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CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | Staff Reporter, Singapore

How can the utilities industry successfully adapt in the digital world?

In order to thrive, utilities must embrace and harness digital transformation.

In the face of increasing pressure to further enhance operational performance and customer relationships in the digital age, utilities are being highly encouraged to develop comprehensive, sustainable strategies incorporating digital technologies into the utility enterprise.

This means, thus, that it is imperative for utilities to be data-driven, to analyse and harness the power of data to uncover new opportunities to better manage its enterprise, based upon data-driven decisions. This entails embracing digital transformation for utilities.

"Digital transformation, then, is the change or transformation of the business enterprise and its processes as the utility applies digital technology and tools—smart meters and sensors, data analytics, cloud and Internet of Things technologies—to its processes and practices," says Francois Vazille, Vice President, Oracle Utilities, JAPAC.

He notes that as operational and customer-focused processes and tools within the utility enterprise have increased and matured, so too has the amount of data flowing into the utility.

"Utilities must find ways to leverage new technology capabilities within an already rapidly changing industry," says Vazille. "As mobility needs change, data volumes grow, intelligent devices capabilities advance, and consumer expectations evolve, utilities around the world must be prepared to take on those challenges and adopt new digital capabilities to produce value across the business."

Data is power

Vazille shares that there are several areas in which data- or insight-driven strategies can show a clear return on investment, both right now and into the future. First, a data-driven strategy allows you to better leverage customer data to provide a more personalised customer experience.

"This is particularly important in competitive retail markets…in which customer choice and “churn” are important financial factors to the utility," he says.

Further, on the operations side, a data-driven strategy allows the utility to better leverage sensor data for increased asset performance. "For example, with good sensor data and analysis, it is no longer necessary to run an asset such as a transformer, for instance, to failure before replacing it," notes Vazille.

Instead, you can take analyse the data coming from it, as well as environmental and other applicable data, and determine and mitigate its stressors to avoid catastrophic failure of the asset. In the same vein, the utility can take a data-centric approach to leveraging distributed energy resources for grid optimisation.

"A data-driven strategy, fueled by distributed energy resources, or DER, data and customer data, along with customer engagement technologies, can help the utility, ultimately, to facilitate the consumer-driven energy market of the future," says Vazille.

Working the cloud

Oracle is a company that aims to educate utilities on incorporating cloud, as it knows that it is a key tool in digital business transformation.

"Utilities of all sizes around the world are turning to the cloud with increasing frequency as an attractive alternative to traditional, on-premises software delivery," says Vazille. He notes that using cloud technologies supports key business goals, allowing a utility to innovate more quickly, simplify IT management, and increase flexibility.

The cloud provides two broad categories of benefits to a utility enterprise, he says: business benefits and technical benefits. On the business side, it’s about being able to spend less money on maintaining, integrating and operating the tech operation, systems and equipment, and freeing up more time and budget to allocate to innovation. On the technology side, the utility enterprise benefits from the cloud provider’s expertise in running specific applications, as well as robust technology around security, privacy, and performance.

A deliberate evolution

Vazille notes that becoming a digital utility is a deliberate process, not a singular decision. "It is also not a group of selected solutions. Instead, it is an evolution that occurs over time," he says.

For most utilities, he observes, there are typically three focus areas for digital transformation. The first is the transformation of information and technology. The second area is the transformation of the workplace: improvements in access to information, automation, and integrated business processes will result in new ways to work. And the final focus area is the transformation of the customer experience: digital transformation allows the utility to quickly pivot as consumer expectations and communication trends change, and allows for a deeper level of customer engagement across all channels.

"We know that technology and information are key enablers in digital transformation and can fundamentally change how utilities operate," says Vazille, noting that countries around the globe are working to minimize the 'digital divide,' and how that is the first step.

This partner content is brought to you by Oracle. For more information on how cloud can benefit your utility and how Oracle can help, view the white paper here.

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