This biggest industry event for utilities remains an impressive, overwhelming at times, week. While I’m still processing the abundance of information, there are some game changing takeaways worth sharing. Here are my top takeaways from another impressive DistribuTECH conference.
There’s a Lot of Data
Utilities are experiencing an influx of data – structured, unstructured, and semi-structured – that needs to be analyzed and leveraged productively. Not only is there ample data coming in, many utilities are replicating their data 18 times across the organization, which increases costs and decreases accuracy. That’s a lot to manage. More importantly, is the utility making the leap from big data to big information? It is information, not data, that can truly transform a utility if properly used. With the right tools, decision making and forecasting can be quite simple. To address this challenge, utilities have a few tasks:
- Know your data’s source. Is it reliable?
- Get automated. Have your data feed into one place.
- Start training. Not surprisingly, users don’t have to be as tech savvy as they were years ago. With MS-DOS days behind us, simple tools and easy to understand maps make learning a new application less challenging than before.
Customers Want to Know
With large amounts of data come questions. And a lot of them are from utility customers. As one DistribuTECH keynote mentioned, utilities have become a bit of a “retail business” in recent years. Customers want to know how long the power will be out, and they want to know as soon as the utility knows. Fortunately, this is a pretty simple task thanks to advanced restoration time tools, mobile communication, and a social media presence backing it all up. What once required a phone call to report an outage has transformed into the utility company texting the customer of an outage in their area – sometimes without their knowledge — notifying them it’s occurring and a repair is underway. Beyond that, customers can know how utility bills are trending, access more information on usage, and take more control of their own consumption. Just as the grid has become smarter, so have utility customers. Providers need to maintain customer engagement through multiple outlets and simply share some information.
Moving the Data
Utilities are adopting fiber optic networks at an astonishing rate and for reasons beyond supporting an Advance Metering Infrastructure (AMI). Fiber networks allow utilities to become Internet Service Providers or use their dark fiber as a means of bringing in additional revenue through leasing these optical pathways. In some instances, these are new network opportunities, known as greenfields, or updating existing networks where the infrastructure is no longer meeting the needs of the community. As devices become smarter and require connectivity, this will be an increasing critical need. Utilities are beginning to ask the right questions to support the communication grid. Now that DistribuTECH has opened the door to discuss these advanced networks face-to-face with utilities, plans are being put in place to support these future smart projects.
All the data flowing into utilities enterprise isn’t something that should be overwhelming. Instead, it’s something that should be welcomed, understood, and shared across the enterprise and with customers making a truly smart city.
Those are my takeaways from this year’s DistribuTECH conference. It will be interesting to see how utilities adopt and adapt to these data and customer trends over the next year.
Kelsey Ryon is a senior marketing specialist for Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure’s Utilities, Communications, and Transportation business unit in the U.S. Ryon has more than eight years of experience in the utilities industry including energy, water, transmission, and distribution - gaining valuable insights into the global businesses. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Athens State University.