The Fireworks of Disruptive Technology

Upstream Data via CrunchBase

Facebook began in a dorm room as a way to connect friends.  It now has over half a billion of them.  In the rest of our lives we don’t have such scale or the problems it brings.  We still must make a living and pay the bills.  We still have families and friends who want pieces of our time and attention.  We still have hobbies and interests that enrich our lives.  We share information with all of them but not the same information with all of them at once.

But because of Facebook we have learned that social networks are powerful tools in business as well as for friending.  But tied to our laptops Facebook had limitations so Twitter was invented to reflect the mobile nature of our lives and the capabilities of our smart phones.  So now tweets join friends as a tool of interaction.

But what happens to all those friends and tweets?   How can I use them?  What will they tell me?

A New Business and Business Model is being Invented

Disruptive technology is turning our world upside down.  This is both terrifying and liberating all at the same time.  The traditional ways we share and consume information are rapidly being replaced.  We will miss the comfortable tradition of picking up a good book and reading it in front of a crackling fire in December or some quick read biz book found at the airport newsstand as we rush to the gate.  But they are rapidly being displaced by Kindle, iPad, and Nook in the first wave of disruptive technology transformation.

But are they?  Those same books, magazines, professional journals and other content is still there but it is morphing to different forms that are downloadable, searchable, storable in the cloud and available wherever we are.

Everything is the same, yet everything is radically different.

But these are transitional stops toward the really big change taking place as disruptive technology messes with our heads even more by disaggregating the way we gather, organize, deliver and consume information.

What is causing this rapid change?

Mobile technology in smartphones and high speed wireless networks, cheaper storage enabling cloud computing, WiFi and other network technologies developed to enable our business lives to be more productive are now transforming our personal lives connecting us to everyone, everywhere at any time.

We love our smart phones because through the zillions of Apps now available our phone becomes an all-purpose device.  But iPad is beating every other tablet in the market because Steve Jobs recognized that it could be everything to everyone at the same time.  In limiting iPads features and functionality he made it very hard to beat in its category.  But he also saved the iPhone from being overtaken by Androids because it is the de facto remote control of our lives and the Apps we can download give us power to control our lives like never before.

Yet Google just killed off PowerMeter and Microsoft junked HOLM as home energy management device and service when each were predicted to be game changers in our transforming energy management enthusiasm.  Why? Because saving energy turns out to be a big hassle for the savings it produces and we just don’t want more gadgets in our lives when we love the ones we have.  So we’ll wait for the iPhone app or the Comcast energy channel or the Windows update that embeds energy management technology into the way we live our lives rather than forcing us to change our lifestyles to do good.

Disruptive technology is NOT about gadgets.  It is about empowering our lives giving us convenience, ease of use, ubiquity (always there when I need it) and control.  This is also the clue about how hard it will be to change the way we manage energy use—our energy suppliers and the vendors who serve them are control freaks—and we are not ready to let big brother tell us how to live our lives by controlling our A/C or sticking us with peak load pricing without some benefit to show for it.  But show me the money or engage me as a participant in the Lotto of energy savings and I’m in!

The products and services of virtually every sector of our economy are affected by this disruptive technology casting aside newspapers, magazines and their advertising business models as eyeballs go elsewhere.  Abandoning telephony once tied to hard wired land lines, our smart phones today still enable voice but so much more—they are the remote control of our lives.

The way we live and work and interact with each other is changing before our eyes and sweeping aside business models, traditions and products we’ve known for generations at warp speed.

The real issue is not the change this brings but how we use it.  The real issue is positioning—how we position technology to help us get our work done and live our lives the way we want to do so.  Positioning to create value from the interaction of our friends, listening to the patterns of our tweets, and organizing the Apps that give us control over our work/life experiences as never before.

These disruptive technologies are changing our future whether we like it or not, but there is more to like than not from the experience. The truth is we need disruptive technologies more now than ever before to help us jumpstart of economy again and use it to design the products and services that will propel growth.  America has always been an unconventional nation open to new ideas.  Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were more radical, in their time, than any of the technologies we see today.  The disruptive technologies of our imagination are pointing the way to a different future, a better future.  Our job is to imagine how to use it—and just do it.

Our Clean Energy Economy Product Transformation

This blog is about disruptive technology, competition and our energy future.  For eight years as a division president for Ventyx I was the product vision and architect behind some very successful energy analytics products that were revolutionary in 2000 when we first developed them.

We took energy production cost modeling software that was difficult to use (PROSYM and later PROMOD) and commodity data scraped from government databases and organized into simulation ready data sets (VELOCITY SUITE).  We ran those models twice yearly to produce a market price reference case for 76 electricity prices zones across every regional market in North America for 25 years to match the typical utility planning cycle. So far so good, that’s what all our utility and consulting software users did—except we sold it as a recurring revenue power market advisory service.

Big deal, you say?

Yes it was!  In its own way this was disruptive technology that fundamentally changed the way energy market consultants worked, the way utilities thought about integrated resource planning and the way state utility regulators measured regulatory compliance filings, and the way investment banks evaluated whether to invest in building a new power plant.

What was different?

We ran the same models, using the same data, across the same markets as our software clients except we sold it as a product not a one-time consulting engagement.  By standardizing the methodology, productizing the deliverable, and bundling them into complete regional solutions we were able to offer clients (utilities, investment banks, hedge funds and energy companies) an annual service continually updated for about the price of one consulting engagement by other consulting firms.

By providing deliverables that were independent, transparent, and consistent across regions and over time we made our power market advisory service acceptable to state utility regulators and investment banks as an unconflicted starting point for analysis.  The disruptive technology consequences of this productization of a traditional consulting production cost modeling engagement was to cast doubt upon the independence, transparency and consistency of every other forecast and market opinion.  We even published a ‘report card’ on how our market forecast performed.

In short order, our small Sacramento software services division became the market leading provider of independent, transparent, consistent market opinions in structured energy project finance transactions.  In eight years we gave market opinions on more than 90,000MW of power generation assets with a total value of more than $50 billion.

Nothing is permanent and these products today look ‘long in the tooth’ which is why they have been displaced by other disruptive technology that embeds the product deliverables into a much large suites of enterprise software services that enabled Ventyx to sell itself to ABB for $1 billion.  Not a bad outcome!

Those same forces of disruptive technology are still at work today in the energy vertical but now their focus is on the transformational power of renewable energy, smart grid, real time dynamic pricing, energy storage, PHEV, and the quest for the benefits they bring in more energy efficiency, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, beating the laws of physics by finding way to store energy and shift usage across time, fuels, markets and prices in real-time.

And the insight from all those energy tweets and friends coalescing around changing technologies, markets, economics and choices to make sense of the data and apply it to the next deal is rewiring not only the energy and utility business but the business models and lives of every vendor that serves them.

IBM calls it a smarter planet.  GE calls it ecoimagination.  We call it American ingenuity and entrepreneurship—the same values, positive attitude, can do spirit and willingness to embrace change and use it to create competitive advantage that drove Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and others in our history books (you remember history books—the things we are not going to print on paper much longer) and what drives the Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other younger entrepreneurs still inventing in their dorm rooms today.

So Happy 4th of July America!  

Those fireworks you are witnessing today are the start of your opportunities from applied disruptive technologies to turn your ideas into actionable products and services an eager world hungry for analysis and insight needs to make sense of all those tweets.