Utilities all over the country are facing multiple disruptions, from climate change to distributed energy generation to a growing need to embrace digital transformation. These challenges are more pronounced for midsize public power utilities, which are community-owned, not-for-profit and often more vulnerable to economic challenges than investor-owned utilities.
As new obstacles arise, we at SAS want to ensure that we’re continuing to deliver the solutions utility leaders need to guide their organizations through the digital disruption. To help us evaluate industry needs and create innovative solutions, we’ve developed a unique partnership with Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
How it works
Duke’s Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum has matched five Master of Management Studies (MMS) students and one Master of Business Administration (MBA) engagement manager with a stable of energy industry experts at SAS. Together, they’re working to help SAS better identify and understand the challenges shaping the midsize public power market. The students recently offered their midpoint presentation to a leadership audience at SAS that included Paula Henderson, Executive Vice President and Chief Sales Officer, Americas.
“It’s an incredible time to be in this market,” Henderson told the students. “There is so much going on from a transformation and disruption perspective: From climate change to the need for more electric vehicles to the new (Biden) Administration for which this will be one of the top issues, we feel this is an incredible time for us to bring our best and brightest to show where there are some unmet market needs where analytics can bring value to the sector.”
The students’ thorough and professional work is already aiding SAS in uncovering unmet customer needs, even though the 12-week consulting program hasn’t yet reached its end.
Real-world experience for students
But it’s not just SAS or those of us who get our power from a public utility who stand to benefit from the project. It’s providing relevant, real-world experience for the Fuqua students as well.
“Those of us in the MMS program don’t have any prior consulting experience, so having the opportunity to work with such an experienced, helpful and supportive team at SAS has been incredible,” said Chris Niemasz, an MMS candidate and Raleigh native. “While working to add value, we receive extensive feedback to identify areas for improvement. The team and I have already seen significant growth and have no doubt these skills will translate to whatever comes next.”
Bill Boulding, dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, says the early success of this relationship exemplifies why the program pairs students with industry leading companies like SAS.
“Our SAS partnership is a model of exactly the type of win-win we hope to provide through matching our students with companies to work on real-world business issues,” Dean Boulding said. “We are grateful to SAS for giving our students this opportunity and hope we find many ways to partner together in the years to come.”
Building key relationships
The project will culminate in late March when the Fuqua students offer their final presentation to another leadership audience at SAS. One of the most interested observers when that happens will be Sal Gill, who heads digital strategy and market innovation for SAS Energy & Utilities. Gill is the executive sponsor for the partnership and also happens to be a proud Fuqua alumnus, having earned his MBA in strategy and finance at Duke.
“Knowing what both Fuqua and SAS are capable of individually, it was a no-brainer to try to find ways for us to work together in the Energy & Utilities division,” Gill said. “At SAS, we truly believe that we are better together. Building relationships with colleges and universities is a critical component of how we can continue to stay on the leading edge and always work to identify unmet customer needs, and there’s no better way to begin that effort than with Duke and Fuqua.”