The pace of change in the energy and utility industry is faster than it’s ever been. And the pace of change we’re seeing today is the slowest it will ever be. Over the past few years, we recognized this pace of change was accelerating and, in 2018, we launched an in-house digital transformation program, branded Lighthouse, to move us ahead of the change curve and become a leader in digital in the energy and utility space. What was a relatively small investment at the time has paid off in tangible ways.

Transformation means changing mindsets

Transformation for a century-old utility is very different than other industries – it is all about changing mindsets. We have a strong culture of safety and reliability as we provide an essential service that more than 25 million people rely upon each and every day to live the lifestyle they expect and deserve. Moving the mindset from ‘safe and reliable’ to ‘safe, reliable AND efficient’ captures the essence of our transformation and our digital program has been the catalyst to accomplish that goal by leveraging data, artificial intelligence and mobile technology to digitize and automate processes to serve our customers faster, smarter and better.

As I look back on our digital transformation journey so far, it’s clear why Lighthouse has been so successful. Here are my four takeaways:

It’s all about the people.

There’s an intense energy and commitment to innovation I see when talking to teammates about the products they’ve created through Lighthouse. I believe that comes from two things: empowerment and opportunity. We’re empowering our people to bring their creative ideas to an environment where they can collaborate with teammates and make those ideas real transformations by applying new ways of working and thinking. As products move through development, our focus remains on our people. From the start, Lighthouse was less of an investment in products and more of an investment in people – our employees and our customers.

If you’re feeling a little uncomfortable, you’re probably doing things right.

Transformation is not for the faint of heart. You’re trying new things and accelerating change across the enterprise at a record pace (on average, we’re developing Minimum Viable Products, or products that can begin being used, in as little as three months). Sometimes we fail – and fail fast – but we are learning fast as well and we often find ideas in those failures that sparks momentum across the business. You must be willing to say, “The way we used to work is no longer working and we must try this new approach.” Change is hard. Talking about the good, the bad and the ugly isn’t always easy. But to me, feeling a little uncomfortable is a sign we are doing things right. As the saying goes, if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

Fully commit.

 We were told by people outside the business that taking on too many products at once would ‘sink the ship’. I’m glad we didn’t listen. From the start, we had 11 areas of our business commit and lead our digital transformation. Currently, more than 300 cross-functional teammates are devoted to this work and focused on identifying and deploying innovative solutions where they’re needed most. From building a customer mobile app and searchable supply chain sourcing system to developing mobile apps for field workers and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help us determine plant maintenance schedules – the products are delivering benefits. With strong support from the business units and executive leadership, we fully committed to our digital transformation – and have exceeded our own expectations.

Manage risk through speed, alignment and increments.

Change brings risk. But risk can be an opportunity if identified and managed well. Through our Lighthouse digital program, teams take an agile approach to product development along with the discipline of metered funding. They build in small increments then measure, learn and iterate to reduce upfront investment until a product shows value. They work closely with the business functions to prioritize features that matter most to the user and get feedback. These are a few ways we manage risk and ensure we deliver the right value. The results speak for themselves as we have delivered over 30 digital products with an average payback of less than two years.

Digital is here to stay

In this new digital era, we’ve tackled challenges with an open mind and embraced opportunities to do work better, more efficiently and in the right places. This mindset helps to ensure we adapt and remain ahead of the rapidly changing external environment – and has allowed us to enhance the customer and employee experience. Our innovation journey is well underway, even during a global pandemic.

Lighthouse and our adoption of digital capabilities are here to stay – the ways of working, the creativity and the value being delivered – and it will continue to guide our Duke Energy as we continue to transform into the utility of the future.