Creating the personal connection.  Chick-fil-A vs. Smashburger.

Smashburger v Chick

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echos are truly endless. – Mother Teresa

Chick-fil-a and Smashburger. These two fast food chains are currently tops on my go-to list when I am traveling. Any time I am in Denver I try to go out of my way to ensure I can stop at Smashburger and get one of my favorites and whenever I am traveling through the Minneapolis airport I like to stop at Chick-fil-A for one of their unique chicken sandwiches and stellar service reputation.

If you have traveled through the Minneapolis MN airport over the past year or so you may have noticed the renovation in the food court area in the center of the C terminal. On a recent trip I was searching out the Chick-fil-A that had been located there. It was my first visit to the C terminal since the renovations had taken place and I was delighted to find that they had include BOTH a Smashburger and a chick-fil-a right next to each other. Now I had a real dilemma. Smashburger is a wonderful greasy delight and Chick-fil-a is a unique take on the chicken sandwich. After enduring a considerable soul fight, I decided to “Eat Mor Chikin”.

One thing that they do at Chick-fil-A is to ask for your name when you place an order. For me, this always made me a bit nervous, why do they need my name? In the era of data privacy, cybersecurity, and identity theft I am always a little leery of giving out personal information. Asking for my name to go with my order just feels a little bit intrusive. So several years ago I began playing a game to have fun. On his particular day I told them my name was Elvis and proceeded to order my go-to number one deluxe combo.

Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. – Zig Ziglar

“Elvis” they called out “Number 1 deluxe combo”. Yes that was me. I smiled as I accepted the food. Then, as I was walking to my table “Number 44” was called out from the Smashburger stand. I paused. How impersonal that sounded next to their neighbor calling out “Elvis”. “Number 44” was a very impersonal touch. Number forty-four was not a customer, number forty-four was a number. A number that could be managed by any corporate manager that was trying to maximize throughput and efficiency by the numbers. A formula I knew all too well.

As I sat down it occurred to me that the personalization of the service was indeed a nice differentiator that helped form the connection with the customer, even if I was going by Elvis on that particular day. I smiled. The Chick-fil-a staff shared in the joke…and our bond grew stronger.

The Evolving Grid: What Business Are We In?

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Back in the 1990’s the LEGO company underwent a transition.  For them, it was a realization of what business they were truly in.  Were they in the business of selling studded blocks or was it something else?  It is reported that change came to their business upon a realization that they were really competing for a share of a child’s play time.  That meant competing with video screens in all of their various forms as well as other toys that were grabbing a child’s attention.  Kodak, by comparison, invented the digital camera, but failed to realize or embrace the concept that they were really in the business not of selling film, but of preserving memories.  The outcomes for these companies are well known.

Today in the utility business we are experiencing a shift that is just as profound as the shift was in digital photography, or for the play experience that was embraced by Lego.  Technology has driven down distributed generation costs and some renewable generation assets are now affordable to even the individual consumer.  Solar business models allow individuals to embrace solar power with no money down while seeing the direct effect of their energy usage.  Smart devices such as learning thermostats have brought automation to energy conservation and items such as smart light bulbs and IoT connected electrical sockets that enable metering at the point of use are all causing a significant shift in how we think about our energy use.

So what do all of these technologies have in common?  What is the real underlying shift that is occurring?  Of course there is the economic driver of wanting to secure energy needs at the lowest possible cost, but consider that there is also an underlying driver to be in control of your own destiny.  There is certainly a move toward consumer empowerment and control and pushing consumer specific usage information to the edge of the grid.  Just take a look at technologies such as the Sense home energy monitor that learns your home energy use patterns and pushes that information into the palm of your hand.  The amount of information that can be provided directly to the end user consumer is more sophisticated today than most of our advanced automated metering infrastructure.  The better quality and real time information that is in the end user’s hands is shifting more direct control by individual consumers over their energy usage.  Think instant gratification and control.

If we are going to formulate our strategies on how to deal with all of the technological challenges presented by distributed generation, battery storage, electric vehicles, and consumer empowerment perhaps we need to re-evaluate the business that we are really in.  From a power distribution standpoint there is still the need to provide the reliability backbone to the consumer as most renewable sources are not yet at a 365/24/7 availability model.  This is our core business.  Should our business model be shifting to embrace information at the edge of the grid while automating the protection and reliability aspects to keep them invisible?  Do we have a role to play in helping end users monitor their sources of waste and use energy more efficiently?  Will we become Kodak or Lego?  What are your thoughts?

Is it Time to Rethink Our Mission Statements?

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Safe, Affordable, Reliable electric power has been the tried and true, age-old focus of our industry for as long as I can remember.  It is simple, yet captures the essence off what our membership cares about the most.

Recently I have been doing a fair amount of research on Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology in an effort to leverage two of the emerging technologies that are nearing tipping points; electric vehicles, and battery storage.    In the process one gets exposed to a plethora of green-energy technologies and process controls, some of which will become viable, and some will not.  At the end of the day I am extremely impressed with the innovation, talent, and ideas that our early and mid-career engineers are bringing to the table with a vision of a much cleaner energy future.  Some of these technologies are disrupting the way we do business today.

Environmentally Friendly.  That is the term that I am beginning to see incorporated in more and more mission statements.  Lets face it, in some areas we may be an economic slave to coal and fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.  They are still great, low cost, reliable technologies, but that does not mean we can’t think green in other parts of our businesses.  Even those of us working in the “non-generation” transmission and distribution side of the business can leverage technologies that lead us down a greener path.  We can be embracing and promoting electric vehicle infrastructure, smart thermostats, demand-response systems tied to water heaters and air conditioners, and emerging technologies for distribution control of a plethora of small distributed generation and distributed storage technologies that leverage big data learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to achieve grid stability and reliability.

Every young generation enters the workforce with a desire to change the world, and the industry today is positioned to leverage this more so than I have ever seen.  How exciting to be on the front end of developing technologies that are going to allow us to reliably operate this most complex machine in a much more distributed, real time, efficient manner.

Environmentally Friendly:  It is not just solar, wind, and hydro generation, it is also the integration, control, dispatch, and real time communication technologies that make it all feasible.

Environmentally Friendly:  Is fantastic leverage in member engagement and member satisfaction.  Our members and their implementation of technology can be, and are becoming more of the solution every day.

Environmentally Friendly:  Is a great recruiting tool for that top talent that wants to change the world.  The opportunity is theirs.

Are you ready to change your mission statement?

Safe, Affordable, Reliable, Environmentally Friendly power.

Electric Utility Acronym Reference Guide Version 0.1

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One of the common things I hear from people new to the electric utility industry is that they struggle with the large amount of acronyms and industry jargon as they are settling into their roles.  As a best practice for communications I coach my staff to always define terms and acronyms the first time they use them in a report or when presenting to a new audience.

To help make the transition easier, I have collected a number of the most common acronyms.  The link below is a downloadable guide in PDF format with definitions and links to additional information.  I hope you will find this helpful.

Acronym Reference Guide (ARG) version 0.2

Will you help me develop this into a better tool?  What would you change or add to this guide? Feel free to comment and watch for the updates in the next version.