Stuart Brown, technology managing director for Accenture Utilities, shares insights on what he considers to be the most critical technology questions impacting utilities C-suite executives.
Managing Director, Technology-Utilities, Accenture
What can utilities do from a technology standpoint to counteract new attacks on their traditional revenue streams?
Utilities should start learning from non-utility industries about how to leverage thin-layer technologies, cloud services, software as a service (SaaS) and other technologies to pilot products and solutions that are quick to succeed and quick to fail.
I think utilities should take their most entrepreneurial thinkers and spin them off into a side group from the main utility organization, even physically where necessary. This group could explore the world of SaaS and cloud to more rapidly develop products and services and quickly determine whether they will succeed or fail. Established successes can then be integrated into the organization.
What they can’t do is stay in their current model and expect to be able to move at the speed of their competitors.
Looking ahead toward the next year, what new technologies are utilities likely to start embracing at scale first?
SaaS is one technology that utilities are starting to adopt more and I believe will continue trending. The more challenging piece will be around the regulatory model.
I also think utilities will start to truly embrace cloud services, not just cloud infrastructure. Some of the data analytic services provided by the cloud will become too attractive to pass up—certainly in terms of costs compared to analytics services on premise. And looking at the cost comparison overall, I think moving toward these types of technologies will be a necessity.
I think utilities that embrace cloud, analytics and services models are going to be the winners in the long run.
I understand you are in the midst of a new home build. Are you embracing connected home technology in your new house?
It is extremely connected. I have two and a half miles of wiring in my house, and that’s not electrical wiring. We wired it because it’s a new house and we could, but it could be done with Wi-Fi as well.
I have many systems already integrated in, like home control, thermostats, fire and CO2 alarms, security, water, garage doors, and more. The system is modular, so I can add capabilities over time. My family is used to me beta testing technology and gadgets on them.
While home control has been the purview of the high-end home in the past, the technology is becoming more cost effective and common.
Will email be a thing of the past for the workforce of the future?
Eventually I think it will be a thing of the past, but we’re not there yet. The workforce of the future will have more of a social interactive model, very similar to the social media world. That model is what millennials and others are going to expect from not only from a communication perspective, but also from what they can digest.
There are curated conversations in the social media world that you aren’t able to have in email. In a social model, groups of individuals can subscribe to any and all content around a topic, tag, offering or what have you. Then, as questions get asked and answered, that information is available and curated for anyone to find in the future.
For utilities, that type of social interaction could eventually allow them to capture knowledge, which in turn could help them deal with the knowledge retention issues of an aging workforce.
Earlier in your career, you had a very interesting job.
In the early 1990s, when I was between earning my business and engineering degrees, some college friends and I owned a comic book store.
We sold comics, cards and original comic book art from the artists. We were all entrepreneurial by nature, and it was an exploding market at the time and pretty lucrative. We sold nationally and internationally, and were on television shopping channels.
It was great fun and something I’m now rediscovering with my daughter.
What is one piece of advice you would give to utility executives looking to embrace new technologies?
Number one: Utilities should have an open mind as they embrace new nonregulated businesses. Studying industries outside of utilities can be very insightful. Even if they are not yet able to apply everything due to regulatory issues, utilities executives can apply the principles of what those companies are doing and be successful.
In my mind, CIOs have to become Chief Digital Officers. We are on the verge of empowering the CIO to have a seat at the business table as a true collaborator.
As the cloud takes more of the load from the infrastructure world, the CIO is becoming more of a business liaison than part of the infrastructure. I think that’s really important.
Companies that understand what is working in the industry and beyond, embracing that change will be successful. This view frees the CIO up to become an enabler for the business, rather than enabled by hardware and vendors in their data center.