For some years now I have been looking to answer two key questions:

  • How does an electric utility take advantage of the opportunities in a changing landscape?
  • How does it prepare for, and transform to, a Digital Utility?

More recently, I also started to look at a third question:

  • How does a utility best position itself so it can play a lead role in the journey to a smart and sustainable city?

This new question led me to attend last week’s Future Cities Asia in Kuala Lumpur. I was fortunate enough to take part in a panel discussion. Titled “Getting it right within your City: How can you build a Unified Infrastructure”. It was facilitated by Gordon Falconer, Smart Cities Director at Schneider Electric.

I joined Paul Budde, Danny Beh, and Karim Taga in an hour long lively discussion. What has stuck with me and given much food for thought was our discussions around the P’s.

  • Public-private partnership
  • People
  • Platform
  • Press

Public-private partnership

Organisations are unlikely to succeed in a sustainable way without strategic partnerships. This is not something utilities have had to focus on in the past. Partnerships will be essential moving forward to open up growth opportunities.

People

Here we were talking about the citizens of a Smart City. The people that chose to live and work in a City. The residents of a Smart City will be technically savvy and have increasing expectations from its service providers. A utility needs to understand these expectations and make appropriate decisions.

For example, there is a growing expectation that utilities should make certain data available. Access to such data would promote greater collaboration and assist in the development of new services to the community.

Platform

There was good discussion on whether there should be one Smart City platform or many. For some the view was one platform that all services need to use. For others it was about many platforms that interoperate through the adoption of open standards. Both will no doubt exist as it will depend on the direction set by the Government of that particular City.

For Utilities it means designing its own platforms to play nice with others.  These systems need to expose data in a standard and secure way so another party can consume that data. Community expectation is for this to happen closer and closer to real time. The old batch style approach utilities have taken to system development in the past simply won’t cut it in the future.

Press (the media)

This discussion centred around transparency and creating public trust.  For utilities we only need to look at some of the early smart metering programs where sufficient thought had not gone into public education and awareness and gaining community support to know how important this P is as we move to a Smart City.