Driving Transformation: Utilization of Electricity Bills
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Driving Transformation: Utilization of Electricity Bills

Eloise Young, CIO, Philadelphia Gas Works
Eloise Young, CIO, Philadelphia Gas Works

Eloise Young, CIO, Philadelphia Gas Works

Utilities of Internet

Close your eyes and imagine stepping into your home on a frigid February night. Still shivering as you hang up your coat, your heating system senses that you are chilled and gently raises the temperature to warm you. Simultaneously, the lights turn on to just the right brightness level for you. You are comfortable now so the heating system slowly lowers itself to your favorite temperature. No need to worry about gas leaks either  the gas distribution system continuously monitors gas flow and pipe conditions; alerting the home office when repairs are needed and even shutting down sections of pipe and rerouting if it senses hazardous conditions. Life is good. You are in your castle  safe and warm.

"The Internet of Things (IoT) represents an incredible opportunity for utilities to delight our customers by doing what we do faster, cheaper, smarter and better than we can today"

The Internet of Things (IoT) represents an incredible opportunity for utilities to delight our customers by doing what we do faster, cheaper, smarter and better than we can today. Unfortunately opportunities are not guarantees. Getting this right won’t be easy it will require a significant investment from all of us. The technology won’t be the hardest part either.

Things to Conduct- Automatic Meter Reading

Even a municipally-owned utility like the Philadelphia Gas Works uses lots of “things” to conduct its business. Many of those “things” lack intelligence and even the smartest of them can only communicate predefined messages at predetermined intervals using proprietary protocols over private networks. For example, every one of our 500,000 + customers has a PGW-owned gas meter that measures consumption. That information needs to make its way into our Data Center to avoid estimated bills something we all dislike. PGW currently uses automatic meter reading (AMR) technology to pull usage information which is used to generate customer bills. AMR technology virtually eliminated estimated bills by making it unnecessary for meter readers to walk into properties to determine how much gas was used. Today, meter reading vans drive through the city streets pulling consumption and other meter-related information over a private radio network. The entire process is much faster, more accurate and a lot less labor-intensive. Someday IoT will take it to the next level by allowing utilities and consumers to monitor usage a lot more frequently.

Technology-Safe, Secure and Accessible

Hopefully that will lead to happier, more engaged customers. May be smart meters exist today and are primarily used by electric companies. They represent a giant first step towards that nice warm castle we started out in. So far, reactions have been mixed with very strong emotions for and against smart meters. Both sides claim to have empirical data to support their positions.Getting it right means tearing down walls of distrust and finding new ways to get us all working together towards this new paradigm. It means not only ensuring that the technology is safe, secure, and accessible to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status; but making sure we all believe that. It won’t be easy, but it is sure is worth a try.

Managing IT Organization and Steering Technology

Amazingly sophisticated technology has joined forces with empowered non-techies to bring IT organizations kicking and screaming into a new era. The days when IT shops could roll out what we believed represented at least 80 percent of our stakeholders’ requirements and still be perceived as adding significant value have gone the way of the 8-track tape.

Technology Tools

Many of today’s employees and consumers are incredibly tech savvy. They will no longer accept a non-speaking role in the process of deciding which corporate technology will be used. They have technology at home that is way cooler and more powerful than the tools they are issued at work. They have cool tools and they know what to do with them. These days I increasingly view corporate IT less as the solution and more as a platform. Working at a municipally owned utility has really brought this home for me. We will never have enough resources to build every app that our internal clients desire. That is doubly true as it relates to applications for consumers. There is just too much data and too many great uses for it all. If we supply appropriate tools under-girded by a robust, reliable, secure infrastructure; there are many people with the skill, passion and technical ability to create their own innovative solutions.

Not only are people more savvy about technology, technology itself has gotten, faster, smaller, smarter, cheaper and easier to use. It has been consumerized. To add value, we must roll out things that empower people to use technology to create what they want and need for themselves based on their own priorities which have not been filtered by our interpretation of their requirements.

Cyber Security

Embracing this new reality certainly makes cyber-security more challenging. It’s a lot easier to guarantee safety if we have absolute control over all possible ways in to our corporate data. Unfortunately doing that greatly reduces our corporate ability to be agile and responsive to the increasingly complex business requirements that come at us hard and fast. More and more businesses are unwilling or unable to pay that price.Getting to know the people will allow you to understand which tools will help them get their jobs done better. My advice is to really get to know your team and your client base. Resist the incredibly strong gravitational pull of the desktop in your office. Get out there and mix it up with the people for whom you have assumed professional responsibility. Get to know their likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Find out what the real issues are. Fix the things you can and be honest about the things you can’t.

Possibilities of Technology

Technology is a vital cornerstone that allows our organizations to do their work. Always consider carefully the cultural and social ramifications of the technological choices you make because the choices you make today will have a significant impact on the culture of your organization for years to come.

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