MAY 5, 2022

How Enterprise Technology Helps Accelerate Solar Development, Now and Later

The renewable energy industry is rapidly evolving and subject to sudden shifts in technology and supply chains. It brings together the concerted efforts of a wide variety of people — field staff, project managers, engineers, business partners, product vendors, sales teams, system owners, and behind-the-scenes professionals all rowing together toward a common goal of effectively developing, designing and delivering solar and energy storage projects. 

As technologists, we have a huge opportunity to create breakthrough capabilities that enable these disparate groups to collaborate in real time, accelerating timelines and reducing costs, therefore increasing enterprise value. The people in the solar value stream want these game changing capabilities “now.” However, implementing these capabilities is complicated and costly, putting an organization in a wait loop until “later,” when new capabilities are finally implemented. 

This is the fundamental dichotomy that I navigate as I lead — how do we keep making the “now” better while getting us to the game-changing “later” point, faster? 

Mind the Gap  

This dichotomy is not only a technology problem. It is a people and process problem too. Business leaders need to be aware of the gap between the current state and the future state and actively manage their team’s change burden.

Here is one way to visualize the gap between now and later:

This graph represents an organization’s business value over time. The dotted line indicates the normal activities the business undertakes to keep the lights on. Even this business-as-usual approach creates an organic increase in enterprise value over time. 

The red line on the graph represents the activities associated with implementing breakthrough capabilities necessary for long-term growth and large increases in business value. This represents companies looking ahead and building adaptive information systems to keep pace with changes happening in the field, the regulatory climate, and the marketplace. 

It’s technically complicated to implement such capabilities, and it takes time — measured in  months and years, not days and weeks. The lengthy development process represents the “later dimension” — a point in the future when these breakthrough capabilities will be delivered. The difference in enterprise value between the dotted line and the breakthrough line represents the change burden of implementing the breakthrough. The large change management burden is usually the reason up to 75% of big technology projects fail to meet their objectives, per Gartner.

So, how do we innovate while making the change burden less daunting for our people? The key lies in the green steps shown in the diagram. This represents the Agile approach I tend to take in the time between the “now dimension” and the “later dimension” of the red line. This work focuses on small incremental changes, each with a smaller change burden that moves the organization and its people towards the breakthrough future. In aggregate, these improvements accelerate value creation while reducing the change burden of the breakthrough. 

Effectively, the technologists are working in two dimensions, the “Now” dimension of small incremental projects as well as the “Later” dimension of  breakthrough capabilities.  

Collaborative Acceleration in Solar

Here’s a real world example from Borrego. 

First, let’s look at the current state, our dotted line, if you will. In the solar industry, the “now dimension” is influenced by tight deadlines, slim margins, engineering, procurement, permitting, politicians, and frequent construction delays. Budgets have to be managed at the project level, with little leeway for error. Every project manager maintains their own spreadsheet for each project that is synced once a month with a system of record, like Salesforce. 

The asynchronous nature of communication between the front office and back office means a loss in responsiveness. By the time the project manager finds out about that cost escalation between purchase order and invoice, or the accounts payable clerk finds out about a change order that was unexpectedly denied, options for course-corrective actions are limited.  

The solution here is to develop an integrated pair of systems, one in the field, and one in the back office, integrating field operations, back office and management with real-time visibility and a tight feedback loop. Designing, developing and deploying such software represents a complex cross functional multi-month journey to the future state, the “later,” the redline of breakthrough capabilities, if you will.  

But changing from a manual system of Google Sheets to an integrated technology software is not as easy as flipping a switch. The change burden could be too great for the users of this technology, potentially causing frustration, loss of productivity and lack of adoption of the new system.

That is why, while we build the integrated system for “later,” we’re moving people toward the future state by also doing a series of smaller projects in the “now” – standardizing the process by which we manage our project budgets, closing out projects that linger far beyond permission to operate when all the revenue has been recognized, getting the project managers into an intuitive construction system that allows them to record their work real time in a structured fashion, etc. 

Each of these relatively smaller projects represents a step on the green line, increasing business value and moving us toward the future state. Along the way, we make sure that we are continually seeking feedback from stakeholders, using it to inform the design of the future state system. This strategy also moves everyone in the direction of the “later” and accelerates value along the way. 

The end result is a set of better-managed projects and reduced change burden – a win for both solar project managers in the field and software technologists designing, building and deploying the systems. This is the collaborative vision behind working in two dimensions to accelerate customer value. 

Lead by Influence

But technology is only one part of the Agile equation. At the end of the day, technology doesn’t run the solar business – people do. And they will make or break the success of a project. If you don’t have the support of the people who use the technology, or they simply don’t understand the new system, that is when change management fails.  

At Borrego, we believe our people are the driving force of our success. The most important aspect of reducing the change management burden is to engage our people in the process. If they feel like they helped build the system, then it belongs to them – rather than having new technology forced upon them because corporate leaders think it’s a good idea.

Meaningful engagement involves finding the thought leaders who have credibility with their peers and can influence those around them – because the web of influence is different from the chain of command. If you engage thought leaders early in the pilot projects, you can more quickly influence change and bridge the gap between the “now” and “later dimensions.

Working in the “Now,” innovating toward “Later”

Borrego continues to explore innovative ways to harness the power of technology to expand solar industry growth. In our ongoing efforts to accelerate customer value at every step of the project lifecycle, we are forging a new relationship between solar engineering, procurement, construction, and business software development. With continuous improvement being at the core of our operating systems, it’s no surprise Agile principles such as two-dimensional work, delivering value, rapid iteration, and collaboration are critical to how we bridge the gap between the present and future state of our business. 

We believe information technology platforms, and the people who use them, offer an impactful solution to accelerate renewable energy delivery. And that is where we want to be.

Malini Balakrishnan

Chief Information Officer

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