They are some of the leading thinkers, tackling some of the biggest issues in the marketplace. And IBM is lucky to count them among our numbers.
With the emergence of technologies that make smart grids possible, companies can provide their customers with the information and control they need to change their behavior patterns and reduce usage and costs. And Donato Cortez, Clay Luthy and Michael Valocchi are some of the IBMers working on solutions.
"Utilities have not changed for the last 100 years; they basically do business the same way," said Don Cortez, an IBM business development executive in Houston, Texas. "It is time to take utilities into the 21st Century." And that, essentially, is what he's busy doing.
"My job basically involves talking to utility executives and really inspiring them to take their company where they would not ordinarily go themselves. This is the journey to transform their companies."
Don helps utility executives realize that they need to take advantage of automation and tools that have already changed other industries, such as telecommunications and banking. The result, he said, is more efficient utilities, and "consumers get better insight into what we're consuming."
"A monthly bill is not much of inspiration for you to change behavior," he said. "Imagine if when you went to gas up your car, there was nothing in the signs that said how much you were paying. There was nothing but a hose. And the guy took down your license number and at the end of the month you got a bill. I bet you'd be surprised. But that's what we do in the utility industry."
"Advances in technology in cell phones and other industries have shrunk the cost and size of devices, so now you really can push visibility of energy all the way into the home at a relatively low price."
Although Don joined IBM just last August, he's a 34-year veteran of the utilities industry, including 10 years working in South America.
"When I look at a utility company, I like to look at it globally, to see how I can transform the company to make it more efficient." And Don has the experience to back that up. He has been an executive at electric utilities in Colombia and Brazil, as well as CenterPoint Energy, one of the first companies to deploy a smart grid.
He's a frequent participant in conferences, particularly those focused on the smart grid, and maintains an online presence through LinkedIn and some smart grid councils. "I participate heavily in conferences associated with the automation of utilities, particularly smart grid," he said. "They're always looking for credible, knowledgeable speakers and the brand of IBM really puts me in that position."
When he needs expertise, he first looks within IBM. But he also looks outward, based on his industry contacts. "I sometimes go outside for niches in experience, for example, home automation. I might go to a company that has expertise in that area."
Don is excited about the future of the smart grid. He sees it evolving in three stages. In the first, automation will transform the back end of the industry, the transmission lines, generating stations, etc. The second iteration will transform how consumers interact with their utility and their energy use. And the third, still somewhat speculative, opens the utility to third-party suppliers. "You as a consumer are going to start seeing greater service offerings associated with your utility consumption whether electricity, gas or water. Although you may not realize it," said Don.
Married for 36 years, Don has three adult children, a son and two daughters. A graduate of Texas A&M, he is fluent in Spanish and can "get by" in Portuguese. Besides work, he enjoys fishing and carpentry. "I can't really decide whether I love carpentry or I like to buy power tools," he said with a laugh.
Thomas "Clay" Luthy
There's no question that Clay Luthy enjoys his work.
"One of the things I love about what I'm doing is that I get the unique opportunity to drive environmental change, working with cool, cutting-edge software and technology for a mind-blowingly forward-thinking company," he said.
As a global distributed energy resource leader, Clay is "responsible for defining IBM's go-to-market strategy for any distributed energy generation, distributed storage or electric vehicle solution. "Basically anything behind the utility meter. So distributed generation, in my case, would be rooftop solar panels, not wind farms or solar farms," explained Clay.
"This notion of smart grid is the marriage of information technology to the electrical grid. It gives utilities the ability to integrate and factor in new loads and assets that they hadn't been able to do. Before smart grid, a utility had no idea who had rooftop solar and what it was producing. The utility was essentially blind to it."
IBM supplies the software and infrastructure to help utilities balance supply and demand better. That will become particularly important as more electric vehicles enter the market.
"With electric vehicles, utilities don't know when and where they're going to plug in," said Clay. "We're developing the information technology infrastructure that enables the seamless integration of electric vehicles, allowing them to optimize their charge based on grid conditions."
Having worked on electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in previous jobs at Toyota and GridPoint, Clay considers his expertise skews toward that area, although he obviously knows distributed generation and storage too. And he's quick to share it. "I have had the opportunity to build my expertise by speaking at seminars and conferences and conducting interviews with media," he said.
Some of those appearances include speaking at the Global Cleantech Leaders conference in Paris, presenting at the Utilities Telecom Council, speaking at a global forum of the French Institute for Foreign Relations in Brussels, and hosting a dinner for national media in Washington, D.C. where they discussed the electric vehicle market.
But for Clay, there's much more to being an expert than sharing what he knows. "I really like speaking with the consumer, the end user of the product. Part of building your eminence is really learning what the market wants and never assuming you have all the answers," he said.
Clay finds much of the expertise he needs within the company. "There are people in IBM who have been innovating with electric vehicles for the better part of their lives," he said. He finds the Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition, a group of utility companies that work with IBM to accelerate smart grid adoption, very useful too.
Not surprisingly, he foresees "electric vehicles will really be an interesting market that is likely going to grow rather profusely over the next five to 10 years. There are so many cool things that can be done with interconnected vehicles; it could be a fundamental shift in our view of transportation."
Having electric cars charge overnight would take advantage of night winds for generating power, for example. And the grid could even be configured to use the charging cars to help stabilize the frequency (60 Hz in the United States) of the grid. Clay can also imagine using a smart phone to reserve a charging spot or using a charging spot to download a movie.
Married for just over a year, Clay lives in Washington, D.C. and shares his home office with "a goofy yellow lab" named Bailey. He describes himself as an "avid cycler and a struggling golfer" and an all-around tinkerer.
Besides being a Global Business Services vice president and partner, Michael Valocchi is global energy and utility industry leader.
"I'm focused on all our clients in the energy and utilities industry, and helping the teams understand what our solutions are, what we can bring to the market. And then spending significant amounts of time with our clients to make sure that our strategy is correct and that the solutions that we are bringing are correct," he said.
Michael has 25 years of experience in the industry, starting with Coopers & Lybrand and PricewaterhouseCoopers. "My first role out of college was to be a financial auditor of a utility. I've been with the utility industry ever since."
Clients keep him current. "Frankly the way I got my expertise was by all the time I've spent with clients in the industry," Michael said. "Not a week goes by that I'm not with a client. I also continue to read a lot on industry issues and learn from the staff and other executives around me."
Those two and half decades of experience make him an easy man to find. "This is a fairly tight-knit industry. There are a lot of people I've gotten to know over the years who will seek me out to speak at conferences," he said. "I speak at least two or three times a month at various conferences, conduct media interviews, as well as written pieces." He's also on LinkedIn.
He has spoken at SAP for Utilities conference and the Gridwise Global Forum, among others. Michael has been quoted in top business magazines, as well as The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, and has appeared on CNBC and other television outlets. He has authored three white papers in the last three years. Of course, all that exposure helps people find his expertise both inside and outside the company.
"Within IBM a lot of it [being found] is through reputation and through the networking that I've done," he said. "We've got a community within IBM for energy and utilities over 1,000 people strong. So people find me that way too."
For Michael one of the most exciting aspects of the energy industry is the increased role of the consumer. "The average person is beginning to understand what we do," he said.
"Energy and utilities has traditionally been an infrastructure business," but that has changed with new technologies, such as smart grid. "The average person understands that energy is important and wants to understand how it works."
In addition to raising consumer awareness, new technology is having an effect on business. "The technology that is starting to come out in the industry, whether it's intelligent sensors out on the grid or plug-in electric cars or smart meters, the technical revolution that is on its way really makes me excited."
Michael is married, with a daughter in college who is working on environmental studies and a son in high school. And he comes from a large family of 10 brothers and sisters. "That's a source of entertainment at all times," he said. For pleasure, he reads, plays tennis, works out and spends time with the family. He lives outside Philadelphia.