ESB CIO explains how AI and the cloud will change the utility industry

ESB’s Mary O’Connor discusses the democratization of the energy industry and how AI and analytics play a role in electricity flows.

Mary O’Connor is the Chief Information Officer of Irish energy company ESB. Having worked in a wide range of roles and disciplines within the business for over 30 years, O’Connor has a strong track record in developing and implementing strategy and change.

In his role as CIO, O’Connor is responsible for driving digital transformation as well as overseeing the company’s cybersecurity strategy and risk management, as well as enterprise architecture, AI and IT data, analytics and strategy.

She has led teams at all levels of the organization and is a Computer Science graduate from Trinity College Dublin. She is also a coach and mentor at ESB and is passionate about developing people to reach their full potential.

“Enterprises will not be able to adopt digital without adopting the cloud”
-MARY O’CONNOR

Are you leading any major product or IT initiatives that you could tell us about?

The experience of the past two years has accelerated our need to invest in digital technologies across all of our businesses, so that we have the resilience and agility to sustain our business in a world where the pace and scale of change keep increasing.

To support this, we are transforming our people experience and our customer experience through ESB on our journey to digital utility through a work program we call Accelerate Digital.

Accelerate Digital is an ESB-wide program, led by our businesses in conjunction with our CIO and IT Delivery Centers of Excellence.

We evolve our culture, change mindsets, encourage new behaviors and learn new digital skills.

How big is your team ?

We have over 100 CIOs with approximately 800 total employees and delivery partners in IT. We work closely with our vendors and partners and have managed services within our capabilities.

We are increasing the number of ESB people in strategic and foundational roles to ensure we build and grow our own capabilities.

We also see the development of our ecosystem of partners and suppliers as key to our success in digital transformation. We envision many opportunities where we can generate innovative new products and services by combining capabilities, data and technology from across the ecosystem.

What do you think of digital transformation?

We see digital transformation as a fundamental part of our strategy and our corporate objective, which is to enable the transition to a low-carbon economy. The energy industry is democratizing with an increasing shift in power generation from large-scale power plants to distributed microgeneration.

This requires a very different way of managing electricity flows on our grid and we see the use of data, analytics and AI as key to optimizing these flows and minimizing investment in physical infrastructure. .

In the customer-facing aspects of our business, we are using data and digital to transform the way we engage and interact with our customers. This has accelerated following the Covid-19 pandemic as customer preferences and experiences have changed and the adoption of digital channels is much greater.

Our Accelerate Digital program covers our entire organization. Program principles include customer focus, employee focus, digital ways of working, value focus, becoming data-driven and agile working with a minimum viable product approach.

What big tech trends do you think are changing the world?

There are so many choices and two that I see changing the utility industry are AI and cloud.

AI will achieve this through its ability to process large volumes of data to find solutions to complex problems and inform decisions based on real-time data.

With the deployment of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and smart sensor hardware throughout the ESB, the network of the future will have vast amounts of data to manage.

This data will create a more complex energy system that requires orchestrating distributed energy resources, balancing renewables, and better understanding and controlling energy use.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be critical to how ESB manages and leverages data to optimize grid operations as projected demand for electricity grows to support the growing volume of electric vehicles.

At ESB Networks, today we use AI to perform quality audits on smart meter installations. By using this AI, we can achieve a level of quality audits on facilities that would not be possible with traditional human audits.

The cloud will be both transformational and disruptive and will provide utilities with improved scalability, efficiency, agility, security, and the ability to process and manage large volumes of data and speed solutions to market. .

Cloud technologies are fundamental and key enablers of any organization’s digital journey and businesses will not be able to embrace digital without adopting the cloud.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the impact of the cloud on the shift to remote working and the deployment of collaboration tools. This change is accompanied by a significant climate impact by reducing, potentially permanently, the need for as many business trips as home-work trips.

Cloud-based solutions are impacting both our business and our personal lives and the way we manage energy use in our homes through smart appliances and smart thermostats means we are all now in a transformative journey to the cloud.

In terms of security, what do you think of how we can better protect data?

Security is a very challenging field with an ever-growing threat landscape for all industries. At ESB, we are currently focused on shifting our culture to one of personal responsibility for cyber security, as well as increasing our cyber maturity in IT and operational technology.

Coupled with hybrid working, this brings another level of complexity and we are very focused on protecting our business and data for our employees and customers.

As operators of critical national infrastructure, ESB increasingly views the cloud as something that reduces rather than increases risk.

Our move to the cloud brings increased cybersecurity benefits. We use built-in security features and specialized cloud security tools to ensure that our organization’s resources, assets and data are protected.

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