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Episode #56: Embarking on the Utility's Digital and Data Journey with Mike Murphy of Con Edison and Paul DeCotis of West Monroe [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. Each two weeks we’ll connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network...

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  • Oct 20, 2021
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-10 - Advances in Utility Digitalization, click here for more

Data has become a much sought after asset in the utility world, providing arguably as much value as the electrons being sent over the grid. When utilities have data on consumption patterns, asset performance, and digital engagement, they are armed with the tools to optimize their processes to improve service and save themselves and their customers on costs. The journey over recent years to embrace those digital tools has not always been quick or straightforward, but the industry has seen clear thought leaders rise that shepherd in this new era for the power sector.

Joining the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast today are two such leaders who are able to look back at that journey and simultaneously peer into the future for what's to come next. Mike Murphy is the General Manager of Customer Operations at Con Edison who has served in this industry for more than two decades, bringing the digital opportunities to customers through insights, bill delivery, and more. He's also worked closely with the other guest today, Paul DeCotis of West Monroe. Paul serves as Senior Partner and East Coast Practice Lead and he's constantly identifying advanced grid projects that have revolutionized the utility industry time and again. They're joining host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester in this episode to offer their insights and advice as other stakeholders embrace this digital and data journey.

A special thanks to West Monroe for supporting this edition of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast. 

Prefer to Read vs. Listening? Scroll Down to Read Transcript.

Key Links

Paul Decotis’s Energy Central Profile: https://energycentral.com/member/profile/paul-decotis

Smart Siting and Energy Infrastructure Development: A Challenge to Decarbonization: https://energycentral.com/c/gr/smart-siting-and-energy-infrastructure-development-challenge-decarbonization

Did you know? The Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast has been identified as one of the industry's 'Top 25 Energy Podcasts': https://blog.feedspot.com/energy_podcasts/

 

Transcript

Jason Price:
Hello, and welcome to the Energy Central Power Perspectives podcast, where we go straight to the source covering challenging issues and tough topics impacting the energy and utility industry. My name is Jason Price of West Monroe, and I'm coming to you from New York City. Joining me, as always, and based in Orlando, Florida, is Energy Central's Community Manager and podcast producer, Matt Chester. Today's show features not one, but two extraordinary minds in their respective to talk being digital, employing digital solutions as a means to an end. We'll get a profile of their digitalization journey at one of the most recognized and admired utilities in North America. Matt, are you ready for what's sure to be a dynamic conversation?

Matt Chester:
I absolutely am, Jason, I have a feeling this will be an episode where we'll just feel privileged to sit back and listen to the back and forth, so I'm just looking forward to it.

Jason Price:
Couldn't agree more. Over the past two years on Power Perspectives, we've covered a vast range of topics that describe the transformation of our energy system. We've explored topics around the electrification of transportation, the advancement of distributed energy sources, upgrades to telecommunication to power the grid, the intricacies of transmission systems, machine learning and AI, and much, much more. Today, we're going to explore the digital and data journeys that utilities are undertaking.

Jason Price:
As utilities modernize, their systems are becoming data rich. For those able to get on the right path, they can leverage their data for new insights to improve operational efficiency, improve the customer and employee experience, and better enable the low carbon energy transition. They can also swap out O&M costs, and replace them with capital investments. The results from having a clear data optimization strategy can be more powerful than even capturing lightning in a bottle, and many in the industry reference Amazon as a shining example of what it means to be data proficient and customer centric. And we'll be hearing from one of those utilities that is on the path heading in this direction.

Jason Price:
But before we bring our guests into the podcast booth, we do want to recognize West Monroe for making today's episode possible. West Monroe works with the nation's largest electric, gas and water utilities, in their telecommunication, grid modernization, and digital and workforce transformations. Among other high value areas, West Monroe brings you a multidisciplinary team that blends utility business acumen with deep operations and technology expertise to address modernizing aging infrastructure, advising on clean transportation alternatives, including electrification, ADMS deployments, data and analytics, and cyber security.

Jason Price:
With us today is Paul DeCotis, Senior Partner at West Monroe and East Coast Practice Lead. Paul is at the forefront of working with utilities in advanced grid analytics, working on some of the nation's most innovative and comprehensive grid modernization projects. Prior to West Monroe, Paul's distinguished career includes serving as Deputy Secretary of Energy for two Governors of New York, and Chair of the State Energy Planning Board, Vice President and Managing Director at Long Island Power Authority, Director of Energy Analysis, Policy and Planning at NYSERDA. Paul sits and advises on a long list of professional and academic boards, is a prolific writer on a variety of energy topics, and most recently, led an analysis of the impacts on the energy industry in the tri-state region of New York City, post-COVID, and laid out a roadmap for how the energy sector might contribute to the region's economic recovery. With such an extensive region to the industry, it's no wonder West Monroe and Paul DeCotis, specifically, are so respected. Paul, as a fellow colleague, I am both personally and professionally honored to welcome you to the Power Perspectives.

Paul DeCotis:
Thank you, Jason and Matt, for the opportunity to be here with you today, and pleased to be here with Mike Murphy.

Jason Price:
Thank you, Paul. And we're thrilled that as we get an inside look at the roadmap toward digitalization, we have joining us in the podcast booth, is Mike Murphy of Consolidated Edison Company of New York, the electric, gas, and steam utility serving New York City and the adjacent Westchester County. In his 21 years with Con Edison, Mike has served in a variety of roles, including supporting the company's largest customers, managing the competitive marketplace, managing the company's billing systems, and leading an effort to revamp digital channels. Currently, Mike is General Manager of Customer Operations, responsible for a number of key customer functions, including customer experience and insights, digital customer experience, bill delivery, quality assurance, and customer related regulatory policy. Mike Murphy, welcome to Power Perspectives.

Mike Murphy:
Well, thank you, Jason and Matt, for the opportunity to be with you today, I'm just really excited to share with your audience, along with Paul, some really cool things we're working on here at Con Edison, and also share some insights regarding our digital journey, and maybe most importantly, how we're really going to deliver value to our customers and employees.

Jason Price:
It's a pleasure to have you on the show. Paul, we want to start the conversation with you, to give us a big picture view of these data and digitalization trends that you're seeing today. Paint for us a landscape of the direction the utility industry is going.

Paul DeCotis:
Sure. Thanks, Jason. Let me start by saying that at the same time the utility industry is coming to grips with the demands being placed on it from regulators and customers, and that is to improve reliability and strength and resiliency, it's also being tasked with an oversized role in decarbonizing the economy. As you know, dozens of states have targets for decarbonizing their economies across all sectors, and in short, for utilities to support these efforts, and their obligations required by regulation and or legislation, they need to make some significant capital investment in grid infrastructure, and information and operations technology.

Paul DeCotis:
Customer information systems, and the services they provide, are key here. The grid is becoming increasingly digitized by design, and advances in distribution automation, grid edge, and distributed energy resources, new flexible resources like battery storage, and buildings and vehicle electrification, require digital capabilities. Digital capabilities and platforms are required for utilities to optimize grid performance and customer operations. Customers have come to expect light touch, low effort, and high impact interactions with service providers, including utilities. They have become accustomed to real time digital experiences, with streaming service, E-commerce, and expect the same from their utility. Utilities like Con Edison, and the work that Mike Murphy is leading, are responding with speed and commitment to being digitally enabled in making use of advanced data analytics to meet its strategic regulatory and legislative objectives.

Jason Price:
Mike, would you agree with that assessment?

Mike Murphy:
Yes, I certainly agree with Paul. We're seeing customer expectations and the industry changing just so rapidly, and at Con Edison, we see digital solutions, advanced analytics, as really a major key to us meeting our strategic priorities and commitments. And for Con Edison, those strategic priorities include safety, operational excellence, enhancing the customer experience, and as we've been talking about, a very strong commitment to a clean energy future. So, as we continue to digitize our operations and the grid, we just have this rich, granular data that we know can be leveraged. And for this reason, we see advanced analytics as just such a foundational technology investment for us in the years that come, it's going to enable us to be smarter, more efficient in almost everything we do.

Jason Price:
Mike, I'll stay with you here. While Paul's looking at the trends of the utility, you are living at the heart of the sector. So, what are the most important trends that you see?

Mike Murphy:
Yeah, we see a number of trends in the customer experience area. I'll talk about a few of them. The first is just the speed at which customer expectations are rising, and right alongside of that, technology advancement. As we all know, the customer's perceptions of just what is an easy, intuitive experience is just changing so rapidly. During the pandemic, we've seen an increase in adoption of digital, which we're very happy about, but we've also seen increasingly shorter attention spans from customers when using digital services. So we've had to go back and just redesign and optimize some experiences that were created just over the last few years for our customers.

Mike Murphy:
We also have the challenge of, as we expand features and services to our customers, we have to make more services just as easy to find and access for our customers. So over the next few years, our expectation is that we will have expanded options and channels for customers, they must remain easy in access to use, and so we're focused on constant optimization to deliver on the expectations for easy, intuitive experiences.

Mike Murphy:
I think the second key trend is this need to support our customers through the clean energy transition. We know that in the coming years, this transition, and the activities that come along with it, such as adoption of EV and electrification of heating in particular, they're going to require changes in so many aspects of our business, how we interact with our customers, how we help them manage their energy use, and how we build them for that energy use.

Mike Murphy:
For example, we'll be supporting customers who seek an understanding of how EV charging is going to impact their bill, and what's best rate for them. And all of these types of interactions will grow significantly in volume, and they're going to require new tools for our customers, and new training and new tools for our employees as well. And so I think both of these trends are going to make it increasingly important to have agile teams that can take in constant inflows of timely information about our customers, about their interactions. We're going to need the right analytics team partners in technology deliver the insights, and to tie those insights to our operational systems so that, overall, everything we do, again, is smarter and more accurate.

Jason Price:
Mike, let's stay with you for a moment. Tell us more about some of the ways you plan to use analytics to support the customer experience.

Mike Murphy:
Yeah, so we're focused on, again, using analytics in a number of our operational areas, and it's certainly to support the customer experience. I'll give you a few examples. We're really focused on the ability for data analytics to provide proactive and predictive insights and suggestions, and to integrate those with our CSR tools, for example, our frontline customer tools, and our overall customer facing digital tools, so that we can suggest solutions program and services to customers based on the full set of information we have. So analytics is going to make all of our tools smarter, and I think an example of that is we recently launched a virtual assistant we call Watt here at Con Edison, which can help customers with artificial intelligence. And we know that the more analytics data we have, that we can provide Watt, the smarter Watt can be, and be able to assist our customers with more and more inquiries.

Mike Murphy:
We're also going to be using analytics to evaluate our live agent and self service channel effectiveness. It will help us identify root causes, and help us make sure we're, in all places possible, handling customers inquiries on the first contact. Finally, when we talk about the clean energy transition, we'll use analytics to recommend and help customers through key decisions around billing rates, the impact of adoption of clean energy technology on their lives, and we're also going to be using analytic data to bring in data from municipal and state data sets to identify buildings that really would benefit the most from the range of the clean energy programs that we offer and our available to them.

Mike Murphy:
So these are just a few. As you can see, analytics is just going to be so foundational to so many of the things we do as we look at our strategic priorities over the next few years.

Jason Price:
That's great. And as a Con Ed customer, I'm looking forward to benefiting from some of these, including introducing myself to Watt, so I'm looking forward to that. So, Paul, it's over to you, do you have anything to add on the utility trends in this area?

Paul DeCotis:
Yes. Thanks, Jason. Just briefly, I think Mike painted a very vivid and real life picture of the trends we are seeing in the industry, and in utility and customer operations in particular. Our West Monroe team works with utilities across the country, navigating and adapting to, and in some cases, helping to define and characterize these trends. Mike and his team are on the front lines, living a day in life of a utility. To operate effectively and responsibly in the 21st century, utilities can't do it alone. They need customer, regulator, and public support, to advance new and innovative initiatives and practices.

Paul DeCotis:
And, Jason, to do this, the utilities need to invest capital. Broadly speaking, balancing competing needs for reliability and resiliency, clean energy, and de-carbonization, and meeting higher customer expectations, is no small feat. Utilities like Con Edison and the work that Mike is leading is truly ground breaking from what we see with the utilities we work with across the country. In the coming years, utilities will be investing billions of dollars in infrastructure, hardware and software, to help shape and react to market trends, consistent with public policy goals and constituent needs. So this is the beginning of a journey, it's going to be interesting to see how the rest of the industry reacts, and not just the utility industry, but also all their constituents, the goods suppliers, manufacturers, hardware, software providers, et cetera. This is really an interesting time.

Jason Price:
And staying with Paul here, do you find that when assisting a utility partner like Con Edison, that you're solving one problem at a time? Or are you more able to provide solutions that become all encompassing of many of these issues? Can you talk about that?

Paul DeCotis:
Yeah. Yeah, sure, Jason, and that's a really good question. I think as professional service providers, West Monroe and others, help clients better define and articulate their business and technology needs. We share best practices with what we are seeing and doing with other similar clients across the country. We also help develop solutions, as partners, that best fit their unique needs. As you know, one size does not fit all, and we and our clients remain steadfast in commitments to work collectively and collaboratively to meet client needs. So I would say, we continue to iterate and improve in an agile fashion, much like Mike alluded to earlier, such that when all is said and done, all utility core services are related in one way or another, and solving an issue in one area often provides value in another.

Jason Price:
Mike, I want to get your perspective on the same question I just asked Paul. So, when you're working with Paul's team or other professional service providers, and integrate digitalization and data analytics, how do you see that impacting enterprise operations? And where you sit, do you see a wider impact from all this?

Mike Murphy:
Yes, I certainly do. While we're, today, working on many digital analytics initiatives across the company, and again, we focus today's discussion on our customer experience effort, we're focused on near term value because we always have to be trying to get better and better for our customers and our company. But we're also, as we do that, we work with folks like the West Monroe team to really make sure we have the right foundational technology, people, and process in place so that we can support the full enterprise well into the future on these type of digital analytics efforts. So I think we are very cognizant that it's very important that we take an enterprise approach to our investments, certainly to maximize their value as we go forward.

Jason Price:
Terrific. Mike, staying with you. So given all that, I'm curious, what advice would you offer fellow utilities that we know are listening in today's episode?

Mike Murphy:
At Con Edison, in all we do, we're focused on continuous improvement, so we're excited about what we're working on, but there's always opportunity to improve. And so a couple things I think that have worked for us, and I would share with others that are starting this journey, I think it's really important to strike the right balance of focusing on near term value for the customers and the company, but also, again, working on that cohesive strategy for customer experience and technology. And we have to build the support for customer experience programs internally and externally, and it requires the development of a customer experience strategy, and the supporting investments for that strategy to be shared with all stakeholders at all levels, from employees to regulators. And so facilitating that alignment around the strategy, and the specific investments that support it, has really helped us to be successful in our digital efforts.

Mike Murphy:
Also, I would advise others to avoid defining too far out into the future the exact focus areas or use cases that will be addressed with digital analytic solutions. The pace of change is just so fast. We find it imperative to really think about building capabilities and ways of working that incorporate the ability to be flexible, so that when the highest value focus areas become clearer, and unexpected needs emerge, we can make sure we tackle those and are successful. So for example, we've had success at Con Edison planning digital analytics focus areas and releases quarterly, and I think that's something that I think really has helped our success.

Jason Price:
Thanks, Mike. Paul, same question for you. You've worked with plenty of utilities, so I'm sure you've seen patterns across the industry, but what advice would you give to someone listening who hasn't yet dove head first into the digitalization and database decision making?

Paul DeCotis:
Well, Jason, I would bet that while any given utility might not have taken the plunge completely, that they are thinking about it, or have started a journey toward digitalization and analytics in some aspect of their business. I will add that digitalization is a prerequisite for rigorous data collection and advanced analytics. And it's a journey, not a destination. In theory, it would never really be completed. Advances in technology and machine learning, for example, continue to advance our thinking and expand the solution set of possibilities. So I suggest utilities develop a value proposition, as stated earlier by Mike, for digitalization and analytics to meet their corporate customer and regulatory objectives. I think they need to engage regulators and make the case as to why the investment in these core business, and IT and OT areas, benefit customers and help States and localities meet their climate and energy goals.

Paul DeCotis:
While it does not come without cost, it is imperative that if utilities are to meet customer expectations and regulated demands, as I outlined earlier, that they cannot afford to sit on the sidelines for long. At some point, they're going to have to take the plunge. And based on the work we are doing, supporting utility clients in their grid modernization plans across the country, I have to say that these investments pay for themselves over what cost and outcomes would've been otherwise. Had they not taken these journeys and had they not invested in this IT, OT infrastructure and digitalization, they would not be as far advanced, nor would they be as well benefited.

Jason Price:
Gentlemen, I can't thank you both enough for being on the podcast today. I know your schedules are really busy, so it goes to show how important it is for you to share best practices and lessons learned with your peers across the power industry. You've given us a lot to chew on today, so much so that after we digest, we may just have to have you on a future episode again. But until then, thank you so much for joining us today.

Paul DeCotis:
Thank you, Jason. I was happy to have the opportunity to be with you.

Mike Murphy:
Yeah, thank you as well, really great to be here today and get to share some of what we're working on together.

Jason Price:
You can always keep up with what Con Edison and West Monroe are doing via the Energy Central Community platform, where hopefully we can count on Mike and Paul to keep us updated moving forward. And if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them on Energy Central. And on behalf of the Energy Central team, thanks to everyone for listening today. The most relevant conversations of the utility industry today are happening in the Energy Central community, so stay plugged in and fully charged in the discussion. Once again, I'm your host, Jason Price, and we'll see you next time on the Energy Central Power Perspectives podcast.

 


About Energy Central Podcasts

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. At least twice monthly, we connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network community member to discuss compelling topics that impact professionals who work in the power industry. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ is the premiere podcast series from Energy Central, a Power Industry Network of Communities built specifically for professionals in the electric power industry and a place where professionals can share, learn, and connect in a collaborative environment. Supported by leading industry organizations, our mission is to help global power industry professionals work better. Since 1995, we’ve been a trusted news and information source for professionals working in the power industry, and today our managed communities are a place for lively discussions, debates, and analysis to take place. If you’re not yet a member, visit www.EnergyCentral.com to register for free and join over 200,000 of your peers working in the power industry.

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

Happy listening, and stay tuned for our next episode! Like what you hear, have a suggestion for future episodes, or a question for our guest? Leave a note in the comments below.

All new episodes of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast will be posted to the relevant Energy Central community group, but you can also subscribe to the podcast at all the major podcast outlets, including:


Thanks once again to West Monroe for making this episode possible. 

 

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