Recently I read a couple of articles describing how east coast and west coach public electric utilities were changing their customer focus. No longer will executives and managers of electric utilities focus solely on serving public service commissioners, providing dependable services, and maintaining a public image of community service. Now, they view their organizations as competitive business enterprises needing to embrace change and engage a diverse customer community in learning and using marketplace dynamics to maximize potential for the common good.
Traditional public utility executive and management thinking and actions regarding customer service have become only an entry ticket to a marketplace or service area competition. Public utility customers are now demanding more. Customers still want reliable service but they also want more opportunities to select their service provider. They want more use of automation. Most importantly, customers now demand to be respected in how service is provided, supported and priced. They want to be satisfied as well as served.
To some executive and management communities, this change in thought and behavior is unexpected. Is it really a big deal? The answer is yes. For executives and managers of public electric utilities, it means transforming traditional monitoring and controlling practices from judgment and evaluation to self-discipline and self-governance. Also, it means instilling new cultures based on learning, systems thinking and innovation, and transitioning from just expertise and experience for guidance. Finally, it means focusing as much on satisfying service users as complying with regulatory agencies.
This change in how customers are identified and served is redefining how public electric utilities operate. They are slowly transforming into competitive business enterprises instead of being public service monopolies that define their value solely in terms of service territory size, avoidance of service outages, compliance to rules and regulations, and stable stock value and dividend growth.
Public electric utilities are now being led and governed by a new generation of executives and management. They are changing how electric utilities operate. They are increasing the use of automation to more effectively communicate with customers. They are altering how associates interface with the public and creating new staff positions to promote and sustain a more customer sensitive culture. They are eliminating vertical management controls in favor of shared governance systems and processes. These systems and processes support and engage a broader range of internal and external performers in collaboratively defining and executing work. Most importantly, they are redefining electric utility marketplaces as competitive arenas, not as guaranteed service territories.
Technology is quickly evolving. Governance oversight and regulation is loosening, demand for service provision options increasing, and environmental sensitivity expanding. To address these marketplace dynamics, today’s electric utility executives and managers have to embrace ambiguity and risk, not avoid them. They need to constantly promote learning, innovation, continuous improvement and shared accountability. Public utility executives and managers can no longer be effective by only being tenured experts and experienced performance judges. Now, they must be inspirational, culturally focused, and engineers of a human factor defined governance infrastructure and culture that empowers all stakeholders to add value, achieve and excel with customers, regulators and contractors.
Stay tuned as this evolution or revolution (depending on your perspective) continues. In the near future, public electric utilities could look more like Uber or Airbnb. Changes in technology may profoundly change how electricity is produced and provided. One thing is certain – change. Emerging marketplace dynamics, technology evolution, and new customer demands are altering how utilities are led and managed. A new breed of leader/manager is taking control. These manager/leaders are using system management, learning cultures, process discipline, information automation, and collaborative communications to reinvent the industry: an industry traditionally defined by slow change, government intervention, technical stability and experience/expertise led judgment and evaluation.