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How Innovative Thinking Is Lighting The Path Forward For Legacy Electric Utilities.

Here’s the billion dollar question – how do you get a utility company that’s stayed in its ways to embrace the kind of innovation that’ll ensure relevancy and success in the future? That’s what executives at legacy utilities across the U.S. are asking themselves as they face greater customer demand and new technologies in an industry that’s historically been saddled with regulation and long-standing processes. Here’s how one VP took his company from zero to innovative in less than two years. 

Shane Kokoruda

As VP of Enterprise Solutions at Eversource, Shane Kokoruda, believed that big changes were possible if he started with a series of small wins. One of his first tasks was to assemble an innovation team of employees who would be accountable to new ideas and ways of thinking. He challenged the team leaders to look for tools that could give them greater leverage in what he suspected would be an uphill battle. One of those tools was Everblue, an innovation, systems and tech company in North Carolina. 

The appeal was that, unlike larger consulting firms, Everblue worked like a strike team – nimble enough to solve small problems, but entirely scaleable. Which meant Kokoruda’s team could get going without a big up-front investment or risk of failure. Another plus was their depth of knowledge in tech and systems integration. With their guidance, the team could be sure any out-of-the-box ideas were viable and not just blue sky thinking. 

Kokorudu knew that creating a culture of innovation at the utility wouldn’t be as simple as flipping a switch. He needed Everblue’s help teaching tenure employees and managers that innovating is a process worthy of their time and resources, and that it’s something anyone in the company can do. “Most people who think of innovation think of technology,” he said. “But that’s not necessarily the case. Innovation can be as simple as a process change.” 

In fact, it was a small process change that was one of the team’s first successes. For years, the company had a safety concern that substation drawings in the field match what engineers were seeing back in the office. The manual process of marking up versions could potentially put operators at risk in an emergency situation. Their bright idea? QR codes. Kokoruda’s team ran a quick pilot test by installing codes at the substations, which when scanned, would pull up the latest drawing. “You’ve got a lot of brain power at a utility. It’s a bunch of engineers,” said Kokoruda. “So, how do you leverage that brain power to come up with better ways of doing things?”

Once the team had a few small wins under their belt, they gained the support of management to keep innovating. Next they enlisted Everblue to run “Hackathons” (sprint-like events for intense collaboration on software projects) and “Ideathons” (two-day Shark Tank-style pitch events) that got employees out of the day-to-day and engaged them in solving their own problems. The actionable ideas swiftly evolved into rapid prototyping. Instead of waiting years to implement outside solutions, suddenly the entire company was working on solving its problems and having a great time doing it. In just under two years, Kokoruda incubated a model for change. It’s something any legacy company can strive for. “The key is, you’ve got to create space for innovation,” he said.

For more information about Everblue's services, visit our Innovation page.

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