Closed Circuit

​By Philip Reed

Photos by Jen Neville

Employees across WAPA set aside the day of July 11 to attend the fourth annual Inclusion, Innovation and Technology Summit, or I2T Summit.

It was held at Headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado, with regional employees tuning in and participating remotely. The daylong event featured keynote speakers, an update on a project brainstormed at 2018’s I2T Summit, a panel discussion and an Innovation Challenge, during which employees teamed up to solve actual issues facing the organization.

Innovating every day 

This year’s event was organized and emceed by Asset Maintenance Engineer and I2T Summit Chair Jackie Brusoe. Its theme was The Everyday Innovator. 

“The entire I2T team worked together to find the right theme,” Brusoe said. “Last year’s theme was Creating a Culture of Innovation, and we wanted to build on that idea and take it further.” 

The I2T Committee brainstormed a number of ideas before landing on its theme. 

“We really liked The Everyday Innovator,” said Brusoe. “Creating a Culture of Innovation was more about the organization as a whole, and the supportive, safe environment that’s crucial for innovation. With The Everyday Innovator, we focused on the employees instead. If WAPA creates a culture of innovation, it’s up to each of us to innovate.” 

The Everyday Innovator was also intended to demystify innovation and remind employees that it’s something they can practice themselves, regardless of their roles in the organization. 

“People often see innovation as this big concept,” Brusoe explained. “They think of inventions, or large-scale reorganizations, or some multimillion-dollar project that changes everything. In reality, though, innovation is often very small. You’re at your desk, or you’re in the field, or you’re working in the same spreadsheet you’ve been working in for years, and you think, ‘We can do this just a little better.’ That’s innovation. No idea is too small to make a difference.” 

As Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel succinctly put it in his opening remarks, “If you have ever acted on an idea, congratulations; you are an innovator.” 

Failure is, in fact, an option 

Something else Gabriel emphasized is the fact that failure isn’t something to fear. 

“At WAPA,” Gabriel explained, “we embrace a culture of psychological safety, which encourages employees to try new things and identify possible issues without fear of retaliation or retribution.” 

Gabriel even cited a number of high-profile “failures,” reminding attendees that sometimes they will have to work through some wrong answers before they find the right one. 

He spoke about Abraham Lincoln’s failure to be elected for various positions before becoming president, Henry Ford filing for bankruptcy before achieving success and Thomas Edison, regarding whom he shared an anecdote: “A friend asked him, ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’ Edison replied, ‘Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!’” 

Gabriel concluded his speech by encouraging employees to seek opportunities for innovation. 

“To get started on becoming an everyday innovator, talk to people around you about what is missing and what could be done better,” he said. “Consider your own workload or the workload of your office. Ask questions, and come up with an idea to improve the way you do business.” 

Small ideas, big effects 

The event’s two keynote speakers spotlighted the importance of innovation at every level, emphasizing the fact that one seemingly small improvement can have larger positive impacts down the line. 

“People focus on the end result, the big-wow factor,” said Department of Energy Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Electricity Patricia Hoffman. “I focus on how we get there.” 

Hoffman explained that she considers herself to be an everyday innovator, and encourages each member of her staff to be one as well. 

“No matter what role you have,” she said, “everyone can add value to a contribution or activity.” 

She advises employees to regularly question their own processes and said that she spends three-quarters of her own time asking questions out of simple curiosity. 

“Small ideas can have big effects,” she assured attendees. “There is a great way to think about how to succeed in innovation. Look at your environment, be flexible, talk to many people and ask more questions.” 

Founder and CEO of Dots and Bridges Pete Tseronis emphasized the importance of taking an active role in innovation. 

“Nothing is going to be given to you,” he said. “It is about what you are going to do with the opportunities given to you. You have to get out of your comfort zone.” 

Tseronis spoke at length about a career being a journey. He suggested taking advantage of the opportunity to innovate as a way to guide the direction of that journey and choose its destination. He also discussed the short-term advantages of innovation. 

“If you are willing to be humble about things, and willing to learn, you are going to earn so much credibility and knowledge,” he said. 

Words from WAPA 

Keeping in line with the event’s theme, attendees also got to hear from WAPA’s own everyday innovators. 

Environmental Engineer Dan Mar spoke about the implementation of a solution he helped develop during 2018’s Innovation Challenge regarding the tracking and reporting of sulfur hexafluoride. 

Bonneville Power Administration Chief Technology Innovation Officer Judith Estep then moderated a WAPA employee panel discussion featuring Program Analyst Valerie Berk, Electrical Engineer Brian Bucks, Biologist Tim Langer and High Voltage Electrician Paula Sibbley. 

The panel discussed topics including navigating change, getting buy-in and learning from failure. 

“Resisting or ignoring change isn’t an effective strategy,” Bucks observed. “It will not work well in your personal life or at WAPA. Find pain points and include the people who are affected by that pain in finding a resolution. Pain is not caused by people, but by broken processes.”

“Leveraging your influence starts long before you need to use it,” Berk said. “You need to be considered an expert in your field, give great customer service and develop relationships. Then you can influence and implement change.” 

Langer suggested mentally recasting failures as opportunities. Sibbley took an even more optimistic perspective. “Failure leads to growth,” she said. “Don’t quit when you fail. When you fail, that is when you grow as an organization.” 

Ready, steady, innovate! 

As in previous years, the afternoon was given over to the Innovation Challenge. Employees across WAPA’s footprint split into teams to innovate on the spot, developing solutions to two real-world issues facing WAPA. 

The issues were increasing awareness, efficiency and effectiveness of WAPA’s technological tools; and ensuring that inclusive behaviors are implemented throughout the organization. 

Power System Dispatcher Trainer Jon Sirney hosted the exercise, which saw participation from a total of 13 teams across Headquarters and WAPA’s regions. 

“This event is designed to not only develop solutions to the problems we presented, but to also be a showcase for what can be accomplished when an inclusive atmosphere and attitudes are present,” said Sirney. “I was really impressed by what these teams were able to accomplish in the short amount of time they were given.” 

The Innovation Challenge was won by Upper Great Plains’ Watertown team, which proposed the creation of a software inventory catalogue accessible through the organization’s intranet. The team consisted of Supervisory Power System Dispatcher Doug Brown, Power System Dispatcher Chris Bultsma and Electrical Engineer Baryaley Sharwani. 

Looking forward 

With another successful summit behind them, the I2T team is already hard at work discussing lessons learned and preparing for next year’s event. 

“I could not be happier with how valuable and inspirational the I2T Summit was this year,” Brusoe said. “It took a lot of work from a lot of people throughout the organization, but they came together to really hit it out of the park. It turned out to be a great illustration of the power of working together.” 

Her sentiments were echoed by many others across WAPA. 

“I really enjoyed the event and continue to be impressed by the innovation and all the value inclusion brings to the table,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Howard. 

“I hope that everyone takes the creative and collaborative energy they had during this event back with them to their normal functions,” added Sirney. 

After all, as Gabriel put it, “Every employee at WAPA has the opportunity to be an innovator. You only need to be brave enough to take it.”

Note: Reed is a technical writer who works under the Wyandotte Technology contract. 

Patricia Hoffman speaks to employees

Department of Energy Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of 

Electricity Patricia Hoffman was one of two guest speakers at the I2T Summit.

Employees receive a fiber optic demonstration

In addition to gues speakers and presentations, attendees were able to enjoy a

number of industry-relevant demonstrations.

Mark A. Gabriel presents an award

Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel recognizes Transmission Siting Permitting

Policy Analyst Steve Blazek and Biologist Tim Langer with an honorable mention

for their work delisting the Deseret milkvetch from the list of endangered species. 

And the winners are…

A large number of employees were recognized for their innovative work on a variety projects with I2T Awards.

Automated SCADA reporting

  • Matthew Bailey

Splunk implementation

  • Drew Calcaterra
  • Michael Cantrell 
  • Sean Foster
  • Michael Grafton 
  • Jordan Moore
  • Alan Padgett

OEID Diversity Dashboard

  • LaKischa Cook 
  • Julia Duffy
  • Lisa Hansen
  • Chuck Marquez
  • Mark Soden 
  • Erika Walters
  • Caleb Williams

Physical security camera architecture

  • Gerry Gasca
  • Christine Hale
  • Dan Hubert
  • John Isbell
  • Bryan Klinkel
  • Don Kuntz
  • Adrian Martinez
  • Travis Perrin
  • Kevin Schulz
  • Sam Sharwarko
  • Tonya Spencer
  • Larry Wren

SCADA remote support access

  • Corinna Gonzalez
  • William Lawrence

Protection Engineering website

  • Joe Niswonger

Innovative work environment

  • Joe Fast

Power Marketing process improvement

  • ​Debbie Hawthrone
  • David Lunceford
  • Chris Peers
  • Cindy Tafoya
  • Maria Tyler

Two-factor authorization for SCADA

  • Matthew Bailey
  • Jodi Jensen
  • Jacque Lopez
  • Mike Paris
  • Steve Schmiesing
  • Scott Schroeder
  • Tim Weathers

CRSP MC Mitel phone system

  • Michael Cantrell
  • Jane Harrell
  • Bich Nguyen
  • Brian Sadler

Honorable mentions go to…

Active Directory standardization

  • Doug Duxbury
  • Robin Morgan
  • Patricia Musk
  • Max Pitard
  • Eric Skinner
  • Tammy Tassitano

HQ People Locator

  • Byron Edwards

Award selection process automation

  • Carolyn Gates

Safety Incentive Award process

  • Allison Burnett

Deseret milkvetch ESA delisting

  • Steve Blazek
  • Matt Blevins
  • Shane Hedrick
  • Tim Langer

Innovation challenge winners

The winners of this year’s Innovation Challenge suggested the creation of a software inventory catalogue accessible through the organization’s intranet. 

The winning team consisted of:

  • Doug Brown 
  • Chris Bultsma
  • Baryaley Sharwani

Last modified on March 8th, 2024