Energy is Our New Data Network: How are You Unlocking Value?

Nick Perugini, CIO, Current, Powered by GE [NYSE: GE]
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A CIO involved in energy decisions? It is certainly not something my younger IT self would have imagined being in a CIO job description, but it is the place I find myself most days. In a world where one of a business’ biggest expenses—energy—meets Big Data, the CIO’s lens is critical to our new business network nervous system.

  Step outside your comfort zone and expand your IT expertise into OT  

What if you could harness your organization’s energy network in many of the same ways you use a data network to connect real-time, generate insights and take actions leading to outcomes for the business? For example, the average commercial building wastes 30 percent of its energy, and this comes at a time when commercial energy bills are being driven by distribution and peak charges. What if businesses had a view to where the biggest drains are coming from and when, building-by-building views of usage, patterns over time and other energy insights, so they could begin to shift and optimize how they use energy? Sounds like, it is adding up to a dashboard any CIO would be excited about, right?

To gather that energy data and make it actionable, predictive, and prescriptive, organizations across industries are unleashing digital networks with sensors and software throughout their enterprises. That is where a world once reserved for facilities or operations managers, or even sustainability officers, is meeting the CIO’s sweet spot.

Take this scenario: Would a CIO typically have been involved in a decision to purchase lighting? Likely not. Would a CIO be involved in an energy-saving lighting decision that uses technology to not only illuminate, but enhance productivity or allow new interactions with customers? Absolutely yes! Because lighting is ubiquitous and because LEDs operate like computers with a built-in power source, in addition to having a unique vantage point above us, they are the perfect conduit to deploy a sensor network. Lighting sensors can tell us everything from where there are open conference rooms, to how to navigate a large business campus. They can help retailers identify a shopper as he walks the aisle and ping a mobile coupon at the precise moment he walks by, or generate heat maps and dwell patterns of shoppers to improve store layout and optimize placement of key merchandise. They can also help in office or factory settings by identifying open conference rooms, monitoring machinery and tracking inventory. It does not take a techie to be excited about that, but it does take the IT community to make it successful.

So, as CIOs enter this new area of business, what are the biggest shifts we can make as a community to lead the change? In talking with other IT leaders, I think there are several places we can start.

Think beyond “IT” to “OT”

Much like the CIO has evolved to include a focus on stewarding business and customer process flows, step outside your comfort zone and expand your IT (information technology) expertise into OT (operating technology). This means taking a critical eye to every process of the business–not only what is happening in computers and digital machines, but in the bones of your buildings. How are the things that are running your workplace working, and how could they improve with connectivity? The possibilities go beyond saving critical operating costs, to gaining invaluable insights on your business and aiding colleagues to improve efficiencies in every aspect of the business. Imagine the possibilities of a connected, intelligent, and efficient enterprise. It is all possible, but it requires our proactive involvement.

Consider setting up time with your heads of real estate, sustainability or energy (leaders we tend not to visit very often) to understand their goals and the obstacles that stand in the way. During my own such dialogues, I realized we share many of the same end goals–increasing efficiency and enabling growth–and that bringing what we have learned in IT into operations can help us both win.

Focus on learning, inside and out

We have the power to actively shape how our businesses use data and energy, but we have to get involved with other functions to harvest the right insights and optimize productivity across all operating environments. As you look for ways to make your OT smarter with technology, do not miss the opportunity to work alongside and learn with your colleagues.

While we have all been immersed in the consumer Internet for years, the Industrial Internet is in its infancy–we are all still learning how connectivity can work best for our unique businesses. Venture outside your own walls (and bring your colleagues) to talk with other companies, integrators, and experts in the field, who can show you how technology works for them. Many times, I find these learning experiences and demonstrations showing OT working in a real-world application can open up minds and help generate ideas for how to make technology work for another scenario.

Leverage insights for competitive advantage

After exploring your options and working with colleagues to test or implement a new technology, do not be mistaken–the fun is just beginning! With smart infrastructure in place, the CIO holds the key to harnessing operational data to unlock the next generation of capabilities that deliver growth and position your business apart from competitors. This means working with colleagues and partners to connect our physical and virtual worlds, identifying opportunities to improve processes and deliver new outcomes.

Leverage what you have learned-about your colleagues’ challenges and from your outside exploration-to gather data, analyze the operational landscape and quantify your possibilities. Where does connectivity hold the biggest potential in a particular line, system or process? How can you help operations not only improve efficiency, but gain key insights to make decisions moving forward? This investment internally will directly impact the success and sustainability of the business–again, a responsibility we as CIOs may not have felt before.

Ultimately, it is up to us to drive this new era of technology forward. It is an exciting time in our world, and I look forward to learning from and with you.

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