The pace of change, indeed the appetite to act progressively, has traditionally not been noted as a characteristic of the utilities industry. But if European Utility Week, the trade gathering currently taking place in Amsterdam, is anything to go by that may be changing. And fast.
This year’s show, at which DigitalRoute is exhibiting, seems to be near enough double the size of last year’s event in Barcelona. There’s a palpable sense of excitement, and a seemingly collective understanding among those companies present that a digital future is there to be grabbed. And a desire to grab it. Thematically, IoT and digitization, new services, and the importance of data predominate across banner headlines as far as the eye can see.
There’s a recognition that data; its collection, processing, and value can drive innovative Use Cases in the areas of both trading (the more pressing play and perhaps the most immediately financially rewarding deployment) and distribution (the longer game, but no less important for that.) There’s also a lot of talk about the need to integrate legacy infrastructures with new world elements and applications. These are challenges to meet which utilities are now actively looking for, rather than just talking about, solutions.
It’s also clear that while this week is focused on Europe, there isn’t global equality in terms of the industry’s progress towards digitization. Different regions are at different stages of the digital journey, some more advanced and some slower. But the impact of standard-bearers like Alpiq who are already deploying innovative technology to power profitable next-generation Use Cases shouldn’t be underestimated. The results they’ve achieved are attention-grabbing and others want to hear about them.
The key word, perhaps, is “smart.” Now that smart grids are a widespread reality smart data is being recognized a central requirement for commercial success. A horizontal data layer based on a technology that turns big data into smart data and bridges legacy and next generation elements now has a value which is increasingly readily understood, without the need for explanation required twelve months ago.
Other innovations are also being embraced. Blockchain, in particular, features in endless conversations though only the surface of its potential impact is presently being scratched. This and other new technologies also have questions of data and integration front and center. How do you unlock them?
The digital utility has moved from concept to launching pad in the past twelve months. That much seems clear. Utilities are-maybe surprisingly and maybe not-grasping the opportunity to embrace transformation more eagerly than may other industries have in the past. There is every reason to believe that the pace of change will not flag and that over the next twelve months, utilities might just teach other verticals lessons about how to become digital businesses. That’s good news for everyone. Exciting times may well be ahead.