Innovative ideas for every utility

Facing utility disrupters head on

“This is the most change I’ve ever seen in this industry—fundamental change on how we run this business,” began Rodger Smith, GM & VP of Oracle Utilities as he opened the first session of the utilities track at Oracle OpenWorld 2018.

Tracing the inventions and innovations of utilities—starting with water aqueducts and water-powered industries and developing through the Chinese-born first gas pipelines—Smith highlighted the first disrupters of this fundamental community-building industry, which stretched back hundreds of years. (So, spoiler alert, disrupters are just not new to utilities—nor to any industry, really.)

“I really believe today we’re facing the next round of industry innovation,” Smith added. “It’s coming at a faster pace, with a lot of it driven by the customer, a customer expecting new and different things.”

“There are disrupters appearing all the time now,” he added. “The difference between now and the changes we’ve seen in the past? Utilities have nothing to do with it. And if we’re asleep at the switch, a lot of us will be caught off guard.”

Smith warned that we’re already in it—that big change—and that utilities must deal with those new disrupters while also meeting that obligation to serve that’s fundamental with this industry.

What should be added to that fundamental thinking? Reinvention. Modernization. Digitalization. New tech. New thinking, new products, new models and new services. These are all on the short list of must-haves for the current uncertain times.

Smith argued that there is still a question of whether utilities should be at the center of this change. In other words, should utilities manage that disruption on the horizon (and even occurring right now)?  The short answer: Absolutely.

But, according to Smith, utilities must focus in these areas:

  • On how to serve that more demanding customer—basically how to put that customer at the very center of all that you do (and look to retail for good examples).
  • On how to come at these disruptions as a unified whole (rather than piecemeal).
  • On how to unpack outside disrupters when they happen (and not fall behind).
  • On how to embrace new tech wholeheartedly (and look to banking for excellent role models).
  • On not resting on disrupter laurels (see Sears, which disrupted retail 100 years ago, being disrupted today as a lesson there).
  • On how to jump in without knowing all the rules and all the details (understanding that some mistakes will happen, and that’s OK).

“In this new environment, you can’t accurately predict what is going to happen exactly. Agility will be key to a utility’s success in all of this,” Smith added.

And how does a large utility facing disruption become that agile entity?

Smith has two simple bits of advice for you: Get a partner to help you scale and get in the game right now.


Oracle Utilities, including Opower, partners with the world's hardest working electric, water and natural gas companies to empower, enhance and enable your every single day. From cloud-native products and better grid management tools to support for every single step of your customer's journey, we have the answer. Learn more at oracle.com/utilities. Get specific product information as quick as clicking right here.

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