I Think Opinions

How to successfully steer the implementation of complex programs?

By Marco C. Janssen, UTInnovation, the Netherlands

Although navigating the seas of transformation will be challenging and rough at times, I believe that the program can be implemented successfully.

With the digital transformation becoming a reality for most if not all utilities, one of the key questions the industry has to answer is, how do I steer the implementation of my program successfully? Many of you will respond, “well that depends” and of course as almost everything in life… it does. This is why answering this question is not so easy.

The first factor that drives the complexity is the definition of what digital transformation is for a particular utility. In other words, what are we transforming and how far is this transformation going to take us? For example, it is one thing to move systems to a cloud without changing the fundamental business processes, yet another dimension when artificial intelligence will be deployed, which will take over key tasks from specific groups within the organization.

Associated with the deployment of specific digital technologies is the question, which skill sets are required to implement, operate and maintain the environment being created? To answer this question, several challenges need to be overcome. This includes defining the kind of staff, the number of staff, the business processes and the correct operating model. In more depth, will there be a need for the availability of specific roles and skills or is the existing skill set of the people sufficient for the tasks that will be required and if there are gaps, can these be closed by existing staff, can we train existing staff, or do we need to recruit people?

In many cases the digital transformation is driven by a strategy that defines the objectives, the targets, the expected costs and the envisioned benefits. These strategies are typically split into people, processes and technology sections which, often at a holistic level, define the organizational model, the business processes and the technical approach. This typically is presented in a nice presentation that shows abstract technology architectures, business architectures, process maps, organization charts and lists of uses cases with costs and benefits. Now, despite the fact that I believe that it is fundamental for a company to have a vision and a strategy that sets the direction, the objectives, the targets and defines budgets and key initiatives, translating a strategy that can have a major impact on the company’s performance into reality is not a small task.

Although the choices for technologies to fulfill the selected use cases can be challenging, the transformation of the organization in order to effectively implement, operate and maintain the digitally transformed utility is probably the biggest challenge at hand. For example, how to define the number of people required and how they are to be organized, when the actual technologies have not been chosen yet, or how to modify the organization as a digital transformation strategy is being implemented? This requires informed decisions from the leadership in an uncertain environment, which is a paradigm shift from the traditional way of taking decisions based on historical data in combination with future outlooks. Because what do we do if there is no historical data to rely on?

In an uncertain environment, historical data cannot really be used to extrapolate and forecast the future and thus decisions based on the past are bound to be wrong. This includes the anchoring of the destination as well the path to get there. So how do we make decisions for the future of a utility? The answer in my opinion is to create a belief system to make predictions, and then decide and act in accordance with that.

A belief system in this context is a collection of rules, hypothesis, even a theory that can be used to explain reality that in turn is used to make predictions. A good belief system is based on knowledge that comes from a combination of awareness data and a set of feedback loops that reinforce insights into conviction. Thus, it provides the basis for the creation of waypoints that allow to test hypothesis and verify the outcomes of the individual steps in the digital transformation implementation. It allows us to adjust and to steer based on the obtained results, very much like the ancient mariner navigating through the seas, charting and changing its course to adapt to the conditions of the sea.

So, although navigating the seas of transformation will be challenging and rough at times, I think that by using this approach the program can be implemented successfully without sinking the ship.

Happy sailing!


Marco C. Janssen is the CEO of UTInnovation LLC and the former Director of the Smart Grid PMO at the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority. He received his BSc degree in Electrical Engineering from the Polytechnic in Arnhem, Netherlands and has worked for over 27 years in the field of Smart Grid, Protection, Control, Monitoring, Advanced Metering Infrastructures, Distribution and Substation Automation. He was a member of IEC TC57 WG 10, 17, 18, 19, the IEEE PES PSRC and CIGRE B5 and D2 WGs. He was the convenor of D2.35 and editor of the Quality Assurance Program for the Testing Subcommittee of the UCA International Users Group. He holds one patent, has authored more than 58 papers, is co-author of four Cigre Technical Brochures and two books on Smart Grids and Electrical Power Substations Engineering and is the author of the “I Think” column in the PAC World magazine.