Delivering successful innovation in Utilities

If you’re working in the utilities sector, you have to innovate, but change and transformation are always challenging - what could be holding you back from success?

Utilities 21 Dec 2021 by Dan Thomas

Innovation isn’t optional, indeed you can’t afford not to innovate. The emergence of smart meters, increasing demand for energy, new requirements to support rapid technology adoption, and need for cost efficient solutions mean that those who don’t innovate will simply be left behind.

The troubling truth is that innovation failure is common. Testbeds struggle to scale, pilots fail to take flight, and sparks of innovation don’t impact the bottom line. It’s more important now than ever that innovation succeeds. The utilities industry has, brilliantly, laid out their ambitions for net zero and it’s crucial, for all of us, that their innovations succeed, not just for their businesses, but for the planet.

Reasons for innovation failure

The first challenge is to identify why so many innovation projects fail. One of the key reasons innovations so often stutter is because far from creating transformation or flexibility,  enterprises end up creating more silos from existing systems. For innovation to succeed, core business processes need to be changed. You can’t create successful innovation projects in isolation. As Mark Enzer, head of the National Digital Twin programme said,  “You can’t solve climate change in silos”.

Businesses everywhere are excited by the prospect of new smart meters and the possibility of a wave of data driven services. But, what they often fail to fully recognise is that invention and innovation are not the same thing. Innovation mustn’t happen at the edge, as something separate and distinct. Innovation tied to ROI and business critical issues is a real driver of change.

Collaboration vs. Cooperation

Part of the reason that innovation happens in isolation is that organisations spend too long trying to decide how to collaborate digitally. A focus on collaboration – shared goals, objectives and governance – is too hard and takes too long when considered holistically. How can disparate functions, data owners, and system operators agree shared targets, outcomes and requirements. The challenge is all too often subverted by instead focusing on a small localised siloed challenge. The lack of traction in the wider business then kills meaningful transformation. Co-creation is the key to success. But how to co-create without collaborating. The answer is cooperation. When we cooperate we work with others to achieve our own goals as part of a common goal. Internal we act as an ecosystem, acknowledging the differences between functions, territories, operations and departments. Don’t seek commonality, instead encourage each organisation to own their data, their solution and their outcome, but as part of a cooperative ecosystem. Collective success born of individual ambition and drive.

How to ensure success on your innovation project

Putting some heads together and co creating new products is one of the best ways to utilise resources and experience from across organisations. Working cooperatively with partners who have a shared vision can be a powerful way to gain different perspectives on your innovation programme and build something that works. Having a wide range of skills and perspectives is particularly important when overcoming the unique and complex challenges the utilities industry is facing.

Sometimes success comes from making improvements on products that already exist rather than coming up with new ones. If we take field mobile devices within the utilities sector as an example, the first iteration was to enable field workers to simply receive their work orders whilst in the field, which then evolved to more interaction with the device enabling engineers to markup in real time changes to the network and away from paper diagrams and a more digital and automated way of working.

Some innovation projects just need an extra push. At IOTICS we understand the challenges that the utilities industry faces and we want to help businesses work on worthwhile innovation programmes. Contact utilities@iotics.com to find out more.

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