—when it comes down to the nitty gritty? Everyone’s still wrestling with those devilish details of change. And then the panel broke down even more details: How do you deal with old legacy systems? If you replace all of them, will they be obsolete in a few years? If you go with outsourcing options, how do you make a contract for what you’ll need in five years when you aren’t sure what that is, really? McBee had a series of juicy bits of advice for Bartucci and other utilities in the room to help understand, parcel and react to those details of question. First, he said utilities shouldn’t become complacent. He pointed out that in other industries overhauled by disruption, pacing was similar: first small changes, then a sudden shift and an onslaught—a never-ending onslaught, in fact. So don’t get comfortable with small change—with changes in inches—because changes in feet, yards and miles is coming. And no one knows when that switch will flip. But when it does, there is no going back. He also advised a change in thinking, a shift from utilities seeing themselves as commodity providers of electricity to becoming tailored providers of services around electricity. To get there: use your data. Integrate analytics, understand your services on an individual level and then “aggregate services to fit that sweet spot,” he said. “Use analytics to figure out the services that customers want to buy and buy more of,” he added. So, the theme so far as Oracle Industry Connect gets into full swing is change—and faster change. But perhaps the best advice in the room on how a utility can survive and thrive with all this change came from Southern Company’s Kim Greene. She had those two words for you. What were they? “Be agile.” And Kim Greene would know (as Southern Company is one of the most agile utilities we know). Read all the insights from Oracle Industry Connect 2017: Two words will help you survive the changing utility business How valuable is the grid? Let’s start counting the ways. Defining the evolution of the smart(er) city The most fabulous insights overheard at Oracle Industry Connect Come join us for the next Oracle Industry Connect. Save the date for 2018: April 9-11 in NYC. 

The packed room for Oracle Industry Connect’s energy & utilities program kick-off was a massive elbow-rubbing opportunity with a sea of familiar and trend-setting faces from Rodger Smith, Senior Vice...

Oracle

Integrated Cloud Applications & Platform Services