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I spent the morning yesterday with the Board of Directors of a multi-billion dollar credit union, taking a good hard look at the trends sweeping the financial services space. They know that disruption is real, and that it is happening now.

And disruption is everywhere: every business, and every industry is  being redefined at blinding speed by technology, globalization, the rapid emergence of new competitors, new forms of collaborative global R&D, and countless other challenges.


The speed with which these changes occur are now being increasingly driven by he arrival of a younger, more entrepreneurial generation; a group that seems determined to change the world to reflect their ideas and concept of opportunity. They’ve grown up networked, wired, and are collaborative in ways that no previous generation seems to be.

And therein lies the challenge.

Most organizations are bound up in traditions, process, certain defined ways of doing things — rules — that have helped them succeed in the past. Over time, they have developed a corporate culture which might have worked at the slower paced world of the past — but now has them on the sick-bed, suffering from an organizational sclerosis that clogs up their ability to try to do anything new.

Those very things which worked for them in the past might be the anchors that could now hold them back as the future rushes at them with ever increasing speed.

They are being challenged in a fundamental way by those who think big, and by some really big, transformative trends.

How to cope with accelerating change?  Think big, start small and scale fast!

I’m doing many keynotes in which I outline the major trends and opportunities that come from “thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast,” by addressing some of the fundamental changes that are underway.

1. Entire industries are going “upside down”

One thing you need to know is this: entire industries are being flipped on their back by some pretty big trends.

Consider the world of health care. Essentially, today, it’s a system in which we fix people after they become sick. You come down with some type of medical condition; your doctor does a diagnosis, and a form of treatment is put in place. That’s overly simplifying things, but essentially that is how it works.

Yet that is going to change in a pretty fundamental way with genomic, or DNA based medicine. It takes us into a world in which we can more easily understand what health conditions are you susceptible or at risk for throughout your life. It moves us from a world in which we fix you after you are sick — to one in which we know what you are likely to become sick with, and come up with a course of action before things go wrong. That’s a pretty BIG and pretty fundamental change. I like to say that the system is going “upside down.”

So it is with the automotive and transport industry. One day, most people drove their own cars. One day in the future, cars will do much of the driving on their own. That’s a pretty change — sort of the reverse, or upside-down, from how it use to be.

Or think about education: at one time, most people went to the place where education is delivered. But with the massive explosion of connectivity and new education delivery methods involving technology, an increasing number of people are in a situation where education is delivered to them. That’s upside down too!

You can go through any industry and see similar signs. That’s a lot of opportunity for big change.

2. Moore’s law – everywhere!

Another big trend that is driving a lot of change comes about as technology takes over the rate of change in the industry.

Going forward, every single industry, from health care to agriculture to insurance and banking, will find out that change will start to come at the speed of Moore’s law — a speed of change that is MUCH faster than they are used too. (Remember, Moore’s law explains that roughly, the processing power of a computer chip doubles every 18 months while its cost cuts in half. It provides for the pretty extreme exponential growth curve we see with a lot of consumer and computer technology today.)

Back to health care. We know that genomic medicine is moving us from a world in which we fix people after they are sick – to one where we know what they will likely become sick with as a result of DNA testing. But now kick in the impact of Moore’s law, as Silicon Valley takes over the pace of development of the genomic sequencing machines. It took $3 billion to sequence the first genome, which by 2009 had dropped to $100,000. It’s said that by mid-summer, the cost had dropped to under $10,000, and by the end of the year, $1,000. In just a few years, you’ll be able to go to a local Source by Circuit City and buy a little $5 genomic sequencer – and one day, such a device will cost just a few pennies.

The collapsing cost and increasing sophistication of these machines portends a revolution in the world of health care. Similar trends are occurring elsewhere – in every single industry, we know one thing: that Moore’s law rules!

3. Loss of the control of the pace of innovation

What happens when Moore’s law appears in every industry? Accelerating change, and massive business model disruption as staid, slow moving organizations struggle to keep up with faster paced technology upstarts.

Consider the world of car insurance — we are witnessing a flood of GPS based driver monitoring technologies that measure your speed, acceleration and whether you are stopping at all the stop signs. Show good driving behaviour, and you’ll get a rebate on your insurance. It’s happening in banking, with the the imminent emergence of the digital wallet and the trend in which your cell phone becomes a credit card.

In both cases, large, stodgy, slow insurance companies and banks that move like molasses will have to struggle to fine tune their ability to innovate and keep up : they’re not used to working at the same fast pace as technology companies.

Not only that, while they work to get their innovation agenda on track, they’ll realize with horror that its really hard to compete with companies like Google, PayPal, Facebook, and Apple — all of whom compete at the speed of light.

It should make for lots of fun!

4.  “Follow the leader” business methodologies

We’re also witnessing the more rapid emergence of new ways of doing business, and it’s leading us to a time in which companies have to instantly be able to copy any move by their competition – or risk falling behind.

For example, think about what is going on in retail, with one major trend defining the future: the Apple checkout process. Given what they’ve done, it seems to be all of a sudden, cash registers seemed to become obsolete. And if you take a look around, you’ll notice a trend in which a lot of other retailers are scrambling to duplicate the process, trying to link themselves to the cool Apple cachet.

That’s the new reality in the world of business — pacesetters today can swiftly and suddenly change the pace and structure of an industry, and other competitors have to scramble to keep up.  Consider this scenario: Amazon announces a same day delivery in some major centres. Google and Walmart almost immediately jump on board. And in just a short time, retailers in every major city are going to have be able to play the same game!

Fast format change, instant business model implementation, rapid fire strategic moves. That’s the new reality for business, and it’s the innovators who will adapt.

5. All interaction — all the time!

If there is one other major trend that is defining the world of retail and shopping, take a look at all the big television screens scattered all over the store! We’re entering the era of constant video bombardment in the retail space. How fast is the trend towards constant interaction evolving? Consider the comments by

Ron Boire, the new Chief Marketing Officer for Sears in the US (and former chief executive of Brookstone Inc.): “My focus will really be on creating more and better theatre in the stores.”

We are going to see a linking of this ‘in-store theatre’ with our mobile devices and our social networking relationships. Our Facebook app for a store brand (or the fact we’ve ‘liked’ the brand) will know we’re in the store, causing a a customized commercial to run, offering us a personalized product promotion with a  hefty discount. This type of scenario will be here faster than you think!

6. Products reinvented

Smart entrepreneurs have long realized something that few others have clued into : the future of products is all about enhancement through intelligence and connectivity. Nail those two aspects, and you suddenly sell an old product at significantly higher new prices.

Consider the NEST Learning Thermostat. It’s design is uber-cutting edge, and was in fact dreamed up by one of the key designers of the iPad. It looks cool, it’s smart, connected, and there’s an App for that! Then there is a Phillips Hue Smart LED Lightbulb, a $69 light bulb that is uber-smart, connected, and can be controlled from your mobile device. Both are sold at the Apple store!

Or take a look at the Whitings Wi-Fi Body Scale. Splash a bit of design onto the concept of a home weigh scale, build it with connectivity, link it to some cool online graphs and you’ve got a device that will take your daily weight, BMI and body-fat-mass tracking into a real motivational tool.  Where is it sold? Why, at the Apple store too!

Do you notice a trend here?

7. Careers reinvented

For those who that the post-2008 North American recovery from the recession was slow, here’s an open secret: there was a significant economic recovery underway for quite some time, as companies in every sector ranging from manufacturing to agriculture worked hard to reinvent themselves. It just didn’t involve a lot of new jobs, because the knowledge required to do a new job in today’s economy is pretty complex. We’ve moved quickly from the economy of menial, brute force jobs to new careers that require a lot of high level skill. The trend has been underway for a long, long time.

Consider the North American manufacturing sector, a true renaissance industry if there ever was one! Smart engineers at a wide variety of manufacturing organizations have transformed process to such a degree, and involved the use of such sophisticated robotic technology, that the economic recovery in this sector involves workers who have to master a lot of new knowledge. One client observed of their manufacturing staff: “The education level of our workforce has increased so much….The machinists in this industry do trigonometry in their heads.”

Similar skills transitions are underway in a wide variety of other industries….

8. The Rise of the Small over Incumbents

We are living in the era that involves the end of incumbency. Companies aren’t assured that they will own the marketplace and industry they operate within because of past success ; they’ll have to continually re-prove themselves through innovation.

Consider Square, the small little device that lets your iPhone become a credit card. What a fascinating little concept that has such big potential for disruption. And it’s a case where once again, small little upstarts are causing turmoil, disruption and competitive challenge in larger industries — and often times, the incumbents are too slow to react.

Anyone who has ever tried to get a Merchant Account from Visa, MasterCard or American Express in order to accept credit cards knows that it is likely trying to pull teeth from a pen – many folks just give up in exasperation. Square, on the other hand, will send you this little device for free (or you can pick one up at the Apple Store.) Link it to your bank account, and you’re in business.

So while credit card companies have been trying to figure out the complexities of the future of their industry, a small little company comes along and just does something magical! No complexities, no challenges, no problems.

* * * *
There are people who are making big bold bets, big bold decisions, who are going to change the world and who are going to do things differently.” That phrase was from my opening keynote for the Accenture International Utilities and Energy Conference in San Francisco some years back.

It’s a good sentiment, and is a good way to think about the idea of ‘thinking big.’

Earlier this year, I was invited to open the Southern Gas Association in Austin, Texas. In the room, I had about 800 of the most senior executives in the natural gas industry in the US, including utilities, distributors, exploration companies, producers and suppliers. It was a pretty heavy duty crowd. This was one of several high profile events I led off in the energy sector — I was the opening keynote, for example, for the 2012 Accenture International Utilities and Energy Conference.

At the close of my talk, I reframed the concept of innovation for the group:

It’s a great little synopsis of how you can rethink the concept of innovation – run, grow and transform the business!

I’ve had the opportunity to be the opening keynote speaker at four major energy conferences in the last two months ; the 2012 Accenture Worldwide International Utilities and Energy Conference in San Francisco; the Southern Gas Association Annual Conference in Austin, Texas, and the 2012 Enercom Conference in Toronto. In addition, last week I opened a leadership meeting for about 200 executives with Noble Energy in Houston, Texas.

So I’ve been speaking on a  pretty extensive basis on trends impacting the global oil and gas industries, as well as utilities. Part of my job at a keynote at such events is to open up the minds of folks to the massive opportunities that are emerging all around us, particularly as we witness an absolutely fascinating acceleration of the science around energy – whether it be oil, gas or renewables.

Here’s a clip in which I’m talking about the fact that at MIT, they are learning how to print solar cells onto paper!

What is occurring in the US right now in terms of advanced discovery techniques – whether with shale gas, horizontal drilling, new subsea mapping technologies or other new discovery, exploration and production techniques is probably one of the most significant trends of this decade. Combine that with the fact that though the economics and politics of clean-tech have challenged the wind, solar and other opportunities, the pace of scientific research and innovation has not slowed down.

What happens when we can print solar cells onto paper? The world speeds up — and the future belongs to those who are fast!

In all likelihood, we are going to see the US enter a period near-complete energy independence within the next few years. Faster than people think!

The implications are pretty significant. I’ll write a blog in the next few weeks with some of the details that I’ve been covering off in these talks.

  • Read the original post about “When Light Stops”  

“There are people who are making big bold bets, big bold decisions, we are going to change the world and we are going to do things differently.” From my opening keynote for the 2012 Accenture International Utilities and Energy Conference last week in San Francisco.

Where do you stand? In a company that is focused on small, incremental nothingness, or one that is set out to change the world?

Trend: The Future of Energy
April 11th, 2012

I’ve recently been the opening keynote speaker for two major energy events, with talks that focused on the future trends that will impact the energy industry, primarily from the perspective of energy utilities.

The first was for Accenture’s International Utilities and Energy Conference held in San Francisco, with a global audience from over 35 countries. My keynote was translated in real time into Russian and Chinese — that’s how diverse the audience was.

The second was for Enercom 2012, Canada’s leading energy conference held in Toronto, which featured a similar senior level audience from across Canada.

Both keynotes took a look at some of the key trends which will provide accelerating opportunity to provide for a more efficient energy grid, more rapid adoption of alternative energy sources, and respond to changing energy consumer profiles, among other trends.

One of my key messages? Opportunities for innovation are increasing because of a rapid acceleration in the velocity of knowledge.

So what are some of the issues I focused upon? I framed both talks in terms of the insight I’ve developed into “what world class innovators do that others don’t do.” Here are just a few of my key points:

1. World class innovators keep the goal in sight despite pushback

To a degree, it’s a bit tough to keep an innovative spirit in the utility industry today, as a number of trends seem to work against the need for continuous new thinking:

  • in many areas of the world, there is a massive pushback on solar / wind / alternative energy sources by the public, for a variety of reasons (which some might conclude is driven by an overstimulated by “Internet-fact” driven NIMBYism)
  • political turmoil over the incentive structure around alternative energy projects
  • well publicized major failures around the same (call it The Solyndra Effect)
  • growing public and government skepticism over the pace of change

Consider the latter point. In some areas of the US, there is significant pushback against the implementation of smart meter technology — 47 cities and counties have adopted resolutions opposing smart meters for various reasons. At the other extreme, there are some areas where people are impatient with the pace of adoption of alternative technologies. In Boulder Colorado,  there is a citizen inspired initiative to take over local power generation because of a belief that Xcel Energy is not moving fast enough with green and smart energy tech!

How can you win in an environment in which there are such dramatically different views? Keep focused on the goal! The International Energy Authority suggests that energy demand will grow worldwide by 35% between 2010 and 2035; in the US, by 22% alone. Globally, Shell suggests energy demand will grow 60% in developed countries by 2040.

Clearly there has to be a continued effort to focus on the need to continue to develop and implement alternative energy sources. There is a need for continual, relentless innovation!

 2. World class innovators aren’t afraid of thinking boldly

We live in a period of time that involves massive, sweeping transformations, and thinking longer term is always critical. I pointed out that Exxon Mobil believes that one out of every two cars will be either hybrids or some other alternative-fuel vehicle by 2040 – up from just 1% today. Clearly there is going to be a lot of innovation with the energy grid and everything that helps to generate power around in order to keep up with such a massive shift.

Big ideas lead to big opportunities – I spoke about the Gemasolar plant outside Villanueva del Ray in southern Spain — the world’s first  24 hour solar power plant. It involves a unique molton-salt heat storage system that solves one of the key problems with alternative energy : how to storage generated power so that it can be used at off peak periods. The slide from my deck tells it all: this was a big, bold project.

3. World class innovators ride rapidly accelerating science

That’s what the video clip above was from. In Canada, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Waterlook recently brought together a group of experts touching on every aspect of the energy industry. They issued the The Equinox Blueprint, with one of the key points being that we are going to see “.….extremely rapid advances in battery storage, enhanced geothermal, advanced nuclear, off-grid power and smart urbanization….

The MIT project I refer to in the video clip above? It involves “…organic photovoltaics … solar cells which are sprayed or painted onto surfaces.”

Cool stuff!

4. World class innovators ride generational acceleration

There are huge opportunities to drive efficiency in the global energy grid by shifting demand — the oft-cited example being if consumers use their dishwashers during off-peak hours when demand is lower and generation costs are reduced, we have a smarter system.

The challenge is that efforts to encourage this type of activity through smart meters has not met with great acceptance. But I pointed out that is simply a transitional issue, as the current generation of iPhone-weaned Gen-Connect individuals comes to buy their own homes — and bring their different technology-based lifestyle to the energy grid.

I pointed out that we are quickly going to witness four key trends come together:

  • energy costs continue to increase, continuing to drive the need for consumers to change their energy usage behaviour
  • system connectivity accelerates in the global energy grid, particularly with the consumerization of energy technology, as witnessed by the Nest LearningThermostat
  • the current “App generation” buys houses and installs such devices
  • and the incentive structure around power consumption matures with this generation

Think about it: this is the XBOX generation! They’ve grown up in a world of instant rewards for activity. In Call of Duty, you get a series of continual rewards based on actions. The same type of thing will happen with power consumption — if you use the technology that surrounds your personal energy infrastructure, you’ll get a cost reduction.

This generation will take advantage of Nest thermostats to a huge degree. They’re daily activities with simple activties such as dishwashers and dryers is changing :

  • Imagine your washing machine sending you a text when it’s time to move your clothes to the dryer…” Connect Home Appliances, PC Magazine

Smart appliances are emerging faster than ever before as Moore’s law comes to the industry:

  • Whirlpool recently announced it will be producing 1 million smart-grid compatible clothes dryers by the of 2011” Total home control. Residential Design & Build

These are appliances which are linked to the intelligence in the smart-grid, and which will automatically schedule themselves to run when rates are lowest, according to a defined set of consumer preferences.

In other words, consumer behaviour and interaction with the rapid emergence of smart grid technology is going to accelerate faster opportunities for efficiency in the grid.

The key message for global energy utilities? The future belongs to those who are fast!

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