The People Side of Technology Transition in Utilities

Technology and Digital


November 1, 2016

While the pace of technology change increases, utilities, often valuing stability over innovation, are having trouble keeping up.  A recent study undertaken by IDC Energy Insights for Oracle Utilities indicates that many North American utilities are still working with legacy, custom built systems or systems that were updated as part of Y2K.

One challenge associated with retiring and replacing legacy systems is the people side of the transition – consider these suggestions to ensure the change management approach for your technology transition is successful:

  1. Lay the groundwork for big technology transitions. In companies where work practices have hardened over the last 100+ years, middle and front-line management (statistically the most resistant to change1) needs a long “mental runway” to get used to a technology transition before it occurs.  Laying the groundwork could include implementing smaller business processes, cultural, and structural changes that align the organization to the future technology solution, build change resilience, and give sponsors and project teams a preview of resistance they might face when the big transition occurs.
  1. Consider unique training approaches for field employees. Failing to get training right when implementing new technology can hamper safety and productivity for months or even years. Rather than sending field employees to a one-week, pre-go-live training on a new system, try sending them to training one day a week for five weeks (or two hours a day for four weeks), allowing them to try out what they’ve learned, struggle, teach each other, and come back with new questions.  Find ways to conduct on-the-job training in the field and establish post-training reinforcement activities to ensure fluency with new systems and identify problems quickly.
  1. Plan for a bigger stabilization effort than you think you need. For some utilities, paper-based processes are a current (or recent) reality, employees have worked with legacy systems for years or even decades, and change comes slowly.  Plan for a significant post-go-live stabilization effort that assumes system, training, process, and cultural challenges will all threaten adoption of and proficiency with the new systems.  Stabilization efforts can always be cut short if you knock the transition out of the park—they’re harder to ramp up after the fact.
  1. Empathize… and Enforce. While project teams and leaders may find it easier viewing technology transition pragmatically (i.e. “We must change to be effective and efficient, so let’s get it done”), the transition can be an emotional one for employees. Let empathy shape your plans around messaging, employee involvement, and coaching.  At the same time, work closely with leadership to stand firm against the pushback they may receive regarding the transition and avoid the temptation to allow workarounds or let some work groups opt out of the transition.  If employees don’t feel prepared for the transition, change the way you’re preparing them to avoid significant changes to scope and schedule.

All of these things require resources and commitment from leadership. Build a business case using case studies from other utilities who have struggled through similar transitions to demonstrate it is better to do it right than do it over.


1. Prosci, “Best Practices in Change Management: 2016 Edition,” Figure 8.16, Page 164