Technological advances have been the single biggest driving force for global development. Inventions like the wheel, the metalwork of the Bronze and Iron Ages, the steam engine, electricity, airplanes and nuclear energy are just a few that have changed the course of human civilisation.
However, for such technological breakthroughs to flourish, they need the right social, economic and political climate. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.
If we look at the energy and utilities industry today, it feels like we have just the right climate for the next big revolution. Remarkable developments in battery technology, electric vehicles, microgrids and virtual power plants have rekindled the conversations around the “war of the currents”, albeit in a different light.
Introducing hydrogen to the gas mix and treating sludge as bioresources are other examples of paradigm shifts in thinking. Political debates like nationalisation, and regulatory consultations such as those around cost of capital, are also creating a huge impetus for change.
Our industry’s well-established operating model has served us well for over a century. However, it’s also affecting our responsiveness and agility in the face of so many disruptive changes. In my view, the answer to this agility challenge lies in what I like to call a “reimagination of the digital core”.
Smarter technologies are becoming increasingly influential. The Industrial Internet of Things, blockchain, virtual, augmented and mixed reality and artificial intelligence and machine learning are all reaching their tipping points in terms of maturity, proving their ability to solve a number of complicated challenges.
However, creating that digital core, which is able to integrate the possibilities enabled by these smarter technologies with our established industry processes and systems, will be the critical success factor for technological excellence in 2019.
The roadmap to creating this digital core could be very different for each utility, though, with activities ranging from vectorisation of network data to cloud migration and GIS-enabled mobile/field data capture.
We’re seeing a large number of successful pilots or trials of new technology across UK utilities. Our challenge now is converting the exciting proof-of-concepts that come from innovation labs into integrated and enduring solutions that deliver positive business outcomes.
The onus is on us all to create a digital utility that integrates these new technologies into a robust digital core, which will ultimately deliver enhanced value to customers, investors and other stakeholders.
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