Ecosystm VendorSphere: Accelerating the Digital Futures at the Core of Oracle’s New Cloud Region

5/5 (2)

5/5 (2)

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending Oracle’s Executive Leadership Forum, to mark the launch of the Oracle Cloud Singapore Region. Oracle now has 34 cloud regions worldwide across 17 countries and intends to expand their footprint further to 44 regions by the end of 2022. They are clearly aiming for rapid expansion across the globe, leveraging their customers’ need to migrate to the cloud. The new Singapore region aims to support the growing demand for enterprise cloud services in Southeast Asia, as organisations continue to focus on business and digital transformation for recovery and future success.  

Here are my key takeaways from the session:

#1 Enabling the Digital Futures

The theme for the session revolved around Digital Futures. Ecosystm research shows that 77% of enterprises in Southeast Asia are looking at technology to pivot, shift, change and adapt for the Digital Futures. Organisations are re-evaluating and accelerating the use of digital technology for back-end and customer workloads, as well as product development and innovation. Real-time data access lies at the backbone of these technologies. This means that Digital & IT Teams must build the right and scalable infrastructure to empower a digital, data-driven organisation. However, being truly data-driven requires seamless data access, irrespective of where they are generated or stored, to unlock the full value of the data and deliver the insights needed. Oracle Cloud is focused on empowering this data-led economy through data sovereignty, lower latency, and resiliency.

The Oracle Cloud Singapore Region brings to Southeast Asia an integrated suite of applications and the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) platform that aims to help run native applications, migrate, and modernise them onto cloud. There has been a growing interest in hybrid cloud in the region, especially in large enterprises. Oracle’s offering will give companies the flexibility to run their workloads on their cloud and/or on premises. With the disruption that the pandemic has caused, it is likely that Oracle customers will increasingly use the local region for backup and recovery of their on-premises workloads.

#2 Partnering for Success

Oracle has a strong partner ecosystem of collaboration platforms, consulting and advisory firms and co-location providers, that will help them consolidate their global position. To begin with they rely on third-party co-location providers such as Equinix and Digital Realty for many of their data centres. While Oracle will clearly benefit from these partnerships, the benefit that they can bring to their partners is their ability to build a data fabric – the architecture and services. Organisations are looking to build a digital core and layer data and AI solutions on top of the core; Oracle’s ability to handle complex data structures will be important to their tech partners and their route to market.

#3 Customers Benefiting from Oracle’s Core Strengths

The session included some customer engagement stories, that highlight Oracle’s unique strengths in the enterprise market. One of Oracle’s key clients in the region, Beyonics – a precision manufacturing company for the Healthcare, Automotive and Technology sectors – spoke about how Oracle supported them in their migration and expansion of ERP platform from 7 to 22 modules onto the cloud. Hakan Yaren, CIO, APL Logistics says, “We have been hosting our data lake initiative on OCI and the data lake has helped us consolidate all these complex data points into one source of truth where we can further analyse it”.

In both cases what was highlighted was that Oracle provided the platform with the right capacity and capabilities for their business growth. This demonstrates the strength of Oracle’s enterprise capabilities. They are perhaps the only tech vendor that can support enterprises equally for their database, workloads, and hardware requirements. As organisations look to transform and innovate, they will benefit from the strength of these enterprise-wide capabilities that can address multiple pain points of their digital journeys.

#4 Getting Front and Centre of the Start-up Ecosystem

One of the most exciting announcements for me was Oracle’s focus on the start-up ecosystem. They make a start with a commitment to offer 100 start-ups in Singapore USD 30,000 each, in Oracle Cloud credits over the next two years. This is good news for the country’s strong start-up community. It will be good to see Oracle build further on this support so that start-ups can also benefit from Oracles’ enterprise offerings. This will be a win-win for Oracle. The companies they support could be “soonicorns” – the unicorns of tomorrow; and Oracle will get the opportunity to grow their accounts as these companies grow. Given the momentum of the data economy, these start-ups can benefit tremendously from the core differentiators that OCI can bring to their data fabric design. While this is a good start, Oracle should continue to engage with the start-up community – not just in Singapore but across Southeast Asia.

#5 Commitment to Sustainability at the Core of the Digital Futures

Another area where Oracle is aligning themselves to the future is in their commitment to sustainability. Earlier this year they pledged to power their global operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, with goals set for clean cloud, hardware recycling, waste reduction and responsible sourcing. As Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director, EDB Singapore pointed out, sustainability can no longer be an afterthought and must form part of the core growth strategy. Oracle has aligned themselves to the SG Green Plan that aims to achieve sustainability targets under the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Cloud infrastructure is going to be pivotal in shaping the future of the Digital Economy; but the ability to keep sustainability at its core will become a key differentiator. To quote Sir David Attenborough from his speech at COP26, “In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery”

Conclusion

Oracle operates in a hyper competitive world – AWS, Microsoft and Google have emerged as the major hyperscalers over the last few years. With their global expansion plans and targeted offerings to help enterprises achieve their transformation goals, Oracle is positioned well to claim a larger share of the cloud market. Their strength lies in the enterprise market, and their cloud offerings should see them firmly entrenched in that segment. I hope however, that they will keep an equal focus on their commitment to the start-up ecosystem. Most of today’s hyperscalers have been successful in building scale by deeply entrenching themselves in the core innovation ecosystem – building on the ‘possibilities’ of the future rather than just on the ‘financial returns’ today.

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AI to Power the Greener Grid of the Future

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5/5 (3)

Energy providers around the world have transformed their electricity generation profiles to include solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal to reduce the carbon intensity of their economies. Many countries have surpassed expectations by approaching or exceeding 50% of production stemming from renewable sources. Concurrently, the decarbonisation of the transportation sector and the growing use of air conditioning is putting upward pressure on electricity demand.

Energy providers are keen on leveraging AI in several areas (Figure 1).

Energy Providers Leveraging AI

The sudden evolution of the Energy sector is creating new complexity in the grid, which human operators will be unable to monitor and manage without the assistance of AI.

Predicting Supply and Shaping Demand

Output Forecasting. The primary inhibitor to the mass adoption of renewable energy is the issue of intermittency. Solar is affected by shorter winter days and cloud cover, while wind turbines are ineffective during periods of low or even high wind speed. If electricity supply does not precisely match demand, grid operators must fire up costly and carbon-intensive peaker plants to fill the gap or resort to rolling blackouts. AI is becoming a tool for generators and grid operators to forecast renewable output more accurately, insight which can, in turn, be used to shape demand.

Competitive Pricing. Wind farm operators are beginning to use adversarial AI to judge if publicly available data for velocity, pressure, and density obey turbulent flow physics and if not, to refine their forecasts. Equipped with more accurate projections, they can bid with greater certainty on day-ahead auctions rather than relying on less profitable spot prices. This consequently makes wind power more competitive with fossil-fuel-based generators and smoothens out hourly price variability.

Predicting Usage Patterns. Improved temperature and humidity forecasts can also be used by grid operators to carry out peak shaving – encouraging consumers to reduce consumption during high-load periods. By accurately predicting intervals of increased use of home heating or cooling, programs such as Rush Hour Rewards by Nest, allow distributors to remotely adjust thermostats during seasonal extremes for cash incentives. Advanced knowledge of these weather events can also give grid operators the chance to temporarily lift regulatory hurdles or conduct emergency maintenance to ensure maximum capacity is available.

Supply Orchestration. Home battery systems and electric vehicles are growing in acceptance and their storage capacity will eventually become an important piece of infrastructure for time-shifting supply to match demand. The increasing build out of solar PV has created an oversupply in the middle of the day while the rising adoption of home air conditioning creates a spike in demand after working hours, resulting in the so-called Duck Curve (see Figure 2).

Impact of Solar PV on net consumption

By predicting periods of potential supply shortfall, distributors can increase prices to a level attractive enough to prompt battery owners to sell excess electricity rather than store it. The complexity inherent in such a distributed system is only manageable with machine learning to constantly optimise pricing and supply orchestration to simultaneously prevent excessive degradation of battery performance. This is already available for large scale battery operators, e.g. using Tesla Autobidder, and will become accessible to networks of home and eventually vehicle owners.

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The Future

Optimising Renewable Generation with AI

Renewable energy sources continue to make efficiency gains due to engineering improvements. However, advances in AI will increase generation even further. Solar PV and solar concentrators that rotate on dual-axis trackers to follow the path of the sun must each operate individually according to their own precise position and the time of day and year. This must be balanced for efficiency to reduce excessive movement, which consumes a portion of electricity output. Neural networks and fuzzy logic can be applied to optimise rotation to maximise production while reducing power consumption for operation. Input variables can include position, time, temperature, and even sky colour. Similarly, wind turbines can dynamically alter their positions to maximise wind flow across the entire fleet rather than at an individual level. The large streams of data must be processed in real-time as wind variables change to have an immediate effect on output.

Stabilising the Super Grid

To improve resiliency and lessen the effects of renewable intermittency, there is a growing push towards increasing the interconnectivity of national grids. This ensures supply even when regional generators go offline or if sudden local peaks in demand occur. Moreover, interconnected grids help even out supply from renewable sources using the philosophy that it is always windy or sunny somewhere. For example, the proposed European super grid would take advantage of higher wind generation in northern countries in winter and in North Africa in the summer. Additionally, hydroelectric plants in the north could be modified to become pumped storage facilities powered by solar thermal plants in the south to supply all of Europe.

Not only will a super grid require investment in new infrastructure, such as high voltage direct current (HVDC) for efficient long-distance transmission but also in intelligent systems to manage the new complexity. The retirement of fossil-fuel generators and greater variability of renewable sources will require rethinking grid inertia and frequency control between countries. Measurement solutions, such as GridMetrix by Reactive, have been deployed by AEMO in Australia and National Grid in the UK to better monitor how inertia fluctuates as renewable sources ebb and flow. Once real-time data becomes available for analysis, infrastructure such as synchronous condensers and quick-response batteries can be automatically utilised to regulate frequency.

A Positive Outlook

Countries such as China, India, the US, Germany, and Spain have shown that it is possible to add large amounts of solar and wind generation capacity at a pace. The next chapter in the renewable revolution will be ensuring that this can be done at scale without disrupting the grid and AI will be a key component in managing the transition.

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Technology Enabling Transformation in the Utilities Industry

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5/5 (1) In the midst of the current global crisis, the Utilities industry has had to continue to provide essential public services – through supply chain disruption, reduction of demand in the commercial sector, demand spikes in the consumer sector, change in peak profiles, remote staff management, cyber-attacks and so on. Robust business continuity planning and technology adoption are key to the continued success of Utilities companies. The Ecosystm Business Pulse Study which aims to find how organisations are adapting to the New Normal finds that 6 out of 10 Utilities companies are accelerating or refocusing the Digital Transformation initiatives after the COVID-19 outbreak, underpinning the industry’s need for technology adoption to remain competitive.

Drivers of Transformation in the Utilities Industry

The Evolving Energy Industry. As consumers become more energy-conscious, many are making changes in their usage pattern to stay off the grid as much as possible, potentially reducing the customer base of Utilities companies. This increases their reliance on renewable energy sources (such as solar panels and wind turbines) and batteries, forcing Power companies to diversify and leverage other energy sources such as biomass, hydropower, solar, wind, and geothermal. The challenge is further heightened by the fast depletion of fossil fuels – it is estimated that the world will have run out of fossil fuels in 60 years. The industry is also mandated by government regulations and cleaner energy pacts that focus on climate change and carbon emission – there are strict mandates around how Utilities companies produce, deliver and consume energy.

Business Continuity & Disaster Management. Perhaps no other industry is as vulnerable to natural disasters as Utilities. One of the reasons why the industry has been better prepared to handle the current crisis is because their usual business requires them to have a strong focus on business continuity through natural disasters. This includes having real-time resource management systems and processes to evaluate the requirement of resources, as well as a plan for resource-sharing. There is also the danger of cyber-attacks which has been compounded recently by employees who have access to critical systems such as production and grid networks, working from home. The industry needs to focus on a multi-layered security approach, securing connections, proactively detecting threats and anomalies, and having a clearly-defined incident response process.

The Need to Upgrade Infrastructure. This has been an ongoing challenge for the industry – deciding when to upgrade ageing infrastructure to make production more efficient and to reduce the burden of ongoing maintenance costs. The industry has been one of the early adopters of IoT in its Smart Grid and Smart Meter adoption. With the availability of technology and advanced engineering products, the industry also views upgrading the infrastructure as a means to mitigate some of its other challenges such as the need to provide better customer service and business continuity planning. For example, distributed energy generation systems using ‘micro grids’ have the potential to reduce the impact of storms and other natural disasters – they can also improve efficiency and quality of service because the distance electricity travels is reduced, reducing the loss of resources.

The Evolving Consumer Profile. As the market evolves and the number of Energy retailers increases, the industry has had to focus more on their consumers. Consumers have become more demanding in the service that they expect from their Utilities provider. They are increasingly focused on energy efficiency and reduction of energy consumption. They also expect more transparency in the service they get – be it in the bills they receive or the information they need on outages and disruptions. The industry has traditionally been focused on maintaining supply, but now there is a need to evaluate their consumer base, to evolve their offerings and even personalise them to suit consumer needs.

The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for Utilities companies, that are focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). It is noticeably clear that the key areas of focus are cost optimisation (including automating production processes), infrastructure management and disaster management (including prevention).  Top Tech Priorities for Utilities Companies

Technology as an Enabler of Utilities Sector transformation

Utilities companies have been leveraging technology and adopting new business models for cost optimisation, employee management and improved customer experience. Here are some instances of how technology is transforming the industry:

Interconnected Systems and Operations using IoT

Utilities providers have realised that an intelligent, interconnected system can deliver both efficiency and customer-centricity. As mentioned earlier, the industry has been one of the early adopters of IoT both for better distribution management (Smart Grids) and for consumer services (Smart Meters). This has also given the organisations access to enormous data on consumer and usage patterns that can be used to make resource allocation more efficient.

For instance, the US Government’s Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program aims to modernise legacy systems through the installation of advanced meters supporting two-way communication, identification of demand through smart appliances and equipment in homes and factories, and exchange of energy usage information through smart communication systems.

IoT is also being used for predictive maintenance and in enhancing employee safety. Smart sensors can monitor parameters such as vibrations, temperature and moisture, and detect abnormal behaviours in equipment – helping field workers to make maintenance decisions in real-time, enhancing their safety.

GIS is being used to get spatial data and map project distribution plans for water, sewage, and electricity. For instance, India’s Restructured Accelerated Power Development & Reforms Program (R-APDRP) government project involves mapping of project areas through GIS for identification of energy distribution assets including transformers and feeders with actual locations of high tension and low tension wires to provide data and maintain energy distribution over a geographical region. R-APDRP is also focused on reducing power loss.

Transparency and Efficiency using Blockchain

Blockchain-based systems are helping the Utilities industry in centralising consumer data, enabling information sharing across key departments and offering more transparent services to consumers.

Energy and Utilities companies are also using the technology to redistribute power from a central location and form smart contracts on Blockchain for decisions and data storage. This is opening opportunities for the industry to trade on energy, and create contracts based on their demand and supply. US-based Brooklyn Microgrid, for example, is a local energy marketplace in New York City based on Blockchain for solar panel owners to trade excess energy generated to commercial and domestic consumers. In an initiative launched by Singapore’s leading Power company, SP Group, companies can purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) through a Blockchain-powered trading platform, from renewable producers in a transparent, centralised and inexpensive way.

Blockchain is also being used to give consumers the transparency they demand. Spanish renewable energy firm Acciona Energía allows its consumers to track the origin of electricity from its wind and solar farms in real-time providing full transparency to certify renewable energy origin.

Intelligence in Products and Services using AI

Utilities companies are using AI & Automation to both transform customer experience and automate backend processes. Smart Meters, in itself, generate a lot of data which can be used for intelligence based on demographics, usage patterns, demand and supply. This is used for load forecasting and balancing supply and demand for yield optimisation. It is also being leveraged for targeted marketing including personalised messages on Smart Energy usage.

Researchers in Germany have developed a machine learning program called EWeLiNE which is helping grid operators with a program that can calculate renewable energy generation over 48 hours from the data taken from solar panels and wind turbines, through an early warning system.

Niche providers of Smart Energy products have been working with providing energy intelligence to consumers. UK start-up Verv, as an example, uses an AI-based assistant to guide consumers on energy management by tracing the energy usage data from appliances through meters and assisting in reducing costs. Increasingly, Utilities companies will partner with such niche providers to offer similar services to their customers.

Utilities companies have started using chatbots and conversational AI to improve customer experience. For instance, Exelon in the US is using a chatbot to answer common customer queries on power outages and billing.

 

While the predominant technology focus of Utilities companies is still on cost optimisation,  infrastructure management and disaster management, the industry is fast realising the power of having an interconnected system that can transform the entire value chain.

 


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