Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.
- Thomas Edison
Utility Leadership Innovating for the Future

Last week I attended the annual SAP for Utilities event in Hollywood, Florida. With an attendance of over 580, the event confirmed an increasing interest in utility and energy service provider technology solutions. While the event boasted many utility presentations from the United States and Canada, the one that particularly caught my eye was a panel discussion entitled Moving Utilities into the Connected Economy. The panel included representatives from IDC Energy Insights, CenterPoint Energy, SAP America and was moderated by IBM. IBM opened with an overview of its CEO Study conducted every two years.
The 2012 CEO study applies to all industries but IBM had extracted 60 Energy & Utility responses from the global survey to present the results. When asked What are the most important external forces that will impact your organization over the next 3-5 years? Energy and Utility CEOs responded:
  1. Environmental issues
  2. Technology factors
  3. Regulatory concerns
  4. People skills
  5. Macro-economic factors
  6. Market factors
IBM pointed out that the CEO focus is not on technology itself, but how technology facilitates primary sources of sustained economic value. Energy and utility CEOs rank human capital and assets (physical, infrastructure) as the highest priority with customer relationships a close second when it comes to the key sources of sustained economic value in the utility.
IBM compared the pool of CEOs interviewed and broke them into two categories, those who lead their companies, and those who outperform their peers in leading their companies. For the energy and utility CEO outperformers, they:
  1. Embraced greater openness and excelled at executing tough change.
  2. Strongly differentiated through better data access, insight, and translation into actions.
  3. Were more likely to partner for innovation, disrupt, and derive revenue from new sources.
Granted it was IBM giving the survey and while I did not catch how outperform is defined, the results provide interesting conclusions and insights into how the utility industry is changing as new advances in technology begin to infiltrate the industry. For instance, 67 percent of energy and utility CEOs identified customers as the most important area to deepen analysis and draw insights with operations coming in second. Now while no previous years trending was done on this statistic, I have to believe that operations came first just a few short years ago. In fact, it was the early 2000s when just about every utility annual report touted Back to Basics or Keeping the Lights On. Now customers, not rate-payers mind you, are the most important area to focus on.
In order to focus on the customers, CEOs are planning to increase social and environmental responsibility, improve understanding of individual customer needs, and improve response time to market needs over the next 3-5 years. Most are planning exponential increases in the use of social media to engage customers and moderate increases in the use of websites over the next 3-5 years. Call centers, face-to-face, and traditional media will see decreases over the same time frame.
The industry is changing with advances in technology. While this industry changes, our customers are changing rapidly in how they interact with others, and those that provide them services. Just a few short years ago, we were marveling at the introduction of bag phones, then texting, now mobile apps and social media. Seventy-two percent of energy and utility CEOs express a strong need to partner with external firms when it comes to embracing new technologies. Lets find a way to innovate for the future for the success of the industry and our customers.
Jon Brock is President of utility and energy advisor Desert Sky Group, LLC. He can be reached at

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