CPS Energy innovation contest drawing rapid development of solutions

Innovation is about connection. Building on a dynamic connection with employees, customers, partners and stakeholders is incredibly important for any organization. This year’s Employee Customer Centric Competition (EC3) is a great example of that concept.

CPS Energy employees were asked to use their corporate knowledge and creativity to propose innovative solutions that make a difference within the utility. These strategies cover several projects and initiatives including, customer service, business development security & safety, Smart City efforts and culture.

Employees cast more than 2,000 votes on over 100 innovative ideas, leading to 18 finalists being given the chance to see their idea develop into something even bigger. The contest came to a head at the Employee Innovation Fair on May 15. All the finalists were given a final chance to meet up with voters face-to-face in the La Villita Assembly Building to give their elevator pitch and provide materials, prototypes and videos.

First place went to Lori Lopez (pictured at the top of page), Manager of CSI Program Management, for her Telecommute (Work from Home) Program.  With technology allowing us to stay connected, Lori’s idea aims to take work from a traditional setting and into employee homes, cafes, coffeeshops and more. Lori earned $5,000 towards professional development, including 96 hours over 12 weeks of development time, and a one-year Geekdom membership (valued at $300).  

It was practically a photo finish for 2nd place as votes came in during the final minutes of the competition—resulting in a tie. Jessica Sustaita, Scheduler in Customer Construction, and her team proposed the idea of having a daycare for children of employees to help reduce the added stress that the logistics and price of childcare can put on a parent.

(L to R) Jessica Sustaita, Alyssa Kruciak, Ann Engel and Michelle Rios celebrate the win.

Commercial Energy Advisor Scott Mahan and his team earned 2nd place with their idea to implement an online chat system for call center representatives to be immediately accessible to customers. Both teams earned $6,000 for team professional development, along with 48 hours over 12 weeks of development time. Each team also received a one-year Geekdom membership.

(L to R) Scott Mahan, Joshua Davila and Justin Dotson look forward to working on the project.

“Innovation doesn’t happen without people. A lot of times it’s not about the idea itself, it’s the people behind them,” said Vivian Bouet, Interim Chief Information Officer (CIO), as she addressed the teams at the innovation fair. “The passion that those people put forth about those ideas, the courage to move forward…and sticking to your guns to share what your idea is—that’s when innovation comes to life.”

EPIcenter served as a major innovation partner and supporter of this year’s competition. Each of the finalists experienced a four-week training program, led by Andi Littlejohn, who serves as a project manager at the center. Her experience in coaching start-up clients gave the CPS Energy teams an opportunity to refine their ideas and sharpen the effectiveness of their pitch.

“What we’ve equipped these employees with are the tools to be innovators in the future,” said Jason Scarlett, Director for the Center of Innovation. “They have the toolset to put their best foot forward and really think about, ‘What are the customers behind the idea?’ and ‘What are the challenges they might have?’ EPIcenter has a very structured program that they utilize to help startups and that same methodology has been brought to these employees.”

This year’s competition teaches us there’s value in tapping into the pulse of the employee that has direct knowledge of issues and corresponding solutions. Taking those ideas and bringing additional resources to build around the project brings it to the next level. Keep a look out for updates on these top projects and their journey to see their ideas come to fruition.

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