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No one likes change

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There, I said it.  I'll say it again.  No one likes change.  We may promote publicly that we all support change management efforts, but a small part of us likes doing things the same way we always have -- because that is the path of least resistance.  

Recently I met with a large audience of seasoned utility professionals from a distribution power company who were evaluating vendors for a new GIS system.  This was a multi commodity utility, so they had representatives from electric, gas, water and fiber in attendance.  As most technical presales meetings go, the first look demonstration focus was on how the vendor's software can perform various utility workflows.  Everyone was enamored by the shiny object with all of its bells and whistles. 

But this utility wasn't just window shopping and kicking tires. They have starting their journey down the path of selecting a new system to model their assets for operations.  Instead of just being content by knowing what new widgets are on the market, the end users really wanted to know how the software could perform their workflows.  Parallel to that, the managers and directors want the group to think outside of the box about the world of possibility and not be confined to the way work is performed today.  That is not to say that there are not progressive thinkers in the field or managers who oppose change, but for the most part users have a job to do and want to know how software can make that job easier.  

This is where the vendor must shift from selling software to consulting how the software can be used.  It is a delicate tight rope act of opening doors to a new way of thinking, while being respectful of tried and true practices that have been in place for a long time.  This isn't as simple as uttering the words "have you considered doing it this way" followed by a canned demonstration that disregards that utilities best practices.  It actually starts long before the meeting ever begins.  

The best way to get buy in from the users and the managers about change, is to start by asking questions about current work day practices.  I have been doing this for years by meeting weeks in advance with the utility and getting to know how they do business.  This means guiding them through a series of questions as to document the day to day work, as well as the exceptions.  People take pride in their work and by showing genuine interest in them, they will always make the time to help you understand what they do on a daily basis.  This meeting is all about how the work is done today, including what they like and invariably, what they don't like.  No solutions are suggested at this time -- it is 100% listening.

The take away for me is usually dozens of pages of notes to decipher over the following few days.  The challenge is then to build a demonstration that still follows many of their current day processes, but streamlines certain aspects to make their lives easier.  If we really are all about finding the path of least resistance, then if I can show someone how software can enable them to perform a task with less clicks, or to produce more total work in a given day, then I have earned their trust and they are willing to accept change.  That doesn't mean that everyone has bought into the change, but if you can open the eyes of a few people, then the change becomes contagious.  Instead of everyone fighting the change, people want to jump on the bandwagon as to not be left behind.  

How do we support or GET BEHIND change?  By getting IN FRONT of change.  We acknowledge that change can be hard, but keep an open mind about the fact that just because we have done things a certain way for a hundred years does not mean that it is the correct or most efficient way of doing it.   GIS software should be configurable enough to match existing workflows, but be robust enough to revolutionize how data is kept, maintained and shared with the enterprise.  The utility is not looking for another system that will do the exact same thing they do today.  They want to know what is possible and how the software can pay for itself very quickly.  

GIS software has continued to evolve over time but is also in a mature state.  Each vendor offers their own way model data where some prefer logical connectivity maintained in a database, whereas others opt for graphical connectivity.  But for the most part, all vendors are able to check the majority of boxes for requirements.  The difference in vendors is their experience and ability to understand utility workflows -- then to apply this experience by demonstrating how software can meet their needs today, while opening the door to tomorrow with a better way to perform a task.  Vendors can be agents of change for a utility but only after the trust is earned.  

Change is hard.  But when you are willing to be a part of change, and accept that it will take effort to learn new ways of thinking, it truly can be a magical experience.  I am excited to be working with this utility as they navigate their journey of change toward a brighter tomorrow.  

Eric Charette's picture

Thank Eric for the Post!

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Discussions

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jul 30, 2019 2:15 pm GMT

Great thought provoking post Eric.  Thanks for sharing with the community!  The theme at Distributech was Distruption and Utilities are seeing that for sure.  Handling and managing change will be key! 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 30, 2019 4:59 pm GMT

This is where the vendor must shift from selling software to consulting how the software can be used.

So true-- everyone wants the fancy new toys, but the most effective strategy you can employ is actually proprely utilizing the tools that are available

Eric Charette's picture
Eric Charette on Jul 30, 2019 6:08 pm GMT

I could not agree more!  Even though I work for a software company, as a professional engineer I do follow my code of ethics and I view my job as truly trying to help (and partner with) utilieis.  If my software can't do that, then I won't recommend our solutions.  

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 30, 2019 9:09 pm GMT

Do you find it's a challenge that you come across frequently to ensure the software solutions are being used as they were intended or should be used in the utility space? Obviously a software company is always going to be happy to make the sale, but I'm sure the goal is to also make the intended difference. Is this something you run up against frequently? I suppose the answer is inherently yes given the article you wrote! But I guess I more wonder what the profile of a person or organizatoin who does not utilize the software to it's fullest extent is and how you, as the software provider, find ways to overcome that inertia. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 31, 2019 6:40 pm GMT

Eric, as a programmer who develops scheduling software for the manufacturing industry, there's a lot here I can relate to.

I imagine most of the budgets I deal with are smaller than to what you're accustomed, but recently I was contacted by a major cosmetics manufacturer to help organize production of a new product line. The system would have to integrate with an inventory-control application and (in real time) with a Chinese manufacturer, using scanned laser labels to limit gray-market diversion of product.

I was looking forward to the challenge...until the first meeting. That's when I met the Production Manager, who attempted to explain to me the "best" way to set up the system's database. Now, anyone experienced in database design (and interfacing with production in China) can instantly recognize what is going to lead to problems down the road. It became clear in the first half hour she would have to change her way of thinking or - against my better judgement - I would have to change mine. To make a long story shorter, the meeting didn't go well. Though I didn't get the job, I walked out the door not with a sense of disappointment but relief.

I wish I had had the luxury of a few weeks in advance to listen, but it doesn't usually work that way in manufacturing. And at this point in my life, doing it wrong to please the client is no longer an option. I don't need the money - nor the grief.

John Lawler's picture
John Lawler on Aug 5, 2019 2:40 pm GMT

Change is inevitable. I was once a code writer but it bored me to tears. After becoming a professional engineer in the power generation business it opened up a whole new world of challenges for potential improvements. I have written code to troubleshoot generating assets, forecast outages, improve outage schedules, improve reliability, reduce fuel costs, effectively schedule maintenance, improve parts procurements, control inventories among many other improvements. I have been doing this for 16 years after spending 23 years on the road as a power generation installation and outage engineer. The utilities are changing, for example where I have seen preventive maintenance evolve thru predictive maintenance , scheduled maintenance thru run to failure maintenance.

Today I see Utilities changing in other ways where many are looking to go to the leanest form of operation. I field many questions from customers looking to not only improve and polish their generating asset reliability and efficiency. Many are going even further to remote operated assets and effective reliability and maintenance response teams reducing headcount and operational costs. I am now working on integration of multiple OEM assets to be remotely operated but at the same time being rationally controlled by a headquarters staff that know virtually nothing regarding generation assets. Their only mission is to start, backup and schedule generating assets for the next day, week or month while calling on response teams to field any alarms or conditions that may arise that affect their schedules.

It takes people like me to bridge that gap to undersatnd the software and the business to get the model right. As I find today there are not a lot of people that undersatnd that niche as I speak with software professionals and engineers on a daily basis.

You have to roll with the changes

 

 

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