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7 hurdles to cloud nirvana that utilities must clear now

The cloud makes so many business promises, it can be difficult to keep track. It offers flexibility, speed and the ability to outsource some otherwise expensive (and heavy duty) data work. The business case has been made. Repeatedly. But business cases don’t smooth the road to finality. They lay out the positives, but not the path.

That path to cloud nirvana for utilities, specifically, admittedly has a few hurdles. Despite the obvious rewards waiting at the end of the journey, that doesn’t make getting there simple. Here are the top 7 problems you need to plan for—and plan a way around (or through).

(1) Rocky relationships

Specifically, let’s chat about those external relationships with your regulators, who have a lot of control over your world. How well do you know them? How would you characterize your relationship with them? How much do you know about their views on cloud and their plans for how the use of cloud should grow within the industry (and their region)? Those views could make this journey easier … or more difficult. So, if those relationships aren’t ones you’re currently focused on, that may be a way of thinking you’ll want to change.

(2) Internal insecurity

This is a workplace issue separate from culture (and one that’s really rarely discussed). What tends to happen, however, with new projects is a “dropped in the lap” approach where someone is tasked to “make it work”—usually without real direction, assistance or a budget anywhere large enough to launch a new project. For a something small—say writing a press release—you can probably do just that. You can make it work. For a massive interconnections overhaul like cloud, this process is a bit ridiculous (but it still happens constantly).

What you need is a clear plan, a call to action, real direction—combined, that should calm that internal insecurity a bit and help illuminate the journey more, too.

(3) Passed partnerships

We know there’s a stoic streak with U.S. utilities. It’s leftover from our American Wild West days, and, as a country culture, we have a big loner vibe. But utilities don’t always have to do things by themselves—build their own data warehouses, craft their own algorithms, hire their own data scientists. Sometimes outsourcing and partnerships are both easier and cheaper, and you may even find a cloud partner like us—willing to go that extra mile to help. So, don’t pass on partnerships anymore. See how they can really support you as you make the most out of your projects, especially those outside of your comfort zone. Let us get your six.

(4) Clinging culture

Here’s where you thought “internal insecurity” was going: static, change-fearful workplace culture. It’s still a thing. It’s still blocking a lot of efforts and new growth with new projects like cloud. And it usually takes the form of a single sentence: “But we’ve always done it this way.”

Change is a tricky bit of organizational psychology. The only ones who like change are the ones who bring it. The ones it’s foisted upon always start out hating it, for they see themselves as the victims of change. So, incorporate. Listen. Make it a team effort. Back off when you need to and realize that using your old silo approach to push through new tech concepts like cloud is as outdated as your systems before your cloud project got into the swing of things. New collaborative systems require new collaborative thinking.

(5) Confusing cashflow

We know there are complicated investment rules for utilities. We know that partnerships and outsourcing (and not building up banks and banks of servers in house) goes against that typical O&M capitalization and causes a rate-base issue. Good news: There’s more thinking (and general acceptance) to move cloud investment into the capital expenditure category. Granted, we’re not there just yet. But, there is movement (in New York and Illinois specifically) and verbal commitment, according to the regulators surveyed in “Clearing a Path to the Cloud.”

(6) Expanding expectations

These expectations are growing, and coming from all sides: from customers, from regulators, from a culture that, overall, is becoming faster and more digital daily. All that info. All those numbers. All that data. You need smarter, better, faster ways to store it, sort it and analyze it all. And the best way to meet those growing expectations (and even get ahead of them) will be to utilize the cloud as quickly as possible. If you’re waiting on the planning sidelines hoping to get a better grasp on these changing consumer expectations, you could easily end up living up to your old-school, stuck-in-the-mud, behind-the-times reputation. Then you have both a tech issue and a PR one. Rather than letting those expectations hold you back, use them to motivate those cloud transformations.

(7) Slippery security

These last two hurdles are traditional business culture problems. Customer desires and cybersecurity issues are moving, adapting, adjusting concepts. There’s no pinning them down completely, and it will always be a race. Utilities have a history of waiting to see. But, that traditional wait-and-see-and-then-pilot-it-out approach doesn’t work well with these two areas. It just doesn’t fly with concepts that are constantly racing ahead. While it’s understandable, especially with security, to want to keep hold of things—that you just feel that things out of your immediate control can’t be secure—remember that keeping the cloud secure keeps places like us in business.

Your job is to provide power and serve your customer. Our job is to help you do that by keeping your job-enabling cloud offerings secure.

So, let’s work together to make this cloud transformation happen and get past these 7 emotional and cultural hurdles.

 

Opower Author
Kathleen Wolf Davis /

In the shortest terms: I'm the writer here at Oracle Opower. Been penning pieces about the energy biz for almost 20 years with stints at Electric Light & Power magazine, POWERGRID International magazine and Intelligent Utility magazine.

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