CIO Profile: National Grid's David Lister on current tech

See also: National Grid CIO David Lister on keeping the lights on

National Grid CIO David Lister is head of IT for a company that is feelig the impact of a sea-change in how we manufacture energy. It's a basic requirement of civilisation but also one of the most modern technological developments that requires a flexible approach to integrate traditional fossil fuel energy with renewable sources.

Lister describes the role of IT as using data in a more creative way to guarantee supply.

“The parallel of the new energy supplies, and how we use technology to predict events so that we can maintain assets and avoid failure, is the real challenge of the next 20 years.”

He relishes the challenge. “We have 215,000 miles of linear assets and all that needs to be connected through to the control centres.”

Many of the people in Lister’s team are from an engineering background rather than pure IT.

To meet this challenge Lister has been transforming IT at National Grid since he joined, beginning, he says, by looking at the technology according what the organisation had that was different, what could be re-used and what could create operational excellence.

“We’ve always been good at operational excellence, and now it is a question of how we take it to the next level,” he says.

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The pylons of the National Grid IT network are an SAP back office systems and GSM for the important field work.

To improve operational effectiveness Lister has modernised the telepresence systems to improve collaboration between the US and UK operations, email, collaboration, intranet and document management has moved to software-as-a-service.

Further cloud adoption is following as National Grid puts its infrastructure onto a common private cloud operated by CSC.

“We’ve looked at our applications and categorised them from critical to national infrastructure, right through to what could sit on a public cloud. We’ll put critical system assets in our datacentre and then we will have a smaller, more focused, datacentre infrastructure. Applications not in that critical set have been placed on the hosted CSC infrastructure,” he says.

This has led to a cull of between 500 and 600 applications from the National Grid portfolio and reduced the overall application count from 1500.

“It takes a lot of time in business and data rationalisation to look at it holistically,” he says of the transformation project that started when he joined National Grid from RBS in February 2009.

The transformation programme has a five-year tenure and Lister says it’s very focused on the long term of the organisation.

“I think we have done the easy things, we are now on the harder projects,” he says.