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Embracing Agility: The Future of Utility Operations

Lauren McGuiggan | April 3, 2024

One would be hard-pressed to find a more salient topic inside (and outside) the utility industry than Artificial Intelligence (AI).  AI dominated the keynote speeches, technology demonstrations and panel topics at DISTRIBUTECH 2024. Conversations about AI and Machine Learning (ML) are no longer confined to purely technical spheres; they are permeating utility boardrooms and strategic planning, as data science teams and task forces grow in prominence. An expanding base of AI/ML use cases, coupled with rapidly evolving load dynamics and ambitious net zero targets sets the stage for an unparalleled pace of transformation for utilities in the next five years and beyond. Contending with this great change will require as much a focus on the technology itself and its applications as it will on the organizational culture required to ensure success.

Our panel at DISTRIBUTECH on the Future of Utility Operations focused on the three defining characteristics of organizations that will be successful in the shift towards the future:

  1. Agile: The era ahead demands a departure from conventional utility technology paradigms towards embracing an agile mindset. Quick and efficient pilots to evaluate feasibility are critical, from data capture and conflation to electric vehicle (EV) load management. Waiting for the next large funding cycle to implement and innovate is no longer feasible; continuously evaluating, testing, adjusting and then deploying at scale is the future playbook. Furthermore, the demands on the grid are ever evolving, meaning all requirements for a given technology cannot possibly be foreseen upfront, necessitating flexibility and iterative development. Solutions now must evolve in tandem with, rather than in response to, emerging challenges.
  1. People-centric: The shift towards agility and emerging technologies necessitates a fundamental reevaluation of workforce planning and training. A human capital system that invests continually in educating utility personnel at all levels and in all domains on the benefits and applications of AI is critical. This approach applies to daily activities in the field, such as utilizing image recognition to identify assets and detect defects, as well as larger data transformation efforts that are driving improved outcomes in safety, reliability and overall efficiency.
  1. Collaborative: Breaking down long-standing siloes is essential for success and is one of the hallmarks of an agile approach. While Information Technology (IT) will serve as the enabler of AI from a technical perspective, Operations must be engaged as the driving force for change in leveraging emerging technologies. Tight collaboration between IT and Operations ensures that technology initiatives are aligned with both strategic objectives and operational realities. Collaboration extends to external stakeholders as well; utility commissions, public interest and other regulatory bodies must be active partners, fully onboard with the necessary investments to propel utility operations into the future.

Next Steps


AI/ML technologies that once seemed aspirational are now accessible and directly applicable; however, harnessing their full potential will require embracing an agile mindset, empowering the workforce and fostering cross-functional collaboration. With this approach, utilities can chart a course towards a future defined by efficiency, resilience and transformative innovation.

At TRC, we work closely with utilities to analyze, evaluate and implement possible AI/ML use cases and technologies. Our deep subject matter expertise and industry leading consulting capabilities uniquely positions us to support you on your journey towards the future of utility operations.

To learn more about our Intelligent Grid Solutions, please visit our website:

Lauren McGuiggan

Lauren McGuiggan is the Chief Operating Officer for TRC’s Intelligent Grid Solutions business which delivers grid modernization and IT/OT solutions, GIS-technology expertise and managed services and solutions. Prior to joining TRC, Lauren worked in private equity, evaluating investment opportunities in the Power & Utility services. She started her career in investment banking, advising clients in the utility, merchant generation and clean technology space. She holds a B.S. from Duke University and currently resides in Chicago, IL.

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