IdeaScale Nation

Western Power: Solutions Are Great, but We Need Principles to Keep People Safe

May 20, 2020 IdeaScale Season 2 Episode 2
IdeaScale Nation
Western Power: Solutions Are Great, but We Need Principles to Keep People Safe
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IdeaScale Nation
Western Power: Solutions Are Great, but We Need Principles to Keep People Safe
May 20, 2020 Season 2 Episode 2
IdeaScale

Western Power is a Western Australian State Government owned corporation. Their vision is "to deliver on the changing energy needs of Western Australians, powered by community trust and the passion of our people." As an electric utility company, they are not expected to innovate much as they have not much demand to do so. However, Brendon McAtee discusses the complex innovation processes that Western Power has to improve efficiency and save time and money.

Show Notes Transcript

Western Power is a Western Australian State Government owned corporation. Their vision is "to deliver on the changing energy needs of Western Australians, powered by community trust and the passion of our people." As an electric utility company, they are not expected to innovate much as they have not much demand to do so. However, Brendon McAtee discusses the complex innovation processes that Western Power has to improve efficiency and save time and money.

Brendon McAtee:

That's part of the journey. We would have thought initially that doing those prototypes to solve the problems cause there were some good ones there . The execs and sponsors really liked it, but their reflection from the business was the solutions are great, but we need the principles to keep people safe.

Jessica Day:

welcome to our IdeaScale nation podcast where we are talking to change makers, innovation program leaders and intrapreneurs and more and this week we're talking to someone at the forefront of technology innovation. Brendon Nicatee who works at Western Power. For those of you who don't know, Western power builds, maintains and operates the electricity network within the Southwest interconnected system in Australia, which means they're serving about 8 million customers and some of those customers are in the most remote regions of the world. They've actually been recognized by Deloitte as a leader in the electricity network business and they've pioneered away from their roots as just a traditional energy company and they've become really successful at delivering standalone energy systems, power banks and other things. It's all very forward thinking. And some of that thinking is directed collaboratively by their 5,000 employees. And that information is organized and coordinated by the innovation group, which Brendon leads. So let's get started by learning more about them. Brendon, tell me, how long has the innovation program at Western power been around and how did it get started?

Brendon McAtee:

Thanks a lot Jessica. Happy to do it. And a good to be part of the podcast. I'm certain our Innovation program has been about just over two years. Um, started uh , with um, some thoughts around what we call our space, the hive. Uh, it's , it's essentially an innovation facility where we walk people through an innovation process , um, design thinking based cause we need to be a very customer-centric organization and that's an interesting challenge for a big organization. So we help the business through that kind of transition. We've got an innovation process. We run um , characterized by three phases, which we call create, incubate, activate. Create is very much about defining the problem clearly, generating all the solutions that kind of blue sky, unconstrained thinking and then saying working out to Virgin the diamond . If you like it from that design thinking, kind of speak to state , these are the ones we need to test incubators about rapidly testing ideas. So the idea of prototyping, fail fast and learn from it to produce an MVP, minimum viable product , uh , get that feedback from the business, refine if necessary, and then we'd move into activate. We may write to roll that out into the business. So that's our way that in our, where we sit within our function of change and innovation, the way helping to really help the business innovate consistently and efficiently.

Jessica Day:

And it's not just you who's gathering those ideas or implementing those ideas. How are you getting your workforce to engage and suggest new ideas?

Brendon McAtee:

Yeah, so there's a , there's a few ways. So , um, like he said, Jessica, where we're a small team, we've got, we've got four folks , um, so myself I'm the team leader, we're all in the hive, we have two dedicated innovation facilitators who help people through the process and the coordinator who does our admin and make sure we're all doing the right things. It keeps us on track. And then we work outwardly in the business through number of different channels. Um, but what we've really found useful over the last kind of year or so is , is working with IdeaScale. And so that's kind of almost like our digital digital environment that compliments what we do in hive. And that's , uh , that's one way we've really started to reach out to different parts of the business.

Jessica Day:

So you're, engaging your workforce, but tell me what sort of initiatives are you driving and can you give me some specific examples maybe?

Brendon McAtee:

Yeah . So one of the things that we've been really good at over the last year is doing a lot of different things , um, and working a lot of different ways and really working with a spectrum of different customers throughout the business and helping them with their different needs because they're very, you know, they're very, varied, we, we sit here in the head office of Western power and that's, that's in Perth and kind of , uh , of about , um, yeah , two and a half thousand [inaudible] say half of those are in, in the Perth office and the rest , uh , distributed around depots around Western Australia and differently in different spaces with folks. One of the things that we're still working on at the moment, which has been one of our really big kind of projects that we've been working on is around something that we call use of mobile device in vehicles. So if I'll give a quick, quick overview of that is really , um , because our, our operational workforce is the, is really the fun phrase, front facing piece of Western power. So the, they're the guys that are out fixing up the power lines in the middle of the storm when the power has gone out and those kinds of things. Um, so they have do a lot of emergency response saying respond to faults and they do the general kind of fixing and planned upgrades on the network. What they have in their vehicles to do that at the moment is , is a amount for a mobile device, like an iPad kind of on steroids called Toughbooks. And so the challenge is really this , there's three challenges around that. One is a safety challenge. Is that the safest way they could have that use their mobile devices, having them accessible to do work. There's a challenge for property in fleet as well, which is around the cost of both putting these mounts in, but also when the fleet gets to its end , the life and they, they move those on. There's a, there's a cost there because they've installed these kinds of things. So the resale value is smaller. So there's a safety and cost to the , of actually managing the fleet. And also, you know , the, the efficiency and, and a safe work of the operational workforce as well. So what we've been on in there is to say, what does the future of these kinds of things, how do we find a better solution going forward that optimizes those three concerns?

Jessica Day:

Interesting. So is this one of those initiatives that was driven by those two and a half thousand people that are in more remote locations or, or did you have them in mind when you were addressing this problem?

Brendon McAtee:

Yeah, yeah. So I mean, a big part of our, the way we work in , you know, as a large part, these kinds of things definitely start off with customer empathy. And so we've done a lot , we did a lot of that kind of a work across, across the business. So I'm talking to the guys in the field doing ride alongs with the guys in the field to actually understand how they work and observe, you know, what they're trying to do. Um, you know, the different, the different parts of the business internally as well. So the customer empathy to understand, okay, what's, what are the solutions look like? And then using that to inform what we call our creative session . So bringing then that, that cross cross sections of the business all together to understand, okay, this is what people are telling us, the problems, what do we think the solutions are and how do we move forward? And a really good bit was then we had an incubator phase, we actually did a prototyping session . So we went to one of the demos , bought the 30 or 40 of the staff together from different parts of the business and actually spent the day building what these new prototypes might look like, you know, for the new way to use mobile devices in the business or in vehicles. And that was, that was a really good day that that got a lot of a lot of people working together that hadn't worked before. Really good prototypes out of it as well. So that, that was an incubate phase. Um, and the interesting part that's kind of come out of that is not necessarily, you know , there are five different designs but not necessarily taking one of those designs to build. But then getting the business sat down and reflected to say, okay, what is w well , how are we working ? What do we need to be doing? And that next phase of work that we've just been working on has been around, okay so the business now needs, we realize a new set of guiding principles of how we should be safely working in vehicles. And those guiding principles will inform what our technology looks like and how we use it. So we're just coming to the , uh, submitting on probably Friday. I liked that, that piece of work to our, to our sponsors and our customers to say these, we think these are, these are the new principles we should be using in Western power to guide, you know, safe work and the development of technology in the future.

Jessica Day:

So it's not just about creating the new technology solution, but it's also about presenting what the new requirements will be and like how you work as well.

Brendon McAtee:

That's part of the journey . We would have thought initially that doing those prototypes would solve the problems cause there was some good ones there . The exec sponsors really liked it but their reflection from the business was that solutions are great but we need the principles to keep people safe. You know? So that's, that's where we've been working. Yeah.

Jessica Day:

I've also heard some rumors from some of my colleagues that you found some new opportunities for automation at work. Can you talk about those?

Brendon McAtee:

Yeah, absolutely. That's, that's another piece that's worked really well so that that that mobile device in vehicles piece with example of you know , working with the operational workforce and really you know that really involved customer empathy leading into design principles and then you know very much a design thinking flavored piece of work. The other one really good piece of work that's been really beneficial for the businesses . Working closely with one of the ICT teams that we have here and shout out to my calling prevailing matching who works, runs that, that little group around what we're calling tiger teams. So there are there cross skilled small team that'll solve ICT problems. Um, and so we sat down with them and that what they are really interested in is really exploring how um, so robotic process automation, RPA could start to find some value in the business. So they've been doing some work with uh , uh, with their automation vendor previously and we wanted to get a bit more, they are really interested in getting even more profile for that for the business. So we set up an IdeaScale a campaign, which he called the bottle farm . Uh , and the bottle farm was really about saying we're working with one particular part of the business. We work with finance regulation and ICT part of the business. So creating a campaign which could go out and say, you know, talk a little bit about the , uh , opportunities in the automation and get those folks in those parts of the business to then put their ideas out and say, well, we think this would be a good candidate in know place of work for the automation process. Um, so that campaign we built bot-a - thon , um, it was a really, what was really good about it is it was a real good coming together of , um, the use of the IdeaScale platform, but also tying it into a clear , um , pathway for those ideas to get delivered. So the real stinks when I stand back and look at it is that we work really well with Praveen and my colleague Lucy Smiles, who was MC on the bottom one day. I'll talk a little bit more about in a second, but did fantastic work and saying, this is, this is the way we should be working. So this is the bot-a-thon. This is what we're going to do. Um , be treated like this. We'll select five to actually run in a, in a hackathon style event that we call the bot-a-thon over a couple of days. So we did work really well with prevailing this team around setting up the coms , getting it out there nicely . A couple of info sessions to let people know for the water was about collecting about 40 ideas over a couple of weeks and then pervade . These guys did a thorough assessment of I'm choosing five that would fit the criteria to be good, good things to work on over a couple of days in a , in a hackathon style event. And then we ran that event on those five and fantastic everybody, great event, everybody really loved it. Great thing about it was, you know , out of that event itself there's probably about 3000 hours of, of savings person hours of savings. It can be automated out of that. And that's just from that one event . So that, so that's really good. And I think out of that event, looking at those five, you know, those five kind of ideas that we worked with about 3000 hours of savings out of there. And we've done some more since then and people continue to put in ideas and it's up to about probably about 15,000 hours of, you know , of people savings on those kinds of things. Like rather than having a person sit there, open a spreadsheet, copy a column map , put it into another spreadsheet, you know, process that just those kind of menial tasks that we asserted it to this automation kind of process. So that was, that's a really big impact of the business and we couldn't have done it without using IC idea scale to work out and to reach out to the business. And then that combination of working with a great team like prevents set up , we can deliver that kind of value as well. So that's been a bigger ,

Jessica Day:

what a really interesting job you guys have because it's, you know, it's really more than what you said at the beginning. It's, it's about identifying these cross functional relationships. It's looking for potential partners outside of your organization. And then of course also tracking that data to show how much time you guys saved when you implemented a great idea. But I was thinking about other challenges though, where the connection may be between the time saved or the value created isn't as obvious. Are there times when leadership needs convincing and how do you make that case to them?

Brendon McAtee:

It's a , it's an interesting one cause I think , um, the real big challenge in , in an organization like, like Western power , um, so you know, Western powers is in that space. So it's, you know, it's, it's half government, half private. Um, so it has one shareholder, that shareholder is the government. This is the kind of space to be sitting. But I think definitely in a, in a, in a public space, the challenges around , um , how do we use, as, you know, that is funds those resources that we have. Um, and then what that means is that balance between a carrier might spend, yeah, I spend, say I spend $10,000 on , um , investigating these new ways of doing things. So it might be automation, it might be other things. And the possibility that we've, we spend that money, we do that time and say, Oh, this isn't going to work for us. And then there's always the case for we should have spent that $10,000 on, you know, getting someone else in to do work that we know how to do, we know that need done. So that's, that's kind of the, that's kind of the challenge. Um , and the way that we've really looked at it, I guess from, you know, from the perspective of our innovation program and Western power , so around the hive is really to demonstrate its value and get those customers on board. So, you know, you've got something scaleable then you can scale it, you know. So we've been working that space probably over the last year to really demonstrate our value and get those customers on board, which we wish we'd done that and we went to that next kind of phase of , of kind of scaling things and making it better. Uh, and the way that we get folks on board in that is , is really around, you know, so go back to our simple kind of innovation process or creating incubator activity because the first step is , is really about helping those parts of the business to put that first foot on the path, right? It's particularly for working in those spaces which are complex and chaotic. Toner systems can't miss spies the system , the solutions don't present themselves until you put that foot on the path. Right? So we make it as easy as possible to put that first take that first step towards solving. And that's easy in terms of having some comfort around, okay, it won't cost as much time and resources to find out if this is going to work or not. And also then the demonstration of the , you know, the number of bits of value that we attract record says, well, we've done a lot of good things starting from this point. So encouraging them to take those kinds of first steps. I think that's been the, that's the real challenge. And the more that we do that, the more we build that track record, the easier it becomes.

Jessica Day:

That's a really good point. This isn't like you're just suggesting that maybe you can do something. You've already been able to prove that you've saved time or done something new and you've been very thoughtful in that initial part of the discovery process and so that allows you to move through the process with intention. But really I think your ability to deliver and implement that breeds trust, that allows you to move forward. So what do you think some of your most successful projects that have come out of your program so far have been?

Brendon McAtee:

Well, I , I think , um , like the bot-a-thon one that we just talked about and it's predecessor was another one was called target teams, which was a , a smaller scale version of that. Um, you know, helping identifying those ICT challenges that you can solve in six weeks with a dedicated team. So these guys were in that kind of space as well. So I think that's a really good one. Um, and that, that model that we've just been talking about, I think has been quite successful in that you run a small short campaign to a dedicated group of users and that the outcome from that campaign is choosing a number of ideas to go into a , to a hackathon style event, then getting people together to build out prototypes of those kinds of ideas over, you know, over a couple of days and then present those to , uh , to a panel to get the funding to make them better. Um, so I think that's, that's a , you know , that's been a really powerful way of working for us. We've done it with the bot-a-thon target teams work their data science guys around, you know, if we have a great big, as we talked about that great big network of, of poles and wires and we have around the state, if we were to put new sensors on each of those, each of those power poles, what could we do with those kinds of, what else could we do with the data that comes from those kinds of sensors? So we had a hackathon essentially campaign that , a hackathon around that. And there's a couple of really good things that have come out around, you know, high resolution weather data and things like that, which will inform, you know , operations like at airports and shipping ports and those kinds of things. So there's, there's, they're really good things. Um, and then earlier on in the piece , you know, one of our really powerful pieces was around , um, thinking about electric vehicles. And so for an organization like Western power that manages that electricity grid, you know, the, the rise in increasing uptake of electric vehicles has a lot of presents, a little challenges, you know, to, to managing the electricity grid. So we had a couple of very big create sessions we call them, where we got the business thinking about what the opportunities might be for Western power. And then , um , brought in uh outside kind of people from universities and stuff to talk about that kind of loss of cycle. And then kind of going, okay, where do we think our challenges are ? I'm working with the [inaudible] guys to say, well let's, let's work a few of these through. And the idea for example of um, putting charges , you know , Western power has a business, could have a business putting charging stations into houses, right? So the charge would be , cause when they get there working that through say, okay, is this actually a business opportunity? And rather than thinking about it over a number of months running a sprint style piece of work that gets some cost good folks from across the business. So finance folks, operational folks, data folks and all coming together and then you know, in that sprint style and about a day and a half working through the idea to go, okay , it's probably not the right scale for Western power to invest in. So those kinds of things as well. Really working, as you mentioned before, that those kind of bringing together those cross cultural cross functional teams to kind of work on these kinds of problems. That's really what the collaboration aspect of the hive and the way we need to work in Western power is all about .

Jessica Day:

I love that. I love that you see that emerging trend and you see the opportunity and then you take that opportunity to engage the experts who then lay some groundwork for you so that you can kind of understand what it means. Like does it mean that you have to change the way you do business or is this new line of business and that way you've already established a team both inside and outside of your organization who can help you answer those questions and considering that future. I'm just wondering, because I care a lot about this question personally as well as for the future of your company, what you think the future of the grid looks like?

Brendon McAtee:

Uh , I think that's a really hard one to answer. What does it really look like? I think it's, I mean obviously it's a lot different than it is now. You know, and I think there are challenges in Western power. We've got so much investment in infrastructure, which has poles and wires, but as we move to battery technology and as we moved to , um , you know , greater renewable energy, Connor production, the idea of microgrids, you know, tied up to community batteries and those kinds of things that make us much more decentralized. Um, and I think that's , that's kind of what's emerging. Um, what does that mean for the way Western power works? Well you can see there's lots of challenges in there. If our role is to manage infrastructure and that infrastructure changes, there's the change in infrastructure, but then decommissioning old infrastructure was a challenge. Um, but I think what the really impressive part about Western power, or one of the really impressive parts is that we have a function called grid transformation. And that's what they're looking at is what's the future of the grid? And they've built their own engine that they call a grid transformation engine for actually generating those multiple scenarios. You know, fades in demographics, power usage projections and all sorts of things like including uptake of electric vehicles to say, what do we think the power usage in the grid is going to look like? And so an actual modeling to do that. And so the way they worked with moments generate about 30 different scenarios of what's possible. Uh , and then extract from that. Okay , what's common to all those 30 , those 30 scenarios so we can go, this is what we needed to invest in today. You know, so , uh , they essentially, these definitely de-centralized concrete moves around to less poles and wires, more more solar panels, other sources of renewable energy, microgrids tied up to community batteries. That's probably where it's at. And then it'll actually be vehicles in the mix somewhere. So I don't know exactly what is that . It's going to be complicated, but we've got a good, we've got a good bunch of folks working on it for sure.

Jessica Day:

It's amazing to me that you have a system that allows you to basically have a crystal ball where you can look at all the future and all these different scenarios and invest where it makes the most sense.

Brendon McAtee:

Yeah. I mean that's it. And they looked around for that and couldn't find that. So they built the technology themselves to do it. So it's a, it's a really, it's a really powerful, you know , modeling piece of software.

Jessica Day:

You know, one of the questions that we ask all of our guests is, what do you think the word innovation means? Do you relate to it? Is it important to your job? How do you think of it?

Brendon McAtee:

Uh , yeah, it's, it's, it's fundamental for me. I think around innovation is something that if my little short definition are for users , it's, it's intentional generation to implementation of ideas that create value. You know, so it's, it's really, you know , creating intentionally creating those kind of ideas and then implementing to get value out of them is kind of where it's at. Um, I to , uh , I believe strongly in the , uh , you know, the wisdom of the crowd. And those ideas of, you know , really harnessing the way I look at it is, is kind of like the right brain processes to get left-brain value. You know, and I that that creative part innovation is really powerful for me. I think without that creative part , um, you know, we don't being so much innovative as moving into the continuous person space and that's fine. We've got to, we've got to continually improve as well. But for me the innovation has that creative element to it as well. And uh , that's, that's embodied by what we do in the hive throughout, in a three hour process. And uh, yeah, that , that for me, that's bringing that creativity into it, harnessing the wisdom of the crowd, using those, you know , facilitating those kinds of collaborations to get those ideas of what shared value are and then working on those to implement them, you know, but the intentional generation of those ideas and creating that value is, is really where it sits. I reckon.

Jessica Day:

You know, you're making me think that about how I've been reading a lot of books lately, which is about how there's this relationship between the left and the right brain. Sometimes it might seem like only one side is working on the problem or being creative and the other isn't. And that's how you get the aha moment. But that it's actually a partnership between the two that makes creativity possible.

Brendon McAtee:

Yeah, absolutely. And that, and my favorite description of actually of innovation, when I think about it, there's that , there's a Ted talk I think it's by um, I think it's Linda Hill about managing creativity and it's in that soup mentions like this is my favorite description of innovation is that scientific method, moods, artistic processes. And that's, that's the spice of way working in the hive. We bring, you know , I couldn't, couldn't summarize it better than that, you know, scientific method, leads artistic process.

Jessica Day:

Well I think you guys are doing great work in the hive and the energy sector is so interesting because it's transforming a lot and has major implications for our future. So I think it's really exciting and it's changing really quickly, of course, in large degree because of the technology, but also because of the people who are working on it like you. So thank you for coming to our podcast today and telling us what you were working on.

Brendon McAtee:

No problem. Thanks a lot , Jessica. Happy to do it. And uh, thanks very much. We'll keep doing good things together.