Inventing the Future: Raiford Smith on DERMs and Data Analytics

Aug. 23, 2017
'To survive and thrive, we need to learn how to adapt and innovate to find success'

Each day, Raiford Smith wakes up excited about all the things his company, Entergy, can do to help bring affordable and reliable service to customers through innovation, analytics, and new products and services.

“Inventing the future” is Smith’s phrase for what he and his team are doing. They lead Entergy’s pursuit of new, enabling technologies such as distributed energy resources, big data analytics, and the development of customer-facing products and services. 

Smith, vice president, Energy Technology & Analytics, will be co-presenting at the Empowering Customers & Cities Conference on Nov. 8, 2017. He will join Mark Johnson, managing director of Utility Analytics Institute, and Michael Quinn, vice president of Strategy and chief technology officer at Oncor Electric Delivery, to talk about Big Data: DERMs, Analytics & More Magic.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

At work, I worry about our ability to innovate quickly, listening effectively to our customers, delivering what customers want, and gaining regulatory support for financially-sustainable business models.

Q: What is the biggest issue we need to face in moving ahead with DERMS/analytics?

The biggest issue I see right now is interoperability. DERMS/analytics envision unlocking data from disparate sources to create new insights and new value for customers and the utility. Yet, if we don’t find a way to harmonize and integrate everything at a logical level, the cost and complexity of such an activity will be prohibitive. 

Efforts like OpenFMB, IEC61840, and CIM represent steps to help bring about this future. However, we need to do more to require this capability on every data-generating asset we buy – from smart meters to synchrophasors and switchgear. Everything needs to work together seamlessly to bring about a low-cost, efficient, and flexible grid that can support more DERs and new customer capabilities.

Q: What technology is coming up in the near future that you feel will alter the energy course forever?

Blockchains – but that’s currently a mixed bag.  There is a lot of promise but an equal amount of hype and hyperbole we have to get past in order to make it a reality.  So far, most demonstrations have been long on claims but short on scale-able, repeatable results. 

Q: What’s the most important thing you would like people to take away from your part of the panel?

How we are bringing analytics and innovation to bear to create innovation and capability to help customers and our company.  Our group tends to think outside the box and approach problems from a different angle.  If you’re interested in hearing a different take on things, this will be a good opportunity to stretch boundaries.

Q: Why is analytics so crucial to the industry?

Our customers and business model are changing every day. To survive and thrive, we need to learn how to adapt and innovate to find success. Analytics focus on the customer, and innovation are key components to make this happen.

Q: How did you get into the energy industry? Your background is varied, from computer science to law.

I got into the industry because I needed a job in order to pay for tuition at the University of Georgia.  I started as a unionized call center clerk at Savannah Electric and Power Company (now part of the Southern Company).  I later became a co-op student in computer science but learned I was an “overhead” (which wasn’t a good thing).  As such, I continued to learn and grow beyond information technology through new assignments in mergers and acquisitions, energy structuring, rates, legal, analytics, distribution, and marketing. 

Along the way, I earned an MBA and a JD, became an attorney, and have been very blessed to have learned from some very talented people in our industry.  I always saw myself as a generalist – building foundational knowledge in the three cornerstones of our business: technical, business, and legal.  I hope I can pass along some of what I know to others to help them on their own journey.

Q: How did you develop the passion you have for energy technology and analytics?

Growing up, the family budget was always tight.  Having to choose between keeping the lights on or eating is a difficult choice for any family.  Utilities have a huge impact on families, businesses, and the economy.  They shape lives, lift communities, and empower customers to do more in their everyday lives.  It was this power to positively impact everyone that drew me to the industry. 

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

I look forward to the conversation. I always learn from these discussions and hope that I can impart something to the audience in return.

About the Author

Nikki Chandler | Group Editorial Director, Energy

Nikki has 28 years of experience as an award-winning business-to-business editor, with 23 years of it covering the electric utility industry. She started out as an editorial intern with T&D World while finishing her degree, then joined Mobile Radio Technology and RF Design magazines. She returned to T&D World as an online editor in 2002 and now leads the content for EnergyTech, Microgrid Knowledge and T&D World media brands and supports Endeavor’s energy events, Microgrid Knowledge and T&D World Live. She has contributed to several publications over the past 25 years, including Waste Age, Wireless Review, Power Electronics Technology, and Arkansas Times. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.S. in journalism from the University of Kansas.

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