I recently attended DistribuTECH in San Diego and it was amazing to see how the electric utility industry is evolving in its understanding of industrial IoT and how that can help improve business outcomes. Approximately 13,000 individuals attended the conference to learn about the latest technology available for those in the transmission and distribution business.
One thing I always look for is year-over-year growth in overall interest in the topics presented at these events, and DistribuTECH seems more relevant than ever. During the opening keynote, Teresa Hansen, editor of Power Grid International magazine, acknowledged that technology is transforming the industry with the biggest changes since the “current war” between Edison and Westinghouse.
There was evidence of this in the number of new companies entering the industry and the abundance of new solutions. Hansen also admitted that not every company has figured out how to stay relevant in this new age of IoT with some fading into the background.
To that end, Geoff Colvin, senior editor-at-large for Fortune magazine, discussed economic themes that are relevant to all companies managing through uncertain times. He called out three major trends:
1. The unexpected rate of change is increasing
2. Business models that would have been dismissed in the past are now viable
3. The value of human capital is higher than ever
This underscores the need for businesses to think differently about the products and services they offer and how they approach the market. All businesses want a sustainable competitive advantage, but no advantage seems sustainable anymore. This is why so many are talking about business or digital transformation and looking to IoT as a way to achieve it.
Despite the doom and gloom, there are businesses that are succeeding. And, the winners are doing four things:
1. Innovating the business model
2. Integrating all parts of the enterprise
3. Building new high-value skills
4. Embracing the friction-free economy
The overarching message is that technology is a key enabler for achieving transformation, but it is only part of the equation. Businesses need to be prepared to abandon the status quo and institute a culture that rewards innovation and responds quickly to changing market conditions.
A great example of this is Itron, a technology and services provider that is best known for its metering products. Traditionally, meters have been single function devices with the purpose of collecting usage data. Over time, improvements have been made to their accuracy and new communication methods added for data collection; however, not much has been done to extend functionality into other areas.
Itron is changing this paradigm by introducing incremental features in the form of applications. These applications are helping utilities better understand what is happening on the very edge of the electric grid – a place they never had visibility. Utilities were clearly excited about the notion of enhanced locational awareness, active demand response and outage management.
Bsquare is contributing to the Itron solution with its DataV IoT device management capabilities by providing a catalog of applications and the mechanisms for deploying and licensing them to tens of millions of endpoints. Read the case study here.
Philip Mezey, Itron President and CEO, maintains that devices on the grid must not just collect data, but also understand it and take action in real-time. That is what will transform the current smart grid into an active grid – one where distributed intelligence enables quicker and more accurate decisions. According to Mezey, core smart grid technology has been a tremendous success and active grids build on that investment.
Most people take for granted that the lights will turn on when you flip the switch. At DistribuTECH, it was obvious that it takes an industry of passionate professionals working tirelessly to make that happen. The goal is to deliver energy that is clean, safe and reliable in the most efficient way possible. Industrial IoT has the potential to make that vision possible and leading companies are taking advantage of it today.