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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:

Come join us for the next Oracle Industry Connect. Save the date for 2018: April 9-11 in NYC. 

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