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Computer-Aided Lean Management

by Roger Anderson, Albert Boulanger, John Johnson, and Arthur Kressner
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July 19th, 2009
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The problem with the Obama Stimulus Funding intended to drive the U.S. towards Energy Independence is that it hasn’t hit Main Street yet.  I am immersed, perhaps like many of you, in a ‘War Room,’ writing a gigantic proposal to the Department of Energy in hopes of getting Smart Electric Grid funding for the next few years.  The problem with this strategy is that the Smart Grid will take 20, maybe 30, years to roll out across the country.  Where will the sustainable, Lean Management for such a concentrated effort for such a long time come from, especially with Washington controlling the purse strings?  It reminds me of the other big event of the week, the 40th anniversary of man’s landing on the Moon.  If the Smart Grid is not to end up a dead end like the lunar mission, we have to come up with ways of funding it far beyond the rebound of our current massive recession that we all hope is soon to end.  After a career spent admiring the Defense Applied Research Projects Administration (DARPA) as it funded massive computer innovations sustained over 20 year time periods, such as the Internet (taking it from its early Mil-net days) and super-computers (taking them far beyond just modeling nuclear weapons), I have high hopes that ARPA-E, the DOE equivalent, will be the sustaining force for the Smart Grid in America.  ARPA-E is designed after DARPA to take innovation across not one, but two gigantic chasms:  the first is from Research to Development, and the second is from Development to Deployment.  The inherent problem with the Smart Grid is that all across the country, utilities are manning their War Rooms writing what I suspect are not proposals focused on the smarts in the smart grid, but on the information needed for the smarts of the smart grid….a beginning, true enough, but only that.  As a country, we will have to sustain the effort across decades in order to transition from an electric grid in which electrons are pumped into copper wires only to slosh around freely until they are consumed somewhere by anything, to a smart grid that, like the Internet, parses this valuable commodity and sends it among many intelligent routes to its optimal intended destination.  Sounds strange doesn’t it, but electricity in the coming electric economy will become both cheap and incredibly valuable, so that it simply must always be there for everyone to use if we as a planet are to pursue happiness as we all hope we will, someday.

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