Sean Crouch, sales director, utilities & energy, Talend Innovation, Strategy & management, Technology, Opinion

Embracing open data is essential for the digital transformation of the utilities sector and an effective response to climate change. But it must be founded in a rigorous and integrated approach to data governance, say Talend's Sean Crouch.

The UK faces a monumental challenge in living up to the ambition of the commitment which was made by government last years to achieve net zero emissions across the entire economy by 2050, or sooner – a commitment which a 2019 Ipsos Mori poll told us is resoundingly backed by the British public, 85% of whom last year said they are concerned about the threats posed by climate change, with three in four respondent adding that they believe Britain is already feeling the effects of global warming.

For utilities, as with many other sectors, responding to the net zero challenge and that overwhelming public concern, is going to require some very different thinking and action than has been the norm in the past. But as the writer William Pollard once said , “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable”.

And it is undoubtedly those utilities who proactively embrace the change that lies ahead, and to meet it with innovation who will thrive in years ahead.

In an industry full to the brim with connected assets and smart devices, that proactive approach to initiating change must start with a willingness to learn from the plethora of data available to utilities. By building trusted data platforms utilities can open the door to profound changes through digital transformation.

Adopting open data frameworks and cultures within companies and across the industry must play a key part here. Open data is not new, the concept has been quietly having an increasing effect on our daily lives for some time, driven by regulation and government initiatives.

Some sectors are advanced in their exploitation of open data, such as Banking, which has invested heavily in data initiatives driven by PSD2 and Open Banking. In Aerospace, Airbus launched the “Skywise” platform to collect and connect aircraft data to improve performance and prevent incidents, with nearly 100 airlines participating.

Open data fosters innovation, enabling new services resulting in smarter, more efficient and frictionless business. It’s vital to the digital transformation of society.

Utilities are at the beginning of their journey to open data, encouraged by the Energy Data Taskforce initiative, and supported by Ofgem and Ofwat, though the extent of the benefits to utilities are perhaps not fully understood at this point.

But if greater visibility of data enables innovation fuelled by climate change, the benefits to utilities and society of more responsible consumption of resources, smarter planning and coordination of services, and lower costs for company and consumer alike are surely worth it.

The problem is that like most established organisations, utilities have more data than ever and it is getting increasingly difficult to manage in a complex data environment. An average company has more than 400 data sources and a multitude of tools to manage, and it is only increasing.

Delivering an open data strategy requires a rigorous and integrated approach to data governance. The data that you share through open data must be accurate, timely, trusted and controlled. Delivering inaccurate or inappropriate data causes significant business risk, not to mention bad PR.

Open data starts with your own people. Everyone in the organisation should be able to search and access appropriate data, and where necessary, be responsible for the quality and accuracy of the data that they work with. If you cannot trust the data that you share internally, how can you share it externally?

Uniper, a German energy company embarked on a major initiative in 2017, to become data-driven to enable agility and efficiency in the wake of climate change. They leveraged cloud-native technologies to create a single source of clarity amongst their data chaos, scaling as the business value was proven, and democratising access to clean, timely data both internally and externally.

The project achieved ROI in just 6 months, reducing integration costs by 80%. They now ingest more than 130 data sources including real-time infrastructure data, enabling their operations and partners to make critical decisions with trust and speed.

Unlocking the potential of open data has the power to significantly and positively transform utilities, creating opportunities to add greater value, improve consumer perception and confidence, reduce costs and respond to a rapidly changing world. But without the right data governance, it’s a burden, not a benefit.

Sean Crouch, sales director, utilities & energy, Talend

What to read next