Mary P. Heger is vice president and chief information officer for Ameren Corporation. She directs the staff responsible for all IT application development, infrastructure, networks, payroll, bill processing and accounts payable. Heger began her career in 1976 at Union Electric Company, now known as Ameren Missouri, and moved into information technology as a programmer in 1981. In 1992, she was promoted to assistant treasurer and manager of investor services. After serving in various management positions, she was promoted to director of development for Information Technology in 2004. In 2009 she was promoted to vice president of Information Technology and in 2012 to chief information officer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in management from Maryville University in St. Louis and earned her master’s in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a member of the board of International Institute and a former board member of Craft Alliance and SouthSide Early Childhood Center. She is also a graduate of Leadership St. Louis®, one of the most highly-respected leadership development programs in the nation. In August 2013, Heger was named one of the most influential business women in St. Louis by the St. Louis Business Journal. Other awards include a YWCA 2010 “Leader of Distinction” award and Diversity Journal recognized her among the “Women Worth Watching” in 2011. She was awarded the 2014 Maryville University Deans’ Award in the School of Business.
Ameren Corporation, a Fortune 500 energy company headquartered in St. Louis, powers the quality of life for 2.4 million customers across 64,000 square miles in Missouri and Illinois. The service territory includes a diverse base of residential, commercial and large industrial customers in both urban and rural areas. Fifty-five percent of Ameren’s 8,500 employees are engineers, technicians and information technology specialists. These employees’ STEM skills are essential in maintaining 10,200 megawatts of net generation capacity, 87,000 electric circuit miles of transmission and distribution lines, and 21,000 miles of natural gas transmission and distribution, as well as providing safe, reliable and environmentally responsible energy to Ameren customers.
By Mary Heger
For businesses to be successful, innovation is paramount. It has always been true, and it is even more important today, given the speed with which we are seeing technological advances. It’s especially important in my industry, the utility space, given that millions of Americans depend on us for safe and reliable electricity.
As one of the largest utilities in the Midwest, Ameren has been in business for more than a century, serving millions of electric and natural gas customers. Our customers rely on us to power their quality of life, today and for generations to come. Doing that effectively requires a commitment to innovation and forward-thinking initiatives.
That’s why earlier this year my company, Ameren Corporation, a St. Louis-based Fortune 500 energy company, became the first major energy company to open an Innovation Center on campus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Research Park.
The Research Park provides an opportunity for technology-based businesses to collaborate with students and faculty. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Engineering is among the highest ranked in the nation, and is highly sought after as a partner for pursuing information security for the energy industry.
Since its opening, the Ameren Innovation Center has been collaborating with university students and faculty and other companies across multiple industries at the Research Park. This really is all about our customers: The goal is to foster an exploratory environment that focuses on innovations to help Ameren better meet the future needs of our customers in Missouri and Illinois.
It can’t be overstated why we are doing this: By fostering an innovative and collaborative environment at a world-class research university with access to top students and faculty, we can better leverage information technology to seize business opportunities and improve our customer satisfaction.
And given that Ameren has a large number of long-time employees nearing the retirement age, we also hope to develop a talent pipeline to help us continue to build a skilled workforce. This is important as we transition to smart grid technologies and explore future new energy services that may be wanted and needed by our customers.
“The Ameren Innovation Center will give our students the opportunity to work on smart energy solutions for the Midwest and beyond,” said University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise. “Such real-world experiences are examples of the transformative educational opportunities at Illinois that grow from our leadership in engineering, computing and energy.”
This Innovation Center at the University of Illinois will help us meet the future needs of utility customers as the industry transitions to smarter, faster and more reliable technologies. We’re excited that we’ll be able to offer employment to 12 University of Illinois students providing them an innovative, real-world environment in which they can think about, learn about and explore energy.
Undergraduate and graduate students across disciplines work on a part-time basis on projects ranging from data analytics and mobile applications to projects that focus on the needs of the utility of the future.
Some of these projects will leverage Ameren Illinois’ Technology Application Center in Champaign, Ill., an on-grid testing facility for smart grid technologies that opened in August 2013. A full-time Ameren site manager supervises the students and serves as liaison between the Innovation Center and the University of Illinois.
It’s a win-win-win for Ameren, the university and its students, and our customers.
We also plan to grow our projects at the Innovation Center to expand data analytics research. There are several active projects that can be applied immediately to enhance both customer and operational insights. A mobile application development center will be created to support our customer’s needs of getting information in real-time and on the go. And we’ll continue research in cybersecurity to ensure the safety and security of our assets and our customer data, as we all know data security is paramount in today’s environment.
Ameren has long backed a variety of academic research around energy-related technologies, and we’re pleased to support an acclaimed institute such as University of Illinois. Its special interest in science, engineering and business curricula intersects with our goal to support the development of tomorrow’s workforce in the energy sector.