Reflections on Australian Utility Week

Published: 21/12/2015

Best of both worlds it was. Outside at the wonderful setting in Luna Park, Sydney had turned on its charm with 27 degree sunny days and spectacular views of the harbour, bridge and Opera house. Just as well inside the conference rooms the conversation kept Harj and my attention. In an industry facing disruptive change in so many ways the themes of smart grids & meters, intelligent networks and engineering & insights (just to name a few) meant the opportunity existed for presenters to showcase what their organisations had achieved with case studies that brought to life the approaches, technologies and solutions they had developed to meet these opportunities head on.

Like Darren Davis from Snowy Hydro, who showcased how they had used some very smart point solutions to bring intelligence from big data, and collaboration to engineering activity, all underpinned by Snowy's move to an open source platform that allows more plug and play solutions.

We had the opportunity to share our story on using smart meter data to get closer to the customer, and it was encouraging to hear other organisations talk about using data & analytics better, and not surprising that many saw data & analytics as a key plank to being more successful, from improved asset management, to better customer engagement and giving the customer more control. I must admit at times to wanting to hear more specifics, the concern being as an analytics professional that businesses are clear data & analytics is vital, but not always clear about exactly what they need to do.

Water utilities have a big journey ahead with smart metering. Is the business case there? How do you handle smart meter battery life vs granularity of data? We heard an innovative analytics case study from Thames Water in the UK and hope the Australian water companies can seize the day in the same way.

In the focus group on leveraging IT systems we sensed organisations are still struggling to get their head around the capex to opex transition for IT spend. Many haven't realised that unless you are greenfield you will have a period of double investment; capex to be open ready. The goal of this transition isn't clearly understood - it's a depreciation blackhole that companies are trying to avoid - not just a move to the 'cloud'.

In the keynote panel discussion on customer-centric business models we heard that the future will be defined by data, networking (connecting people, companies) and customer specialists. We heard that data enrichment equals value to the customer, and that measuring payback of investments (both small and large) is important and doesn't get enough focus. There were a couple of quotes from Domenic Capomolla, CEO of Sumo Energy, that resonated with us. "Price is a ticket to the game,  but if you leave it at that you enter a death spiral". Even better was "We partner with data management specialists first". We liked to hear that!

Yet some companies are still talking about needing to start to deal with Bill shock. I'll admit it is a difficult nut to crack, in that it's as much a challenge about knowing your customer as it is forecasting a high bill for any given customer. For me, how a utility that bills customers is dealing with Bill shock would give me a very quick sense of where they are at in terms of their data management, analytics and customer engagement efforts.

Alan Belkin from Electricity wizard reminded us that purpose driven organisations outperform their competitors. Which Utility will break away from it's traditional purpose with something truly meaningful and different? That might be the most interesting thing to watch is this very dynamic industry.