(Left) Nora Marrakchi and (right) Michael Parran, Consumers Energy’s Strategic Innovation managers, believe that Innovation gives us the opportunity to shape our future and position our company for success in serving our customers. Through a collaborative effort, they are able to leverage new technology and resources to better serve our current and future customers. In June 2015, they were able to debut an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to help monitor power lines, equipment and wind turbines. The project enabled us to provide better energy reliability for our customers while ensuring the safety of our employees and the communities we serve.
What does the Strategic Innovation department mean for our customers?
NM: Our goal isn’t to be the strategic innovation gurus at Consumers Energy, but to infuse the company with new skillsets and inspire others to bring forward the ideas that will propel us into the next 120 years. Our pilot projects are a result of unconventional thinking from many people internal and external to the company and working with them to move these opportunity ideas from a conceptual state to an operational one.
MP: We spend a lot of time thinking about the customer. It’s at the forefront of everything we do. We think about what our customers need and what our customers don’t know they need (yet). We learn from our projects in order to best serve our customers. We’re a small group, but as a team we punch above our weight when we collaborate with internal and external partners.
What does your typical day look like?
NM: We have multiple different projects at play in one given time that will be at different levels of maturity. Some are still in an ideation stage while other are already in play and being piloted. You know what your week is going to generally consist of, but not necessarily the hour-by-hour schedule due to the dynamic nature of our projects. It’s this flexibility to work differently that enables us to quickly change gears according to the needs of that day while still ensuring that all projects are continuously moving forward.
MP: Again, it changes with the variety of work we have going on. Our day can consist of meetings, brainstorming sessions and researching to keep up with what is currently going on in the industry. To be in this role you have to have flexibility to zoom in and out of ongoing projects.
A successful project for your team has been the pilot of an UAV for line inspection. What was the goal of the project?
NM: The UAV is one of the best examples of what our company can do in a very short period of time when the right team is assembled. We were able to take something from a kernel of an idea from the Hackathon into reality and we are proud to say we are the fourth utility in the United States to have permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to use UAVs for line inspections. The goal of the pilot is to determine the viability of using of UAVs to achieve cost saving benefits and improve reliability for our customers. It will also ensure greater safety for our employees.
MP: I agree, the launch of our UAV is a good example of what we are capable of accomplishing. Our team is able to leverage internal and external resources in order to see something through from concept to implementation.
What does “Count on Us” mean to you?
NM: It means we don’t accept what we did yesterday as being “good enough”. We must challenge ourselves individually, as departments, and a company to reconsider what we do and how we do it every day. If we accept current parameters, it will hurt us in the long run. Our customers want to know that we won’t just sit back and accept the “status quo”. We’re always trying to be proactive with our efforts and lead the pack when it comes to providing exceptional service to our customers.
MP: My first thoughts are about offering excellent quality of service and delivering reliable energy to our customers. However, the statement really is layered. We are not only thinking about our customers today, but the customers we may have in the future. We have to think about how we serve our different audiences. These audiences are anyone of our customers, regulators, Michigan as a whole or investors/shareholders.
What excites you about your job?
NM: I like to challenge the status quo in ways that positively push the company forward. We’re facilitating departments to think outside the box in attaining their goals by not only leveraging new technology, but the creative minds across the company. Balancing multiple concurrent and diverse projects is a positive challenge, but ultimately it all comes down to the internal and external relationships that make it most rewarding.
MP: The ability to make a positive impact is what excites me. Beyond that, it’s the diversity of work. I am attracted to the energy sector because it is one of the few fields where so many issues (environmental, political, technological, etc.) converge. Being able to make a difference in an industry that impacts so many issues is what keeps me going.
To learn more about how Consumers Energy is serving our customers, visit https://www.consumersenergy.com