​CFC CEO Sheldon Petersen highlighted four technology trends shaping the utility industry in his 2018 CFC District Meeting remarks, and those trends are now accelerating due to the impact of the global pandemic.

Referred to as “The 4Ds” by Petersen, these trends include: disintermediation [the process of new market entrants using technology to displace established businesses]; decentralization [the shift in power from centralized systems to individual systems]; digitalization [the process of employing digital technologies to transform business operations] and decarbonization [the transition to greener energy].

With the pace of change and disruptions increasing as a result of the pandemic, all four trends are becoming more prominent. At the same time, these trends are unfolding in unpredictable ways. For example, AirBnB—a company often cited as a textbook example of disintermediation for the way it upended the hotel industry—has itself been upended by people’s unwillingness to travel during the pandemic.

All Businesses Can Be Disrupted

“When I think about how COVID-19 is impacting our society, I feel we need to add a fifth D—disruption of the disrupters,” Petersen said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a longstanding legacy business or a new market entrant that uses technology to create a new business model—you can be disrupted.”

The good news, he said, is that electric cooperatives are well-positioned to evolve and adapt. “The ultimate enabler for co-ops isn’t technology, it’s our value proposition as cooperatives,” Petersen stated. “We’re in a moment that calls for us to reflect on our purpose and values as cooperatives—the reason why we do what we do and how we differentiate ourselves—our culture. It all comes out of our shared commitment to serving our member-owners—the core of cooperative culture. That shared commitment is our ace in the hole for the future.”​