“When they ask me how far the Energy & Utilities market can change its business model through digital transformation, which processes will be affected most and, on the other hand, which will be the new ones, and how far can we go with our imagination knowing that technology is now mature, my answer is that you just have to think of sectors like the hotel industry, where the largest operators in the world – AirBnB and Booking.com – do not own even one hotel, or the urban transport sector, where one of the operators that is changing the market – Uber – does not own even one car.
Likewise, we should question ourselves about the future of the Utilities sector, asking ourselves how the business models of operators will change with digital transformation and the new paradigms of Industry 4.0.“
Vincenzo Tartuferi opens our chat about the role of data in the digital transformation of Utilities, a market in which Engineering is a leader with an E&U Division of which he is Director General.
What are the key elements for Industry 4.0 in the Utilities sector?
“Certainly the cloud, which allows you to have solid, secure, scalable infrastructures; IOT for customizing customer services; connectivity – without which we would not even be here talking – which must ensure access to the fast network and on the move; Big Data, that is to say, the possibility of using all public and private information but correlating it through specific software; artificial intelligence which closes the circle, enabling the automation of many processes previously considered difficult and giving real added value.
Today, unlike in the past where data were often closed and difficult to access, we have the opportunity to find and analyze much more information and, above all, through cognitive analysis, be able to correlate our data and thus automate increasingly complex behaviors. This scenario, described with a view to the Utilities market, is actually applicable to every sector and type of company. Take, for example, taxis and how they are being transformed by providing customers with applications that allow not only booking but also figuring out which car is closest, choosing it knowing who the driver is going to be, contacting him before he arrives. To do all this, the five elements I have just mentioned are profoundly modifying the business model of taxi companies.
In the Utilities sector, the fields of application can be many, many of them aimed at increasing operational efficiency by automating processes in which man will no longer have to intervene only manually but will have to supervise, coordinate and eventually decide. We are working hard on networks and production cycles, where we feel we are far ahead, but we want to push even more on automation precisely thanks to new technologies. Something is also beginning to be done on the commercial and customer engagement side where Big Data, IoT, cloud, connectivity and artificial intelligence can do what we cannot even imagine now, opening up to possible new business areas in terms of tailor-made services addressed to the individual customer.“
How are Italian companies placed with respect to these key elements?
“As far as the Cloud is concerned, I can say that businesses are reasonably advanced: they have understood the necessity of using it, some have already taken that step (for example Enel, to cite just one major player) and others are doing so or considering doing so. But the way head is almost obligatory for everyone.
Also in IOT , companies are experimenting and launching new services, not to mention the world of Smart Meter where Italy is the world leader in terms of extent of adoption.
On Connectivity, although not representing excellence in Europe and having margins for improvement, Italy has taken action; important investments have been made and are under way which will enable us to improve the necessary connection speed available to businesses. In this regard, we should recall that Engineering coordinates NRG-5, the project born within the international 5G-PPP consortium, the purpose of which is to improve and ensure optimum communications in the energy network by strengthening the “last mile” of the network.
Businesses in the Utilities sector are starting to look with interest at Big Data and their potential use with projects that make it possible to expand and enrich existing data and can help improve customer services and internal efficiency.
On the other hand, little is being done with Artificial Intelligence, even though it could actually make the real difference; in this context, we are carrying out an interesting experiment with a project that we will present in the fall and which could really revolutionize the management of electrical consumption in our homes, opening up new businesses.“
So what are the obstacles to the fourth industrial revolution?
“I believe that one of the indispensable elements for the Digital Transformation of companies of every type and size is the possibility of relying on people who have adequate confidence with digital and in-house figures capable of helping the company deal with process change.
There is certainly a problem of skills that we can only solve if everyone dedicates greater attention to training, not as an instruction on the use of instruments but as a support for digital; thus a change of culture, because thinking digitally means above all being prepared to imagine without constraints.
If all this is then done starting from school, everything would obviously be much simpler.“