This year we took our annual user conference to a whole new level to celebrate 20 years of innovation. For the first time in Powel’s history, we combined our two main user conferences into one big event. We named the conference "Community Connected", reflecting the fact that we are seeing more and more synergies between the different sectors we work in. Over the two days, the theme was explored throughout the different sessions and in connection with topics such as mobility, digitalisation, real-time information, GIS, cloud, security and many more.
More than 620 customers from several countries, business partners, and Norwegian and international speakers joined us for the event in Trondheim. The conference was the largest and most ambitious yet for Powel with a record number of attendees. Our dedication to new technology was highlighted in the way the sessions were organised. Day two in the main room saw eight different sessions running simultaneously, and the audience listened to their chosen speaker via headphones set to the relevant channel.
In his opening speech, Powel’s CEO Bård Benum said he was humbled to be at the helm of a company that in 20 years has gone from being a small Norwegian company to one with a global footprint. He was adamant though, that even if we should continue to be proud of our history, Powel’s focus lies firmly in looking ahead to the future.
“The unprecedented technological development, internet of things, information sharing and mobility – they are all important topics for Powel. These developments shape the way we make solutions today and will shape how we make solutions in the future,” Benum said. “The future is now and we are and will continue to take advantage of technological developments such as Big Data, machine learning, the cloud, and service design thinking, to continue making innovative solutions that will benefit our customers.”
Following interesting key note speeches from futurist Ben Hammersley and ethical hacker Jamie Woodruff during the plenary session, the focus moved to each individual business area; energy, infrastructure, metering, water and construction. The Community Connected theme, the synergies between areas, and Powel’s strategic focus could be found across the five main areas in many of the sessions. With around 90 different speeches over the two days, there are too many to mention them all, but here are some of the hottest topics from Community Connected.
Always be innovative
With rapid changes in technology, one big question for all the sectors we work in is how we should face the rapid and disruptive changes. Andrew H. Van den Ven of The University of Minnesota asked the question “How do we face the new era where we are moving from a centralised energy generation to a more distributed generation?” to an audience from smart energy, infrastructure and metering segments. A complex question with several possible answers, Mr Van den Ven strongly encouraged utility managers to stimulate innovation. He also encouraged consideration of alternative approaches, and advised close cooperation with customers about new ideas and how to bring them to life.
Innovation was a massive focus for all business areas. The sectors Powel work in are particularly changing rapidly when it comes to digitalisation and Powel is set to take a leading role as a partner. Whether it was innovative new solutions, inspiring customer stories, new ways of thinking, or testing out how we can utilise new technology such as the HoloLens, there were a whole range of examples of how new technology is already being utilised in a big way.
During the smart infrastructure session, VP of Smart Infrastructure, Kjetil Storset spoke about how utilities can take advantage of digitalisation, using current Powel projects as examples.
“With the advent of micro grids, the traditional role of the grid and the utilities is set to change dramatically. Rather than investing millions in the existing grids, why do we not look at the possibilities and alternatives that exists?” he asked. “Micro grids gives us the opportunity to think about the grid in an entirely new way. Through automatisation and digitalisation, there are real opportunities to save time and money and get the job done quicker. Powel is actively focusing on developments within micro grids and we believe that this will form the foundation of the grid of the future.”
Pointing to innovative projects between Powel and utilities Agder and Eidsiva, he showed how through utilising digitalisation and a lean start up approach, the need for investments can be significantly lower than predicted. “What it comes down to is actually very simple, it is all about getting value from the data sets you already have access to,” he said.
The approach and dedication to digitalisation expressed by Storset was also in many ways relevant to other business areas and was echoed in several other speeches.
Another exciting and recurring theme was automation and machine learning. During Smart Energy’s session, a panel discussed the role of machine learning in the energy sector. Additionally, both within Smart Energy and Powel Water, interesting projects incorporating machine learning where presented.
In conjunction with energy producer TrønderEnergi, Powel and Swhere has completed a project to see how machine learning can be utilised to better forecast wind production. The results after eight weeks were uplifting, showing a significant improvement.
Powel Water is also utilising machine learning in a new project with the municipality of Trondheim. Water loss due to pipe leakages is a significant problem both in Norway and elsewhere and the aim of the Smart Water Alert solution is to better be able to predict, handle and fix leakages in a more efficient way.
Disrupt or be disrupted
One message was clear after the conference, Powel is facing the numerous disruptive changes head-on. With a strong focus on innovation, alongside maintaining the current portfolio, we are using the service design method for bringing out new ideas to the market. A core value of Powel since the very beginning has been the importance of being in direct contact with the user. With the holistic approach of the service design method, this core value has an added layer and even firmer focus, technology is not enough, we need the industry knowledge and we need to continuously communicate with our users.
As Benum reminded us in his opening speech, what we are seeing now is just a taste of the future. We are excited about the journey ahead and we are looking forward to working even closer with our customers on new and innovative projects.
We would like to extend a big thank you to everyone who joined us for Community Connected – we look forward to seeing you again next year!