After years of feasibility studies, lack of development funds, and escalating fuel costs across the energy spectrum, ocean energy is suddenly a very hot topic.
Mobile workers provide the next opportunity for utility productivity gains.
Field workers at many electric, gas, and water utilities have not realized the benefits of their company's substantial investments in office-based information technology (IT) systems for work and asset management, customer service and billing, geographic information systems, mobile technologies, or even e-mail. When mobile field workers do not have access to these systems, they continue to rely on systems that are paper-based or offline, accessing critical information only when they are at the service center or corporate yard.
Without access to the information held in these systems, field workers and the business they support often face needless challenges, including poor coordination and communication with the field. Field staff cannot access needed data, and supervisors cannot easily coordinate their work and that of contractors. Trips back to the base or home office become necessary to collect work orders and documentation, and to return job completion details and time sheets.
The growing challenge for the chief information officer (CIO) is to have a detailed understanding of the requirements of the business at the front line. The work of the field staff and others in the organization performing basic operations is where innovation can reap the greatest reward for the business. In this environment, a CIO with an innovative outlook shared by the rest of the company is in a position to become a value creator. This is a significant departure from the conventional view of the CIO as a mere steward of assets.
In internal discussions, CIOs have indicated that there is a real opportunity within today's IT organizations for people with strong business understanding, coupled with IT capability, and strong leadership skills, to drive an enterprise into unchartered territories. In a recently conducted informal survey among IT executives revealed that most felt that the chief skills they needed to build were not in technical know-how but in leadership and in understanding the business.
Indeed, to understand the business, organizations need to have a shared language. Within utilities, there is evidence of poor dialogue between the business analysts, the policy-makers and the IT people. The technical people speak technology and the business people speak business. Until they have a common lexicon, they will be like ships passing in the night.
In terms of the external factors, the regulatory situation can either nourish or stifle innovation, "Currently, the regulatory environments globally are inclined not to provide much incentive to innovate. The way a utility thinks of value needs to be aligned with the regulatory environment-then it needs to pick its spot. For instance, there are huge opportunities to drive value in customer service in regulated environments through reliability of response to customers."
In deregulated operations there are abundant opportunities to combine products to create new ones. For example, in competitive supply there are opportunities hidden amid the huge data sets held by each layer in the sector, for development of niche energy products for commercial and household users.
Meanwhile, statistics provide some motivation for utilities to seek the opportunities that may be