December 20, 2018
What “Intelligent enterprise” trends mean for utilities
By: Jason Allen

Accenture Technology Vision 2018 articulates five trends redefining how intelligent enterprises of the future will work. Here’s a roundup of key findings of our Technology Vision survey of executives from global energy provider, along with implications and opportunities.

Trend 1 – Citizen AI: Raising AI to Benefit Business and Society

Eighty-two percent of energy provider executives told us AI will work next to humans in their organization—as co-worker, collaborator and trusted advisor—within two years. They identified operations and IT support as the key areas where they plan to use AI. Eighty-seven percent say it’s important for employees and customers to understand the principles behind AI-based decisions. Yet three-quarters say they aren’t prepared to face the societal and liability issues of AI.

All of that reinforces the need to “raise” AI appropriately. Start with training your AI to act like a responsible member of your business. Retrain your AI if it has learned biases. Have a clear plan for responsibility and liability and avoid creating a siloed “AI black box.” With AI working hand in hand with your people, design tools to help people explain AI decisions and actions. Businesses must raise AI systems to act responsibly.

There are significant opportunities for your people. AI introduces new business and value-added opportunities, especially in energy management and sales. Search them out.

Trend 2 – Extended Reality: The End of Distance

We used to need physical contact to exchange information or complete transactions. Now with technological advances such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), immersive experiences are changing the way people connect with information, experiences and each other. Through AR and VR, extended reality can bring about the end of distance.

In our survey, energy provider executives said they’re eyeing AR/VR opportunities in service, experience and data visualization. Seventy-seven percent plan to use this technology for customers and employees, and 78 percent say they want to be a pioneer in extended reality. On average, they expect to realize payback on their extended reality investments in two years.

This is an exciting trend for energy providers, as it enables entirely new options for lifelike training, coaching and collaboration internally and with customers. That includes new ways of delivering data exploration and critical alerts—and opportunities to forge new energy experiences for engaging a diverse range of customers and creating new revenue streams (one caveat: Be aware about the potential for information overload).

Trend 3 – Data Veracity: The Importance of Trust

Accenture’s survey confirmed that energy providers (78 percent) are increasingly using data to drive critical and automated decision making at unprecedented scale. Although 80 percent are basing key decisions on data, they haven’t yet invested in capabilities to verify the insights from the data. Only 36 percent validate data sources and have confidence in quality. Nearly 40 percent have been the target of adversarial AI. And more than three-quarters aren’t prepared for corrupted insights and data.

Those findings are a concern considering the ubiquity of analytics, the explosion of sensors and the presence of cybersecurity threats. How could you mitigate the risks? Build a new capability to assess embedded risks across a portfolio of data supply chains. Don’t choose between data security or analytics; use practices from both disciplines. Meanwhile, don’t count on legacy assumptions, and give your people incentives to identify and fix data issues.

Trend 4 – Frictionless Business: Built to Partner at Scale

Energy provider executives made it clear that partnerships are increasing in number and importance. Forty percent have doubled the number of partners in the past two years, while 69 percent want to extend use of partner microservices in the next year. It adds up to a microservices revolution in which features become services and data from B2C offerings and interactions takes on new value for partner and B2B applications. At the same time, a growing number of energy provider executives are betting on blockchain. Eighty-three percent say that smart contracts will evolve transactional methods and enable digital trust, and 62 percent say blockchain and smart contracts will be critical over the next three years.

Frictionless business is built on the core concept of trust. While energy provider data may not have significant value on its own, creating ecosystems of open services can generate a new economy and can help drive growth and unlock new business value. That requires a totally new partnership approach that is powered by trust—not constrained by a lack of it.

Trend 5 – Internet of Thinking: Creating Intelligent Distributed Systems

This trend reflects growing opportunities to push intelligence to the edge—deploying smart sensors and other field-based hardware that can not only capture data but also act on it. Eighty-two percent of energy provider executives agreed that next-generation and intelligent solutions are moving into physical environments. Slightly more (83 percent) believe that real-time insights and data volume will require edge computing.

What now? Start exploring what’s possible. Look for custom hardware solutions and accelerators that let systems circumvent latency and cloud limitations to enable real-time, intelligent actions. While real-time edge computing is worthwhile, don’t accept those benefits at the expense of longer-term value around energy infrastructure and distributing control. Balance the cloud and the edge to collect key data to enable and evolve intelligence over time.

Trends for today

The survey findings make it clear: For energy providers, these five trends aren’t entirely futuristic. Many see the value and are taking proactive steps to start unleashing the potential. After all, it’s the “intelligent” thing to do.

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