Utility Week

Utility Week 3rd March 2017

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22 | 3rd - 9th march 2017 | UtILItY WEEK Operations & Assets Event Wipro Council London, 16 February 2017 Innovation is hard when you're not allowed to fail The Wipro and Utility Week Technology and Innovation Council had their first meeting of 2017 to map out the year ahead – and there was much to talk about. Mathew Beech was there. T he 2017 incarnation of the Wipro and Utility Week Technology and Inno- vation Council met in London for a relaunch dinner and first meeting of the year. The council – which previously helped produce the Utility Week and Wipro Innova- tion report titled Innovation in UK Utilities: a State of the Nation Report – set out to tackle issues including the role of the customer in innovation, getting new ideas from the draw- ing board into business as usual (BAU) prac- tice, and balancing risk and reward. The first topic for discussion was cus- tomer-led innovation and what it means for UK utilities. There was a consensus among council members that vulnerable customers should be the focus of innovation efforts because they stand to gain the most. It was noted that in some instances, innovation has excluded the vulnerable, and benefited only those able to buy into the new technologies. Digitisation was another key topic. The impact it is having is significant, with its effect in other sectors leading to rapidly changing consumer demands and expecta- tions that utilities are striving to meet and keep up with. However, rather than just using consumer groups or panels to monitor and assess these needs, council members stated that technol- ogy allows utilities to track the impact of the way consumers use and engage with their utilities, particularly those in vulnerable cir- cumstances. Technology can be especially insightful in the case of customers who oth- erwise find it hard to engage. There was an energetic discussion among council members about the focus on BAU and the balancing act between risk and reward that can foster – or potentially stifle – innovation. Some saw BAU as the natural indicator of success for new technologies and innova- tive ideas, saying that if something has been adopted into daily practice, is has been a worthwhile exercise. However, others argued that it was then difficult to measure the impact of a technology, and that if getting to BAU was the main focus, other more benefi- cial opportunities may be glossed over. More significantly, the risk/reward para- dox is something some of the council said utilities, as well as regulators, are struggling to grasp. "Utilities are the essence of society" was a phrase frequently mentioned in the discus- sions, with the electricity, gas, and water ser- vices they provide essential to modern life. "It is a disaster if there is a break in service." With this weighing on their minds, utili- ties may be seen as naturally risk averse and conservative, unwilling to do anything that may upset the status quo and ultimately lead to disruptions and potentially penalties for poor service. This is where council members said the regulator had to take a greater role, by giving utilities the space and opportunity to inno- vate – and fail – without fear of penalties or repercussions. "Failure is a vital learning tool, although it is viewed negatively in the UK," said one council member. The final point raised was the need for the sector to broaden its horizons and look to other industries for inspiration – and col- laboration. This would reduce the initial innovation risk, and potentially increase the rewards from the new technologies. The Wipro Technology and Innovation Council in 2017 • The council will produce an in-depth report on the future of utilities. The research for the report will begin in April, with the final document published in September. • It will hold regular innovation barometers that will measure industry sentiment about the maturity of innovation cultures in utilities.

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