A new report from research firm Gartner Inc. identifies social media and Web 2.0 as among the top 10 technology trends affecting the global energy and utility sector in 2013, as the industry faces significant challenges from ongoing environmental sensitivity, changing policymaker attitudes and consumer expectations.

“Searching for successful business models that will address these issues and generate anticipated shareholder returns in uncertain regulatory settings is a top priority for this industry,” Kristian Steenstrup, vice president and Gartner Fellow and author of the report, said in a statement. “Public and private utilities are looking at how technology can reduce cost, drive efficiencies and enhance competitive advantage.”

Utility IT executives have opportunities to use social media as a customer acquisition and retention medium for competitive energy retailers, the report says. They can also use social media as a consumer engagement channel to drive participation in energy efficiency programs.

Social media for outage communications is also becoming more valuable for utilities and customers experiencing outages, Gartner says. Opportunities to use social media to improve internal utility business processes are starting to emerge as well.

Other key technology trends affecting the industry include big data, mobile and location-aware systems, cloud computing and software-as-a-service, sensor technology and predictive analytics.

What was once considered a conservative and slow-moving industry has seen a range of innovation from within and outside the traditional IT organization, Steenstrup said. He thinks understanding business trends is a crucial requirement for energy and utility organizations to create a successful IT strategy in this market.

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