Can Oracle help utilities link smarter grid systems and more energy-aware utility customers? That was the subject of an interesting phone conversation I had yesterday with Linda Jackman, Oracle Utilities Group vice president of product strategy and management. Oracle’s been much more of a back-end player in smart grid to date, with its utility customer billing and management platform, as well distribution grid management with partners such as Grid Net and Current Group. But its next steps involve helping utilities manage all the new forms of customer-facing technologies — smart meters, rooftop solar panel management systems, plug-in vehicle chargers and the like — from their back-end systems, Jackman said. Examples include work Oracle’s doing with the Irish utility Bord Gáis Energy, which operates in a deregulated market where retail power providers can offer various plans like pre-pay, time-of-use and variable pricing plans, or a real-time pricing pilot Oracle’s setting up for 200,000 smart meter-enabled customers of an unnamed California utility. Utilities certainly face a lot of challenges bringing their back-office systems up to handle the more real-time interaction that new smart grid technologies can provide.