By Pat McMurray, Editor-At-Large, and Steve Mitnick, Editor-In-Chief (Public Utilities Fortnightly)
PUF’s Pat McMurray, Editor-at-Large, and Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, attended the Exelon 2017 Innovation Expo on June 27, along with twenty-seven hundred Exelon employees. Yes, twenty-seven hundred! Across the Exelon companies, from Atlantic City, to Baltimore, to Chicago, to the District of Columbia, to Philadelphia, to Wilmington DE, and beyond.
We spent the day talking with many of the young and diverse men and women that are leading the way for our industry. We took a ton of pics too; more like two tons. Here we excerpt two of the interviews, with senior vice presidents Chris Gould (also the company’s chief innovation officer) and Maggie FitzPatrick.
These brief interviews are a fascinating window into how today’s innovation is bubbling up from the passion and “energy” of an evolving utility workforce. Times have surely changed. This is not your grandfather’s or your father’s utility. Well, this isn’t even the utility we’ve spent our careers working with.
PUF’s Steve Mitnick: What is your role?
Exelon’s Chris Gould: I like to think of myself and our team as stewards of the innovation process here at Exelon. What you are seeing today is innovation by our employee base in partnership with our external ecosystem.
That could include technology companies, services companies, venture capital, and national labs. It’s any entity we think good ideas can come from to help us think through what the future’s going to look like. We create the platform to enable our entire employee base to be passionate and participate in innovation.
This is innovation for the people, by the people, here at Exelon. We have a philosophy that you put our people who are passionate about executing, and the historical operational excellence of our company that we’re known for, and you then pair them with our ecosystem.
There, ideas are generated around what’s happening outside of the walls of the utility sector. So, you put those two together, and you get a very powerful combination, where you co-develop ideas.
Ideas can come from our employees. They can also come from the external ecosystem. You put them together, and you get a real momentum and leveraging effect.
PUF’s Steve Mitnick: How did you pull off the excitement and enthusiasm that I’ve seen at this conference?
Exelon’s Chris Gould: There’s a strategic direction around what we’re trying to accomplish. A purpose around where we’re trying to go as a company, what we’re trying to do, and how we see trends evolving in the industry.
What are we trying to accomplish? How can inno- vation play a role in that, with this ecosystem, and with our employees?
There’s got to be a pur- pose, a why, and a what are we after. You inspire people to innovate by linking those together. You see this on the downstream, if the strategy’s upstream of innovation, and the downstream is sustainable value.
Employees get excited not just about financial returns, which of course have always got to be part of the equation. There are very often other important relevant benefits to these innovations. These include environmental benefits, greenhouse gas savings, a safer workplace for employees, our reputation as a company, customer engagement and satisfaction.
It’s not just the financial results. It’s the whole package of sustainable value that we think is important.
Exelon’s Chris Gould:
PUF’s Steve Mitnick: Do you have a lot of young people wanting to come on board and stay as employees of the company?
If you look at what attracts people to a company and makes them want to stay, it’s that sense of purpose around strategy. It’s that sense of how am I adding to societal value with what I’m doing.
I know financial results are important, which we are here to provide for our shareholders. There are so many stakeholders who are trying to set expectations to exceed. The ability for us to translate our innovations into those outputs is really motivating and inspiring.
I can give you an example. Predix is something that we’re working on with General Electric. So, a business case had to be made for Predix, saying, “If we’re going into co-development with General Electric around this platform, the financials have to be in place for us to invest.”
But let’s look at the other outcomes, the sustainable value, from that co-development. We think Predix, through more efficiently operating our low carbon assets, will eliminate over two hundred thousand tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the environment. That’s the equivalent of taking fifty thousand cars off the road, or installing fifty wind turbines.
We’re providing lower cost energy because we’re optimizing the assets. But think of all the other benefits that come along with that innovation. That’s really inspiring to people.
PUF’s Steve Mitnick: What about partnering?
Exelon’s Chris Gould:
We need to deal with the pace of change, and the proliferation of ideas, and new entrants into the energy space. The pace, the ideas, the third parties, and the new partnerships demand an all-of-the-above approach to developing an ecosystem.
Each of those, such as a national lab, is going to have a different set of ideas, for example, than a university lab. That’s going to have a different set of ideas than a venture capital firm. That’s going to have a different set of ideas than a company like GE.
They all have a different lens with which they view the world. They all have different agendas. This is not a closed environment, or an environment where it’s only a concern at the top levels of the company.
This is an open innovation platform. It’s open to the external ecosystem, wherever that comes from. It’s open to our employees. When I say I’m a steward of this innovation process, that’s what I mean.
PUF’s Steve Mitnick: Are you focusing more on diversity too?
Exelon’s Chris Gould:
We could have the best external eco- system in the world. But if we have an employee base that is not diverse, we’re not going to be able to interpret those ideas and figure out how to apply them.
We won’t be able to co-develop our own ideas nearly as effectively if we don’t have the diversity of thought that would really accelerate that. It becomes a foundation that we really want to develop in a powerful way.
PUF’s Steve Mitnick: How did you get to this role?
Exelon’s Chris Gould:
I think the role suits a specific skillset. There’s this notion that you’re a steward of innovation. That you’re here to help this organization, that all ideas do not emanate from one person.
You combine that with creativity, and an openness to the idea that all ideas deserve a shot. You need that glass half-full mentality, with a healthy eye for challenge. You must have that in order to be able to successful here.