2010 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater FOCUSS Idea Competition Sponsored by Alliant Energy

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First Place Fourth PlaceThe presidios campus of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater was be the site of the FOCUSS (Framework for Opportunity Convergence and the Utilization of Sustainable Solutions) Idea Competition, which was held on 22 October 2010.

Created to stimulate constructive thought surrounding concepts of innovation and discovery, the FOCUSS Idea Competition provided students a unique opportunity to share and cultivate solutions to "real world" problem statements presented by sponsoring institutions. Competition was open to all current UW-Whitewater students. The corporate Sponsor of the UW-Whitewater competition was Alliant Energy, a publicly traded power company with headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin.

For the Idea Competition, UW-Whitewater students were given the opportunity to address ONE of the following problem statements (scenarios) submitted by Alliant Energy.

Alliant Energy is a regulated industry with a union workforce. Turnover is extremely low for skilled labor - once a person is hired into the organization, they tend to stay with the company until they retire. Skilled labor requirement involves a four to five-year apprenticeship. Lack of accurate advanced notice for retirements and budget constraints do not allow hiring all the replacement workers needed ahead of time. Retirements impact the plants in “waves”; two to three year periods where a significant portion of the workforce turns over due to retirements.

  1. What method or methods can be used by Alliant Energy to continue operating with minimal impact, this exodus of individual knowledge? Consider business, equipment, processes, and employee/community safety needs.

  2. Alliant Energy is committed to being representative of its customer base in its employee demographics. What are the best ways to attract a workforce where people of diverse backgrounds, talents and perspectives feel like they belong? Consider women in non-traditional jobs, minorities, veterans, GLBT communities etc.


Alliant Energy’s Iowa utility is converting one of its steam generation units to burn 15% corn stover (Biomass) replacing an equivalent amount  of coal, on an energy basis. Operational needs require a total of 500,000 tons of corn stover a year supplied to the generation plant. Onsite storage is limited to 1 week worth of material (corn stover).

Consider: a) material shipments to the plant are evenly distributed on a weekly basis; b) there is a limited harvesting season; c) various primary crops compete for harvesting time and equipment; d) material needs to be trucked into the plant from a remote location; e) long-term storage of the material is required (harvest season to harvest season; and f) delivery logistics are currently non-existent at the plant.

  1. Given the above, identify a cost effective plan to harvest, store, deliver and off load the material at the generation station.


Paperless billing is the proverbial win-win. It saves companies money by reducing postage and printing costs. It saves customers time and hassle by eliminating paper bills and using e-mail instead. And it can help save the environment by reducing the amount of paper as well as emissions caused by printing and transportation of paper bills. Alliant Energy would like more of its utility customers to adopt paperless billing.

  1. What barriers exist that prevent adoption of paperless billing?  What can be done to overcome those barriers?

  2. What types of promotions or marketing campaigns have been successful in promoting the use of paperless billing?

  3. What messages would resonate most with utility customers?

  4. Do customers react differently if the program is positioned as electronic billing vs. paperless billing?

  5. What is the preferred method for payment reminders for customers? Text messaging, emails, phone call or paper statement?


Self-service options for customers provide an effective means of responding to common customer queries. Engaging customers to try and complete a successful transaction using self-service is the critical first step for providing customers with the options to complete their transactions online, or in an automated phone system. However many customers dislike automated phone systems. Alliant Energy wants more of its utility customers to utilize self-service options, so more urgent and critical calls can be handled by customer service representatives.

  1. How can we attract more customers to use self-service options?

  2. What type of self-service transactions are utility customers willing to complete through the web or in an automated phone system?

  3. Do customer demographics have any affect on the type of self-service transactions they want or would be willing to adopt?

  4. Are more customers using mobile devices to conduct online transactions?  What are the key aspects of a mobile friendly website?

  5. Are certain customer groups more inclined to find information from a website vs. calling to speak with customer service?  If so, what types of information do these customers demand?


Like many business, Alliant Energy has found it beneficial to move lower-tier applications, such as infrastructure and less mission critical servers from physical to virtual environments. We have realized the flexibility, scalability of server virtualization technology. We reduced our physical servers almost 50% in the last three years, and realized significant cost savings. Our current server virtualization ratio is at 53%. As a key component to enabling the private cloud computing, the next step is to think about migrating Tier 1, business-critical applications such as Exchange, SQL and Oracle applications. Tier 1 systems have different criteria and resource issues. They require high CPU, high I/O and are critical applications for business operations.

  1. Is server virtualization technology matured enough for us to deploy Tier 1 applications?

  2. If the technology is matured, what are the necessary processes and components needed to be in place before we proceed? What are the best practices?

  3. How can we mitigate the risks from the performance prospective?

  4. How can we ensure that we have the business continuity capability to recover the applications in the event of disaster?

The initial idea submissions were evaluated by a group of qualified individuals representing both the public and private sectors. Each submission was judged on the following criteria:

  • Statement of the idea (solution) to resolve the problem. (Are the answers to the submission questions well written and clearly thought out?)

  • How innovative/original is the idea?

  • Does the idea provide a solution to a problem?
  • $500 First Place
  • $300 Second Place
  • $200 Third Place

For more than 140 years, UW-Whitewater has provided an exceptional learning experience for its students. We're proud of our history and excited about the future. There is much happening on this campus that benefits the educational experiences of our students.

Our faculty and staff and students continue to excel in research and engagement with the region. During the last academic year our students donated nearly $100,000 and 25,000 hours in service. Our faculty and staff from all four colleges - Arts and Communication, Letters and Sciences, Education, and Business and Economics - continue to blend research and teaching. They are also engaged with outreach and service projects in the surrounding region.

Leading the Idea effort at UW-Whitewater are Dr. Christine Clements, Dean of the College of Business and Economics, and Freda Briscoe, Director of the UW-Whitewater Minority Business & Teacher Preparation Programs.

Christine Clements is currently the Dean of the College of Business and Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She served as chair of the Department of Management for six years and spent two years as Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. She has been a member of the faculty at UW-W since 1990. Prior to this time she was on the faculty at North Dakota State University. In addition to her UW-W activities, Chris is actively involved on committees and review teams for AACSB International (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), and  serves on the Board of Directors for WWHEL (Wisconsin Women in Higher Education Leadership). Dean Clements has a Ph.D. in Management from the University of Arkansas, an MBA from UW- La Crosse and a B.A from UW- Madison in Political Science and Scandinavian Studies.

Ms. Briscoe also serves as Coordinator of the Summer Business Institute. She received a Master of Science degree in Education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and a Bachelor of Art degree from Arkansas (Lyon) College in Batesville, Arkansas. Freda is the Advisor for the UW-Whitewater Student Chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants, a multicultural student organization that was charted on the UW-W campus under her leadership. She is also a co-instructor of study abroad forums and has co-led student groups to Ghana, West Africa, Brazil and South Africa. Prior to coming to UW-Whitewater, Ms. Briscoe lived and worked in mainland Japan, Okinawa and the Philippines.

Alliant Energy Corporation is a regulated, investor-owned public utility holding company providing regulated electric and natural gas service to approximately 1 million electric and 412,000 natural gas customers in the upper Midwestern states of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Alliant Energy, headquartered in Madison, WI, is an investor-owned public utility holding company traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “LNT.”

For more than 100 years, Alliant Energy and our predecessor companies have kept homes warm, lights burning and factories running across the upper Midwest and around the world: Nearly 5,000 employees across the country, operating revenues of $3.4 billion (year-end 2009), and total assets of more than $9 billion (year-end 2009). In addition, our focus extends beyond our energy operations. Every day, we demonstrate our commitment to community involvement.

Idea Competition leadership from Alliant Energy is being provided by Dundeana Doyle, Senior Vice President Energy Delivery; Preeti Pachaury, Diversity Manager; John Larsen, Senior Vice President Generation; and David Cagigal, Chief Information Technology Officer.

Dundeana Doyle (pictured left) is responsible for Energy Delivery Operations, Customer Service, Account Management, Energy Efficiency and Small Renewables, Economic Development and Smart Grid Strategy and Deployment. She also serves on the board of Alliant Energy Corporation Foundation, EEI/AGA - Customer Service Committee and United Way of Dane County amongst others.

Preeti Pachaury (pictured right) is responsible for leading workforce diversity strategies at Alliant Energy. This includes partnerships to develop a diverse talent pool for filling critical jobs as the company plans for an aging workforce. She holds a Masters degree from the UW Madison, school of Business and is a certified project manager. Among other interests, she mentors students at University of Wisconsin, and serves on the board of Madison Area Diversity Roundtable and the YWCA.

John Larsen (pictured left) is responsible for executive oversight of all strategic, operational and financial aspects of Alliant Energy’s generation business, including fossil fuels and IEA non-regulated generation. He is also on the board of many organizations; University of Wisconsin-Platteville College of Engineering and Midwest Reliability Organization to name a few.

David Cagigal (pictured right) is responsible for oversight of all strategic, operational and financial aspects of Alliant Energy’s Information Technology needs. David has been on the board member of Urban League of greater Madison and is on the board of University of Wisconsin, Erdman Center Industrial Advisory Board and DePaul University Alumni Board, Vice President amongst others.