June 6, 2023 | Podcast

Episode 20: Can the Nation's Largest Utility Company Match Amazon's User Experience?

Mark Browning, SVP and Chief Information Officer at Exelon

About the episode

Despite operating in a highly regulated industry, energy and utility companies face the same customer expectations as tech giants Google and Amazon. How do they keep up? Join us as Mark Browning, SVP and Chief Information Officer at Exelon, explains how his company is transforming digitally in order to meet customers where they are.


Mark Browning

Mark Browning is the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Exelon Utilities. In his role, Mark leads IT at Exelon’s family of utility companies: Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE, Baltimore), Commonwealth Edison (ComEd, Chicago), Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO, Philadelphia) and Pepco Holdings (Atlantic City Electric, Delmarva Power, Pepco.) Mark drives standardization, collaboration, efficiency and consistency within the utilities for higher performance, identifying best practices that all Exelon utilities can leverage.


How are you attracting the level of talent that you need to compete today?

Something we often talk about is how we stack up against the Amazons and Googles of the world, and how it’s a “cool” industry. However, I think there is just as much of a cool factor in the utility industry these days. There's a lot of people that are looking not just to have a job but to have a career where they can make a difference. How can we impact a greener, brighter future for the communities we serve? How can we help upskill people in the communities we serve? There's a whole host of opportunities for attracting talent in this space. 

I think there’s been this view that in IT we’re just a bunch of coders; while coding is a big aspect of IT, there’s other roles as well—which is important to highlight. In the past, these careers would require specific qualifications and a college degree, but now we see more non-traditional paths as well.

For example, the pace at which cybersecurity moves is often faster than the pace at which a four-year college program moves. So, people who may not have followed the traditional path can also add tremendous value to us, and we're seeing that on a lot of different fronts. This makes for a new pipeline of talent, a new opportunity to bring resources into the organization in non-traditional ways.

You touched on cyber and cybersecurity. What are your thoughts on generative AI and how it’s affecting energy and utilities?

I believe we're at a point similar to the creation of the internet. It's one of those technologies that doesn't come along very often, but when it does, it really changes things. I saw a statistic that OpenAI and ChatGPT have gone from 1 million subscribers to 1.16 billion over the course of roughly four months. That’s the fastest growth of any application or any tool ever known to man, and there’s a reason for that. Generative AI shows incredible promise. There’s a whole host of things it can do including making lives more efficient and productive. It tremendously helps with tasks like meeting notes and coming up with action items. 

We’re also exploring several different use cases where we can use generative AI. For instance, using generative AI in our call centers as a co-pilot in determining why customers are calling. What are they looking for? What are some of the reasons that they've had interactions with us in the past and what might they be looking for to help us provide a better customer experience? We’re even considering ways of using generative AI out in the field for things like sorting out technical problems and figuring out historical issues with maintenance activities. Another way is to potentially predict the impact of impeding weather based on past weather patterns, and volume and location of outages. Overall, while we’re just scratching the surface of how to incorporate generative AI to increase efficiency, we are excited to see what’s to come.

How are you determining which use cases to experiment with generative AI first? 

I think it’s really a discussion for us. How do we govern generative AI? How do we put guardrails around it? How do we ensure that we're using it in a productive way? How are we not just assuming that the outputs that it provides us are factually correct and accurate? Then it involves various teams: our legal team, supply organization team, IT team, and security team. There’s a whole cross section of people who are not only figuring out the governance but also how we leverage generative AI to the maximum extent possible and not get caught up in bureaucracy. 

I read a piece recently about how many utilities are resisting the forces of modernity–but it seems like you’re doing the exact opposite. What are your thoughts on that?

We very much are.

If we're going to be on the forefront of leading this energy transformation and energy transition, we need to be maximizing our use of technology and engagement with our customers.


For instance, one of our capabilities allows some of our lower-income customers to search for various assistance programs in their jurisdictions. 

Another example is a solar toolkit capability, where customers in our jurisdictions can take the footprint of their home and come up with an estimate of what to reasonably expect from a new solar installation—and then connect them with an appropriate provider. Overall, we’ve seen that our digital capabilities can make a difference in the lives of our customers. 

What does digital mean to you? 

I think it means the use of technology to create efficiency and effectiveness in our utility operations—such as by digitizing a process, automating a task, or using data analytics to optimize performance. That's digital.

Digital also means some of what we've talked about here in terms of customer experience and providing services through different channels—whether that's mobile apps, websites or social media—to provide capabilities to our customers, online payments, real-time tracking of energy usage, and personalization of communications. That's another form of digital.

I think on the grid side of our business, digital means leveraging emerging technologies like the internet of things, ChatGPT, or generative AI, other technology including sensors, monitoring and control capabilities to make the grid digital. And finally, I'd say digital means fostering a culture of innovation and agility within the utility industry that allows us to quickly adapt to changes in our market and technology landscape.

This is Digital

West Monroe's team of experts and guests pull back the curtain on how to build digital throughout an organization. Through real-world examples, you will learn how to spot digital transformation in real life, and how to make small decisions every day that make a big impact on growth.

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