It’s day two of our Knowledge Conference at IUW, and this morning, we heard from two great speakers during our general session. Robert Swan, Order of the British Empire (OBE), discussed his experience as a polar explorer and how the lessons he learned exploring apply to management and business practices. Additionally, Janet Schijns, Verizon vice president of global channels, discussed the importance of leadership and mentoring in the utility industry.

Following the general session, we hosted the second Big Picture Session of the conference, “Protecting Utilities from the Risk of New Technologies with Outcome-Based Solutions.” The session was moderated by Michael Wiebe, president, MW Consulting. Our panel of experts represented electric, gas and water utilities and included:

  • Sasha Weintraub, senior vice president of market solutions, Duke Energy
  • Jeff Myerson, senior director, technical solutions, technology operations, CenterPoint Energy
  • Darron Poulsen, wastewater operations director, City of Pomona
  • Matt Comte, managing director, utilities, Accenture

Jeff Myerson noted that CenterPoint Energy is currently choosing to invest in outcome-based solutions. He noted, “It does make financial sense for us because an outcome-based solution can be more cost-effective. It is critically important that our investments don’t become obsolete in short amounts of time because we need them to last 20 years.”

The panelists offered differing perspectives, stemming from gas, water and electricity backgrounds. One notion that the panel agreed on is that analytics is an area for opportunity and provides a great space for collaboration. Since all companies are currently dealing with similar challenges, such as distributed energy resources, managing resources and analytics is becoming a more complicated issue. The methods used to extract information out of data and turn it into useful information for customers is seen as an outcome-based solution, delivering results instead of just technology to utilities.

Additionally, the panelists discussed the evolving practice of customer interaction, noting that there is now an expectation to give each customer a personal experience since they all desire to be communicated with in different ways. Myerson highlighted, “We compete with a lot of other companies, including Amazon and Chase Bank, who establish expectations for our customers. They view us in the same way as their other providers and want to be treated similarly.” Because of this, CenterPoint Energy has been investing in a preference center, allowing their customers to choose how they would like to receive information. As a result, the program has been successful for customers.

Darron Poulsen from the City of Paloma discussed the current state of the water industry, highlighting that it has recently become much more important to provide information to help customers with their usage. He noted, “I always enjoy coming to this conference because the water sector always seems to move slower, so it’s really great to come here and learn what these other guys are doing. However, the electricity and gas utilities always seemed to be 10-15 years ahead of us, but this time frame is now shortening for us.”

With the dramatic increase in innovative technologies, including the rapid adoption of smart phones and digital services, technology costs are coming down (as seen with solar panel costs). In turn, this is requiring utilities to move and adopt. With the growing need for faster responses and services, utilities now have an incentive to be efficient and need real-time analytics for customers to be able to drive down costs. As Matt Comte of Accenture pointed out, “We need to become more efficient because our customers expect more outcomes.”

A huge thank you to all of our panelists for such an engaging and interesting discussion!

We’ll have two more blogs for you to enjoy this afternoon. Up next: we’ll hear from Roberto Aiello from Itron Idea Labs as he discusses the Itron Riva Developers Community.