Four lessons from the Fire Monkey for today’s energy businesses

2016 is the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese calendar. More specifically, it’s the Year of the Fire Monkey. So, for those of you unfamiliar with Chinese and wider Asian culture … who or what is the Fire Monkey? Firstly, the Monkey is one of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

More specifically though:

“The influence of the Fire Element makes the Fire Monkey the most creative and energetic of the Monkey types. Full of confidence, the Fire Monkey is also the most competitive member of its sign. While other signs may take to the side-lines, the Fire Monkey is all about action and initiative,” says David Socha, utilities practice leader, Teradata.

David Socha, utilities practice leader, Teradata
David Socha, utilities practice leader, Teradata

Sounds like a smart animal to me. It also sounds like the sort of animal that, in times of massive, unprecedented disruption and opportunity, energy businesses could take a few cues from. OK, maybe that’s just because I’ve spent all my life in utilities. Maybe I need to get out more.

Either way, what could energy companies learn from the ambitious, adventurous (and admittedly, sometimes irritable) Fire Monkey?

Be Energetic and Action-oriented

The energy and utilities industry hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years. Sure, we’ve had privatisation in some parts of the world. And retail competition. But nothing like the disruption we see today. Surviving the 21st Century means embracing change and even demonstrating agility through our choices and actions. But it needs to happen now. Whether that’s by employing better methods of managing talent; becoming genuinely customer-centric for the first time; or a host of other key foundations for the change ahead, suddenly the pace of change – and the pace of learning how to manage that change – has increased exponentially.

Be Competitive

Competition is increasing in many forms across the world’s energy businesses. More countries are opening up to retail competition all the time. But the business of energy generation is also facing increasing global competition; so too, major energy project construction work. And what about when Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system becomes a competitor to your own network-based supply model? Even for the remaining state-owned monopoly utilities, the time is probably already here when some form of competition is harming your business. It’s time to learn what it means to be part of the wider, competitive world and to act accordingly.

Be Creative

Today’s utility will only survive if it can innovate. How do you cope with the challenges of Smart Cities and, say, the electrification of transport? (And no, that’s no guarantee of increased demand. Not if energy autonomous vehicles have anything do with it.) Are you ready to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Internet of Things (IoT)? Respected industry player DNV.GL have even begun to talk about the Internet of Electricity. No, seriously. In such an environment, utilities must embrace creativity and consider new business models that will be fit for purpose in this new, connected world.

And finally, be focused

“The Fire Monkey’s adventurous side can run the risk of becoming reckless, especially when the Fire Monkey does not think their decisions through. In order to over-come their rash tendencies, the Fire Monkey is encouraged to take their time and focus their ambitions.”

Ay, there’s the rub. In an industry not too familiar with change or with agility, it can be all too easy to rush off in the wrong direction. Big Data & Analytics is the perfect example. It’s not something that’s core business, obviously. But it is something that’s got the potential to transform….and also the potential to do nothing more than burn budget, reputations and even careers. If Big Data is to be a key enabler for the 21st Century utility, it’s got to be managed well, with clear goals and strong governance. My own experience suggests that utilities would do well to remember that.

And so there we have it. All in all, it seems to me that the Fire Monkey could be something of a role model for the 21st century energy business (naughtiness or rashness aside, of course). It’s a time when creativity, drive and…ahem…energy have been needed in utilities like never before. So my advice: be like the Fire Monkey. At least until the next Year of the Dragon!

The author of this blog is David Socha, utilities practice leader, Teradata.

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_ OR @jcIoTnow

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