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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. Each two weeks we’ll connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network...

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Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast Episode #33: 'Innovating in the Utility Sector' With Jody Allison of Algonquin Power

Posted to Energy Central in the Utility Management Group

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-04 - Innovation in the Power Industry, click here for more

Continuing on Energy Central’s focus on innovation for this whole month, this week’s episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast recognizes the external factors that are bringing innovation to the forefront. From the three D’s of decarbonization, decentralization, and digitalization to the unexpected pivots that utilities across the country had to embrace in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the current climate is making innovation a priority that pervades how we look at energy.

No one recognizes that evolution better than Jody Allison, the Vice President for Transformation at Algonquin Power and Utilities, as she spends he days bringing forth new idea, creative opportunities, and customer empowerment to those in her company and its service area every day. Jody was eager to share with host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester what this innovation looks like from inside the utility board room and how they’re moving well beyond buzzwords but truly embracing necessary change today and tomorrow.

Prefer to Read vs. Listening? Scroll Down to Read Transcript.

Thanks to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsriAnterix, and ScottMadden

 

Key Links

Jody Allison’s Energy Central Profile:  https://energycentral.com/member/profile/jody-allison

Innovation by Jody Allison: https://energycentral.com/c/um/innovation

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price: 

Hello to all our listeners of Energy Central's Power Perspectives Podcast, the show where we discuss everything utility-related with thought leaders who are shaping the energy sector and creating the utility of the future. This month at Energy Central, the theme is innovation and the leaders who are pushing forth the evolution of our electric utilities, as we will discuss innovation drives transformation, and today's guest is leading the role of transforming her utility.

Jason Price: 

We are excited to dig into this topic as COVID, climate change, electrification, and the entire energy business model is being turned upside down. But before we bring today's guests into the studio, I want to introduce my copilot and producer of Power Perspectives Podcast, Matt Chester. And I'm Jason Price of West Monroe serving as your podcast host and Energy Central Community Ambassador coming to you from New York City. Matt, are you ready to be transformed?

Matt Chester: 

Man, that's quite the question, Jason, but I have to respond that yes, I'm ready to see where innovation can and should be taking this great industry.

Jason Price: 

Agreed. Matt, it's no secret that the energy industry is finally moving at a lightning-fast pace. There is innovation happening in every facet of the sector, from generation technology, all the way down to how utilities are interacting with customers. Amongst the many consequences, good and bad, of the pandemic, a key one is that it has pushed people out of their comfort zone. It's never been more evident that we all must innovate and constantly adapt to new ways of operation to even stay afloat.

Jason Price: 

The three Ds, decarbonization, decentralization, and digitalization, are the recurring concepts that pop up in conversations throughout the utility sector. Moreover, with the United States finally recognizing its responsibility towards contributing to the global climate change mitigation efforts, sustainable energy sources and technologies to enable efficient use of energy systems are leading the innovation bandwagon. We're going to dig into how this current climate is driving a pervading enthusiasm for innovation that is transforming how we look at energy today.

Jason Price: 

And to help us understand what goes on inside the C-suite of utility is our esteemed guest Jody Allison, Vice President of Transformation of Algonquin Power and Utilities. However, before we go on to introduce our esteemed guest and deep dive into our discussion, I'd like to first thank our sponsors who make this show possible and let us bring insightful discussions from the best minds in the industry to our listeners. To West Monroe, West Monroe works with the nation's largest investor-owned utilities in their telecommunication, grid modernization, and digital and workforce transformations.

Jason Price: 

West Monroe utilizes a multidisciplinary team that blends utility, operations, and technology expertise covering topics like aging infrastructure, electric vehicles, AMI, MDM, and ADMS deployments, and industry disruptors like DERs and cybersecurity. To Esri, an international supplier of geographic information, GIS software, web GIS, and geodatabase management applications. To Guidehouse, formerly Navigant Research, a premier market research and advisory firm covering the global energy transformation.

Jason Price: 

To Anterix, Anterix focuses on delivering transformative broadband that enables the modernization of critical infrastructure for the energy, transportation, logistics, and other sectors of our economy. And to ScottMadden, a management consulting firm serving clients across the energy utility ecosystem. Areas of focus include transmission and distribution, the grid edge, generation, energy markets, rates and regulations, corporate sustainability, and corporate services.

Jason Price: 

ScottMadden helps clients develop and implement strategies, improve critical operations, reorganize departments and entire companies, and implement myriad initiatives. Now, onto our guest. Jody Allison is the vice president of transformation at the Canada-based renewable energy and regulated utility conglomerate Algonquin Power and Utilities. Jody is a graduate of their prestigious Rochester Institute of Technology and began her career in operations at Eastman Kodak and climbed the ranks at various corporations, landing her first job in utilities at National Grid, and now at Algonquin since 2019.

Jason Price: 

Interesting to note, Jody's three decades of expertise is not in the areas of moving electrons, but in operations, credit, and risk management and as a certified fraud examiner and certified credit executive. We'll find out from Jody if she sees herself as an unconventional hire for utility or consistent and how it transforms to the 21st century. I have a feeling that wherever Jody has landed, she's brought the spirit of innovation, the recognition of how important flexibility and adaptability are, and has helped drive those organizations prepare and compete into the future.

Jason Price: 

As part of Energy Central, Jody recently shared her take on innovation and utilities, posting for our community, numerous highly relevant and important questions that the thought leaders of the industry must address. She's definitely got a lot of ideas to share and we want to leave as much time as possible. So let's get started. Jody Allison, welcome to today's episode of Energy Central's Power Perspectives Podcast.

Jody Allison: 

Thank you so much, Jason. I'm very excited to be a part of the great industry that's canvassing so much change and really appreciate the opportunity to have the conversation today.

Jason Price:

Absolutely. We're thrilled to have you. Let's start with the most critical question, are you an unconventional hire.

Jody Allison:

Yes. I think I was an unconventional hire. As you can see in my background, I really have worked in a variety of different industries, in a variety of different roles. And I think when the opportunity arose in the utility industry, someone really thought about bringing different skillsets and from different capacities and bringing them into the utility and leveraging those as we're trying to drive so much change in the industry. I'm very thankful to the person that gave me that opportunity at National Grid. It's been an exciting journey.

Jody Allison:

As you mentioned earlier, I have a great passion for change and really looking for opportunities to take all of the different experiences that I've had and use those to help drive change. I think what you're going to see in the industry is you're going to see a lot more of that is people that are leveraging different experiences and helping bring those into the different utility businesses and the energy sector. And really that pairing of that great foundation that's in the industry with some of that different perspective I think is going to help us continue to drive change forward at such a great rate.

Jason Price:

Fantastic. I mentioned your title is VP of transformation. What does this mean? The title seems a bit esoteric. What do you do all day? How do you stay busy?

Jody Allison:

Well, there's plenty to do, that's for sure. That title really means different things in different businesses and different industries. It can mean business model changes, changes to revenue models, digitization, service models. It's really about, what is the company trying to transform? A lot of times that role can mean very, very different things. At Algonquin, I have the great responsibility of transforming our business and moving to a more customer-centric organization. And really what excites me about that is really it's about people.

Jody Allison:

It's about the customers and really the employees and starting with people and making sure that we're transforming the organization in a way to deliver on our customer's expectation. It's a lot of work. It's reviewing our operating model and how that aligns to our strategy, and it's really focused on process, in our processes, and how we go about doing the things that we are going to do to deliver on that strategy. And then last but not least is the technology. We don't lead from a place of technology.

Jody Allison:

But when I talk about transformation at Algonquin, I'm really talking about the business side and how we prepare the business and we drive the changes in the business to transform to the expectations of our customers and really have a customer-centric organization. On any given day, you'll find me running between project meetings and customer opportunities and understanding what some of the employees are going through as they look at some different opportunities, whether it's training on a new environment or different challenges.

Jody Allison:

I think most importantly, I spend a lot of time with the other executives in the business and understanding how all of this connects to the strategy and the business and where we're heading, and making sure that all of our roadmaps are aligned and that all of the infrastructure is set up to help support our teams and deliver on all of this. I don't think there is a dull moment in the day where there isn't a conversation that we have with someone to help drive a lot of this forward.

Jason Price:

That was fantastic, Jody. And of course, I was tongue in cheek. Being VP of transformation in an industry that is transforming, I am fully confident your day is full. Just to illustrate, thank you for even making time for us to talk today. That's a phenomenal description of all that's on your plate. How does this all translate to the customer, the modern customer, with modern expectations, with decarb on their mind, with habits formed through the internet and mobile world? Share with us a little bit about how all that work is translating to the customer.

Jody Allison:

Yes. You just heard me talk about a lot of different aspects. But at the end of the day, it's about the experience that the customer is engaging and having with the utility, and it's really about... They have expectations, right? We all go on different sites. We all interact with companies in different ways, and that helps to build expectations on how that's going to go. I think as we've experienced with the pandemic, those expectations have ramped up significantly and our customers have higher expectations today than they've ever had.

Jody Allison:

Some people will say different types of experiences drive different expectations. All of the work that I just described is really paired with the voice of the customer is really about delivering to them that personalized experience. When they interact with a utility on a website, they expect that interaction to be personalized. It is about them and it's speaking to their needs and not just a static view that is the same for everybody and does it fit or suit their needs.

Jody Allison:

Really it's about engaging them in a way that is going to allow them to do it effortlessly and making sure that the employees are prepared and engaged and have the right information. So when they're asked questions, they can readily share that information. It's like having that well-rounded view of the customer and all their interactions and understanding is that field operations person close to where they are so that they know when they're going to arrive. Is it when I get on, I see my bill, but I also see suggestions or ways that I could manage that usage.

Jody Allison:

There's a lot of expectations around data insights, information that we're going to need to deliver on. Today, with the current environment, a lot of us are facing challenging, old, aged infrastructure that's not going to help us do that and really rapidly evolving customer expectations that certainly we're going to have to deliver and need to be able to do so in a way that makes sense for all of our customers. We really have to be mindful of everybody that we work with.

Jason Price:

Sure. Jody, we admire your thought leadership, and you recently published an article on Energy Central discussing innovation. You made an interesting analogy about the need for a faster horse versus a car back in the 1800s. What did you mean by this?

Jody Allison:

I love this quote. It's one of my favorites. There's so much controversy around it. Is this something Henry Ford actually said or not? That's some of the controversy even in and of itself. But it's really about the fact that as an industry, sometimes I think we listen to the voice of the customer and we will deliver to the voice of the customer, but there's also that side of innovation, right? We have to be ready to be able to deliver to the customer something they may not be asking for or they may not be articulating well, but it suits their needs.

Jody Allison:

Back in the day, somebody might have said they needed a faster horse, but what they really needed was a car. How are we as an industry really preparing to answer that question and be able to provide our customers with things that they haven't even thought about yet? Or they think about electricity, they flip the switch it works. They don't think about it. How do we get them to think about their usage and some of the other things in a different way, or use things in a different way, or have them generated in a different way? That's really going to be our challenge.

Jody Allison:

I think that it's really important that we listen to the voice of the customer when we're developing our future, but we also need to think about when is it right to give them a car.

Jason Price:

Interesting. Let's talk a bit further about customer experiences and expectations, especially as they continue to change and evolve with technology. Let's put this in the context of sustainability and decarbonization. How do you think is the industry managing all this is? Is the industry moving in the right direction to meet the needs and expectations of customers from this aspect?

Jody Allison:

Yeah. I think the industry is working really hard, right? You could see examples in different utilities where we've made some great progress, whether it's with microgrids or some other things. But really what I worry about at the end of the day is all the different expectations that the utilities are having to balance. You really want to drive forward with sustainability. You want to have money to invest in innovation, but we know the customer demands around expectations and their ability to interact with us in a certain way continue to escalate.

Jody Allison:

We need to make sure that with all the different challenges that we have facing us, what is the priority? At the end of the day, the customer is the one that has to help pay for a lot of the change. How do we make sure they really understand the priority? I think the industry is doing a really good job of pushing things forward and moving things forward, but there's a lot of work to do to educate the customers as far as what the benefits are, why it's important, why we should be doing this, because there is a cost to it.

Jody Allison:

I didn't even bring up or mention the fact that basic safety and reliability, it requires constant investment in our infrastructure. When you add all those together, it's a healthy price tag. From a society perspective, I don't think that we've necessarily had all the conversations in alignment with what should be funded from a broader perspective. I think that's really where I think the industry has a lot of work to do is understanding how does this all come together and how do we make sure that we're investing in our future, but at the same time meeting the expectations of today. It's going to be important to have those discussions.

Matt Chester:

Jody, as you look across the industry, are there utility leaders and those that are lagging behind? I'm not going to ask you to name any names, but I'm curious if you sense that there are any common characteristics that utilities that are innovative leaders versus those that might have some catch-up to do.

Jody Allison:

I think the utility all has started at a different place. From my perspective, it's not really about laggard or people that are moving faster. I think you can see examples of situations where the utilities have taken the opportunity. California has a lot of the... You could see a lot of different examples of microgrids. Shamelessly, I'm going to promote some of the work that our own company has done. We just received an award for... We had a challenge where we needed some electric lines in an area that was prone to wildfires.

Jody Allison:

We actually put in a microgrid that we can de-energize during the wildfire season and used to supplement the grid when it's not. I think if you look around, you could see different opportunities that people have had access or been able to take advantage of. We actually started as a renewables company. For us, we have a lot of strengths in that particular area, so that led us to be able to do some different things. I think the utilities have taken advantage of opportunities as they've come about, but everybody's starting from a bit of a different place.

Jody Allison:

That makes it a little bit more challenging for some versus others.

Jason Price:

Jody, given the importance on the discussion around sustainability, how is Algonquin engaging customers to prepare for a sustainable future?

Jody Allison:

That's a great question. From our perspective, we are trying to take every opportunity to educate our customers, whether it's in local settings or it's through literature that we are able to provide to them. We are trying to take every opportunity we can to educate where there are options. I'm just going to use the smart meter platform. For example, how can we drive programs that are going to help them have better information to make better decisions about their usage and how they're using the resources?

Jody Allison:

We as the industry have an opportunity to really help educate and make sure that they really understand the implications of their choices and their usage, but I also think we as consumers have a responsibility to learn. We are asked to pay our utility bills every single month. And as a consumer, it's very healthy to want to know like, what am I paying for? Why am I paying for it? And really understanding how that choice around some of the options related to sustainability may change, not just that bill, but just change our footprint, right? How we are impacting our environment.

Jody Allison:

I think it's really understanding what we can do as an industry to help educate, but also understand as the consumers, what is our responsibility? I think you see it in our kids, right? Our kids come home from school and they're wound up. They got all this great energy. They've learned something about the environment, and they want to share it with us. I think one of the things that we can do as an industry is really help people understand...

Jody Allison:

Sometimes the problem is so big that, how do you solve for it? It's breaking it down into those actionable things like, "Hey, did you know? If you had the opportunity to participate in the microgrid, it would do this for our footprint, and it would do this as far as what you're able to save."

Jody Allison:

Educating, understanding, breaking things down into bite sized chunks so that people really understand the role that they play and making sure that they understand what they can do, especially when problems can seem very large and overwhelming as environmental issues often do, just to summarize that, I think customers have the opportunity to learn and continue to learn in this area. And I think we as an industry are really going to have to work hard to educate.

Jason Price:

I agree. And I'm seeing that firsthand in the utilities, especially as it relates to electric vehicles. It's evolving so quickly that utilities are not necessarily engaging the customer in the way that they need to, to really talk about electrification of the transportation, of fleets, of bus systems, school buses, businesses, and so on. So from a customer engagement standpoint, I agree with you wholeheartedly that a lot more can be done in this area.

Jody Allison:

Look, we have some really bright people that are going to come up with some great solutions and some great new opportunities. It's really about how do you educate people as to what those are and the role they play and what the choice is at the end of the day. You talk about EV and we spend a lot of time and energy focused around charging stations and how we get people to buy EV vehicles. Do people really understand... A lot of people have range anxiety. Let's face it.

Jody Allison:

How do we get people to understand fact from fiction and make sure that they really have the information they need to make the choice that's going to serve them well, as well as the rest of us from an environmental perspective. I think that's going to be a challenge at the end of the day, but it's one that's pretty exciting.

Jason Price:

Jody, it's time for our favorite part of these interviews, which is the lightning round. For each question, you're given a one word or phrase response. Are you ready?

Jody Allison:

I hope so. Let's go.

Jason Price:

All right. Great. Well, here we go. What's your favorite recipe to make?

Jody Allison:

Tacos.

Jason Price:

Best concert you've ever been to.

Jody Allison:

Moody Blues.

Jason Price:

The best smell in the world is?

Jody Allison:

Fresh flowers.

Jason Price:

Do you prefer a savory or sweet snacks?

Jody Allison:

Savory. I'm sweet enough.

Jason Price:

Love it. Best vacation you've ever taken.

Jody Allison:

Paris without a doubt.

Jason Price:

And what are you most optimistic about?

Jody Allison:

What am I most optimistic about? I'm optimistic about our future in our industry. I think it is an exciting place to be, and I can't wait to see how we're going to continue to evolve.

Jason Price:

Well done. Now that you've made it through the gauntlet of questions and because this is innovation month at Energy Central, I want to wrap up our conversation by bringing it back there. As you look forward to the coming years of the utility industry, what advice would you give to the utility leaders listening to this podcast on the how and why of embracing innovation? What should be the priorities moving forward, and how can we frame them in a way to achieve successful innovation?

Jody Allison:

I would suggest this to those who are trying to drive innovation. First of all, voice of the customer. I would spend a lot of time understanding the voice of the customer. I would make sure I have dedicated resources driving innovation. I would make sure that the C-suite is all aligned as far as what the expectations and outcomes are and make sure that the infrastructure around people's goals and all of the leadership competencies, everything is set up to support what you're trying to drive towards. And education of the consumer.

Jody Allison:

I would make sure that you're spending a lot of time really understanding what they need, but then translating what you can offer them because it may be, going back, it may not be the horse or the faster horse, it may be the car. That would be my suggestion.

Jason Price:

Terrific. Jody, I want to thank you for sharing your insight with us today. We'll have to keep a close eye on the energy sector in the coming years to see whether or not people are taking your advice. Thank you for joining us and participating today. You can always reach Jody Allison through the Energy Central platform or directly with Algonquin Power and Utilities, where she welcomes your questions and comments. Once again, I'm your host, Jason Price.

Jason Price:

Plug in and stay fully charged in the discussion by hopping into the community at energycentral.com. And we'll see you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

 


About Energy Central Podcasts

As a reminder, the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is always looking for the authors of the most insightful articles and the members with most impactful voices within the Energy Central community to invite them to discuss further so we can dive even deeper into these compelling topics. Posting twice per month (on the second and fourth Tuesdays), we'll seek to connect with professionals in the utility industry who are engaging in creative or innovative work that will be of interest to their colleagues and peers across the Energy Central community. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

Happy listening, and stay tuned for episode #19 in a few weeks! Like what you hear, have a suggestion for future episodes, or a question for our guest? Leave a note in the comments below.

All new episodes of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast will be posted to the relevant Energy Central community group, but you can also subscribe to the podcast at all the major podcast outlets, including:


Thanks once again to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsriAnterix, and ScottMadden

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