Let's Get Edisonian: Let's Invent the Future!

If Thomas Edison were to materialize in the year 2012, I believe he would be pleased by how we 21st-century electrical contractors are redefining the industry he launched. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

The inventor’s great-grandson, David Edward Edison Sloane, is writing a family history, and he says, “Thomas Edison would have been the first to support technological advances. That’s the real, obvious message of his 1,000-plus patents: Let’s invent the future.”

In fact, Edison might not be too surprised by some of the new ways we’re approaching energy and energy management. According to Sloane, his famous forebear became concerned with energy independence and environmental protection at the turn of the 20th century.

“He wanted Ford and Firestone to recognize that oil was nonrenewable, but what he called ‘Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy’—sun, wind and tide—are infinite and free,” Sloane said.

Talk about foresight! Now, some heavy thinkers predict America is only two decades away from achieving energy independence through solar or wind power or, more likely, a combination of alternative means of producing electricity. We modern heirs to Edison’s spirit of innovation are poised to make that happy future a near-term reality. That’s an inspiring and exciting prospect!

Admittedly, a 165-year-old Edison would have to add a lot of new phrases to his lexicon. So have we all in recent years—smart grid, intelligent controls, systems integration, photovoltaics (PV), electric vehicle supply equipment, LEED, light-emitting diode, building information modeling (BIM), etc. These and many other cutting-edge topics are discussed regularly in this magazine, in research reports from ELECTRIInternational, and all over the Internet. They are what we talk about in electrical work force training classes and management education seminars and in meetings with other contractors.

But, if we really want to get Edisonian about it—that is, if we want to make the benefits of technological innovations available to our customers and build on that foundation by constantly incorporating new technologies and techniques into our businesses (so that we can continue to offer new and better services at a profit)—then we also need to speak this new language to customers. Of course, you must first ensure you and your company’s managers and productive workers are fluent in it.

I can testify that adopting new technology-driven capabilities has benefited my affiliated companies and our customers. For example, we developed in-house talent that enabled us to add alternative energy to our service roster about four years ago. On staff, we have LEED-Accredited Professionals and others who hold the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Solar PV Installer Certification. We keep up with new developments in green electrical construction and retrain accordingly. We also promote our alternative energy and green services to targeted customers and market segments. So, today, we can provide a range of energy solutions, including such “exotic” things as feasibility services, solar farm construction throughout the United States, and fiber optic SCADA systems for wind farms.

It was a real ego booster when we were praised for our part in a multitrade prefabrication project that was considered a breakthrough at the time. But, it was the use of prefabrication on this and many other jobs that convinces me this technique could replace the centuries-old “stick-built” on-site construction method. That’s because our customers appreciate the fact that off-site manufacturing provides greater assurance of quality, timely delivery and cost savings. So do we.

The same goes for BIM. The primary reason we do it is because our customers like it. We like it, too, because it makes our work easier and provides a better product. What’s not to like about a technique that can help you deliver a project 25 percent faster and 15 percent under budget, with virtually no change orders? In fact, BIMis essential to much of the work we do these days. Integrated project delivery and BIM go hand in hand.

My point is that meeting your customers’ needs—efficiently and profitably—should be the focus of every project and every project delivery method your company undertakes. And that leads to another line of research your company needs to pursue before you can expand your services: get to know your customers and potential customers. Do some market research in your service area, and find out what they do and what they need.

Think how impressed they’ll be when you are able to offer solutions they hadn’t anticipated. Now, that’s truly Edisonian!

About the Author

Dennis F. Quebe

President, NECA
Dennis Quebe is a former president of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and contributed the President's Desk column monthly. He took office in January 2012 and served a three-year term.

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