Utility Week

UTILITY Week 7th October 2016

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Page 20 of 35

t h e C G I I n t e r v I e w : Dealing with the smart transition I t is a year of transition." That is the view of Tara McGeehan, Senior Vice President, UK energy, utilities and telecoms, at CGI. With CGI heavily involved with numerous fundamental programmes and projects across energy and water, McGeehan is well placed to see the changes that are taking place. She sees the main achievers in this changing world as the electricity distribution network operators (DNOs). "I would probably pick out the DNOs as having a really good year with their low carbon projects. "They're all looking at their network and how they can balance it in an effective way once smart grids arrive." It is the transition and to smart grids and smart networks, plus the DNOs ability to adapt the way they operate to maximise the benefit of them and the guidance from the regulator that has struck a chord with McGeehan. "I think the direction they've got from Ofgem for innovation has been really good." She highlights the fact they have been willing to go beyond the utilities sector to help them with their innovation projects. "The DNOs have brought together academic institutions like the universities, plus technology partners like ourselves and other niche thought leaders in smart technologies. This has been the most encouraging thing to happen." On top of this seeking extra help and inspiration, it is the adoption of these technologies and projects that McGeehan really deems to be a success. She says that o‹en the innovation projects "tend to whiter on the vine" once they've been completed. However, the new attitude from the DNOs – as well as the utilities more generally – has seen this begin to change. "The companies have put a lot of energy into making them business as usual and sharing the information around at their own conferences on what they've learned with the other network companies. "Once these projects and sharing the information has occurred, making them part of business as usual rather than having them bolted on the side and then forgotten about is crucial. "With the aging network we need to do something. We cannot wait to be forced to replace the whole grid network. These projects are very important. We've worked across a number of them and each of them has been very good." The challenge ahead for the utilities revolves around the heavy workload and hectic schedule they have to deal with – in the main implementing these new projects and responding to regulatory changes. "It is so busy. There has been an awful lot of initiatives imposed on them that they have to get ready for." These include the go-live of the Data and Communications Company and the start of the mass rollout of smart meters. "The participants have been getting ready for that taking part in the programme and getting ready with their own back office systems. On top of that, they've had the Nexus programme which has had quite a few delays but still planning to go live next year. They've had to apply changes there. Then we've had the CMA everyone had to respond to and think about." In the water sector, things have also been just as busy as shadow market operation got underway as the final step ahead of the full opening of the non-domestic market in April next year. "The water companies have made a huge amount of effort to get ready for competition. They have been thinking about their roles going forward." The key for the utilities to keep up with the relentless work has been, according the McGeehan, "knuckling down". And the hard work is now set to pay off as what have "just been technology and IT projects" becomes the new way of operating their businesses. "I think we will see a different set of challenges next year which will be more around how we address the data that comes available and how they interact with the competitive market andwhat type of customer they want to go a‹er." Longer term, the smart revolution and increased competition raises the "connected home" challenge, featuring the connected customer and the impact of the internet of things and smart devices. "People in their home lives are used to having a lot more information integrated and utility companies will need to be part of that solution and part of the connected home." On the water front, McGeehan sees the impact that retail competition is going to have as the major challenge in the coming years. She says this requires a "major cultural change as well as technology change" just as the smart meter rollout does in the electricity sector. CGI is well placed to help the utilities, whether in the energy or water sector, to deal with these cultural and technological changes, having been involved for many years in the sector, gaining a deep understanding of the issues. "We're at the heart of the market," McGeehan adds. And for the utilities to remain at the heart of the market, they will have to adapt to the new ways of working and adopt new systems to achieve it. "

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