The Utilities industry is becoming more attuned to the idea of continuous innovation in its business practices as evidenced by the tremendous turnout at the Utilities Innovation Summit held in Wiesbaden, Germany in May.

The summit, sponsored by Accenture, Avanade and Microsoft, brought in more than 80 customers and partners from countries such as France, Germany, Russia, South Africa and the United States, and follows on the heels of the Global Utilities Summit we held in Redmond, Washington last October.

In Germany, the attendees were greatly interested in presentations by Michael Neff, the CIO of RWE AG, and Greg Guthridge, the managing director, Retail & Business Services, Accenture. Neff shared his views on the technology, business and people challenges that his company is facing while enabling the energy transition in Europe. Guthridge provided eye-opening insights based on his recent survey on how Utilities should engage the new energy consumer and the various models Utilities should consider. After his session you could almost see everyone re-thinking their view of the customer and reconsidering their need to evolve business models to meet 21st Century customer expectations.UIF RWE

Attendees also heard stories about real world examples of solutions that rare being applied and their bottom-line benefits. There were presentations on the large scale wind farm project at RWE Innogy, squeezing costs (and not innovation) from DTEK, managing workforce mobility from EDF and embedding innovation into the enterprise by Siemens Energy and ERDF.

The need to transform smart grid data into intelligent, useable, actionable information was a repeated conversation throughout the event. The industry continues to see this data transformation as a business imperative for better operations.

As such we also heard more stories about how the Microsoft Smart Energy Reference Architecture (SERA) and Accenture’s’ Intelligent Network Data Enterprise (INDE) complement each other in helping Utilities reduce costs and ease integration pains by providing an enterprise wide foundation for the implementation of smart grid solutions. Examples from DTEK and Mainstream Renewable Power demonstrated the strategic importance of SERA and how it should be a front and center organizing concept for all companies.

The cloud, big data, analytics and security stories from the forum provided insight into the Utilities IT future. We heard how a consortium of Utilities in Europe and their partners are using SharePoint Online for collaboration and research on smart grid technologies and solutions. We learned how Utilities are using the Microsoft cloud for scale and speed to innovation for customer facing engagements in Germany. We heard how cloud security implemented and managed by companies such as Microsoft is more secure than in-house systems because of the ability of third-party providers to directly include security benefits with their products along with their configuration and patch management knowledge and advanced monitoring capabilities.

One of the best stories was how one of the largest Utilities in the world faced a problem with their mission critical prepayment metering system that accounts for a significant portion of their revenue. This problem escalated publicly to the CEO and was fixed within 24 hours by moving the prepayment metering system to the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform.

These are just a few of the many forum highlights but most importantly we met our objective of creating an interactive conversation-based, story-telling forum that enabled attendees to meet the energy challenges of the 21st century. Innovate. – Jon Arnold