Innovating can be different and over-complicated. However, companies should look to how start-ups do this and adopt their approach to testing and learning.
Donnellan says power generators should consider the concept of the minimal viable product (MVP) often used by energy industry start-ups, whereby they invest only in what they need to get to the next phase.
"Once startups have solved one problem they move onto the next one," says Donnellan, "This is often driven by a necessity because they are capital-constrained, but given the speed at which change is happening in the industry, the incumbents—the large power producers—can adopt this policy, as well."
Of course, when considering large capital investments and equipment that takes a long time to deploy, adopting this strategy can be more difficult. Applying this approach to any business can allow leaders to choose a clear strategic direction and then execute on it relentlessly, reducing the time it takes to incorporate new technologies into their businesses. Taking an almost modular approach by breaking the task into phases rather than tackling the project at once can actually streamline the process and make it more manageable. It also offers the opportunity to adapt and learn along the way.
"GE has used its Fast Works approach, which includes MVP techniques for product development, to bring a gas turbine to market in half the typical time of five years," says Donnellan. "They've moved more quickly through the design stage, using smaller steps to test and iterate throughout the product development process."
The challenge for power and utility executives now and in the future is to find new ways to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. The tools are available, but they involve working more closely with others. Managers must identify, measure, and monitor the sector, working alongside regulators and startups to determine how their business model is performing and how they can make changes and adopt new technology, as necessary, to secure the longevity of their assets.