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Discover Your Information Advantage to Deliver Energy Safely and Sustainably to Your Communities

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Phil Schwarz's picture
Sr. Industry Strategist - Energy & Utility Sector OpenText

Phil Schwarz is the Industry Strategist for the Energy & Utility sector at OpenText. With two decades of industry experience, Phil has become a trusted SME, having supported operators, EPCs...

  • Member since 2022
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  • Sep 27, 2022
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This item is part of the Enhancing the Digital Utility - September 2022 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

The world is in a race for energy, reflected by commodity prices that are at or near record levels across the world. Earlier this year the phrase in the U.K. was “do I heat, or do I eat?” More recently the U.K. government has provided recommendations to its citizens to “heat the human not the home.” While Europe is feeling the brunt of exorbitantly high energy prices, the rest of the world is feeling the pinch as well.

So, what is the answer in navigating this global challenge that will likely not get significantly easier in the short term? According to the United Nations, the global population is expected to grow 20% and reach 9.7 billion people by 2050[1]. Sure, the answer can be to add energy supply in a variety of forms or manage demand and make energy consumption more efficient and sustainable. There is a common thread with both paths -- the need for information and the right technology to manage it.

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According to IDC, global spending on digital transformation of business practices is forecast to reach $1.8 trillion in 2022, an increase of 17.6% over 2021 [2].  Utility line-of-business leaders, their front-line workers and middle management likely would all agree that information alone is not the answer. Information that is relevant, timely, organized, secure and easily consumable within business processes to make faster decisions and smarter execution would help them deliver the outcomes needed in their roles to lead their communities down a path toward a sustainable future.

The information management domain and key concepts like structured and unstructured data are well understood by IT leaders within the utilities sector. Where it is not well understood is in the line of businesses such as engineering, operations, maintenance, supply chain, customer service, marketing and other departments. Leaders in these departments are often tasked with achieving their respective departmental goals rather than understanding how information technologies and best practices can help them achieve their goals.

For the sake of level setting, let’s start with some basic concepts and definitions. Structured data is data organized in rows, columns, tabs or some other pre-defined format. Employees in utilities use structured data applications everyday such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), Human Resource Management (HRM) and many more, yet only 20% of the world’s information is in a structured format. This is a problem because the word ‘sustainability’ naturally implies lasting structure. How can the world make progress toward a sustainable future at the pace that is needed, when 80% of the world’s information and the majority of information used by utilities is unstructured?  

Unstructured information is naturally any information that is not structured. It’s often text heavy like engineering drawings, procedures, invoices, contracts and employee files. This type of information has valuable and contextual information but is not organized in rows, columns and tabs. Transcripts, audio files or simply verbal-only customer phone calls are other examples of unstructured information.

Unstructured and structured data definitions are flawed because the focus is simply on a given piece of information. Utility employees, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders do not solely rely on information in a vacuum. That information is utilized within a business process that includes both structured and unstructured information. If an employee requires structured information from multiple applications and a user must spend time accessing, searching and retrieving information from each application to execute, the business process in its entirety is unstructured. To progress toward a sustainable future, both information and its related business processes need to be structured. This requires turning unstructured information into structured by automatically applying metadata to unstructured information and integrating that information into applications so that content is displayed in context and can easily be executed on without having to searching for information. Uniting unstructured information with structured is the key for efficient business-process execution across a utility company and to help lead the world to a sustainable future.

Most utilities have strategic partnerships with vendors of critical software applications such as ERP, CRM, HRM, and others. This is not enough. It is also important for utilities to have a strategic relationship with a partner that can support you in your information management journey to organize, integrate and protect data as it flows through business processes across and outside the utility.

A strategic partner in information management should offer technologies that help structure what is often considered unstructured information. Some examples include:

  • Digital Experience – The customer journey is cluttered with unstructured information that acts as a barrier to a sustainable future. How customers navigate a website, how they interact with a call center, how they receive communications and recommendations are examples of unstructured information in their journey with you. It is imperative now more than ever that utilities have a digital experience platform to structure this information across the entire customer journey. 
  • Enterprise Content Services – Content or documents such as engineering drawings, asset documentation, procedures, contracts, forms, checklists and more are all examples of unstructured information that isn’t well leveraged if information management technologies and best practices are not utilized. 50% of worldwide projects in the past decade were delayed.[3]  Two of the top three reasons for those delays were related to flaws in how engineering drawings were managed. The path toward sustainability will require the utilization of information management best practices to ensure new and existing utility infrastructure is deployed and maintained on time.
  • Business Networks – Business networks utilize unstructured information; phone calls, emails, procure-to-pay documentation and more are examples of unstructured information, and sometimes even unstructured information embedded inside unstructured information. Utilities must automate supply and business networks by removing this unstructured information and securely integrate its suppliers, people, systems and things to keep energy flowing.
  • Security – Information is inherently unstructured if it is not secure. Any information management partner should not only have the capabilities described above but also cyber-security solutions to ensure critical utility infrastructure never goes down due to a cyber threat.

Advanced Technologies – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Analytics, Industrial Internet of Things and Business Process Automation are all examples of advanced technologies. Most applications in these areas today are designed and utilized for structured information. An information management partner should offer these technologies to extract value out of structured information as well as unstructured information to organize, integrate and protect data.

Sustainability implies structure. The path toward a sustainable future will only be possible when utilities have an information management strategy in place and a software technology partner that specializes in this domain to help them discover their information advantage. The global energy race is just as much about information management as it is about energy itself.


 

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