Many Swiss companies are increasingly outsourcing their data into the cloud. It is interesting to note that this trend can also be observed in sectors such as banks and pharmaceutical companies, which operate with highly sensitive data. With the electronic patient record, the discussion has reached the healthcare sector. It’s not only about storing data. Once the data has been transferred to the cloud, it can be analyzed and processed thanks to big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Only then data unfolds its power. Since even large corporates do not have the resources or infrastructure to self-engineer artificial intelligence and machine learning, they rely on corresponding cloud solutions.
Orlando Gehrig, Head of Swisspower Innovation
The cloud and the energy sector
Where does the energy sector stand in this matter? Today, most utilities use their own resources to service their business processes. This will remain so in the foreseeable future for the core processes. The pressure to use the cloud will increase from two sides. With the entry of new activities, especially in the field of energy services, the cloud will become unavoidable. The cloud is often at the core of business models of future competence partners and startups. It’s not just about storing and processing data. Increasingly, the outsourcing of entire business processes is becoming relevant. A straightforward example among many is Eturnity, which offers energy suppliers solutions for addressing customers and offer creation in the field of photovoltaics and heating.
With a couple of clicks a customer receives a personalized indicative offer. For the utility, the platform offers support in all processes along the acquisition and advice of customers. Often, cloud solutions are indispensable in setting up proof of concepts and pilot projects. If the goal is to evaluate new business models and innovative services before the roll-out, the cloud is an appropriate and cost-efficient way to approach a new topic. Furthermore, the demands and habits of the next generation are changing. Universities and schools are already working with the cloud. Future employees will expect in their work environment the same tools they use in their private time. The battle for talent is thus also led by IT systems.
The reasons why energy companies are reluctant in rushing into the cloud are often of fundamental nature. They are often responsible critical infrastructure along the energy value chain and, in the case of the city utilities, for public lightning, gas distribution grid and the like. This responsibility obviously extends to the underlying data base. In view of raising security issues, there is an understandable hesitation in relying on solutions without long track records, even though one might argue, that the rising amounts of data and required inhouse-competencies require a new approach. Another frequent argument against the cloud is inadequate data protection.
This is losing more and more support. Customer data in the energy industry is hardly more sensitive than in the financial sector or healthcare. Although most companies insist that their data is stored in Switzerland, it is often not required by law if a country has comparable high standards. These are higher in the EU since the new data protection regulations came into force. Cloud providers such as Microsoft have therefore internally declared the EU regulation the worldwide standard.
The best approach for the energy companies is to first gain experience with cloud solutions outside the core business or for specific applications. If industry-specific answers are required, it probably makes sense to cooperate among energy companies and to build an energy-related platform.
About the author
Orlando Gehrig is head of the cross-company and cross-sector innovation platform of Swisspower, a strategic alliance of 22 Swiss municipal utilities and regional utility sector companies. He focuses on the convergence topics in the field of energy, digitization and blockchain. He has extensive experience in the field of innovation, program management and heading of strategic projects. Orlando Gehrig studied International Relations at the University of St.Gallen.