Knowledge 2009 pop quiz results

H. Christine Richards | Nov 11, 2009

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Ah, my list of titles keeps growing. For a while now, I have been the editor-in-chief of Intelligent Utility magazine. Earlier this month, I added the title of vice president for our new Intelligent Utility division. Last week, I got to add another title to my name—CIO's least favorite high school teacher. We started off Knowledge 2009 Utility CIO Summit—the largest gathering of utility CIOs in North America—with a little pop quiz about what CIOs are seeing in the industry. And, like an annoying teacher, I took a while to get the grades back. But here are the results and, thankfully, the CIOs passed with flying colors.
 
Burning questions
 
Pulling from the brilliant principles of the Jeopardy game show, I first asked CIOs to provide an answer in the form of the one burning question each would like to address at the summit. There are many burning questions out there, but some of the key ones included:
 
What is the business value of Web 2.0 and social media technologies?
 
Social media and Web 2.0 (in some cases, Web 3.0) are hot topics outside of the utility industry, but there is definitely interest creeping into the utility space. On the Web 2.0 side, the summit held a cloud computing panel. And while utilities are still working to figure out the exact definition of cloud computing, people seemed to agree that is more about services than servers. And it will take some serious planning and justification. As one of the panelists put it “hope is not a process.”  
 
On top of cloud computing, CIOs could not get enough social media discussion. It was interesting how the consumer industry leads the way with so many technological innovations out there and then it is up to businesses to figure out to make these technologies work for the enterprise—social media is no exception. Utility CIOs explored how to make social media technologies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter work for communications both inside and outside of the company. No one had the answer—just yet—but utilities are working on it. For example, one utility tracked its name on Twitter to better understand customer impressions and help identify areas with potential outages or service problems.
 
What is the business model to enable a smart grid?
 
Coincidentally, the summit happened just after the Smart Grid Investment Grant announcements, which meant some sad CIOs. Those who won, however, were a little nervous about what they had gotten in to and how much control the federal government would have over the projects. And with even the federal government pushing some initiatives forward, people were still struggling with the business case for smart grid and asking questions about its value.
 
Smart grid leadership
 
Aside from asking CIOs to answer a question with a question, I did ask one question that required them to answer with an answer (or something like that). I asked: who leads the smart grid efforts at your utility company? We definitely saw mixed results on this one. About 47 percent said the operations group, 11 percent said the IT department, 39 percent said a combination of operations and IT, and 3 percent said nobody. However, even if one group like operations was leading the charge, other groups were certainly involved. Smart grid is definitely starting to blur the lines between information technology and operations technology and this means that IT has to be more active in working with other departments. As Tom Fanning, Southern Company’s chief operating officer pointed out, IT departments can no longer be on the defense waiting to be asked to do something. In an increasingly digitized utility, they must be proactive, on the offense, and be a part of the conversation about today’s utility transformation.
 
Class dismissed. Thanks for reading!
 
H.

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