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True Business Transformation Is Tremendously Challenging

Mark S. Smith, VP & CIO, American Water

Big challenges in technology to meet enterprise needs for the utility sector

At this point in time, support for mobility is a significant technical challenge in the utility sector. American Water intends to leverage this technology in our operations in order to more effectively provide service to our customers. Of course, mobility solutions must address a wide range of needs including collaborating and working virtually (via video conferencing, etc.), overlaying geospatial data with other categories of data to identify unbilled revenue, etc., and ultimately to find a single mobile device that supports mobile scheduling applications, email, instant messaging, GIS, and meter reading capabilities. The underlying challenge with all of this is selecting the right mobile platform that will enable all these mobility functions.

Pain points within the enterprise for which solutions do not exist

The vast majority of business pain points can be addressed through business-driven, IT-enabled efforts to leverage technology while standardizing and improving business processes. We may not always realize there are solutions to our business challenges and sometimes we are constrained as to when a business problem can be tackled because of competing priorities. Whenever we kick off a technology project we need to make sure we understand the problem we are trying to solve and the business benefits that can be expected (and how we will measure those benefits). True business transformation is tremendously challenging and can only be realized by making sure these technology solutions are implemented in a timely, low cost manner where we never lose focus on business benefits, quality, and long-term supportability.

Technology trends that have significant impact on utility industry

The key technology trends that will impact the utility industry include collaboration (through tools like SharePoint or other means), business analytics (including Big Data), consumerization of IT, and the aforementioned mobility program. As the utility industry moves further into the virtual world, solutions that allow us to work together from different locations and in various modes (online and offline) will become more important. As we continue to build larger and larger repositories of data, the business will demand easier, faster, cheaper ways of getting access to the data they need in meaningful ways. As customers and employees have greater access to commercial technology, IT will need to be more adept at taking on new technology, will need to improve speed to market, and must flourish in the role of technology service broker. Lastly, the trend toward use of mobile devices and the search for the all-encompassing single mobile solution will not likely end because of the business value mobile solutions provide.

Using technology to address challenges

One example of how we’re using technology to increase customer satisfaction is by implementing our new Customer Information System, which enables us to provide a 2-hour window of time for service calls at people’s homes. We have also implemented advanced meter reading technology that enables us to read meters remotely or by simply driving by customers’ homes, instead of having to do manual readings. Besides being more accurate than the older meter systems, the meter reading technology also has added benefits such as alerting us to possible leaks.

Utilizing technology to bring in efficiencies

American Water has an Innovation Development Process that leverages the company’s size and geographic diversity to test new innovative technologies, and, if they prove to be successful, implement them within our company as well as help market them to the water industry. One example of this is a partnership we have with ENBALA, which created a real-time, intelligent load management platform that when connected to our large pumping systems allows us to provide energy back to the electrical grid during peak demand times. This seamless integration, which has no effect on our operations, helps with grid balance and also provides a revenue stream to help offset other costs.

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