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Oracle OpenWorld Exclusive: Rodger Smith Predicts What Your Utility Will Look Like in 2030

Oracle OpenWorld, happening right now in our hometown of San Francisco, brings together the best and the brightest of Oracle people and Oracle customers to talk about all the possibilities of the future—from bad to good and back again—and how to plan for those possibilities.

 Here in Oracle’s utilities-focused group, the man most in sync with all those plans and possibilities is Senior Vice President and General Manager Rodger Smith. So, we sat down for a short chat with him on the industry, the issues, and how to turn innovative thinking into insightful strategy.

 [Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a two-part series. Read part one here.]

How would you advise executives of the average American utility to prep today for the customer-centric grid of tomorrow?

Smith: First, they’ve got to realize they aren’t the first to be here. We talked about telecom and its breakdown. Other businesses, as well, have gone through these paradigm shifts—like banking, like retail—and made it through a bit more cohesively. Look at how those industries adapted to personalized disruption, both good and bad.

There are regulatory strategy lessons in telecom and banking. There are customer service lessons in retail, specifically. There are so many examples to choose from, so many moments that could be seen as case studies to do (or not do).

There are examples that show the brilliance of adaptation, and, sadly, there are also examples—so many examples—of how customers want something to be done differently, and the industry didn’t react fast enough. Learn from the good and the bad.

From the good, ask yourself: How can I do something similar? (Notice the wording: not “can I,” but “how can I”—no room for excuses.) For the bad, ask yourself: How do I not have that happen to me?

 

Let’s pick up on that “how can I” language: In your opinion, how can utilities evolve faster? What are your top tidbits there?

Smith: Let’s work from the foundation up. And that foundation is data these days, not hardware. It’s a new utility world.

So, first, data protection is key. Utilities must learn how to obtain value from data and still protect it, too. Utilities can do both of those with cloud technology. So, they’ll need to figure out investment recovery on that, which is easy to say but not to do, I know, but it must be done.

On top of that data work, you’ve got to layer customer-centric planning. What do I need to have in place to provide the services that customers will want tomorrow? Is it like milk in the grocery store? Will power be the loss leader?  Can I live with that if I’m also selling other services? How can I roll in customers selling to customers as well?

And, again, it needs to be in the language of “how can I,” not “can I.”

We still, as a whole, worry about controlling technology rather than controlling the customer relationship and the customer experience, but that customer element shifted the telecom business. It shifted the banking business. It even shifted retail, an industry that has always lived and breathed customer service—even there, the desires prosumers want today have created massive change.

We have to stop thinking about what technology we need to make the systems work efficiently and start thinking about technology (and data, too) as baseline, as the foundation-building for our true focus: customer engagement.

That’s going to be the driver for utilities in the future.

 

So, let’s talk about that future. What will that utility look like in 2030 if all goes well?

Smith: Our next-generation utilities will be deeply engaged with customers, providing a lot of different services around blockchain transactions, EV charging, seamless solar/DER connections, and total care service for electric appliances and systems.

That customer relationship will be key, but the data underneath will be, perhaps, even more valuable. I can envision utilities having a data center where they can create multiple value chains based on variations of data use and actions, tied to a variety of services-and tied out to other industries as well.

 

What if all doesn't go well?

Smith: Then utilities will be regulated to that traditional commodity business model. They’ll maintain lines, maintain infrastructure. Other people will step in and take over their customer relationships and the more dynamic parts of the business.

This outcome is, frankly, more boring than the more dynamic 2030 utility world, but it has a bonus. It comes with much lower risk (though also much lower returns). Honestly, some utilities will be OK with that.

And, whatever the final model, we cannot forget our industry’s obligation to serve. That’s a moral imperative.

 

Tell us what you’ve always wanted to be honest with utilities about. What’s your Jack Nicholson “you can’t handle the truth” moment?

Smith: I don’t think meters will exist ten years from now. Meters are propellers on rocket ships.

But, truthfully, I don’t usually hold back on that—or any other—statement. Open and honest dialog is what we do. It’s required. It must happen. That’s integral to being a vital part of the community. We can’t partner and advise and work together if we can’t be honest with each other.

We can’t have a good working relationship without honesty—or without knowing the people and the science behind this industry.

I’m proud of Oracle that we’re a part of the global utilities community. We’re not just a vendor that sells products. We study things from end-to-end. We try to understand the industry; we try to be a valuable part of the whole. And we are always up front and honest in how we see this industry evolving and how we can help utilities thrive throughout this evolution.

If you want to put that to the test, just give us a call.

 

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