Energy and carbon neutrality are hot topics of conversation today due to the rapidly escalating costs consumers are paying for gasoline and electricity, and increasing concerns about global warming, climate change, and the future of the planet.
As a technology executive for a leading energy producer, Alejandro Reyes shares those concerns, not only because he also feels the pain at the pump, but also because many people may view energy companies as a source of the problem. This is not the case at Applied Energy Services (AES), which was founded as a consultancy in 1981 and today is a leading independent energy company and a pioneer in sustainability efforts such as carbon offset programs, reforestation, and renewable energy technologies.
Reyes has been with AES since 2007, working his way up the organization ladder from an SAP integration lead in Buenos Aires to application security manager, IT project director, and director of digital transformation today. In his current role, he is responsible for developing innovative solutions to drive revenue and better serve the company’s customer base, and he works closely with other executives to forge new paths toward a more energy efficient and sustainable future.
Reyes accomplishments and success in the IT industry was acknowledged last year in an award-winning CIO.com article profiling Hispanic technology executives who have broken through barriers to rise to the top of the IT industry, paving a path for others to follow.
AES’s digital transformation chief recently took part in a CIO Executive Council Future Forward podcast interview, during which he discussed topics such as sustainability and the use of enabling technologies like AI and machine learning, the importance of investing in predictive analytics and so-called ‘smart grids’ to improve operations and be more in tune with changing customer demands and requirements. Click on the podcast players below to listen to Parts 1 & 2 of the conversation. Following are excerpts from this conversation with Reyes.
Tim Scannell: Customers today are taking more responsibility in controlling their energy usage. What kind of an impact does that have on the IT organization in terms of objectives and planning, or developing more customer-facing tools?
Alejandro Reyes: The change is widespread on the customer-facing side and impacting our operational side since the use of mobile apps and engagements are becoming more common. There’s an expectation that you have to be available on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram to answer questions. You also have all these different channels that are a constraint to some of the legacy technologies. One of the main priorities of the team is how to partner with the business to create and support all these channels and ways that customers want to engage
There are also commercial and industrial companies trying to fulfill their commitments on sustainability and partner with companies like AES to provide renewable energy services. For this customer segment there are some very specific technology solutions we need to provide that let them see energy produced, consumed, and the need for extra capacity.
From an operational perspective, we also have to make investments in a smart grid, in smart meters, and in the way that we collect and send that information to our customers, so the grid becomes more of a self-healing network.
Data analytics and business intelligence are critical to every business, but especially important in the energy industry, as information is channeled from consumers and commercial clients related to usage that feeds into AES’ sustainability and services planning. What role does AI and machine learning play in this effort, not only for general analysis but for predictive analytics as well?
Reyes: We started a program in 2019 for analytics, AI, and machine learning and began by working heavily with the business to identify areas of potential ML use cases. In the two or three years since then we have models that have significantly helped our business in such areas as predictive maintenance by combining data from different sources.
We have also developed a team of data scientists, with different levels of expertise, who are experts in looking at the data, identifying trends, and making sense of it. We also have others on the business side who are very focused on how we produce energy and how the assets are maintained. What we’re trying to do now is have discussions with, with our businesses to understand what problems they’re seeing, and then try to relate that with the data that we have. We are also combining that with data from different sources as a pilot to see if it makes sense and tests out a hypothesis. If it doesn’t work, and we don’t understand why, then, we pivot to a different model and a hypothesis.
What is the biggest challenge for you in this area right now?
The technologies that we have in place are not up to date. That’s one. The second is the data quality in our legacy systems. It’s not complete enough to make good recommendations or decisions to our business. So, as we implement new solutions, we are looking at the data quality component and really thinking through why it matters to collect certain data in some categories and making sure that solutions are part of that new implementation. So, data quality is definitely one of our biggest challenges that is tied closely to the foundational changes.
Attracting and retaining qualified talent is a priority with most IT organization today. Looking at your entire staff, what are you planning to do in terms of personnel over the next six to eight months?
Reyes: Right now, we want to become a little better in applications management. We want to become more agile and push the boundaries in how we are implementing our solutions, so we are looking to add more in that area. Investments over the last couple of years have been on data analytics and the business relationship sides so that we have better alignment in prioroties and know that we are working on the same things. But agile development and applications development are areas where we want to grow over the next couple of years.