More than a century ago, the energy industry was founded on a technology innovation. Collectively, we’ve worked hard to drive that innovation through every aspect of our society. Today, companies like DTE Energy are turning that focus inward, applying innovation to tackle their most complex business challenges.
Our newly-formed Innovation Program Management Office (IPMO), specializes in bringing valuable business solutions to life and creating a culture of innovation.
While this is difficult work, a controlled method for developing, testing and operationalizing new concepts is key to success.
Four steps to good applied innovation
High-performing applied innovations are cultivated in an environment that encourages employees to:
1. Be aware of new technologies and developments.
2. Think about solutions to their organization’s biggest challenges.
3. Combine these two concepts in an unconstrained, collaborative way to develop innovative ideas
4. Use a very deliberate approach to measure and validate those ideas.
The validation yields confidence and knowledge about how to operationalize the innovation and scale it for optimal business use. That’s when the hard work – and the dramatic results – begin.
DTE uses this process to support a business model that balances customer affordability with massive infrastructure investment. We are spending billions on our electric and natural gas systems over the next five years. Yet, we must maintain affordable rates and high customer satisfaction. To achieve these goals, our workforce must be more productive than ever before.
Innovative use of drones and robots are helping us get there faster.
Robotic process automation (RPA)
A recent rapid experiment tested the use of robotic software (a new technology) to deliver greatly-enhanced productivity (a key business challenge) in bank reconciliation. An experiment using RPA to compare DTE’s bank statements with balances listed on its internal systems yielded an 80 to 90 percent productivity increase. It also freed up financial analysts to complete other, more valuable tasks. We are continuing to measure and validate this concept by using RPA to achieve huge productivity gains in our customer service organization.
Drones and electric system maintenance
The use of drones (a new technology) to support infrastructure upgrades (a key business challenge) is another key improvement. A vital part of our work in reducing power outages is to inspect the equipment located at the top of utility poles for signs of wear or damage. An engineer typically spends about four hours walking along a mile of power line, looking at each pole top with binoculars and recording work needed to upgrade the equipment.
Armed with a drone and a video camera, the same mile of power line is patrolled in 15 minutes. More importantly, the video footage yields a more detailed view of the equipment at the top of the pole, delivering a higher-quality maintenance program. We are planning to test this innovation in our tree trimming program in the future.
Moving forward, we continue to urge our 10,000 employees to connect, collaborate and use the latest technology to find new ways to solve old problems. Our structured approach to innovation is transforming the way we work to create a new, more effective energy company that is well position for success in the future.