Recent Posts

New Video: KCP&L Automates to Innovate

We’ve been talking about showcasing Kansas City Power & Light’s (KCP&L’s) innovative automation thinking for about a year. Months of meetings and planning. Days of shooting video onsite. Weeks of post-production to get it all just right and here we are. It’s a wrap. If you haven’t seen the video, click here. For more behind-the-scenes details  and photos read on. SOUNDBITE: Twenty years ago, everything was on paper. We were taking phone calls from customers, trying to find those customers on a paper map, seeing if everything was close enough together to group up into [a bigger response]. Today, the system does that for us. Dan Munkers, senior manager, DSO Those fine details: KCP&L has crafted a unique extension to the standard Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system for distribution automation (including fault location analysis) using Oracle Utilities Network Management System (NMS)—and some creative thinking and strategy. This project allows the utility to: Increase visibility without increasing complexity for the operators. Expand efficiency efforts into new urban and rural settings. Use a common interface for multiple systems. Boost operational performance. Integrate more devices and data at scale. Exceed reliability standards. Lower cost. SOUNDBITE:  KCP&L has been a pioneer in the industry on distribution automation since the ‘90s. … We’re excited to apply all the new innovative ideas to our system. Tianling Wu, principal engineer. Operations Technology Group More about KCP&L: Founded in 1882, Kansas City Power & Light has grown into a trusted energy provider and resource. More than 130 years ago, a small group of forward-thinking Kansas Citians believed electricity was more than a novelty. As a result, KCP&L now serves more than 800,000 customers in 47 northwest Missouri and eastern Kansas counties. With a service area of about 18,000 square miles, it takes more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines, 24,000 miles of distribution lines and over 400 substations to deliver power to their customers.  In 2018, KCP&L merged with Westar Energy to bring their customers more savings, sustainable energy and solutions to meet every need. The companies are combining operations, resulting in a stronger regional energy provider. And now you must watch the video. Just click here. 

We’ve been talking about showcasing Kansas City Power & Light’s (KCP&L’s) innovative automation thinking for about a year. Months of meetings and planning. Days of shooting video onsite. Weeks of...

Innovation Lab Series

Put Down the Raw Water and Turn on the Tap

The raw water trend is all over the news. It’s a top hot thing—drinking unfiltered water straight from a spring (though sometimes diverted through a bottling plant and available in stores for nearly $20 a pop). It’s a trend that would make John Snow roll over in his grave. (No, not “Game of Thrones” Jon Snow. Read on.) The real-life John Snow was the father of a major component of the modern water system as we know it, though perhaps not in a way most people would immediately recognize. But let’s start at the beginning. Humans have been moving water a good long time—since before actual time, really, since what we like to label “prehistory.” Storing and moving water is, in fact, an early sign of civilization (in infrastructure form). Stone was favored originally for the moving. The ancient Greeks invented pressurized piping and indoor plumbing (of sorts). So, for eons we focused on the moving of water, but that’s not the full snapshot anymore with water systems. So, where does Snow come into this evolving water picture? Well, he didn’t have anything to do with moving water, but he had everything to do with making it drinkable (or, as they like to say in the biz, “potable”)—and decidedly less deadly. An English doctor, John Snow made the connection between dirty water and disease during a London cholera outbreak in the 1850s. But, he was honestly making a very educated guess based on observational data hot spots. It wasn’t until Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke showed the world all the stuff floating in water (with the use of the microscope) that we really understood that what looks clean may not be clean. (That deserves repeating today: What looks clean may not be clean.) As that knowledge became more accepted, water utilities started to filter their drinking water and treating their wastewater, and that filtering has saved a lot of lives and prevented any number of disease outbreaks in the last nearly 100 years or more as we refined the systems. Water quality has advanced pretty far since those early days, and we’ve added in chlorination and UV light cleaning practices as well. This field encompasses a whole slew of standards and regulations, such as the Clean Water Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act here in the U.S. and the Drinking Water Directive in Europe, as well as data comparing and contrasting allowable particle ratios and, of course, the rather subjective views on taste. But, in an amazing world John Snow (and, probably, Jon Snow, too) could only dream of, we can drink water straight from the tap in almost any place in the U.S. and Europe. (In fact, Louisville Water, a utility in Kentucky, is so proud of their water quality and taste, they’ve branded it Pure Tap and actively promote doing just that—drinking that water straight from the tap for all events and functions, from family to corporate.) We’ve become so used to this behind-the-scenes filtering and easy-to-use infrastructure that we sometimes forget that note we repeated earlier—that what looks clean may not actually be clean (and that you can’t see microorganisms without the proper lens but they can still make you very sick). So, what sort of items are we cleaning away/clearing out with filtered and purified water treatment in the modern water plant? In simple terms: protozoa, bacteria, viruses, algae, parasites. In scientific terms—the Googling of one of which will make you grateful for real-life John Snow and all who came after for at least a week if not a year— amebiasis, giardiasis, cholera (which was once common in water systems) and E.coli, just to name a handful. (And, yep, you heard that last one correctly: E. coli. So, yes, poop—maybe tiny, tiny particles of poop, but still poop.) We know we’re not the first to tell you that drinking raw water is a bad idea. The Washington Post has weighed the issue. So has The New York Times. In fact, Vox used those exact words—well, they said “drinking untreated water is a very bad idea.” So, they added a “very” to our conclusion. With all that, we realize we’re not going out on a limb here, but we do hope that this particular discussion helps you have a shade more respect for your local water utility and the work they do every day to make what comes out of your tap safe to drink without, usually, the need for a single second thought about it all before you sip. So, put down that raw water and turn on your tap. It’s cleaner … and cheaper, too.   Read more water stories from us: The Best Water Utility Accounts You Should Be Following Right Now How to craft the right data/water balance On tapping pride and laying pipe to the future of the water industry Dear water utilities: does your work and asset management measure up? 5 trending topics in the global water industry 6 words of water wisdom Best practices in customer communication from top American water utilities    

The raw water trend is all over the news. It’s a top hot thing—drinking unfiltered water straight from a spring (though sometimes diverted through a bottling plant and available in stores for nearly...

Customer Care

Seeing “The Princess Bride” as a brilliant customer service tutorial

One '80s flick is practically overflowing with fabulous lessons in behavioral science: “The Princess Bride.” I’ve been a fan of the movie since it hit theaters in 1987. When I was a preteen, it was delightful quote-bait, especially anything that came out of the mouth of Mandy Patinkin’s character Inigo Montoya. As I get older, “The Princess Bride” holds a safe, warm, nostalgic spot for me, and it struck me recently as also brilliantly spot-on with showing and predicting natural human reactions (even if it is a stylized version). That’s behavioral science in a nutshell. Quite simply, it’s the study of how people will react (not how we want people to react or how we hope they will react but how they will actually react). Despite the fact that we’re all human, when we get into groups that are socialized or culture-siloed, we tend to forget our normal human reactions and believe, instead, that people are motivated along that siloed thinking. Companies have, traditionally, been very bad at sinking into siloed thinking and ignoring behavioral science (utilities, too). That is slowly changing. We are pondering more and more about the customer and not just how we want the customer to respond but what motivations are required to create those responses—what nudges, what carrots, what comparisons. Whether you’re putting together a marketing push or a demand response program that relies on residential participation, you need good info on just how your consumers will react. Here are our top three lessons on behavior from “The Princess Bride” (TPB) that you can apply to your program planning and marketing strategy today: 1. Keep it simple: summarize and advise. After my favorite TPB character, Inigo, saves our hero from death, our hero remembers nothing of the previous story. Inigo replies, “Let me explain …. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” And he does. And they go on to win the battle, save the princess and conquer the day. Utilities, you get way too caught up in explaining. You know you do. I have this battle with engineers every day who want to put every number, every dot and every dash into the details. But, with the exception of that engineer mentality, most people don’t want to know every single dull and dreary moment of their power delivery and use. They want the executive overview, the important highlights, the major points. They want the Cliff’s Notes version of their problem, and then they want an answer to it. So, summarize your data points and then jump off from those data points with helpful hints: Turn your AC up two degrees. Run your pool pump at 2 am. Check your refrigerator for efficiency. This is how you become your customer’s trusted energy advisor—the place and space every utility wants to inhabit in the future. It’s not from dumping details in the customers' laps and letting them sort things out. (That’s a way to create a lot of lesson #2.) Being a trusted energy advisor comes from making sense of those numbers for your customers and then helping them find a solution. It’s from you doing the heavy lifting, not them. 2. Remember: anger is, unfortunately, a really, really great motivator. We continue this short list with more Inigo examples. He’s spent 20 years tracking down his father’s killer. He’s dedicated his life to this anger. He’s got speeches ready. He’s got sword-fighting techniques in hand. He’s prepared. Now, your unhappy utility customers—whether annoyed at an outage or confused about billing practices—aren’t going to dedicate their lives to destroying you. Luckily, you’re not dealing with quite that level of upset. But, you have to keep in mind that one unhappy customer will badmouth you more often (and for a longer period of time) than a happy one. Humans like happy, but we tend to dismiss it quickly. Problems and anger fester and settle and make us think more, which makes us touch that moment again and again and again in our minds. True, no matter what you do, you can never be perfect. You’ll always have some negative reactions to deal with, but remember these things when faced with angry consumers:  approach calmly and sympathize. (And we mean truly sympathize. Get into your customer’s head; feel his pain.) Solve the pain point quickly (and do not pass this problem along the chain). Be honest if there’s a problem, and, in the end, talk to that customer like a person and not a number. Finally: apologize. Customer communications is a two-way relationship and an ongoing conversation. Trusted energy advisors know when to say they're sorry. 3. On the positive side: true love never dies. This brings us to the basic plotline of TPB. It’s a love story—one that overcomes odds and clears hurdles from Greenland-native giants to a battle of wits (to the death). That enduring love-conquers-all may be the fairytale inside the book, but the frame of the movie (where the grandfather is reading the story to his sick grandson) is the real lesson, and the real love, in the movie: deep, honored, interconnected and with a long history. (It’s no coincidence that the grandfather says “as you wish” to the grandson when he asks to be read the story again tomorrow, a phrase we learn from the start of the storybook means “I love you.”) This is the love you’re looking for from customers. It’s what all the brand-building is all about, and you can see it with retail customers most clearly: buyers who prefer Nike shoes. Drinkers who opt for Jim Beam. The worldwide adoption of Swatch watches at one time. If you get the love right (and keep the love going), you can become not just a part of the customer’s daily life but a part of how they see themselves. That takes constant work and constant attention, but it can be done. You can become that trusted energy advisor to your customer. Just remember to say to them, constantly: as you wish.   When Oracle Utilities bought Opower, we got our own valuable lessons in behavioral science and customer focus, which is still incorporated into all of the great products in our Opower line. Take a look at how we can help you apply these TPB lessons to your own programs. Get details on self-service, peak management, energy efficiency and proactive alert options for your utility. Lead art courtesy of artist Charnchai via Pixabay. 

One '80s flick is practically overflowing with fabulous lessons in behavioral science: “The Princess Bride.” I’ve been a fan of the movie since it hit theaters in 1987. When I was a preteen, it was...

Innovation Lab Series

How to be an innovator: The Oracle OpenWorld meta edition

With all the synonyms for innovation at play in tech writing today—transformation, evolution, revolution, change, breakthrough—the one we never hear much is metamorphosis, although I’d say that’s perhaps the most accurate for what we’re experiencing. This is, in fact, a staged, stepped flip we’re all immersed in—a flip from something we once saw as a simple organism to something that’s now complicated and interconnected and a “meta” (or self-referential/self-reflective) form of ecosystem. The classic stages of a metamorphosis (as described mostly with insects but thoroughly skipped over by Kafka entirely) can be best summed up in the traditional butterfly example: egg, larvae, pupa, and, finally, adult. Think of our tech metamorphosis as always seeking to be a better, smarter, faster adult. We’re never happy with the adult we are. Instead, we are constantly changing to become the adult society needs (and expects). To become our next, best adult requires a whole lot of planning, some serious work internally and a willingness to cocoon ourselves in data and details to figure out how to survive the next stage. Data and details are essential to this process—as essential as hormones to the more classic sense of metamorphosis. We’re labeling this #InnovateWithIntent—the idea that you’ve got to pair those details and data with a more scientific approach. But where do you get all this data and all those details? And how do you interpret them with intent? We’d suggest you can get a handle on some of that data and a lot of those details at Oracle’s upcoming OpenWorld conference in San Francisco. (By the way, we’ll be live blogging from the show with examples of that ongoing metamorphosis.)   Here’s a short list of options for utilities sessions: Learn how Oracle Utilities, Accenture and some of our select customer partners envision the new industry future at the opening keynote session on Monday, Oct. 22. Plan your journey to the cloud with Oracle Utilities insiders on Tues., Oct. 23. Look deeper at grid model data management with Oracle Utilities and EPRI on Wednesday, Oct. 24. Explore how to get the most from your Oracle Utilities products with in-depth, hands-on sessions throughout the week, ranging from DSM details to network concepts.   Embrace the metamorphosis with #OOW18. Get general information on show registration and housing here. Can’t come to the conference? Follow all the utility industry details from OpenWorld on this blogsite, or through our Twitter feed.

With all the synonyms for innovation at play in tech writing today—transformation, evolution, revolution, change, breakthrough—the one we never hear much is metamorphosis, although I’d say that’s...