Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SDM Fellows Provide Strategic Consulting for Boston Cleantech Firm

By Karl Critz, SDM '10

Karl Critz delivering the team's project presentation at the
EnerNOC corporate meeting. Photo by Edoardo Cavalieri d'Oro
During the fall semester of 2010, a group of five SDM fellows engaged in a strategic consulting project for the Boston Cleantech firm EnerNOC. The work was conducted through Michael Davies' Systems Leadership and Management (SLaM) Lab.  EnerNOC laid out a specific, mission-critical goal: expand the company's demand response offering, DemandSMART™, to reach a new class of end-use customers.  The SDM team responded with an immediately implementable solution that targeted new sources of value for company and customer alike.

SLaM lab connects student teams with companies that want a fresh approach to a business challenge. Projects must span technological and managerial domains, represent real issues with concrete  impact, and have strong internal support.  Sassan Zelkha (SDM'10) identified EnerNOC's level of involvement as a key success factor: "The level of exposure and access granted to us by EnerNOC was exceptional."

Sassan Zelkha, Swope Fleming, and Avi Latner prepare
to answer questions. Photo by Edoardo Cavalieri d'Oro
To determine market need and the range of solutions, the team held dozens of interviews with customers and experts. EnerNOC sales representatives, engineers, operations managers, and marketers freely shared domain knowledge and established realistic parameters for implementation.  Current customers revealed their reasons for signing up for DemandSMART while potential customers catalogued concerns.  After conducting primary research, exploring analyst reports, and analyzing actual customer electricity consumption data, the team synthesized the large body of unstructured information into actionable intelligence.

The team concluded that as a standalone product for the desired customer base, demand response alone is not a sufficiently compelling value proposition. To connect with the new type of user, the team developed a hybrid product that delivered more value and addressed a specific anxiety common to the new customer base. The new product still allows EnerNOC to aggregate and deliver firm, reliable demand response resources to electrical utility partners and system operators.  Hardware and installation represented a significant part of the product’s cost structure; the team specified a new equipment mix to reduce costs and generate a favorable rate of return.  Finally, the team created a new sales strategy to facilitate the go-to-market plan.

This solution was presented to C-level executives and the Utility Solutions group at EnerNOC's 2010 corporate conference.  The presentation was enhanced by the visual communication techniques emphasized in the SLaM course.  EnerNOC's corporate culture involves in-depth questioning and rigorous assumption-checking, so the SLaM team had to be ready with quick and thorough answers. Product Manager Margaret Yellott was enthusiastic, noting that "I thought the presentation was snappy, your points and supporting data were well articulated, and you fielded questions effectively. And of course, the substance of the product was good, and we're looking forward to digging into next steps internally."

The process was just as important as the product.  Throughout the course, the topics included leadership, teamwork, and group dynamics. Team members were able to apply these concepts immediately and improve their critical soft skills.  Swope Fleming (SDM'10) summarized the experience well: "I thought it was an excellent project and EnerNOC's support was fantastic.  Being able to work with 'live ammo' is something that just cannot be replicated in the classroom alone, and it was an invaluable experience."

The MIT project team consists of Avi Latner, Swope Fleming, Edoardo Cavalieri d'Oro, Sassan Zelkha, and Karl Critz.  We thank the EnerNOC project team of Lee Garf, Mark Foreman, and Margaret Yellott.

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