One of the most engaging discussions at Itron Utility Week (IUW) was the Big Picture Session, which explored new business models to fund and activate smart cities. We were lucky to have industry expert Jennifer Runyon lead the compelling conversation, which gave the audience a chance to glean insights from a trifecta of industry experts, which included:

  • David Graham, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Smart + Sustainable Communities, City of San Diego
  • Jim Mazurek, Accenture Strategy, Managing Director, Accenture Strategy – Utilities
  • Phil Nevels, Director Utility of the Future, ComEd – an Exelon company

There were a ton of excellent takeaways from this discussion, with four key themes emerging from the conversation. This blog post is the second in a two-part series that will recap all four themes from the Big Picture session. Still need to catch up? Read the first installment here.

III. Expect (and be open to) the unexpected
An audience member pivoted the conversation when he grabbed the mic and asked one of the tougher questions of the day: “What’s your advice on how we can best keep up with technology?”

“You’re not ever going to keep up,” Graham said. His fellow panelists smiled and nodded in acknowledgement as he went on to clarify that keeping up with technology doesn’t have to be a success criteria in this case.

“Look at dockless bikes and scooters,” he continued. “Someone came into San Diego and dropped thousands of these things all over the place. Nobody ever thought of that, and suddenly you find yourself having to react, but you don’t have to regulate. We do not regulate dockless bike or scooter shares at all – that’s shocking to some! But we’re waiting to see how it plays out. You have to set up an environment that’s accepting and fluid enough to support and adjust to the pace of technology, but you don’t have to keep up with it – you simply can’t.”

IV. Move the conversation from evangelist-centric to engineer driven
As the panel discussion came to a close, Runyon squeezed in a final question and asked panelists to comment on what they envision the industry will look like 10 years from now.

“We need to move this conversation from evangelists to engineers,” Graham said.

All three agreed and noted that 10 years from now the concept of “smart cities” will not just be one small department supported by a few. It will be a priority of the senior leaders from all sides of the conversation, and the desire to progress will permeate day-to-day activities of utilities and municipalities alike.

Graham closed out the conversation on a high note and boldly stated “Itron will be the communications juggernaut.,” As the audience laughed, he took the opportunity to make a more serious proclamation about public and private sector collaboration to the utilities in the room:

“From a longevity perspective and an efficiency perspective, utilities are in a much better place to do this [vs. cities handling themselves], and our paths to the future are so inextricably linked that 10 years from now my vision is for the CEO and the mayor working hand-in-hand to push multiple deployments followed by a continuous stream of press releases year after year, because the cities and the utilities have finally figured it out.”

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