September 10, 2020




As ELECTRI International became firmly established with support from electrical industry contractors, the Foundation’s leaders recognized the importance of working with manufacturers, suppliers, utilities, and other industry organizations whose involvement would be key to ELECTRI’s future.

Schneider Electric, at that time known as Square D, agreed its involvement would benefit the ELECTRI agenda and also the company. In 1991, Square D announced its $1 million investment in ELECTRI International. Since then, the annual earnings from this generous endowment gift have helped support the Foundation’s ambitious research agenda.

ELECTRI recently met with Michael Montanari, VP – Power Systems Business at Schneider, to get his candid perspective on the electrical construction industry and the company’s ongoing relationship with ELECTRI International and its EC industry leaders.

ELECTRI:  Many construction industry leaders are turning their attention to the evolution of connected and integrated Electrical Distribution Systems. Is this a major area of opportunity for the industry?

Mike Montanari: In terms of digital transformation, we’re definitely interested in and pleased about some of the recent projects on this topic supported by ELECTRI. Contractors need to understand it.

 ELECTRI:  While the Foundation can access top industry leaders, how is the industry as a whole taking to the concept of connected and integrated electrical distribution systems?

Mike: We’re seeing contractors take one of three approaches. The first group says, “We get it and we’re running toward it.” The middle of the road says, “We know it’s ‘something’ and we’re trying to figure it out.” Then, there’s the group that feels “I’d rather keep doing it the way we always have.

ELECTRI:  Who’s more interested in a systems approach – the owner or the contractor?

Mike: The life cycle of a building has always been of interest to the owner. Only 25% of the building’s life cycle cost is during the construction phase. The operate/maintain phase represents 75% of the life cycle cost. As more contractors are getting involved in both the construct and operate/maintain phases, it is becoming more relevant and important that they understand the connected systems approach and its impacts to the end user.

ELECTRI: So, how do you get the contracting side to pay attention?

Mike: Push for earlier conversations between the constructors and the owner/operator side of the table.  Schneider works to align itself with both owners and contractors to be part of the conversation at the start. Our collective goal is to work together and make a project easier, safer, more reliable, and sustainable for the long-term

ELECTRI:  Does this only apply to the electrical piece?

Mike: Definitely not. In addition to electrical system, the HVAC, security, and IT systems need to be considered. We cannot ignore the integration of systems and their interoperability. It is important that the owner’s goals are part of the discovery and feasibility stage of a new project. We need to help all of the partners find their place in the project, before we start estimating and drawing.

ELECTRI: Is Schneider’s approach to working together something new for the company?

Mike: We have always strived to be seen as a solution-related vendor. Recently, we have worked hard to be recognized as a technology partner. We want to look at what’s transforming the space and what Schneider can bring in as a partner with both our expertise and point of view. 

ELECTRI:  What steps has Schneider taken to educate its customers how to stay ahead of the pace of change and new technologies that are both challenging the EC industry?

Mike: We are passionate about our work to help build and sustain better buildings. The key focus is collaboration. We all have to learn from one another. We have to listen first in order to understand. Then, as we come together, whether internally or with our building partners, we develop trust and respect.  Some owners are embracing the approach and are actively working to understand it. More electrical contractors are looking at it and starting to take action. 

ELECTRI: Prior to the pandemic, many contractors were reluctant to make the commitment to off-site construction as part of their project planning and execution. Has that attitude changed?

MikeEven pre-pandemic, the momentum for off-site component construction was growing. Contractors manage risks associated with their labor force and their ability to construct. Working off-site minimizes that risk. It’s even more of an issue now because of the pandemic. Contractors have to think about the ability to get labor to the worksite, COVID impacts, making it safe for their workers to feel safe about coming to work.

We have to use space in a new way. Our own staff has embraced the ability to work offsite and we’ve seen them do so efficiently and productively. We did have to ramp up our tools and technical capability to help it all happen. We developed our own social network to keep our people connected and engaged.

ELECTRI: Going forward, will you need to communicate differently with contractors? With owners?

Mike: How we communicate with our construction partners is evolving. Our customers are becoming more comfortable with digital enablement. Training, webinars, meetings, document review – we’re all learning how to deal with a new normal.

ELECTRI: Business leaders and analysts anticipate a long-term, worldwide impact on the construction industry due to COVID-19. How would you advise contractors to prepare and what are you doing to be ready for an eventual upward turn?

MIKEMoving forward, we have to look at the market. What has changed? Where is the money? If 2020 is our ‘lost’ year, then, in April 2021, we have to be ready to identify new money and new challenges. We constantly look at market projections – which sectors of the market are growing, diminishing, or just staying level?

ELECTRI: What should ELECTRI be doing in terms of its agenda and its commitment to the EC industry?

MikeELECTRI can have a strong role in helping us work together to shape policies. ELECTRI is a good voice for contractors and the conscience of the EC industry. It’s our very own think tank, helping us to pay attention to what’s important.  

ELECTRI:  Has the Foundation offered a good return on Square D’s original $1 million investment?

Mike: By being involved with ELECTRI, we get to work with our partners and customers. We get to understand more about how contractors function and how we can strengthen our business relationships. It’s critical for us to be involved in the selection of ELECTRI’s research agenda and then helping the selected researcher make the project happen – it is with the right data and always looking at the leading indicators that will get the project to the best results.

ELECTRI: What’s your final message to our ELECTRI audience?

MikeMy hope for ELECTRI is that we, as industry partners, will have even more opportunities to be involved in helping to shape the research agenda for the EC industry. The best thing ELECTRI can ever say to any of us is “This is what you should be thinking about.