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Embracing Technology – Lessons Learned From A Failed Technology Startup


In the early 2000’s, I, along with three partners set out to create a new technology platform in the space of performance and cost benchmarking. Our company, ePerformance Group International (ePGI) and our flagship product, BenchmarkCommunities™ was a completely new concept on delivering real-time, online performance benchmarking information and analysis capabilities. Our intent was to transform what had been an intensive consultant delivered experience to a customizable, interactive experience for our clients. Our new platform would be “Placing the power of cost and service level analytics into the hands of our utility clients.”


The concept was well-backed by a number of large utility clients, both in finances and in sweat equity, to help create the online modules, analytics, and system design. Everything was teed up for a winning business model. However, in only four short years we were unable to sustain, grow and build our company, leaving the question:


“What Went Wrong and What Can We Learn From This Experience?”


Recently, I presented at the 2019 Utility Working Conference (UWC) as part of a session focused on the need for Nuclear Operating plants to “Embrace Technology and Its Transformational Impact.” The presentation focused on drivers for this change in terms of market disruptors, the need to reduce operating costs, and in general the industry’s lagging embrace of successful technologies in its operations. At the core of the presentation were the lessons learned from my old technology startup days, which I’d like to share with you.


“Our Story”


The startup was funded well enough and we were focused on our goal to revolutionize performance-based benchmarking by, “Placing the power of analytics into the hands of our utility clients.” We were first to market in this space and had a good foundation of utility clients supporting the initiative. With everything in our favor, how did we miss the mark? In hindsight the answers seem obvious, and my hope is that you can learn from our lessons learned and use them to embrace and leverage new technologies to gain long-term strategic advantages. The core of the lessons learned, which are discussed here revolve around five key areas: Alignment; Commitment; Endurance; Convergence and Integration.


Lesson 1: Alignment

What We Did Right? We aligned ourselves with client Executive Sponsors on the objectives and expectations of the new product. Our Executive Sponsors were an integral part of the product development process and development of the delivery vehicle.


What We Did Wrong? We relied too heavily on the Executive Sponsors to drive the product in their organization and did not invest the time and effort to develop and involve the key users and organizations within the utilities in the product development process and educating on the product capabilities.


Key Take Away: Alignment around technology innovation requires that all stakeholders and partners are involved in the process. To be successful the client needs champions in the organization that would help ensure the technology evolved, sustained and broaden in use within client organizations. Most technology firms are there to provide you the solution, but leave it to you to develop the internal champions and establish alignment across the organization. You must invest in alignment and find champions that are willing to lead the effort if you are to be successful.


Lesson 2: Commitment

What We Did Right? We established online training and webinars for clients to provide first-hand training on how to use the system.


What We Did Wrong? In hindsight, the training was provided with too few individuals. We were weak in providing live, on-site training and education seminars to help drive client use of the system. We underestimated the analytical capability within client organizations and the need to support their internal teams more intensely, which in turn would have enabled us to improve the product to meet their specific data needs and requirements.


Key Take Away: Commitment to the technology is essential to drive culture change and influence employee mind shifts to a new way of thinking. We didn’t drive far enough down to get front-line buy-in and with that our product launch was doomed before we knew. Technology innovation, as with any major change, doesn’t happen by itself, it takes time, effort and commitment to drive use within the organizations. Utilities have to be aware that there are forces within the organization that create an aversion to change as well as regulatory requirements that promote status-quo. This creates an environment where most technology transformations will take years to fully implement requiring that leadership have the focus, discipline and clarity of vision to see it through.


Lesson 3: Endurance

What We Did Right? Little to nothing.


What We Did Wrong? While we supported our clients with online training, we were not involved enough to assist them in leveraging and utilizing the system or even understanding completely where the data and analytical capabilities could be used beneficially. Rather than focus intently on existing client’s use and growth of the tool, our focus was developing new clients and broadening the client base. The lack of engagement directly with clients on the front-end led to little if any momentum being built within the client operations and as a result the tool set was an afterthought, never gaining the momentum and visibility needed for sustainability and organizational traction, and deprived ePGI of opportunities to better understand needs to enhance our service.


Key Take Away: Technology transformation is a marathon not a sprint. Clients needed to utilize the tool for small internal successes that could be used as success stories to help perpetuate use of the system within the organization. Success breeds validation, which drives momentum. We didn’t help our clients with this process and failed to realize the need to help them endure during this process. Closely tied to commitment, a client needs to fully understand the time and effort that will be required to truly develop an organization willing and able to accept and leverage technology innovations. This requires executive, mid-level, and front-line management aligned and committed to long-term objectives.


Lesson 4: Convergence

What We Did Right? Little to nothing.


What We Did Wrong? As discussed previously we did not invest enough time and resources to driving the client use of the system. We lacked the drive to help client’s create the vision and execute on the vision on how this new tool could revolutionize their data and knowledge management.


Key Take Away: Convergence requires that new technology become part of their workflow process. It requires that workflows become streamlined and converge to save time, improve efficiency and provide greater value. We never made that critical jump from a “nice-to-have” application to becoming an essential part of the client’s specific workflows or processes. Client’s embracing new technology must understand on the front-end, the workflow drivers they are influencing and have an end-to-end perspective on operational workflows. Understanding on the front-end how the new technology will be integrated and converge workflow processes is essential for obtaining sustainable benefit and return-on-investment. Without this, the technology is likely doomed to become an expensive nice-to-have solution.


Lesson 5: Intuitive

What We Did Right? We spent a significant amount of time designing the system with executive sponsors in what we determined was an easy to use application with a sound definitional and analytical framework.


What We Did Wrong? While the system proved to be easy-to-use, the users were not accustomed or practiced in the art of analytical thinking (go figure, that’s why they paid consultants). That being the case we never fully developed front-line champions and as a result never made the necessary improvements to the product to better enable clients to truly leverage the analytical capabilities now available to them. Additionally, we failed in making the application become the performance benchmarking “one-version of truth” for our client organizations which contributed to the lack of development within their organizations.


Key Take Away: New technology and innovations MUST BE intuitive to the users of that technology. If it doesn’t make sense to the users or is overly complex, the challenge of having your team embrace and leverage the technology decreases exponentially. Client’s embracing new technology should ensure that the technology being implemented is easily understood, the value proposition is clear, and the outcomes are obvious for the staff that will be utilizing the system long-term. Involve front-line users in the selection-making process of new technologies and invest in ongoing training to ensure that front-line users are capable and at ease using the technology.


Summary

Looking back at this time with ePGI with great fondness in that I learned more in those four years than at any other time of my educational and professional career. It also served as the biggest disappointment of my professional career knowing the success we could have enjoyed if we had implemented the technology properly.


I hope my sharing of this experience and the lessons learned: Alignment; Commitment; Endurance; Convergence and Integration will help you ensure success on your next technology project and help your organization truly embrace technology and its transformational impact.

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