As Expected, Cloud Dominates
Oracle Open World once again took over Moscone Center in San Francisco for a week, and cloud discussion dominated. Right off the bat, Chairman and Chief Technology Officer Oracle Larry Ellison used a keynote address to dial up the competitive volume for winning more cloud-delivered business. He took aim at Amazon Web Services (AWS), citing what he perceived to be the company’s inflexibility and pathway to high cost.
Of course, Oracle’s cloud messages were everywhere. Three key points reverberated:
- A claim as the fastest growing cloud company, with banners everywhere that mentioned specific customers and their uses of Oracle’s cloud solutions.
- An application-first approach for adaptive analytics, in contrast to some other large providers offering platforms on which to build analytics applications.
- An emphasis on choice—in a public cloud or on the customer’s premises—harnessing Oracle’s technology backbone performance.
Oracle Utilities Shows a Mix of Strengths and Challenges
During Oracle Open World, I spent a considerable time talking to various members of the utilities global business unit (UGBU), Oracle’s team dedicated to serving electric, water/wastewater, and gas utilities. The group is, like many of its competitors, touting its ability to enable digital transformation for its utility customers.
The emphasis on digitalization was evident from day one. During a kickoff panel entitled “Transformation in a Digital World,” UGBU General Manager Rodger Smith took a few minutes to warn utilities of the dire consequences of stalling on innovation. The sense of urgency is an opinion he’s voiced before, but I’m not sure it adds to the general industry conversation at this point. Utilities are struggling with well documented issues that will require significant modernization, so it’s likely they already know. It’s the lack of a culture of change management that continues to impede them.
From a utilities industry perspective, the most striking note of the week came from that same session. Executives from both Portland Gas and Electric (PGE) and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), both Oracle customers, were very up front stating that the cloud provides more data security, business agility, and solution scalability than traditional system environments. Those aren’t new notions, per se, but hearing utility executives that openly comfortable with innovation is.
In a separate session, Oracle also outlined four key principles around which their utility solutions are enabling digital transformation. Those are:
- Mobility everywhere
- Process-driven user experience
- Analytics everywhere
- Integrated customer experience
The UGBU does well in accounting for most of these areas with its solutions. An example is their acquisition of Opower. Opower gives them proven customer engagement capabilities. Oracle can also now offer utilities highly integrated, omni-channel, and end-to-end customer experience solutions. Opwer also ensures new layers of very rich data can be tapped by utilities for customer experience analytics.
Where the acquisition has potential to deliver enormous value to utilities is by tying grid and customer processes more tightly together. Oracle already provides a network management system that has exceptional modelling capability all the way out to the grid edge, and can do so down to individual devices. If it can integrate customer engagement into the mix via Opower, Oracle could support a full spectrum of distributed processes to the individual and aggregated customer levels. That’s the idea behind market changes now occurring in New York and California, and it’s the future of the distribution grid.
One challenge the UGBU will need to address is advanced analytics for operational use cases. The week’s content was very heavy on meter and customer analytics. Discussion of use cases for non-metered asset analytics was muted.
Don’t get me wrong, Oracle should be strong in those meter and customer areas, of course. However, asset performance management is currently the major focus for utilities looking to leverage advanced analytics. Whether they address it quickly through DataRaker or make another acquisition, the company will need to bulk up their APM analytics capabilities.
Some Additional Things I Liked
Outside of the utilities industry sessions, two things that stuck with me during this year’s Oracle Open World. Both were related to Industry 4.0 innovation.
The first involved a live demonstration of an IIoT digital field service solution, demonstrated by Oracle and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). There was the “brave” component to it—doing a live IIoT demo using the cloud and in the corner room of a convention center basement—but it was the “cool” factor that stuck with me. What was demonstrated was an asset simulator, and I saw instances for manufacturing, oil and gas, and renewable generation. The demo showed real-time analytics combined with virtual maintenance. It was a powerful one/two punch for cost reduction and asset optimization.
The second was L&T Infotech announcing the launch of five new solutions for manufacturing, utilities, and construction companies. The solutions use Oracle IoT Cloud Service. As I was shown the solution demos, what stuck with me was that they were simple, scalable, and beneficial. They point out that IIoT doesn’t have to be complicated. Define a manageable use case. Keep it simple. Focus on measurable ways of benefiting from data.