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As a utility economic developer, I’m the last person you might suspect to be leading the blockchain charge in Oklahoma and western Arkansas. However, after more than 24 years in the utility industry, it’s exactly where I find myself, organizing the first Blockchain for Business in Oklahoma conference. I couldn’t be more excited about this event. My goal is to elevate the discussion and educate our industries about the potential applications and use cases of blockchain technologies.
Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) has a history of innovation that dates to 1902. As Oklahoma’s largest utility provider, we currently serve 852,000 customers in 267 communities across Oklahoma and western Arkansas. As economic development manager, I help companies locate and grow in the OG&E service area, where our reliable and affordable electric service helps communities attract investment and jobs.
I work with companies ranging from startups to large corporations, site location consultants and partners on the state, regional and local levels. When I first started championing blockchain internally, I had some support and I had many questions about how it applies to an electric utility. More importantly as an economic developer, my concern was how it could help our industries remain competitive and grow.
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Journey to blockchain
Like many, I was introduced to blockchain while learning all I could about cryptocurrency as we began to receive many service requests for new data mining operators in our market. I quickly realized that the underlying technology was the real star of the show. I recognized that when combined with advances in AI, IoT and data analytics, the economic model was shifting. The ways companies do their work, compete, invest, transact, collect data and interact with their customers were going to change, and change quickly.
I suspect this change will happen more quickly than industry has ever seen, including the agricultural, industrial and technological revolutions before. This is the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with so much opportunity, yet so many new ways to think about business models. Those that are quick to adapt stand the best chance to survive, both in the utility business as well as other major industries across our service area. But to adapt, one must first understand.
All of this led to me to learn as much and as quickly as I could about blockchain. I wanted answers! What is it? What’s its use case? Who else has implemented this new distributed ledger technology (DLT)? The problem was everyone pretty much was at the same point I was, learning and looking for opportunities to apply this new “cure-all” technology solution I began to look for opportunities to network and discuss. I talked to anyone and everyone. I looked for groups to join on LinkedIn and attended conferences that promised to teach me all there was to know.
Having spent some time working for Apple, I was somewhat comfortable with the technology discussions, but found it would often become to techie for me and I’d lose interest. Having done presentations most of my career, I understood that in order to be great at presentations, you need to understand your audience. You can quickly lose them with too much tech jargon, especially in business.
Where I began to find my voice was when I started talking not about the tech part, but the business side. I explained the implications for and impact to industry, jobs, capital investment — all the things I’ve focused on throughout my career. I began to build an audience and a following and was positioned as an expert. I’ve learned to quickly disclaim that I’m an expert. I am an advocate.
As my conversations with peers across the country evolved and I was becoming more advocate than student, I given opportunities to present on the topic. As I did various presentations across the country and within our service area, I was delighted to see the genuine interest from the audience. While they were still naïve as to the technology and its applications, they certainly understood the effects of the potential impact. Industry is interested in anything that lowers operating costs, improves security, improves transactions and provides value to the customer. That’s the language my audience understands and is eager to discuss.
Spreading the knowledge
The idea to host a blockchain conference in my home state first arose. Creating a forum for industry to learn, ask questions and just discuss topics with peers could provide great value for our customers. After all, the more competitive and successful OG&E served companies are, the better it is for all of us.
On September 17, 2019, in the heart of the Oklahoma City Innovation District, OG&E and IBM are presenting the first Blockchain for Business in Oklahoma conference. I couldn’t be more excited to advocate for its adoption.
Technology will never stop evolving. Organizational learning will never stop. Facilitating a forum where both can be explored and discussed is an incredible and exciting opportunity.
From time to time, we invite industry thought leaders, academic experts and partners, to share their opinions and insights on current trends in blockchain to the Blockchain Pulse blog. While the opinions in these blog posts are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of IBM, this blog strives to welcome all points of view to the conversation.
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