Felicia Brady is a management consultant who has steered utilities, government departments and businesses through some of the key transformations in the utilities sector over the past 25 years. With a background in project management and a diverse skill set, she’s an expert in navigating disruptive change and identifying the new business opportunities that inevitably ensue.
I started my career working for the Federal Government in Canberra, but after five years, three departments and a Masters in Project Management, I moved to Melbourne and joined a management consulting firm.
In the twenty years since then, I have delivered business projects and major transformations, built new businesses and launched new technologies, created an entire program delivery function from zero to 500 people, and managed a huge project portfolio worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
What excites me these days is creating new capabilities that can endure beyond my tenure, and delivering change that gets into the DNA of the organisation.
Getting a start in the sector
I was working for the Department of Industry in Canberra and was appointed to the interdepartmental committee working on the deregulation of the electricity industry. A few years later, after running projects at telcos and banks, I was asked to backfill a colleague who had been working at Powercor. During the period I worked there, the national market was created, the first tranches of contestability were opened, the distributors and retailers were split, and the buying and selling spree commenced. I had the opportunity to develop market-leading products, develop sales and marketing strategies, deliver new billing systems, set up strategic alliances, and eventually set up the Full Retail Contestability (FRC) project. The years since have seen me work on the delivery of FRC, major retail transformation projects, the smart meter rollout in Victoria, the acquisition of the NSW retailers, and the introduction of smart metering technology on the consumer side.
At the moment I am working with OTS, a boutique consultancy with specialist expertise in operational technology. The convergence of operational technology and information technology has been one of the great game changers for utilities, with smart metering and smart grid services being rolled out all over the world and driving a new wave of analytics capabilities.
I am currently at South East Water working on their Digital Utility Program. This program is looking at how we transform systems and processes to better meet the expectations of customers, and how we use real time information and data to optimise network operations and more effectively manage assets. It is great to be working on a program about doing things smarter and faster, and with a really strong focus on customer benefits.
Utilities: the place to be
There are a couple of things about utilities that I really like. I’m a problem solver by nature, and this sector is rich with complex problems. New technologies are fundamentally changing the way the industry works, the regulatory foundations of the sector are shifting all the time, and there are exciting innovations in IT services, analytics, and communications that create enormous opportunity to create and deliver value for customers. It is a very exciting time to work in this sector.
The other reason I like utilities is simply what they do. The services delivered by this sector enable the rest of the economy to function, and they are the foundation of the incredible quality of life we have in Australia. Clean water, secure power supply, comprehensive transport options, and universal access to telecommunications are not available to almost half the planet. It’s a privilege to play a small part in bringing these services to the community.
Navigating the challenges
The biggest challenge for me personally in this industry has been the perception that utility experience is not transferable to other sectors. While some engineering functions may be very specialised, a huge amount of what people in utilities do is exactly the same as insurance, banking, healthcare and telecommunications.
Project management is a functional skill, it can be applied in any domain, and the things that make you effective as a project manager are not industry-specific. The same can be said of customer service, billing, credit management, IT delivery and general management. People who have lived through the exponential change utilities have experienced in the last 20 years have a huge amount to offer other sectors facing disruption and structural change.
The services delivered by this sector enable the rest of the economy to function, and they are the foundation of the incredible quality of life we have in Australia.
What lies ahead
The challenges differ between the utilities. In water we need more data. Four meter reads a year cannot give a customer any intelligence about their consumption or any control over their expenditure. Some form of digital metering infrastructure is essential to acquire that data but it is a very hard business case to make under the current regulatory arrangements.
Electricity faces declining consumption, the rapid uptake of alternative generation and storage technologies and the threat of retail disruption. In areas where smart metering is available you are already starting to see new retail business models emerge, and this market is ripe for disintermediation. I think that in the next five to ten years there will be fundamental structural change in this industry.
The great untapped opportunity in utilities is for someone to deliver a truly customer-centric service that consolidates all utility information, simplifies billing, increases choice and control and is seamless to join, set up and exit. There are too many vested interests at play at the moment and customers are not getting the best outcome from all their service providers.
Given this, I’d be very happy to keep working in the utilities sector. Over the last 25 years there has been enormous change in so many aspects of the sector, and there is no sign of it slowing down. The growth of new energy technologies, smart grid analytics and increasing momentum towards the Internet of Things are going to drive the next wave of change, and I’d love to be a part of that.
During my early career I didn’t come across a lot of women in the industry, though that is starting to change. Having said that, at Origin I was lucky enough to work with Karen Moses, who helped lead Origin through their period of exponential growth. Karen was a role model to all of the women at Origin, showing that ability can take you anywhere, and that women can do anything. Watching Karen use her position to advocate for diversity was a great lesson in managerial courage, and an active demonstration of how to bring about change.
It’s all about balance
Life outside work is all about family. I have two children at wonderful schools and we spend most of our non-work time at school activities or with friends whose children attend the same schools. It’s not very diverse of us, but we really don’t have much time for anything else. Both our families live outside Victoria so this is our support network.
The only observation I have about balance, other than outsource everything you can afford to, is to look for an employer with a culture that truly supports families. There is a big difference between policy and culture, and an employer that genuinely cares about your whole life will enable you to perform at your best at work and at home.