DiUS attended Australian Utility Week (AUW) 2019 to launch the DiUS Powersensor, an Internet of Things (IoT) energy monitoring device.

As an organisation that has been working in the utilities and smart energy sector for the past 15 years, we know often the hardest part about being innovative is getting started. So we collected important takeaways amongst the buzz and excitement of AUW, with concrete actions that we know from experience will work. We hope they help inspire and fast track your innovation journey.

Lean and agile as a verb not a noun.

The utilities and power industry can be a challenging place to implement a traditional lean and agile approach. It was extremely encouraging to hear many organisations embracing the principles of lean and agile ways of working and tailoring them so that it works in their organisational context. ‘Being’ lean and agile – rather than implementing an exact methodology – is a great way to establish an innovative mindset and culture so your organisation can better collectively tackle the challenges ahead.

Action: Build lean and agile mindsets (how you do things) in your team. Learn from other companies doing it well and share your challenges and successes. Agile and lean ways of working are not a silver bullet, but the philosophies behind them are great tools for organisations looking to compete and innovate.

Speed to market comes from customer centricity.

Given growing complexity and competitiveness, increasing consumer demand and internal challenges that often holding up progress, organisations at theinnovation conference noted that it’s more important than ever to find creative solutions for speed to market. CSIRO cited a great example of Li-ion battery uptake – with customer demand driving change and startups innovating around barriers – for example, how do we respond to homeowners wanting batteries? While consumer interest and adoption drives pricing down, the complexity of official oversight and slow speed of change often holds new technology back.

Action: The customer is your ‘true north’, so put the customer at the heart of everything you do and opt for incremental milestones to achieve regularly. Optimise learning, execution and iteration to innovate faster. Invest in your Human Centred Design (HCD) approach to drive new ideas, co-create and adopt emerging tech in a way that makes you the disruptor.

Sharing economy is the new off-grid.

Consumers once had a dream of experiencing the off-grid lifestyle from the comfort of their suburban mini-mansions. Off-grid isn’t a viable option for most households, but the next best thing is a share economy of local grids and community batteries. Ausgrid told us that as sharing part of this new trend, poles and wires will become a platform for innovation in the Australian energy industry. And certainly the number of startups we are seeing with new offerings built around a shared and local grid supports this direction.

Action: Understand the broader energy tech market. Your organisation needs to know the next-generation renewable infrastructure your market is using, emerging tech and trends impacting the market here and overseas and which business models might disrupt your business.

Language matters when it comes to change.

Andrew Richards, Energy Users Association of Australia, pointed this out perfectly when he said “talk to the current government about de-carbonisation and you get shown the door. Speak about modernisation and they’ll be all ears”. Stakeholder buy-in is a huge part of pushing innovation forward, and using the right language is a key factor to get the right people to buy into your plans.

Action: Understand your key stakeholders and what drives them – building a strategy around how you both win. Harness your marketing and communications team to build a communication strategy with key messages for each stakeholder group. Collaboration is key to delivering meaningful and impactful change within your organisation and for the industry at large.

Enhancing customer experience requires accurate data and feedback.

We heard a great story from Jett Winter, GE Power’s Digital Transformation Executive, about a customer who was impressed by a phone call to let her know that the power was out at her home – only to discover that the power hadn’t been interrupted at all. A focus on accuratediscovery and timely data is the key to success or failure for any customer experience initiative – and you don’t need a data lake or to get all your data into one place before extracting value from it. Recent advances in AI mean that right now every organisation has the capability to understand their customers better and to deliver an immersive experience that helps build trust and keep them connected and engaged.

Action: Start working on or ensure you have a data strategy. Create a project to identify what customer data points are being collected, their resolution and frequency. Utilise your HCD approach to engage your customers and your technical team to understand how to harness the power of AI technology.

Operationalising analytics is the next (NOW) frontier.

A common theme we heard throughout the conference was putting more focus on how analytics and data can help you get closer to your customers and navigate the future. Data needs to be exploration accessible for making smarter and timely decisions. It’s no longer enough to simply leave the information with a data scientist and hope actionable insights come back in support of your strategy. Tomorrows winning companies know how to feed data into real-time decision making and across their business horizons.

Action: Identify what information is needed to drive and test customer insights. Decide which data points are required, as well as their resolution and frequency. Next, identify where that data is and build an integrated platform that delivers the data and insights reliably and when you need it – there is lots of available technology in this space, you can experiment quickly and cheaply with cloud offerings. Take a top down view of what you need and a bottom up view of where it lives. Build just enough tech that delivers on your first key need and allows you to learn. Iterate continuously to the point where you have an enterprise-wide solution – plan to adjust the technology architecture over time rather than trying to solve everyone’s needs before you even start.

Experimentation is the one universal skill for innovation.

The key process for disruptive innovation identified by our Co-founder and Principal, Joe Losinno, is to develop an organisational skill for experimentation.  This is particularly true given the low cost, ease of access and consumability of emerging technology today.experimentation To cope with this, many innovation models exist, and each has their own merit – but application in the right context is where organisations get the most value. The faster your organisation designs and executes experiments, the faster you will enable innovation that takes you to the next level.

Action: Experiments need strong testable hypotheses that clearly deliver a measurable result. Make innovation a priority, understand your data and use an agile mindset. While you do need a sense of where you are going, don’t wait for an ‘innovation strategy’. What can you do now? Start experimenting! You can experiment with new ideas at the edge or internally.  

Corporates and startups working together for mutual benefit.

We learnt a lot from the Startupbootcamp panel and by talking to their startups. We heard Anthony Wiseman from EnergyAustralia talk about its innovation journey and how the Australian energy retailer has implemented a culture of innovation. Their story involved leveraging lean and agile ways of working, and more importantly developing a capability to incubate ideas and solve problems quickly. From startups FOHAT and RedGrid we learned the trials and tribulations of dealing with the investment community and how much work it is to establish the relationships and bring investors on board.

Action: The world of utilities should take lessons from the speed and mindset of startups like those being fostered by Startupbootcamp. Establish a radar that includes local and international startups and energy tech companies; identify which align with your strategy and invest time in how it might enable your business. Next establish some proof of value hypotheses and test them. The ability to incubate ideas and solve problems quickly is critical to compete in the new age. Winning companies like EnergyAustralia have shown that partnering with startups helps grow that capability. Startup land is tough when it comes to breaking into new markets and securing capital required to do that, and the synergy of strengths and needs between utilities and startups make mutually beneficial partnerships a good path to innovation. 

cooperation