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Rapid changes bring long-view challenges

09282015-rapid-changeIt is amazing how long we resist change. But then comes a tipping point and we quickly embrace the change as the old ways fade into the past. Change isn’t just driven by technology. More often it’s driven from our need for basic growth.

When supporting the development of processes and procedures for organizations experiencing client-driven change, I often rely on change management training I received at Mississippi Power Company.

The change management process was designed to help develop stakeholders and students of the business as well as to improve overall efficiency. But an important side benefit was to create a culture that supported emerging processes and procedures. These changes provided the opportunity to experienced professionals to help mentor new employees by incorporating new technologies while continuing to support legacy systems.

There are times when individuals find resistance to change attractive, especially when you need to continue to support systems that have been in service for decades. But when we have purposeful discussions and are challenged to think differently about the drivers for change working together, we generally find ways to tear down the walls of resistance during the transition process.

Scalable change
Why is process important when looking at change that is scalable? In the critical infrastructure industry, and especially with electric utilities, we find systems of systems that support the power grid working together, with useable lives ranging from 18 months to 20-plus years. If we use a forklift approach to changing out these systems, it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And if that change is mismanaged, a ripple effect could result in a rapid escalation to replace connected systems as well. So developing a scalable upgrade and system replacement process is critical for any system designed to integrate into the power grid.

These processes and changes can have a huge impact within a department or company, but can also challenge the entire industry. But over time, seemingly very small changes can be easily implemented almost unnoticeably, but can easily scale up as we find new ways to work with other organizational areas to make bigger changes.

In the early days of using optical ground wire, I remember the question always being asked during upgrades or new transmission lines development was, “Does this route need fiber connectivity?” Now the question commonly asked during the design process is, “Why aren’t we putting fiber on this route?”

professional senior technician and electrical engineer writing on clipboard in substation

Power grid as a system of systems
Looking at the system of systems that comprise the power grid, we see it truly is an engineering work of art. Consider the transformation required to transport and deliver power from a power generation plant over a long haul transmission power line system into a distribution network that feeds into our homes and businesses. Now consider the number of standards, processes and procedures developed to support that system of systems and the training required for employees.

This is true for the applications used to manage grid operations as well as systems used to monitor the consumption of electricity and the billing systems. While by design these are distinctly separate systems, the data each system generates is dependent on all of the other systems.

Now consider the culture of the employee workforce that supports all  these systems and the overall system of systems. While you have systems that are independent of each other, what happens if the employee culture isn’t developed to support department interaction? How long before unresolved issues begin to degrade system effectiveness?

Don’t let yourself fall behind
In today’s marketplace, change seems like an out-of-control freight train roaring by, but when we work together, we can manage legacy systems requirements while incorporating the long view to meet future customer-driven requirements.

But success will be realized only if we update scalable processes and procedures. This means finding ways to overcome and address the challenges presented, otherwise the opportunity for change can be missed. You can bet if change is needed and your organization doesn’t rise to the challenge, your competitors will.

About the author

Dan is our account executive in the Critical Infrastructure market and has more than 35 years of providing customer-driven technology and energy solutions to critical infrastructure operators in the United States and Canada. He focuses on critical intelligent infrastructure, from smart grids to communications connections, and how they are used as consumers become energy portfolio managers.