Business Leaders Need to Openly Demonstrate Commitment to Innovation

By Sunil Garg, SVP & Chief Information & Innovation officer, Exelon Corporation
Business Leaders Need to Openly Demonstrate Commitment to Innovation

Amongst many new technologies shaping the industry's future, a fundamental one is Smart Grid. Smart -Grid offers us the ability to remotely connect service, improving customer service and efficiency by scheduling and executing customer turn-ons without the need to send a field technician. Smart meters actively report when power is lost and restored, rather than requiring customers to call and let us know their power is out. New data analysis tools offer new insight into how the power grid is operating. Predictive models are being built based upon Smart Meter data to cover all sorts of operating scenarios, including extreme weather. At the same time, Smart Grid empowers customers, allowing them to monitor their usage in real time via the Web, an in-home display or even a smart phone. This allows customers to make informed decisions on their energy usage, get specific energy efficiency tips, sign up to receive alerts when their usage is high and when there is the potential for high bills. We are only scratching the surface of how the customer experience will be transformed as the Smart Grid is deployed. 

The Evolving Cyber Threats

Cyber-security has evolved to be one of those topics concerning who's-who of the industrial domain. At Exelon, we not only have the same data privacy concerns as other enterprises, but we also run what is considered critical infrastructure -- the electric grid. Thus, the implications of a cyber security problem go well beyond our company, employees and customers, and we take that expectation and obligation very seriously.

We have state-of-the-art systems and actively address cyber security threats as they arise. We employ specific strategies that make every reasonable effort to protect our cyber infrastructure and mitigate the risks of cyber threats. We also work with the federal government and industry organizations to develop effective means to mitigate such threats. At the same time, given the rapidly changing nature of the threats, we are interested in solutions across the risk equation, from improving our ability to successfully protect our assets and prevent attacks, to better detecting and monitoring them, to responding and containing events, to quickly recovering and restoring. 

Unleashing Ideas through Employee Engagements

Whether innovation is explicitly included in a CIOs title or not, given the rapid pace of technological change, all CIOs should be focused on innovation. Traditional IT departments, particularly in large corporations, were once insulated from the consumer IT world, but that is being upended by BYOD, Social media, big data and the Internet. A CIO not only needs to be able to 'run the railroad,' but also has to proactively learn to adapt to it.

One of the central ways to overcome this challenge is by engaging your employees. However, you need to make it 'safe' for employees to engage. A couple of critical things leaders can do to unleash ideas: First, people need to experience management as values-based leaders -- not just hear you talk about it -- in order to trust you enough to engage in change. Second, there is enormous social capital within an organization and you need to identify, celebrate and leverage it. I believe that by fostering these two things, a flood of new opportunities will emerge from employees, and combined with developing robust relationships with the external innovation ecosystem, you will move faster than you thought possible.

Building People Friendly Environments

Two of the biggest issues that business leaders can directly impact are talent and learning velocity. The war for talent continues to get more and more competitive which means that leaders have to create environments and cultures that people want to work. There is an old saying "People do not quit jobs, they quit bosses", and I think all business leaders need to look at their management talent and ask whether the best and the brightest would want to work for their bosses. The second is "learning velocity." The digital world moves so much faster than the traditional physical world, and this means that speed becomes a competitive advantage. Companies have to figure out how to learn quickly -- something that is often at odds with the lumbering bureaucracies we have created.

We run nuclear power plants and large transmission and distribution systems, and it poses challenge for whole bunch of people running around 'innovating' when it comes to safety and reliability running those facilities. There is a real need for and value to tight processes and procedures. At the same time, we need to find a way to innovate. So, we are focused on four elements in nurturing a culture of innovation. First, we have created teams, like the Emerging Technologies team, that have permission to operate outside the 'system' to identify and pilot new technologies in ways that does not disrupt day-to-day operations. Second, we are emphasizing our leadership and employees that we need to be open to and supportive of new ideas, and that the risk of inaction is far greater than the risk of action. Third, we are recognizing and celebrating those who take reasonable risks and try something new, even if it fails. Finally, people know how their leaders spend their time and they will replicate that approach; if our leaders are not carving out time and openly demonstrating a commitment to innovation, the teams too will fail to follow. (As told to Durgesh Prakash)