What to do today to prepare for Big Change tomorrow (from a telecom veteran)

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Guest columnist Thomas Zimmermann makes an important point below. He warns that many utilities are so daunted by the Big Change that's over the horizon they fail to take the small steps to get started.

 

I agree with his diagnosis, and I see it in other industries too. For instance, cities around the world are applying smart grid-style sensors and communications to their infrastructure, as we cover over at the Smart Cities Council. They have a similar conundrum. They need to revamp and rethink everything. But they can't possibly accomplish it all in a single Big Bang installation.

 

My advice to cities is "Think Big, Start Small." Have a big plan -- that is, a long-range roadmap and architecture. But then start moving toward that goal in small, pay-for-themselves steps. Zimmerman says it differently. He advises thinking small, as in small steps that will gradually get you to the big goal. Same basic idea. I hope you'll heed his words, and his cogent comments about the parallels with the telecom industry. -- Jesse Berst

 

By Thomas Zimmermann

 

The age of the data driven utility: How small changes power big transformation

After spending years in the telecom industry, I witnessed the business transformation there first hand. In a short number of years, it evolved from a capital-intensive, system technology-focused model to a user-centric service-delivery model. Telcos were pressured to change in order to survive. In short, their traditional business was vulnerable.

It’s hard to argue that it took monumental, wide-spread change for the telecom industry to make this transformation. But, try to think about it in a slightly different way. In the 1980s and 1990s, the time for change was ripe. Regulation had begun to catch up with consumer needs. But it’s arguable there was one driver of the entire telecom industry revolution -- mobile.

 

How our industry parallels telecom

Utilities are facing the same situation. The environment is ripe for change. Our infrastructures can no longer support our needs or expectation for electric power. Solutions for holistic change are there, but what will drive the shift?

 

Data. 

The competitive landscape of our industry is shifting and utilities have the option to strengthen their role in the customer value chain or watch it become reduced.

 

We see a move to decentralized generation and the need to manage two-way power flows at the grid’s edge. This in turn is driving IT-OT convergence, forcing integration of operational technologies such as energy distribution management, real-time grid operations at the transmission and substation level and more with IT systems that support metering, customer business processes, analytics, billing and field dispatches.

This growing consumer engagement in grid operations started with reactive measures such as dynamic pricing and time of use to influence load distribution which has now extended to include customer-owned renewable generation, new loads such as electric vehicles, and new forms of distributed generation and storage. We are already seeing utilities embrace customer engagement. This summer, Fort Collins rolled-out Energy Engage Mobile, an application that allows consumers to track electricity, water or gas use in near real-time.