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ESMO 2019: Q&A With Chris Miller of AEP

Chris Miller is leading a panel session on augmented and virtual reality at ESMO 2019.

With ESMO 2019 about two months away, now is the time to gather your team and register for the event from June 24-27 in Columbus, Ohio. Learn about the latest technology and then see products on display in the convention center and in the outdoor demonstration area.

At this year's event, Chris Miller, director, IT demand management for American Electric Power (AEP) is leading a panel presentation on augmented and virtual reality. In the following Q&A, Miller shares the inspiration for his panel's presentation and gives insight on what the speakers plan to cover during their technical session. 

Q: How do you think ESMO is different from other energy-related shows in the industry? 
A: ESMO is focused on safety within the space of innovation.

Q: Why did you decide to present a session at this year's conference? 
A: As we worked through our augmented reality journey focusing on the business value of our solutions, we realized there is a good story on safety as well.  One of our first demonstrations of the technology put a technical trainer with a real hot stick into a virtual substation to perform a switching operation. Our intent was to see how well the experience resonated, but what happened was he immediately communicated safety-related concerns within the virtual design. This was a huge moment for us!

Q: How long have you been involved with ESMO, and how did you learn about it? 
A: This is our group’s first year presenting. When our leadership heard the hot stick story, they suggested we present.

Q: How do you feel about your company, American Electric Power, serving as this year's host utility for ESMO 2019? 
A: It’s great that the coordination of hosting ESMO is rotated and that AEP and the organizers see value in augmented reality (AR) and potential positive impact on safety.

Q: Discuss your topic, "Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality as a Safer Business Tool." What do you plan to cover during your technical presentation? 
A: We will have a full panel representing our transmission business, EPRI, Pillar Technologies (who helped develop some of our AR solutions) and Burns and McDonnell (who is a major provider of engineering services for AEP as well as a pioneer in the AR space). The panelists will describe their solutions briefly, some of the challenges to making them available and how our solutions can keep employees safe.

Q: How has augmented and virtual reality improved over the years?
A: Tools for creating solutions can do much more now than just a couple of years ago. They are cheaper and easier to use now as well.  What used to be a very expensive endeavor, is now not so much. Hardware is coming down in price as well.

Q: How are utilities using this technology out in the field to improve productivity? 
A: Right now the benefit is in the design phase – where potential safety problems can be worked out prior to the build reducing construction rework. 

Q: What will the attendees learn about making real-world business problems safer through augmented and virtual reality? 
A: Employees will adjust to the virtual world much quicker than you might expect.  And safety issues are much easier to spot walking through a virtual design than looking at it on a 2D screen.

 Q: Talk about the role of this technology in training. How has it transformed the way that workers are trained to perform tasks in the field? 
A: We believe training is the next big AR opportunity. In fact, we are having many conversations around this now.  With the aging workforce issues, we believe that augmented reality buddy applications will be huge.

 Q: Discuss your role as the director, IT demand management for American Electric Power. How did you get interested in working for a utility, and what does your work day typically look like?  
A: My team and I are the liaisons between IT and our transmission business.  We match IT solutions to business needs by managing a portfolio of applications and projects affecting those applications.  We leverage the capabilities of our internal IT as well as those of our strategic partners to find solutions that support the needs of our AEP Transmission business.  One of our key deliverables is a roadmap which we revisit about every three years – this is a collaborative effort between us and AEP Transmission. The results of this roadmap guide our work on a day-to-day basis transforming the portfolio to align with AEPs goals.  I came to AEP about 17 years ago as an IT consultant to get involved in a large distribution work management integration project, which sounded like a great experience. I liked AEP so much, I decided to stay.

Q: In closing, why do you think energy industry professionals should consider attending your presentation and registering for ESMO 2019? 
A: Utilities are becoming digital at a very fast pace, and augmented reality is part of that transformation. In fact, new, younger employees will likely expect this type of work environment in the very near future – those future employees are growing up with AR right now. Collaborating together to shape the future of this technology will bring it forward faster.

 Note: To listen to this and other panel presentations, register for ESMO 2019, which is hosted by AEP and sponsored by IEEE PES. 

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