Digital Innovation – Enel’s Experience

In an uncertain and fast changing world utilities must adapt without delay and trying all new opportunities open to them.
Published: Mon 20 Oct 2014

Italy’s Enel, frequently at the forefront of utility developments in Europe, is again showing innovation, with a digital transformation that is fast gathering momentum following its initiation last year.

Digital transformation

“The digital transformation was stimulated more from internal evolution and maturity, than from external factors,” Giovanni Pepicelli, Enel’s Global ICT Innovation Program Manager, told Engerati in an exclusive interview.

Pepicelli, who will be presenting on digital innovation at the forthcoming European Utility Week 2014, explains that a range of mature, new and next generation ICTs are available for deploying across an organization. “On the one hand we have observed the phenomenon of ‘consumerization’ in which people use ICTs in several different domains – personal, family and work. So we think a company needs to engage not only its customers but also its employees, leveraging on a combination of these technologies and people’s familiarity with them. There are also the “assets” of the company, such as generation plant, grid, etc.

“Thus to us a digital transformation means working through the three directions, customers, employees and operations, launching and trialling projects to define the best digital strategy.”

Pepicelli says the initiative has not been without its challenges, from discovering the right use of new technologies, such as Big Data, to the introduction of new paradigms like “bring your own device” (BYOD)and cloud.

Thinking digital

“But we think the major challenge is in ‘thinking’ digital, and imagining how to change the business by applying digital technologies to disrupt traditional thinking and enable new business models.”

Pepicelli says that utilities considering such a transformation for themselves shouldn’t hesitate to experiment and to learn from failure. There are a lot of opportunities: “David Kelly, founder of Ideo said “Fail faster, succeed sooner” and Edison said “I have not failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work”. Our experience demonstrates that only by touching by hand and doing proofs of concept, especially for new technologies, we can understand the value they can bring and discover new fields to apply them.”

Also it is not as though there are significant technology gaps. “I think the major gaps are cultural,” comments Pepicelli. “Every company has a specific identity and history, and on this we need to start to introduce ‘innovation’ as a normal habit, combining the structured approach typical of the western world, with the spontaneous approach typical of oriental cultures and widespread in poorer but emerging countries.”

Uncertain future for utilities

Looking ahead Pepicelli foresees a future that is uncertain for utilities. “Although there will be an increased use of electricity, utilities will sell less energy because a lot will be self-produced. At the same time, however, one can see opportunities to introduce new products and services.”

But Pepicelli believes that what utilities must fear the most is their “character”.

“Let me explain: For decades, utilities have worked in a specific market, almost a natural monopoly, honing their technical quality and quality of service rather than their ability to offer new services and products. For this I think it is fundamental to introduce an approach and culture of innovation in the company.”