Capitalizing on years of cradle-to-grave work with the electric utility industry on things such as grid modernization and electrification, Burns & McDonnell has announced its first-ever brand dubbed “1898.” The brand, which will be a division of Burns & McDonnell, is a “future-focused consulting and technology solutions arm,” for clients, the company says.

Chris Underwood, general manager for 1898, says the new division will allow Burns & McDonnell to provide technical, business and security consulting not just during a project, but also before a project has begun. “we exist at the front end of a client’s asset lifecycle – making sure they are making smart decisions,” he says.

The creation of the new unit was in response to a market gap, he says. The division, which already has about 250 employees, will help clients decide whether to build something not just on cost alone but on whether such a decision is a good strategic move.

“This is response to the fact that the clients’ world is changing at a rapid pace,” Underwood said.

In some instances, customers would select a technology vendor before Burns & McDonnell began working with a company and the technology wouldn’t be the right fit for the project. “We saw there were better opportunities (for clients) but we weren’t in the consulting capacity,” says Grant Chapin, senior managing director of 1898.

The division is using its own proprietary software, called AssetLens, that will aggregate existing data and use algorithms and metrics to help clients make capital expenditure decisions.  

“A consultant’s recommendations are only as good as the data that backs it,” Chapin says.

The company has been providing similar services for the utility and electricity sector for years, in some cases embedding consultants with utility clients.

The rapid pace of change in the electric utility sector —with its moves toward electrification and the use of artificial intelligence and automation—has been a good training ground for Burns & McDonnell to learn about how to adapt and respond to customers’ needs, Underwood says. 1898 will have a team dedicated to the oil, gas and chemical sector.

Questioned about the historic name for the future-forward company, Underwood said that it reflects the company’s long history in the industry, but 1898, in many ways like today, “was an era of rampant change.”

Burns & McDonnell, of course, isn’t alone in creating a consultant’s group. Black & Veatch has had a similar consulting arm for more than 20 years, says Bob Welch, senior vice president and COO of Black & Veatch Management Consulting. The company offers consultant services in oil, gas, power, water and telecommunications.

Like at Burns & McDonnell, Black & Veatch is seeing a transformational change in the power sector, Welch says. “There is an unprecedented amount of change,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of conventional power plants being built. There’s also regulatory changes and climate change.” “We’ve talked for a long time about fundamental transformation, and now we are actually seeing it.