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“Gut to Data”

“Gut to Data”

  • November 1, 2019

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A few weeks ago, I was loaned a phrase by a new friend of mine that will become a mainstay for how I describe the aging workforce in the energy sector: “gut to data.”

It perfectly captures what’s going on at the ground-level in the industry and explains the goal of efficiency without being threatening.

The last part of that clause is important — “without being threatening.”  For many, especially those who haven’t been surrounded by technology their entire lives, software equals replacement and their intuition is the original form of proprietary data.

As a result, buy-in at the individual level becomes crucial to the success of any new software implementation — something I’ve written about here.

According to a January 2017 assessment by the Department of Energy, 25% of US employees in electric and natural gas utilities will be ready to retire within 5 years.  The Department of Labor also estimates that up to half of the current energy industry workforce will retire within the next 10 years; meanwhile, the average age of industry employees is now over 50.

As high levels of retirees take with them industry experience, it will be crucial for utilities of all sizes to conduct a massive transfer of industry knowledge to new employees or servers. This isn’t news to anyone in the sector.

These changes could potentially create skills gaps for the industry’s workforce, which is compounded by existing recruiting challenges in attracting appropriately trained and qualified employees.

This shift is something I’ve thought about but never in a codified way. Rather than trying to value one over the other, I wanted to think about a process that turns intuition into data without being threatening to employees and still improves decision-making when combined with today’s technology. This approach gives the best of both worlds, here’s how it could work:

  1. Utilities shouldn’t pit intuition against data: Intuition and big data can exist together, especially if utilities actively create teams that combine people from different schools of thought.
  2. Intuition is the “gut check” to new potential insights: Data analysis can bring new issues to the forefront or provide context for existing problems. Intuition helps gauge if those discoveries make sense.
  3. Experience still matters: Cultivating intuition means the ability to detect patterns and connect data in ways that can be a huge competitive advantage. Data can check these hypotheses providing hard evidence when intuition uncovers new ideas.
  4. The data and knowledge are accessible and transferable – Employees must be able to access data quickly and easily in ways that make sense. More than ever, departments like marketing, customer service, and operations should be able to share knowledge in ways that increase customer satisfaction.

Big data is here to stay and will continue to play a growing role in the power sector. As the workforce turnover accelerates, it will be important to balance experience with data and realize each method brings unique perspectives that can be valuable tools in decision making.

This post first appeared at kevindstevens.com

Kevin Stevens's picture

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 1, 2019 9:43 pm GMT

Experience still matters: Cultivating intuition means the ability to detect patterns and connect data in ways that can be a huge competitive advantage. Data can check these hypotheses providing hard evidence when intuition uncovers new ideas.

I love this, and it's very well-stated. Data is a tool to accentuate and advance the existing legacy knowledge, not to replace it. They can and should be used in conjunction

Steve Wickman's picture
Steve Wickman on Nov 7, 2019 10:14 pm GMT

There's a lot of good information here...first of all, quoting from the article "January 2017 assessment by the Department of Energy, 25% of US employees in electric and natural gas utilities will be ready to retire within 5 years"...that was almost 3 years ago...thus, that 25% is retiring within 2 years!...are the utilities recruiting, looking to promote from within, establishing mentoring of the retiring folks?  In my humble view, recruiting, promoting, mentoring is maybe not happening enough...and has not really been happening like it should for quite some time.  Getting some overlap before "us" [I'm 65!] older folks move on is important to share the experience and knowledge with the newer folks.  Plus, the experienced, intuitive gut checkers need to be willing to openly share with the newer people.  The utilities are not your father's or your grandfather's company any more, but the long term opportunities in the industry are still there for the younger folks to take advantage of.  Lastly, I tell every young person I come across--high school/college kids that show an interest in Engineering...look at the Power Industry--get your degree in BSEE with a Power Specialization.  Aside from the traditional utility design work--transformer, line calulations, relay settings, etc, there is "a ton" of new technology happening.  The traditional paradigm of the "power company" is changing in a big way. 

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