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How the utilities industry can learn from losing

You know the spiel: The world is all about winning. And you were likely coached as a kid that—with the right pep talk, the right idea, the right amount of sleeve-rolling-up and good old-fashioned hard work—you’ll be the big winner. 

In April, Geoffrey Kirui aced the Boston Marathon with the single best time. He was the big winner in that famous race—a race that also clocked in over 27,200 losers.

You aim for winning, but you often lose. We all do. That’s life.

We all learn from running the race, whether literally (like the Boston Marathon) or the rat version. We all find meaning and depth and more practical “gifts” from the journey.

Winning may bring shiny trophies, but losing brings life-long lessons. As our own utilities industry continues to sprint down an unknown path of investments, innovation and evolution, it’s inevitable that projects aren’t going to work out sometimes, that the best-laid plans will implode, that there will be problems. That’s not negative thinking, my friends. That’s statistics. Those are the numbers. (See those Boston Marathon facts.)

It’s inevitable that we’re going to lose a few of those revolutionary and evolutionary industry sprints. So, since we’re not always going to get the gold medal, what can we take away from this race? Here are three lessons that losing can teach every utility.

  

1. To peek outside the front door.

Utilities have always been loners. They thought of their customers as ratepayers, and their job involved little more than keeping the lights on and sending out the bills that proved they kept those lights on—and that the lights were used pretty regularly. It was a background service that no one much thought about but kept the world running (which utility employees were rightly proud of). In those bygone days, utilities won the monthly race by mostly being the only game in town.

Despite lasting decades past other industry shake-ups (think telecom), that world where no one else is in the utility race is long gone, however. Now there are start-ups looking at how blockchain can run a microgrid and Internet giants looking to horde and move their own cleaner power.

We thought we could hold out on our own little industry island, but it’s just not going to continue to be the safe haven it’s been in the past.

 

2. To ask for help.

Being the loner type, if there’s a problem, utilities have always just MacGyver-ed it, fixing it all up with the tools they had on hand, bringing in crews and teams and reams of pole-top transformers and wire. But, today’s requirements are coming faster and they’re coming digitally, which is outside of the typical utility comfort zone of substation hardware and system reliability. So, it’s time to not just consider partnerships for the sake of getting out in the world but for real help with tasks utilities are unfamiliar with and don’t have the same experience guiding. 

This isn’t new news—or shouldn’t be. A couple of years ago, Anthony Earley, president and CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric and former EEI chairman, told a conference audience: “Utilities are not going to create this future alone—even if we wanted to, we probably can’t. Our role is going to be about providing the means to integrate all of this innovation. We believe the companies that will be successful at that will be the ones that reach out and develop robust partnerships.”

 

3. To find the silver lining and keep running.

Escaping the siloed loner thinking of our old industry ways has positives. Siloed thinking is blinkered. It’s hard to visualize outside the box you’re trapped in, but it’s easy to see how trapped you were once you escape.

So, while utilities may now see areas where they are behind the leader in certain sections of this industry race, that’s not a bad thing. “Losing” in this way isn’t negative, despite what your childhood softball coach taught you. That more realistic thinking alone has brought better value—if only with better planning and newer concepts on execution.

It’s always smart to have a better view of our true place in the pack. And, with that lag, one silver lining shines above all else: the benefits of cloud.

Getting ahead in industry areas that are racing to catch up—customer service, asset management, efficiency—will lean heavily on the cloud. It has to. All those data points—all that analytics and the backbone numbers of those analytics—will need a place to be (because, with most utilities, there isn’t a place inside the utility made for that).

You might think of the cloud in this utility race as a shortcut of sorts. Utilities don’t have to build out data warehouses. They don’t have to hire data scientists. They don’t need to then dig deep about the cybersecurity around all those items. Cloud services and offerings cover all those bases for them.

So, luckily, despite the real-world view of where utilities are in the industry pack these days when it comes to customer service and other markers—which is certainly not the pole position, it’s true—that knowledge is valuable.

And that position is negotiable with the right cloud silver lining. Sometimes you have to take to heart the “well, that didn’t work out” lessons to find your true path.

And, utilities, your true path involves the cloud. We guarantee it.

 

If you look outside your front door and find you do need some digital help, especially with finding the cloud’s silver lining, reach out to us. We’ll work hard to understand your point of view and your needs, and invest in this partnership to shape your utility future.

 

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Comments ( 1 )
  • Will Thien Tuesday, May 8, 2018
    Very true about learning from Losing. I ran 3 pilots for utility's and I would not call it losing, but I learned a lot. Mainly "What not to do" the next time. With each pilot I gained more experience to be passed on to the utility. One of the things that utilities need to do is be more of a partner. Most treat it like they are the only grocery store. Controlling everything.You have to build a framework to allow a lot of products and competitors.You are not always going to have the best mouse trap for everything, so you need to know how to partner with companies that do have what you are missing. Customers have to get the electricity from utilities, but don't have to buy your other products, like PV control. They will eventual be able to sell to the highest bidder.
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