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  • Ahead in the Cloud: A customer-focused cloud transformation with Richard Donaldson

    September 2, 2022
  • Richard Donaldson, VP of Digital Transformation at Duke Energy Corporation discusses cloud and customer-focused cloud transformation. The discussion covers infrastructure modernization and private cloud.

    Hosted by Chad Watt, researcher and writer with the Infosys Knowledge Institute.

    “We run a lot of our IT projects much like you would run a construction project for a generating station. Very methodical, measure twice or three or four times and cut once.”

    “Having an innovation center tends to drive the culture forward in a meaningful way.”

    “Although it feels like there's no competition in the regulated utilities, there are disruptors out there who would love to become closer to our customers than we are.”

    “We say, don't fall in love with the solution. Fall in love with the problem. That's a motto of ours. And then empathy for whoever is going to be using your software at the end of the day is paramount.”

    “I would say that we still buy around 80% of our software, but if you think about it for a portfolio for the size of our company, that's 20% that we're building. That's a lot of lines of code, a lot of software and a lot of opportunity to make it.”

    - Richard Donaldson


  • Duke Energy is a 118 year old power company with 9.8 million customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The company has 28,000 employees and generating capacity of 50,000 megawatt.
  • Duke is pursuing a clean energy transition, which includes a goal of reducing carbon from electricity generation by 50% in the next eight years.
  • The expectations of a utility customer have changed dramatically. For the ten years at most, we've been extremely focused on meeting the ever-changing needs of our Duke Energy customers. This has forced us to be a little more agile and a little bit more quick to market with our products.
  • Duke has about an 80,000 square foot innovation center in Charlotte. That's not to say you build an innovation center and the rest is easy. It's actually quite the opposite. We've found that when you have a place to point to where innovation happens and people can go out and see demos and prototypes, it tends to drive the culture forward in a meaningful way.
  • When you think about your utility the most is when the power's out and when you get your bill. And so we really focused on those journeys using an outside in approach, thinking what does the customer want? What are the outcomes they're looking for? And that started kind of the conceptual part of the journey.
  • Mechanically, we really got in and set up a structured product teams with strong business partners playing the role of product owner and product manager around 2017. It was just a really tough time for utilities, and there was a lot of expectations around driving down your O & M and your costs. So it was incumbent upon us to figure out how to use technology, to create efficiencies and capacity for all of our field workforce. So that was another big catalyst that helped us move the journey forward.
  • Somewhere around 2015, we started shifting more towards this model where we wanted to build software that is focused on the end user experience. Whether that's our field workforce or our customer, we wanted to build that integration layer. So we have scalable and speedy API that make it easy to get the data flowing around. And then we wanted to build where there's a differentiator in the marketplace. So something that would give us a leg up against competition. Although it feels like there's no competition in the regulated utilities, there are disruptors out there who would love to become closer to our customers than we are.
  • We've got some really big systems, some work management systems, some customer billing systems. The same large systems that just about any company has. And those are the ones that are getting a lot of focus from a planning and timing perspective.
  • We have one of the larger data hubs in terms of database instances, number of ETLs that are run every day in the United States and we are running that on-prem. When you ask me what's next, that's really the focus. Because once we get that up in the cloud, we've got tremendous data gravity and the other things will kind of fall behind with a lot of pace.
  • I would say that we still buy around 80% of our software, but if you think about it for a portfolio for the size of our company, that's 20% that we're building. That's a lot of lines of code, a lot of software and a lot of opportunity to make it.
  • We just recently consolidated all of our electric billing systems off the mainframe onto a common system. So we have a new bill design and a new customer system that we're pretty proud of. And so that's from a customer data, but if you think about it, there's so many elements of data we have. Whether it's around the worker, the premise, around meter usage information. We have to think about what happens once I put the repository for that data up in the cloud, who needs that, and if they're still running on prem, do we have the right ability to do that quickly?
  • What really is at the top of the list for anything we do, whether it's cloud or not is security. We want to make sure every step we take, we are at least as secure, but hopefully with the services available in a cloud environment, we're more secure than we were before we started.
  • We've got IT assets that are involved with the nuclear plants that we're going to be really careful about. We have a lot of confidence that we could move them to the cloud, but we don't want to jump the gun. It’s going to take us five years just to move the things that we have earmarked for the cloud to get those up to the cloud. We’ve got plenty of time. We've got plenty of applications that don't present any risk to what we do as a company. And we're going to focus on those first.
  • Pick up the newspaper and look at everybody's climate goals across the country, not just the corporate goals, but the federal goals. And then you think about the role that a fully integrated utility plays in that. So everything from, we have got to use internet of things, complex data science calculations, to be able to understand what's going on up and down the grid at any point in time. Meanwhile, we have to completely transform our ability to operate such that we're not just generating a bunch of electrons at one end and then distributing them out like a water distribution system.
  • We've got people that have solar panels, maybe four electric vehicles in their garage. And all those batteries now, all of a sudden they can either be load on the grid or they can create energy to put back on the grid. It is all very complex. When you come to Duke energy, you can actually make a difference in something as important as saving the earth.

Show Notes

  • 00:06

    Chad introduces himself and Richard

  • 01:14

    How do you make the decision to take that jump to a new technology or a new product?

  • 01:45

    How did that work for you on the IT side, taking the utility approach to it?

  • 02:36

    Do you find yourself being more in that agile kind of move quick domain now?

  • 03:17

    Can you elaborate maybe on some of the things that you and your team have done to build a culture that embraces new technologies more readily or new ways of doing things in technology?

  • 04:13

    What was the catalyst for Duke’s digital transformation?

  • 05:46

    Can you talk to me about the adoption curve to private cloud?

  • 06:30

    Can you give us some idea of the magnitude of your kind of digital estate that Duke has? How many bills? What's your ratio of envelopes to emails? How much data are you handling? How many applications are you working in?

  • 07:44

    What's your take on buy versus build?

  • 09:27

    Richard explains where Duke is on the cloud and what’s next.

  • 12:08

    Is there something in your world that will never go to the cloud?

  • 13:20

    What's a cloud engineer look like to you. What does it take to do this job versus being a computer scientist or a programmer?

  • 14:30

    Why would someone join Duke instead of some other kind of software operation?

About Richard Donaldson

Richard Donaldson

Richard Donaldson serves as Duke Energy’s vice president of digital transformation. He is responsible for the company’s digital strategy, delivery, and architecture across all business-facing applications, including mobile, data, analytics, software engineering and emerging IT domains. His current focus is on leveraging digital capabilities to transform the company’s internal operations and develop new business models.

Donaldson joined Duke Energy in 2001 as an engineer in enterprise applications. He took on progressively expanding roles, including leading application infrastructure/architecture for the corporate applications domain until 2010, when he joined the telecom organization. While in telecom, Donaldson had responsibility for the company’s wireless communications systems, including land & plant mobile radio systems used by Duke Energy's operations fleet. In 2013, Donaldson joined the Program Management Office (PMO), where he was named division manager in 2014. After leading the PMO through the Progress Energy merger integration projects, Donaldson assumed his current position over digital transformation.

Before joining Duke in 2001, Donaldson spent four years practicing civil and environmental engineering at a consulting firm in Charlotte. He earned his MS in Environmental Engineering and BS in Civil Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and is a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of North Carolina.

    Connect with Richard Donaldson

  • On LinkedIn