The Innovation Management Consortium Program: Now at Scheller College of Business

The Innovation Management Consortium Program: Now at Scheller College of Business

[soft music] Maryam Alavi: In today’s
turbulent business and economic environment,
the need for innovation is well understood
by most companies. What is less understood
is how to successfully innovate in order to thrive in today’s
disruptive environment. At Scheller College
of Business at Georgia Tech, we have created
a week-long program on Innovation Management
to help companies to do just that. Some of the leading-edge
companies in Atlanta have participated
in this program. And one of these companies
is Southern Company— a very significant
energy company in Atlanta and in the U.S. With us today is Michael Britt. Michael is Vice-President
of Energy Innovation Center at Southern Company. And Michael is here today
to share with us Southern Company’s approach
to innovation, and its experience
with participating in our Innovation Management program. Michael, thank you so much
for being here with us today. And let me start by asking you
to tell us a little bit about Southern Company. Michael Britt: Sure,
well thank you very much. I appreciate it. So Southern Company is
the second largest utility in the United States
with 9 million customers. We serve gas and electric
to customers from states as far away as Illinois,
New Jersey, and south to Mississippi and Florida. We have businesses
that serve very high-reliability customers like data centers—
that’s our business, PowerSecure. We also, through our subsidiary
Southern Power, are the largest owner
of solar power generation in the United States. Maryam Alavi:
Energy Innovation Center is located across the street
from College of Business and at the heart of Tech Square. Tell us a little bit about this
particular Innovation Center, what it does,
and why did you pick this particular location for it. Michael Britt:
The Energy Innovation Center opened in September of 2015,
and really its purpose is to help Southern Company
move towards its future. We say that we honor the past,
but we build the future of energy. That’s really what we’re trying
to get done in the Innovation Center. A lot of the reason
that we’re here in Tech Square is because of the incredible
ecosystem that’s here. I thought it was a buzzword
when I first heard it and thought,
“Yeah, right, maybe.” But in fact, what’s happened is,
we’ve engaged with the corporations
that are here— there are 12 corporate
innovation centers in this area,
there are 100 start-ups— that’s an incredibly
powerful area to be in— the vibrancy of the students. There’s Scheller College
of Business right across the street. Georgia Tech brings
all that together and makes it very, very powerful
and valuable for us. We think there’s no place better
to be in America. The Innovation Center
is not the source of all innovation
for Southern Company. We’re a catalyst for it;
we help make it happen across 32,000 innovators
in our company. Maryam Alavi: That’s great. The Innovation Center
in the Southern Company sent a number
of project teams to this Innovation
Management program. What were some
of the opportunities and some of the challenges,
and what was their experience like? Michael Britt: We learned about
the Innovation Management program here at the Scheller
College of Business some time ago,
and we sent a team to participate,
not really certain what kind of experience
they were going to have. But they had
a very important project for us that came out
of our so-prized, companywide ideation process
that generated this as one of the winning ideas. We really wanted
to accelerate it and move it forward. So we sent that team;
incredible results came out of it. We had an opportunity
to move that project forward, probably six months. It allowed us to meet
a number of key deadlines that we did not think
we would meet. And as a result,
it’s now gaining some traction in some key digital media
around automotive industry. So we’re excited
about the outcome that we had there. So excited we said,
“Let’s do that again! And not just one team,
let’s do 10 teams!” And so we came to you,
and Scheller College put this incredible project together
for us to really train 50 of our top innovators
on how to think differently. And really, it’s allowed us
to have a lot of consistency in language, in approach
to innovation around design thinking,
and customer discovery— things like that. Maryam Alavi: So, could you talk
a little bit more about some of the tangible outcomes
that the teams gain by participating in the program? Michael Britt:
So the 10-team project was incredible. I had one of our young guys
come to me and said, “Boy, this is legit.”
[chuckles] I got a good laugh out of it. But what he was
really saying was, “This is
an incredible experience.” I think we heard
from virtually every team that they got
quite a lot out of it. We’ve been hearing
such positive feedback from all the teams
as they’ve moved forward with their projects. The other was a pivot. One of our teams pivoted from
a very utility-focused product to one that was
very customer-focused. We were very excited about that. It saved us probably
quite a bit of time and money. The teams learned a lot. I mean they really got
so much out of the experience. But a couple of the things
that they came away with were consistency,
where across the company we’re now using
the business model canvas. In the past, everybody was—
it was a battle of methodologies and language
and so we didn’t have consistency of language. We didn’t have the ability
to share with each other on a single tool
how we’re doing and what we’re working on
in innovation. So this was a big step
forward for us. The Energy Innovation Center
got a great deal out of this as well. I think, for us,
it was important as we try and build a culture
of innovation, to be clear
about what innovation is across the company. When we brought 50
top innovators all to one place and all work together,
we learned right alongside with them,
and it really helped us sharpen our message. Maryam Alavi: Sounds great.
I know that we worked your teams very hard,
and we really pushed back and really challenged them
to really think about issues around business value creation
as an outcome of innovation and, obviously, not innovation
for the sake of innovation. So we were pushing hard
on them in terms of customer. Why are we doing this?
Who wants it? Why? We really enjoyed
working with the teams, and I really appreciate
your time. Thank you for sharing
your experience and talking about it here today. We really look forward
for our continued collaboration and partnership in the future. Michael Britt: We do, too.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it. [soft music]

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