Current± talks to digital strategist Ade McCormack ahead of his keynote speech at next month’s EnTech event in London about what true digitalisation actually entails and what the power companies need in their digital strategies.

What does your role entail as a digital strategist?

Much of my work involves helping people understanding that digital transformation is much more than digitalisation. It involves advising people on transforming their companies for the digital age. My work is essentially around transforming your business or your organisation for the digital age, as opposed to simply sprinkling your existing business model with technology.

How big is the gulf between just adding new technologies, and truly being ready for digitalisation and what is the best approach?

I think the problem is that organisations – particularly those that were birthed in the industrial era – they think that the way to move forward is to simply make a faster, smarter, cheaper version of their existing model. But a faster, smarter, cheaper Titanic is still a Titanic, and even an iceberg-detecting Titanic is no match for air travel.

It’s not simply about creating a new version of your existing business model, it’s creating a business model that can thrive in an unknowable future. One that’s highly adaptive. You might well use new technologies, you might well digitalise parts of your business, but you’ve actually got to fundamentally change your business model.

What’s required from a business to take this on, is it a different mindset or skillset?

Different mindset, a different operating model. For example, most organisations tend to have a, let’s say, competitive advantage in some way or another, whether that’s a product or a service, and the markets are moving so fast now that any sort of dominance is transient at best, and only having one egg in one basket is very, very risky. So I’m encouraging organisations to move from a factory model to one that’s more like a portfolio of experiments or bets. That requires a different sort of attitude towards failure, towards investment and innovation.

Have there been any particular sectors that you’ve worked with which have been particularly good at this?

The technology sector in particular is extremely fast moving, it can never rest on its laurels. The technology industry is one where it probably sleeps with one eye open, it’s kind of paranoid because it doesn’t know what tomorrow brings. And it’s that sort of clock-speed that the energy industry, I think, needs to wake up to. A lot of the energy projects and contracts tend to be multi-year, so you win the business and then just settle in to it. You then get all excitable again when the contract comes up for renewal.

I think we’re going to see the clock-speed change quite dramatically. The energy industry is undergoing significant transformation with different attitudes towards energy consumption and the changing nature of energy sources. The industry’s going through transformation that’s been imposed on it, so to speak, but it has to start behaving more like a Madison Avenue advertising company. It’s got to get a bit more frenetic. Not running around in a headless chicken kind of way, but getting used to a faster clock-speed, making better use of its data, paying greater attention to what’s happening in the market and harnessing the cognitive capacity of its people rather than just having them as processed cogs in the energy machine.

Is that the same across the broad spectrum of energy companies, all the way from generation to supply?

I’m no energy expert, but what I would say is, I’ve been involved in events where some very senior energy people have also been involved, and they don’t quite seem to get it, they presume because they have these assets – a grid, drilling equipment or whatever – that somehow or another they’re going be able to sweat those assets for years and years to come. All it takes is Amazon and Elon Musk to get together, to have some sort of drone delivery battery model, that could totally disrupt the incumbents in terms of energy delivery for example. Nobody’s really scenario planning in terms of technologies that are in the pipeline.

Imagine we’re sitting down for dinner, and we only select a restaurant where the energy provenance of the food. Or the products we buy off Amazon we only buy because we know their energy provenance. Increasingly we’re going to be able to do that with technologies like blockchain.

Intel’s a good example of a technology that was embedded within a computer, nobody really knew what it was, but for some reason we all started saying we only wanted a PC if it had an Intel chip inside, because Intel managed to get its under-the-bonnet brand to the front of the device. I think this is an opportunity for the production and distribution companies to almost disintermediate the retail companies.

Ade McCormack will be kicking off Current±’s EnTech event with a keynote discussion on digitalisation. The event is to be held from 8 – 9 October 2019 at 99 City Road, near Old Street in London. Tickets are still available to purchase and more information on the event and how to attend can be found here.

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