One of the questions I asked myself when participating at a recent Utility Week roundtable was: how can we deliver for industry and society? We’ve reached an ‘industry inflection point’, with a 500% increase in smart meter data traffic predicted by 2026, unprecedented demands on our networks, and a shortage of skilled staff.
Our ability to deliver net zero depends on our ability to do more with less. The adoption of AI, digital twins and automation – at scale and in partnership – is now a necessity throughout the energy value chain.
One participant described this as the true analogue to digital crossover point. If that’s right, it’s late compared with other industries, but comes at an ideal time for utilities to leap ahead, given the incredible advances we’ve seen in the data technology landscape in the last two years. At the same time as we desire greater digitalisation in operational teams, we also need an operational mindset in digital teams (security, resilience, reliability, and so on) – bearing in mind that this is critical national infrastructure.
Shared data for the win
Unlike industries such as financial services, where competition mitigates against data sharing, in utilities, regulators are pushing for the win-win of open data, and the data standards that enable it. Participants considered the well-known example of Transport for London, whose open data initiative caused a multiplier effect which resulted in the creation of over 750 jobs.
Some contributors felt trapped in the middle of the tensions between utility regulators and the data protection regulator. NTT DATA is working with the Information Commissioner’s Office on new data-sharing paradigms for utilities and others, and they assure us they regularly collaborate with other regulators for this reason – through the Digital Regulatory Cooperation Forum, for example.
Data quality and governance are essential
We often talk about laying the foundations for the AI revolution, including data quality. The industry is sitting on rich data assets, but quality issues hamper our ability to exploit them and data governance issues mean they can’t be discovered, used or shared. The data product mindset, which we see in other industries, was evident in the room at the roundtable.
The data product approach prevents a sprawl of unused and unloved reports, dashboards and AI models which are a burden to maintain and navigate. Like digital products, data products continue to have ownership and value measurement – and innovation becomes less siloed.
Rishi was right about data literacy
A third set of issues is connected to what we call the data-literate organisation. Technology is the easy part – equipping the workforce with data literacy and specific data skills is essential but altogether more challenging. Without this, colleagues will fail to spot opportunities for using data technologies and be blind to the risks.
As well as data literacy in the industry, in the medium-term, we’re going to need greater data literacy among electricity consumers too. Half hourly settlements will eventually enable power consumers to optimise their usage – but for many, this will be a disruptive change and will need explaining.
We must ensure that those who struggle with digital adoption are not left behind. Bringing the public on the decarbonisation journey is an area where the Prime Minister has been less successful – but all these hurdles are worth addressing because that journey is one we have to travel together.
If you’d like to discuss these topics, contact me at: email@example.com
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