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Innovation at the heart of the next-generation utility business

Innovation at the heart of the next-generation utility business


By Francois Vazille, Vice President of JAPAC & EMEA, Oracle Utilities

Disruptive megatrends like rapid urbanisation, climate change, and volatile energy prices are continuously transforming the utilities sector. Yesterday’s centralised market is being dispersed, disrupted and digitised by agile new entrants, alternative energy sources and in-control customers. In tandem, spurned by advancements in technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), ever-increasing amounts of data are being collated at every point of supply and demand, adding both complexity and opportunity to the mix.

Recent initiatives have cast the spotlight back on the utilities industry. This includes the recently announced carbon tax as part of Singapore’s Year of Climate Action, where facilities which produce 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions in a year will have to pay a carbon tax from 2020.

Additionally, the introduction of a blockchain-powered platform by power utilities firm SP Group allowing households and small producers of solar energy to sell ‘green credits’ to buyers so they can offset their carbon footprint.

These developments have also been cemented by the liberalisation of the utilities industry with consumers now having the option of choosing their preferred electricity price plans from as many as 12 providers, since November 2018.

With competition intensifying in the industry, utility providers need to turn to innovation in order to achieve competitive advantage, business performance excellence and to improve the customer experience, while aligning with the nation’s sustainability goals.

Meeting the Demands of the Smart Utility Customers of Today
Technological innovation is spurring this evolution of the customer experience, giving them more options, and customers now want from their utility providers the same instant access to the most up-to-date information—on the platform of their choice. Even more compelling is the technological transformation that has allowed personal energy insights to transform behaviour. Users are better advised on time-of-use rates and encouraged to shift their electrical usage to more economical times.

Let’s take a major water utility company in Southeast Asia, as an example. They have plans to implement the Oracle Utilities Work and Asset Management Cloud Service to improve their asset performance management operations. Specifically, a key benefit would be to confirm that appropriate resources are allocated and deployed when water asset issues arise. The platform will be able to establish work order management systems by providing integrated insights through the optimisation of work and maintenance schedules in real time.

Such use cases are a testament to how the utilities industry is embracing technology in streamlining their business processes, enabling them to perform effectively and work productively. Asset operations today are able to detect and predict the risk of failures faster given the value of reducing the total cost of ownership and improving workforce deployment. The platform also allows utilities to get ahead with cloud technology in terms of data-led decision-making across their organisations.

Powering Real-Time Changes with Data
Today, the daily life of utility centres consists almost entirely of data. Real-time data insights and actions such as sharing instant notifications on outages, problems, and power quality issues are driven by innovations such as Artificial Intelligence (AI)-programmed, self-healing nanobots. Consumers are also able to “order” audits of not just their overall energy usage, but at the granular appliance level, on top of being able to supply data history and analysis immediately. A customer service chatbot can also follow up through the same device.

Machine learning in particular has made remarkable strides in the utility industry in just the past few years, now permeating all parts of the utility enterprise. Oracle Utilities have built a set of analytic insights off of the world’s largest smart meter data repository and have proven to over 100 utilities that the insights can help boost customer satisfaction and joy.

Dealing with Digital Disruption in Utilities: The Game Plan
The world is going to change dramatically. It will not be technology that will hold us back but our ability to use technology. In the Singapore example, where a carbon tax was introduced, this had resulted in stricter regulations for firms. Governments have to adapt regulations moving forward, in terms of how rates are designed, ownership of data, and who controls different transactions beyond the meter. Only when advancement in key energy technologies and the appropriate regulatory framework are working in tandem, will our goals of energy sustainability be met.

In the long run, a dual and simultaneous approach that includes both core business innovation and future business innovation is required. Utilities providers will need to use a more modular approach by leveraging technology to look for new revenue streams.

There is an opportunity for the cloud to play a role in all of this by taking utilities out of the business of doing the mundane work around maintaining technology environments and creating more time for utilities to innovate. As businesses need to spend more of their time and budget on innovation and less on maintaining systems, utilities will reap the benefits of the cloud as well as having companies like Oracle assist in maintaining their environments for them, and ensuring the data and information are more secure, instead of having to do it themselves.

About the Author

Francois is the Vice-President Oracle Utilities for Japan and the APAC region since 2015. He leads a team of utilities experts to provide mission critical solutions for utilities in electricity, gas and water. It includes developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy that allows customers to deliver operational efficiency, innovative customer experience and performance excellence.

Prior to working for Oracle, Francois was Vice-President for Schneider Electric in the Pacific, where he spent a year bringing their data centre business from significant decline to double digit growth through business transformation and new innovative market strategy.