By Eric Stern, Director-ATCOE, Ulteig
As a strategic partner, Ulteig is here to help our clients push the boundaries of their thinking – to see beyond today, but into the future impact of their decisions.
To fuel this bolder approach thinking, solution development and decision-making, Ulteig formed the Advanced Technology Center of Excellence (ATCOE). When Ulteig formed this special unit within our firm, we envisioned a collaborative innovation hub of sorts, in which our people would identify new ideas, incubate emerging technologies, and bring impactful, viable and forward-looking solutions and services to our clients.
The fact is, when you look at each of the sectors that our firm serves – transportation, water and wastewater treatment, renewable energy and power – the amount of change that is happening now and will happen in the future, is astounding. EVs, virtual power plants, hyperloops, remote sensing technology, automation, long-duration battery storage – we’re not talking science fiction – these are real changes that have the potential to disrupt and re-shape America’s critical infrastructure for decades to come.
I joined Ulteig in November 2019 as the first director of ATCOE with really an open play book. I was given this guidance: We’re always looking to do better, right? We’re problem solvers. So, how do we currently do what we do – but do it faster with higher quality to better meet the needs of clients.
As a number of our clients have set bold goals for themselves, such as delivering carbon-free energy by 2050, we realized that we needed to set the bar higher for ourselves. As anyone who has ever made a New Year’s resolution knows, it’s one thing to write down a goal on a piece of paper, it’s another to have the will to meet those goals.
As professional engineers, when we are tasked with designing and engineering transmission lines, highways, water treatment plants, and power infrastructure, we must think 5, 10 or 20 years ahead. We need to anticipate 100-year floods or build a bridge with a life of 50 or 100 years. So thinking into the future is already built into our DNA as engineers.
But there’s a difference. When we adopt a futures mindset, we allow ourselves to be open to possibilities we never would have imagined. For example, did anyone foresee the impact of a Facebook on worldwide culture, or how Amazon transformed online retail, or how Uber and Lyft disrupted transportation? With a futures mindset, we want to anticipate those kinds of changes for power, transportation, renewables and water – now – and 20 or 30 years from now.
By creating the ATCOE, we want to help our clients not just anticipate future changes but integrate the tools and technologies needed to act accordingly. Frankly, they might not even know exactly what they need in the future. But when they ask, we understand them and the marketplace so well, we have a sense of what they may need. We can provide them solutions that will help them take advantage of opportunities, and to avoid risks.
To help our clients see into the future, we must start within the Ulteig culture itself – encouraging everyone at Ulteig, at all levels, to be responsible for innovation. Great ideas can come from anywhere; they’re not limited to our most senior people. In other words, everyone at Ulteig needs to embrace a futures mindset. And it’s our job, through ATCOE, to identify the knowledge, the insight, the technology and the tools to help facilitate this shift in thinking.
The bottom line is that for our clients and us to succeed, we need to not just understand change, we must proactively embrace it, and take the initiative to drive for the futures our clients desire.
Want to Learn More? If you’d like to learn more about Eric Stern and Ulteig’s approach to innovation, we invite you to listen to the recent Ulteig Energy and Infrastructure Podcast, “COVID-19, This Strange Year Called 2020, and Where Innovation is Heading.”
Eric Stern is Director of Ulteig’s Advanced Technology Center of Excellence (ATCOE), which is responsible for leading and establishing new company capabilities and client service offerings driven by emerging technology solutions across Ulteig’s four Lifeline Sectors, (Power, Renewables, Transportation & Water). The ATCOE is an internal competency hub within Ulteig designed to lead the identification, discovery and engagement with external technology partners operating within the industry. From start-ups to large corporations — the ATCOE assesses technology fit and potential applications from more than 50 emerging technology areas impacting utility and government sectors over the next 5 to 15 years.