Automation and Diversity at Distributech 2020

2020 could be a great year for the Utility Industry. It’s easy to get focused on the challenges the industry faces and take pause: pace of change, wildfires, liability, climate change, renewables, workforce…the list goes on. But as I spoke to customers and partners at this years’ Distributech there was a different tone. The companies and individuals who are leading the future have shifted their perspective. These challenges can be real opportunities. Will it be easy? No, but transforming an industry never is. I took three key things away from this year’s event:

Large Scale Distribution Automation

2020 is the year of many decisions on broad Distribution Automation programs. There wasn’t a discussion I had at Distributech that didn’t at least reference DA.  It’ll take years for the rollouts but most utilities are realizing they need to act. Upgraded DA can help with everything from distributed generation assets to wildfire detection/prevention/mitigation. The technology is available and proven, and the networks to support it are available as well.  For a good primer on networking for Distribution Automation, check out our Cisco Validated Design.

Diversity in Networking

A simple-to-manage network is no longer “nice to have”, but a must. Most utilities have realized that “just” cellular or “just” mesh or “just” Wi-Fi won’t solve their communications challenges. They need a network topology as diverse as the geography itself. But managing 3 or 4 networks to do it? No Way. If you’re looking for validated designs and ideas feel free to reach out my team. Medium agnostic is the key.  As a place to start, check out our high level Architectures and find links to detailed Validated Designs on our Portfolio Explorer.

Diversity in People

The Utility Industry is behind in Diversity and Inclusion. It was clear if you look around at Distributech. There are lots of statistics to hide behind. (all STEM careers only have 27% women, 50% of the utility workforce will retire soon so the stats are skewed, 17% of STEM employees are Black or Hispanic while they are 27% of the workforce) It’s OUR responsibility to address this disparity. How many young STEM university people are you mentoring? What are you doing to encourage girls to enter the sciences? How are you as a company pushing for diversity in hiring practice? And maybe the hardest one: How much are you truly handing the reins to the next generation vs. needing to be the expert?

Despite all the controversy about the “millennial” generation almost every interaction I have with the earlier-in-career workforce shows a thirst for responsibility and accountability. So we have to set our egos aside and be their guide and partner…not a sage sitting on a throne. Tech in general doesn’t have a good record; it’s up to us to fix it.  I’m very proud of the work Cisco has done to help make this a reality.  Check out Girls Power Tech and Multiply Diversity for some great ideas and to take action by becoming a Sponsor.  If you happen to be early-in-career and reading this we would love you to join our award winning Sales Associate Program.  For those futurists among us, check out this interesting take on AI and talent.

What’s Next?

Tying this back to Distributech, an idea that we’re using at Cisco is:

The next time you are going to an industry event, actively choose to bring someone along. Someone who might think differently.  What female, LGBTQ team member, or other under-represented group can you personally sponsor to attend?  Because it only gets better by individuals taking action.

It was a great week showing amazing promise for Utilities around the world.  Thank you to all our customers and partners for making it such a success!  Who will YOU sponsor to Distributech 2021?




Wes Sylvester

Vice President, Industry Solutions Group

Cisco Marketing