An effective digital strategy can revolutionise all areas of the utility sector, and embracing new technologies and business models is vital for optimising asset management, improving network operations and keeping up with changing customer demands. Representatives from Australia’s water and energy utilities recently gathered at Digital Utilities, a two-day event that provides delegates with the tools to use digital technologies to accelerate and transform their organisations.

Digital Utilities 2019 was held from 21–22 March at the Pullman Hotel in Albert Park, Melbourne, and provided a platform for utility leaders to share and discuss the challenges of digital transformation, and learn from those already seeing the benefits.

Bentley Systems — a global software development company with a portfolio of solutions that accelerate project delivery and improve asset performance — was the Event Partner for a second year running. AVEVA, which provides leading software solutions across the asset and operations lifecycles, was the Major Sponsor, with Paul Banfield, Segment Director – Water & Wastewater at AVEVA, delivering an informative presentation on the transformation of operational and business processes to enable better collaboration between people and systems.

They were joined by three other sponsors: Nearmap, which offers the most current high-resolution aerial images of areas all over Australia, so you can remotely inspect your worksite from anywhere; Peter Norman Personnel, an established professional recruitment company with long-standing relationships in manufacturing and utility industries; and Localz, which assists companies with last mile delivery services and field technician appointments.

The expert speaker lineup was spearheaded by two excellent keynotes – Nigel Watson, Group Information Services Director at the UK’s Northumbrian Water, and Mark Paterson, General Manager Consumer Energy at Horizon Power.

As international keynote, Mr Watson was able to share his tried and tested ideas around new business models, innovating and developing new products, and thinking differently by putting customers at the heart of solutions in his presentation Becoming the world’s most digital water company — at the same time highlighting what Australia and the UK can learn from each other.

“The advent of cloud computing is a major catalyst, enabling capabilities that were previously uneconomical to utilities,” Mr Watson said.

“Northumbrian Water Group has a vision to become the most digital water company in the world. Of course, this is not an objective that stands on its own. It is supportive of its key goals which are to deliver an unrivalled customer experience, continue to offer great value services and ensure that it can mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

Mark Paterson kicked off day two of the conference with his domestic keynote presentation Utility self-disruption for a low carbon future.

According to Mr Paterson, it is plausible that up to 50 per cent of Australia’s electricity volume in 2050 will be generated by millions of Distributed Energy Resources (DER), creating two-way flows of power that the grid was not designed to accommodate.

“Our traditional ‘poles and wires’ networks will have evolved into digitised, many-to-many, transactive platforms. Enabling this transformation, however, is proving to be a monumental process of strategic change impacting all parts of traditional utility businesses.”

These keynote presentations were supported by five interesting and informative presentations:

Kate Fuelling, Digital Excellence Consultant: Digital transformation — we are doing it wrong

Geoff Purcell, Chief Technology Officer at Melbourne Water: From utility to digital business innovator — learnings from our digital transformation journey

Maree Mamo, Partner, Management Consulting at KPMG: Lessons learned from large-scale transformation

Amanda Finnis, Chief Information Officer at Coliban Water: Water utilities and emerging technologies: where’s the killer app?

Wayne Pales, General Manager Technology Strategy at the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO): Demand Response — crossing the chasm from pilots to operations

Day one also included a panel discussion on Achieving cyber security resilience, where Mr Watson joined Ian McKenzie, General Manager IT Operations and Service Management at Jemena, and Michael McKinnon, Strategic Information Security Advisor and Principal Consultant at PS&C Security. They offered delegates advice on how to keep their data and digital assets secure, prepare for and respond to cyber attacks, and create a culture where identifying security risks becomes the responsibility of every employee.

Panel discussions offer a variety of perspectives

The second day of Digital Utilities 2019 featured four panel sessions, split into morning and afternoon streams.

The stream, The connected customer — staying relevant in a changing world, featured Toby Evans, Senior Manager Digital Transformation at SA Water; Michelle Grigg, Marketing Manager at Powershop and Rita McPhail, Manager Customer Engagement and Programs at SA Power Networks.

These three panellists discussed how utilities can provide their customers with a rich digital experience that is both mobile and social, and empowers them to take control of their water and energy use. This is not an area where the sector has historically excelled and change is needed, with technology playing a major role in overhauling the way the industry interacts with its customers.

During the other morning stream, delegates heard from Graham Rix, Chief Information Officer at SA Water; Caroline Hussey, Team Leader Business Enablement, Service Delivery at Melbourne Water; and Cate Hilliard, Manager, IT Capital Portfolio at SA Power Networks for a panel session titled A new core — unleashing the digital potential in utility operations.

Fuelled by advances in artificial intelligence, data analytics, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing, digital technologies are transforming the way utilities operate — how they create value, serve customers, manage costs, optimise processes and capture new market opportunities. Our panellists delved into how to use digital technologies to improve operational efficiency and workforce mobility.

The afternoon streams had a specific sector focus, with one exploring how high levels of variable renewable energy and DER have increased the complexity of electricity network management, while the other discussion centred on how Australia’s rapidly growing population and climate change are increasing the pressure on water resources.

As part of the Innovation in electricity networks — building the grid of the future panel, Fiona Bishop, Executive Manager Change and Innovation at Western Power; Dr. Adam Bumpus, Senior Researcher at the Energy Transition Hub; and Eddie Thanavelil, Demand Side Innovation Engineer, Customer Connections at Evoenergy talked about the process of grid modernisation, and how energy companies can navigate this complex transformation while keeping the lights on and prices down.

The panel, The smart water utility — improving water management featured Terri Benson, Managing Director at South East Water; Colin Chapman, Innovation, Research and Development Manager at Queensland Urban Utilities; and Pablo Ledezma from the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities looking at how water utilities are adopting and leveraging smart water and wastewater technologies to deliver greater value to customers and improve asset performance and longevity.

The Super Panel, featuring seven key speakers from across the two days, wrapped up the conference and offered a ‘big picture’ view of all the topics covered.

Developing industry connections

In addition to knowledge-sharing, the aim of Digital Utilities 2019 was to enable delegates to network and meet other members of the utility community.

Multiple speed networking sessions provided delegates with introductions to colleagues and other industry professionals. These formal sessions were in addition to the multiple opportunities to connect with other attendees during the networking lunches and breaks.

Exhibitors from digital and technology related companies were also there to showcase the latest innovations in the sector, helping delegates gain a better understanding of how to integrate digital solutions within their organisation. The exhibition area was triple the size of the inaugural 2018 event, offering delegates access to a variety of new and emerging technologies.

For many of the organisations attending, one of the main highlights of the event was finding out the winners of 2019 Digital Utility Awards at the Digital Utilities gala dinner and awards ceremony — full coverage of this evening of fun and celebration is over the page.

The third annual Digital Utilities event will be held again in the first half of 2020 – keep reading Utility in print and online so you can stay up to date with all the details as they are announced.

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