Angie Klee from Itron Ideas Lab discusses innovation for utilities

Being able to innovate and adapt are some of the most valuable skills for businesses to have in a fast-transforming and unpredictable scenario.
Published: Tue 10 Apr 2018

For Itron, this means keeping an eye on current and future tendencies for the energy market and contributing to the technological transformations in the field.

“Itron Ideas Lab is dedicated to bringing new businesses to Itron,” says Angie Klee, Innovations Manager at Itron Ideas Lab. ‘This means innovation is absolutely critical to us because we’re thinking of what’s happening in the next five years.”

“We’re looking to our partner community, to innovators within Itron, as well as startup communities to find the nuance of what people are thinking about and where we should be in five years.”

Demonstrating the value by use cases

To Klee, the innovative projects done in the Ideas Lab are paramount to demonstrate the real-life value of such ideas to utilities and how they can be properly applied. Customer input and participation are also extremely important for the implementation of innovations in any initiatives. “We have customers approach us all the time with ‘have you thought of this?’, ‘are you doing this?’ A lot of the incubation we do is based on customer problems.”

“We really tackle what the problem is and what we can do to solve it. We don’t pick technology first, we focus on the business – how will this change and shape their business? – and then technology comes much later in the process.”

An example of innovative applications

As an example of a successful product created by the team, Klee describes an app for smartphone meter reading that was created after she received the task to explore, in a broad manner, what utilities want to do in mobile. “I asked utilities questions, I interviewed, I visited; and they came with a clear objective that for mobile, they wanted to see meter reading on a smartphone.”

The app was developed, says Klee, for field service workers at the utility: We proved that there was a need for it, that they could do it, and that it could be received well into their business.”

Furthermore, she demonstrates how the app was part of a solution to be integrated into an existing business model which was upgraded following its advent. “The teams that created that had to look across and create the whole platform. The app was one delivery of it, but it was injecting innovation into existing processes that may happen later in the timeframe.”

The relationship with municipalities

Itron is also involved in several smart city initiatives that seek different ways to innovate not only in technologies but also in how utilities are operated and how they interact with customers and their respective municipalities.

One such project that they are participating in is Avista’s Urbanova initiative in Spokane, Washington, which is fitting a sensor network into street lights in the city to improve public safety, energy efficiency and air quality, among other goals.

To Klee, this partnership between the utility and the municipal is valuable teamwork. “It’s really about the city’s vision and the people’s vision, it’s not one utility or another. It’s a shared vision. We can all benefit from that shared network and sensors and street lights, and it becomes truly not a vision, but a reality.”

Keeping up with current and future innovations can thus be valuable for utilities to move beyond their proposed primary goal of providing energy. Adopting such technologies and initiatives is a potential means of engaging thoroughly with customers and the community and contribute towards a more sustainable future; as well as having proven business value, as Itron has demonstrated.

To watch the full interview and read more about innovations for utilities, access our digital magazine.