In search of the digital utility


A few weeks ago we looked at the impact of digital transformation on utilities, noting that Australian Utility Week — to be held 29-30 November in Melbourne — would have a strong focus on digital transformation.

The promotion for the event warned: “The digital transformation roadmap is fraught with challenges,” and promised that the event would “help you with your digital transformation journey.”

Seeing an opportunity Utility magazine has gone one step further: it is planning a conference dedicated to the digital utility, the logical endpoint of digital transformation for a utility, to be held in Melbourne in April 2018

The promotional material claims: “The utilities sector hasn’t seen a shift this monumental in more than 100 years,” and that digitisation “is the greatest challenge currently facing the sector.”

So what does a digital utility look like?

According to a blog post on the Water Finance and Management website, the digital utility of the future will be built upon five revolutionary technology trends:the internet of things; mobile information communication technology; cloud storage services; data analytics; and social platforms, and will be able to leverage this big data to improve operational efficiencies, save costs and enhance customer service.

You might expect a digital utility to be the end result of digital transformation, but for some it is a necessary precondition for digital transformation.

Take for example South East Water, the utility providing water and sewerage services inVictoria, Australia.

For several years it has had in place a digital utility program under which, it explains, its water and sewer networks, assets and infrastructure will be connected through digital technologies and telecommunications networks, providing real‐timeinformation that will enable it to transform its business and provide more value to customers.

Another Victorian water utility that is laying claims to digital utility status is the Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water Corporation. Managing director Mark Williams was recently reported in Computerworld Australia saying ““We’re positioning ourselves around being a digital utility.”

He explained that a key component of this is the deployment of a unified enterprise software suite that can deliver a single source of truth for key data.

One of the most comprehensive expositions of what it means to be a digital utility is the July 2017 report from the (US) National Association Of Clean Water Agencies, Envisioning the Digital Utility of the Future.

It aims to provide “an aspirational vision of how digital utilities will increasingly leverage data, analytics and integrated systems,” and then devotes a chapter to each of the ways they will do this.

  • Reducing operational costs
  • Managing and mitigating risks
  • Enhancing the customer experience
  • Improving financial execution
  • Optimising asset performance and uncovering hidden value
  • Leveraging existing communication and computing platforms
  • Maximising the engagement and efficiency of employees
  • Integrating water quality, policy and performance.

While it might be specific to water utilities there is much that can be applied to any utility. As the conclusion explains the digital utility it describes is“largely as an aspirational vision” but“the tools and capabilities that will be used by the digital utilities of the future already exist and are being used effectively by utilities today.”

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