The first step towards the data architecture needed for a shared systems future is “to let go of the control of data,” according to Samir Rahim, chief information officer of water retail market operator MOSL.
During a panel discussion about the future utilisation of data at Utility Week Live at the NEC in Birmingham last week, he suggested that “the supply chain is fractured.”
“The more that it breaks down the more critical it is that the data is open, because if we all own pockets of data in a fragmented supply chain, in the end customers will be lost and confused,” he said.
From an energy perspective, this sentiment was echoed by Neil Pennington, strategic adviser at the Energy Web Foundation. He bemoaned the current system where “you have a body here, and a body there, and a body there, and a body there, and we just pass information onto each other.”
One example of an open data programme already in development is the proposed underground assets register, which would create a digital map of the UK’s pipe network.
Rahim explained that as part of a thinktank at MOSL, focused on new connections in the non-domestic market, it discovered that theoretically 30 per cent greater efficiency could be achieved in processes through the creation of a centralised, parallel data system, rather than continuing along the current regime of linear data hand-offs.
As well as this, he warned that necessary innovation could be stifled by the reticence to change from existing, historically effective ways of doing things that exist in the water and energy industries, due to their sheer importance to society. He said: “Water is a critical product, it’s public health, and decision makers in water companies rightfully are very, very risk averse.” This led to the question of how they can encourage faster rates of change and controlled risk from decision makers.
“It’s about the agile, iterative approach,” Rahim said, adding:”If we wait until we know too much of the integrated solution, we’ll never do anything, we’ll stay in the design phase forever.” An entirely risk free approach may fail to produce any real results, he suggested.
Agreeing with his sentiment on the panel was Stuart Lacey, chief executive of Electralink , who likened the state of the energy industry to mobile phones. He said: “The energy industry tends to develop Nokia handsets, because they’re very practical, you can drop them and they won’t break and they have a long battery, but they don’t facilitate any of the apps we have on our smartphone… we need to move away from the Nokia mindset that’s traditional, risk-averse, and has a creeping pace of change.”