Published on in Energy & UtilitiesNews

Last month I sat on a highly engaging Utility Week roundtable on the future of asset management and collaboration.

For more than an hour and a half, an esteemed panel of experts from across the utilities sector discussed the key issues surrounding technology and innovation facing their industry today.

It would be impossible to squeeze all of that into a blog, so I’ve distilled six of the key themes and ideas that emerged from the discussion to share with you:

IoT is changing everything – even smoke alarms

Gartner estimates a total 25bn devices will be connected to the internet by 2020. As a result, the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution could spell a new lease of life for smoke alarms – an important asset present in thousands of buildings that rarely gets used. By connecting these up to the Internet they can become a fresh source of actionable data, which businesses can use to help manage a premises.

Company culture is shifting in utilities

For a number of years, internal processes at utility firms have been slow to change. Innovation is regarded as more of an annoyance than a benefit, and there has been a real challenge to make that change. However, people are less dismissive of new technology than they used to be, because we see disruption in our every day lives – just look at the impact of the likes of Airbnb and Uber. Disruption is about opening up people’s eyes to the art of the possible, and that is starting to happen.

A lack of understanding is holding back data quality

If we’re to realise the full benefits of a hyper-connected future, improving the quality of data is going to be critical. Traditionally it’s captured with a pen and clipboard, and then manually entered into a system. It’s a role that holds very little (if any) job satisfaction, and the data quality suffers as a result. To get the most out of data, it has to be timely and actionable. I wonder if gameification offers a potential solution to this – it could at least help incentivise data capture if it has to be done manually.

Future tech and automation

Automating manual tasks through technology will free up engineers to do more higher value tasks – and this is happening right now. For instance, IoT sensors are becoming more easily deployed. In Japan drones are used to assess the structural integrity of bridges. We’re also now able to use satellites to monitor the integrity of surfaces with incredible detail, enabling you to carry out predictive maintenance. This makes a business more agile and responsive, and mitigates the damage done by any costly disasters – this particularly pertinent in this sector, especially when you consider flooding and power outages mean headlines in the news, and can result in reputation damage for utility firms.

Empowering the workforce through technology

Engineers out in the field can feel disconnected from the rest of the organisation – particularly if they aren’t able to get online when out on the road. To combat this, they need to be armed them with the right devices so they can best do their jobs. One solution could be the Fujitsu’s ‘connected van’’ that is set to transform how people work in this sector.

Crowdsourcing ideas management

A big trend we’re seeing now is companies using the power of the workforce to come up with great ideas to solve customer programmes. Leveraging a diverse group of people through a supply chain is a way of introducing new thinking into the operational process. You can’t go to one extreme or the other; it’s about balance in the middle. The knowledge that’s in operational teams is phenomenal, however it is always good to have a fresh pair of eyes to look at something in a different way.

You can read more on the Utility Week roundtable in the publication’s coverage of the discussion.

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