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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.

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