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The digital imperative in Utilities - accelerating pace of change | A knowledge sharing event in partnership with techUK

Read our insight into the event or re-watch the video. This vibrant virtual gathering assembled professionals from various facets of the utilities industry (energy and water) to explore the significance of adopting digitalisation and fostering innovation within the sector.

Facilitated by Head of Infrastructure Teodora Kaneva the dialogue centred on the pivotal role of data and technology in revolutionising utility operations, driving efficiency, and enhancing customer satisfaction.

Rob Smith (Axiologik) underscored importance of HOW digital change is delivered alongside WHAT -establishing a clear understanding of customer needs and experiences, organising for fast flow of change, driving quality, resilience and scalabilitythrough site reliability engineering (SRE), having a clear and consistent Cloud strategy, and embracingthe latest thinking in Service Operations.

Simon Powell (MOSL) delved into advancements in water network management, emphasising the utility of smart meter data in mitigating leaks and promoting water conservation efforts.

Nia Lowe (SP Energy Networks) shed light on her organisation's digital transformation journey, spotlighting the introduction of flexibility products to bolster energy demand management.

Sarah Brooks (Zoa) provided valuable external perspectives on innovation hurdles within the utilities sector, highlighting resistance to technological adoption and the dichotomy between off-the-shelf solutions and bespoke systems. She championed the virtues of open data and collaboration, citing the success of open banking in fostering innovation and competition.

Issy Midlleton (Northern Powergrid) concluded by accentuating the importance of stakeholder engagement and interoperability in facilitating effective data sharing within the utilities landscape. Streamlining processes and governance structures was identified as pivotal for successful digital delivery and innovation acceleration.

Overall, the discussions underscored the imperative for utilities to embrace data-driven strategies, foster collaboration, and cultivate a culture of innovation to navigate evolving challenges and seize emerging opportunities in the utility sector.

Key themes from the discussion

Foundation for Change: Shaping Organisational Dynamics

We had a deep dive into the foundational principles of organisational change and efficiency, drawing parallels between different sectors. The concept of Team Topologies, which emphasises the socio-technical aspects of teamwork, was highlighted as a crucial framework for driving efficiency and flow within organisations. By fostering effective collaboration and leveraging cloud technology, organisations can enhance productivity while embedding security and reliability into their operations.

Legacy Challenges and Agile Adaptation

Participants reflected on the legacy challenges faced by various industries, emphasising the need for agility and flexibility in adapting to rapidly evolving landscapes. Legacy systems and infrastructure often hinder innovation, particularly in sectors like utilities, where change historically moves at a slower pace. Drawing parallels with the financial services industry, which underwent significant transformation through open banking, speakers stressed the importance of embracing agile methodologies and iterative approaches to drive innovation and flexibility.

Regulatory Landscape: Opportunities and Barriers

Regulatory frameworks play a critical role in shaping industry dynamics and fostering innovation. The discussion delved into the regulatory barriers and opportunities within the water sector, highlighting initiatives like water reduction targets and smart metering strategies. Participants discussed the need for open data and competition to drive innovation, with a focus on aligning regulatory incentives with sustainability goals. Additionally, there was a call for greater collaboration between regulators to streamline processes and accelerate innovation.

Technology as a Catalyst for Change

The role of technology in driving innovation and sustainability was a central theme throughout the event. Participants highlighted the potential of emerging technologies, such as AI and smart devices, to revolutionize industries like energy and water. Collaborations between traditional industries and tech giants were seen as essential for leveragingcutting-edge solutions and driving systemic change. However, challenges around data access, interoperability, and cybersecurity were also acknowledged, underscoring the need for robust governance frameworks and collaboration.

Cross-Industry Collaboration: Learning from Others

The event shed light on the importance of cross-industry collaboration in driving innovation and addressing common challenges. Drawing lessons from sectors like finance, where digital transformation led to significant improvements in consumer trust and satisfaction, participants underscored the value of sharing best practices and learning from each other's experiences. Collaborative initiatives between technology companies and traditional industries were highlighted as a promising avenue for accelerating innovation and achieving sustainability goals.

Whole System Thinking and Future Perspectives

As discussions concluded, there was a consensus on the need for whole system thinking to address complex challenges at a national and global level. The role of regional energy planners and the new National Energy System Operator (NESO) was highlighted as critical in facilitating coordinated planning and decision-making. Looking ahead, participants expressed optimism about the potential for innovation and collaboration to drive positive change, emphasizing the importance of embracing agility, leveraging technology, and fostering cross-industry partnerships.

In summary, the event provided a platform for insightful discussions and knowledge sharing among industry experts, highlighting the interconnectedness of different sectors and the opportunities for collaboration in driving innovation and sustainability. By embracing agile methodologies, leveraging technology, and fostering cross-industry partnerships, organisations can navigate complex challenges and shape a more resilient and sustainable future.

A version of this article first appeared on techUK here.

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