DistribuTECH Preview: Mobility Trends to Watch at this Year’s Show

Mobile computing is transforming how utilities run their businesses - from the job site to the back office and everywhere in between. In fact, a 2013 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that utilities that have successfully deployed mobility solutions experienced a 20 to 30 percent increase in productivity. With that in mind, mobility will continue to be a hot topic at the upcoming DistribuTECH Conference taking place February 3 – 5 in San Diego. But what topics will utilities and vendors alike be focused on? Below are my three predictions for the biggest mobility-related trends at this year’s show:

  • Increasing Focus on Security: 2014 was a year filled with headlines about security breaches and cyber attacks. While many of the hacks the media focused on took place within large consumer-facing companies, utilities were not immune from the growing cyber security risk. A 2014 report from the Ponemon Institute found that 68 percent of respondents from critical infrastructure organizations reported that they had experienced at least one security breach that led to the less of confidential information or service disruptions within the past 12 months. This trend will continue to grow in 2015 and with that, we’ll see more security software offerings than ever at this year’s show. There will also be more discussion about security features at the chip level, such as self-encrypting solid state drives (SSDs) that protect data automatically.
  • IoT Transformation: According to recent research from Ericsson, the global number of devices being managed by utility companies is projected to grow from 485 million in 2013 to 1.53 billion in 2020. While utilities have long relied on machine-to-machine communications, or what is now known as IoT, this reliance will only become more critical as energy demands continue to skyrocket. In fact, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that electric power generation is expected to grow by 93 percent by 2040. This demand simply can’t be met by the antiquated model of building new infrastructure when the population grows. Otherwise, we’d have a power plant on every block. Instead, utilities providers will rely on Big Data collected from IoT devices to determine peaks and troughs in energy usage in real-time. Based on these findings, they’ll be able to better predict consumer patterns. Greentech Media says this means that “blackouts [will] become less frequent as predictability replaces uncertainty.” As we prepare for this new age of predicting consumer demand through IoT connectivity, utilities companies will be making vast changes to their business models in the coming years. At DistribuTECH, they’ll be on the hunt for the vendors and technology providers that can help them do so.
  • More Form Factors: Whereas a decade ago, utilities and field workers were limited to one type of device – a laptop, they now have an increasing number of options at their fingertips. At the show, we’ll see more devices than ever on display, including everything from the standard laptops, which are still the best choice for those who need maximum computing power, to tablets in a wide range of sizes and even smartphones and handhelds measuring five inches or less. We’ll also see more discussion related to the rise of wearables and how they will impact utility workers – particularly those in the field. The potential for this form factor is huge – as wearables have the potential to improve efficiency, reliability and safety. According to Intelligent Utility, possible use cases include augmented video reminders and checklists that could provide field crews with step-by-step instructions to resources, equipment repair history and even equipment operating statistics – all hands free. While the full impact of this new technology has yet to be determined, many utilities at the show will be working to determine how it can improve their field operations. For more information on this topic, check out the panel presentation from the Electric Power Research Institute.

While there will be more to see and learn at DistribuTECH when it comes to mobility, I predict that these trends will shape much of conversation at this year’s show. To learn more about how Panasonic and Intel are addressing these issues, come visit us at Booth #2322 and Booth #825. I hope to see you there!