With IT the keystone of First Utility's own disruptive price-led challenge to the energy retail market, Bill Wilkins is central to the company's strategic decision-making and execution. He puts his faith in involving the whole business in decisions about where IT invests.

What the judges said

"A CIO that sees the power of data, both to the business and its customers. Also, I really like his choice and management of vendors," Mark Chillingworth

"A good broad remit and a labs programme, very impressive," Ian Cox

"He's a CIO that is clearly playing a part in a market disruptor, and that is excellent," Matt Ballantine

When did you start your current role?
2011.

What is your reporting line?
CEO.

Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Yes.

Are you a member of the board of directors?
Yes.

Does your organisation have a CDO?
No.

What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
• Billing operations – will produce around a million monthly energy bills in 2015.
• Disputes management – handles consumer escalations relating to billing disputes.
• Industry partner group – manages interface with other suppliers, distribution partners, etc.
• My Energy – consumer engagement platform supporting 700,000 households.

How many employees does your organisation have?
240.

Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?
Yes.

What number of users does your department supply services to?
1,300 employees, 864,000 consumers.

How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
In collaboration with the board and wider exec team I develop the medium and long-term business strategy and translate it into the 12-month and 24-month operating plan. I chair the internal operational 'run group' of the key operational heads of department, which reviews weekly performance of the business. I co-author the monthly business performance pack distributed to board and major shareholders. I sit on the product board and review investments into new developments. I sponsor and run the cross-functional labs programme, which promotes internal innovation. Finally I head up the My Energy product and business line, which is a strategic investment.

First Utility technology strategy and agenda

Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
No.

Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Yes.

Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
The labs programme is a cross-functional programme to incubate innovation across the business.

What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
In 2014 we completed implementing a multi-product billing system. We also started migrating our finance platform. In 2015, we will start adding new [non-energy] products to our product line to become a true multi-play firm. 

What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
The billing platform was a key foundation conceived three years ago. Multi-play has been a strategic goal for some time. To date we have mostly been a price-led sales organisation, which has enabled us to grow rapidly and positively disrupt a market where incumbent suppliers were reluctant to lower prices.

The next phase of our strategy is to leverage our now large and loyal base of customers, offering them additional products and services with the same core vision of helping them spend less on energy. These cross-sell and up-sell opportunities allow us to maintain or increase ARPU in a market where our primary revenue stream is being eroded by our focus on promoting energy efficiency and lowering prices.

How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
By providing a clear sense of strategic direction in a busy operational and programme landscape.

What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
Any technology that offers high levels of agility and low operational taxes and cost. We are not precious about technologies but are about outcomes.

Are you increasing the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
Yes.

What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
There are three layers from basic to advanced:

• to transform the MIS function into a data products team serving operational data needs, providing traditional reporting and mobile dashboard platform for all stakeholders to see the daily health of business at a glance.
• to integrate data science as specialist function to support key leaders (exec, heads of departments).
• to build a data-consumer platform for internal power users to self-serve.

How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
In 2014, we launched a new native mobile platform on IOS, Android and Amazon. It now helped move 20% of households from traditional web to mobile/tablet. There is three times higher engagement from mobile users than from web. Higher engagement leads to lower cost to serve and improved retention.

Multi-channel CRM through Salesforce allows us to support consumers across email, chat and social media (as well as traditional voice). Greater reach of consumers means faster response and resolution times become more critical as bad news travels faster and further.

In 2014, we built a new AI platform to respond to consumers on email and chat, and are looking to roll it out to social media in late 2015.

Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
To become an agenda item now we are bigger. To encourage shadow IT as a way of bringing it into open. To make non-IT heads of department transparent about their unserved needs. to involve all heads of department in central IT programme decisions through a project steering board. The result will be that the business chooses where IT invests, and projects that are not selected will get the opportunity to build an independent business case. If they succeed, IT can support them with enterprise architecture, business and technical analysis resources.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
• Expansion of our cloud-based CRM to support £20m investment in customer service.
• Selection of a partner for consumer fixed-line and broadband service.
• Selection of GEO for smart home heating solution.
• Selection of technology partner to support international expansion into Europe.

Who are your main suppliers?
• Salesforce – cloud CRM
• New Voice Media – cloud voice
• DataStax – big data platform
• BT – cloud voice, data comms
• Amazon – cloud compute and data
• Google – cloud productivity
• LogNet Systems – billing and customer care
• Nexum – debt management and collections
• Contigo – energy trading and pricing
• Utiligroup – energy market data interchange

First Utility IT security and budget

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
No.

Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Yes.

Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Yes.

Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
Yes.

What is the IT budget?
£12m.

How much is the IT operational spend compared with the revenue as a percentage?
14%.

What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
To continue to support the rapid scaling out of the business. To improve coverage of business automation improving customer experience, reducing cost-to-serve and improving error rates. To add new product lines to increase up-sell/cross-sell and ARPU.

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Yes.

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes.

Are you looking for recruits in the EU to fill the skills shortage you have?
Yes.

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
No.

First Utility technology department

How would you describe your leadership style?
Hire the right people and give them space to operate and succeed. Continually reinforce the strategic narrative as it provides a framework for success. Keep as connected to the detail as you can but recognise that those right people probably know more than you now and you should trust them.

Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
Now exploring opportunities for non-exec roles. In the process of organising executive coach.

How many employees are in your IT team?
240 internal, 40 external.

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
85% in and 15% ex in 2015.

Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?
Yes.