The evolution of the modern IT infrastructure in the rural utility space has transformed what is possible in the assessment and understanding of business metrics and objectives. The key to fully understanding utility and cooperative success, like any other company, lies in the ability to rapidly and accurately articulate the state of the system. The key challenge to the rural utility or cooperative has been three fold:
- Vendor Lockin
- Data Silos
- Poor IT Investment
The problem of Vendor Lockin is acute in the utility space, as it is in many other verticals. Software vendors tend to grow in these spaces to fulfill niche business requirements and can be found to be both monolithic and slow at adapting to the ever changing needs of the utility. Vendor competition is limited by the few that understand the key rules for the utility’s success and thus present an ever present stagnation of innovation.
The problem of Data Silos is directly tied to the first problem. These legacy vendors, for all their good intentions, struggle to provide timely and full fidelity access to the data that is owned by the utility to third party systems. It is rarely arrogance these days, but rather, a strategic decision given the lack of either A) personnel at the utility to adequately articulate data interaction need and B) the perception of the one size fits all model, which can stem from the history of the utility itself (as seen in the TVA or the RUS).
Finally, Poor IT Investment, as a result of the first two problems, cripples utilities and their ability to accurately gauge and understand the state of their systems. Where are the highest peak loads? What is my weekly collection? Where are my delinquencies concentrated? Who is best suited for an upgrade to service? These answers are typically reflected in the utility’s work plan, but rarely, if ever, accurately depict the situation ‘on the ground.’ Engineering models help, but those models are only as good as their source data – and financials are not a good source of engineering data!
Fortunately, there has been a growing trend over the passed few years by small and medium utilities alike, to develop towards a modicum of resiliency and rapidity in the understanding of key data points and metrics within the utility. These are aided by open systems, open platforms, and easy to use and understand end user tools. One such platform, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, paired with its client cousin the Microsoft Office 2010 Suite, yield both a powerful and intelligent, yet extraordinarily easy to use collaborative foundation that utilities all across the nation are able to bring together to solve real world problems.
The abstract you see above is one of three white papers I am currently working on. The white papers will be published here, and possibly elsewhere, in the coming weeks. I hope you find them useful and interesting!