Ovo Energy CTO Mariano Albera has built up the technology team at the utilities company from just three engineers to a unit of 100, embedding a culture shift here Ovo is a tech company first and an energy company second.

Name and job title
Mariano Albera, CTO & CIO

How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Technology is at the heart of everything we do at Ovo Energy. For the past two years we have been transforming ourselves to be a Technology and Digitally driven company, which means we drive most projects and digital products directly from the Technology team and with a Digital Customer first focus.

How as CIO have you affected cultural change and / or behaviour in your organisation and to what extent?
Ovo had three engineers when I joined, now we have 100, we are 10% of the company divided in two locations. With four heads of development and many senior people in the team we are part of every meeting, every steerco and almost every decision. The agility, dynamic and innovative aspect of the engineers we hire is changing the way the rest of the company works and thinks, we are starting to become a tech company first and an energy company second.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s company performance
We have grown from 400k customers to 650k, we have completely rebuilt all of our customer facing interfaces increasing conversion and customer engagement more than 50% in some cases. We have built a 5 star mobile app, best rated in the industry. We have continue to increase our NPS thanks to technology.

Describe how you have used organisational and third party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
In 2015, in just 3 months, we implemented Salesforce CRM which creates a single customer view where all separate systems feed into. Using tools like tableau we have analysed customer behaviours to proactively react to common issues while understanding better customer patterns. We have developed customer lifetime algorithms and segmentation that has shaped many of our commercial strategies.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
We have a very lean but robust IT structure. Divided into a matrix of squads and tribes where the vertical squads share day to day objectives and the horizontal tribes share common discipline principles and processes. Both squads and tribes have separate roadmaps not only to deliver new products but also to improve the way we work. Squads are aligned with business units.

Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
At the beginning of 2015 the digital strategy was shared between the CTO and the CDO, but in July we decided to simply the structure and all digital went under the remit of the CTO. I am in charge of vision, planning and execution of the digital strategy.

Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and organisational structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
At Ovo many projects are driven by the digital product team (within technology) and many others are driven by other parts of the technology team. Salesforce is a good example where it was 100% technology driven, not only building a tool for our customer support teams but also a single customer view crm platform that powers many of our operational processes. We always design new processes from a tech perspective to ensure scalability and efficiency which we need as per our fast growth.

How do you engage regularly with your organisation (e.g. via a blog/seminars/newsletter etc.) about your team and the role of technology in the organisation and what impact is this having?
We have many tools: Slack, Jira, Confluence. We do monthly Town Halls with the entire company and Weekly show and tell meetings. We have a tech blog and twitter account where we share our tech news with  the industry. I regularly speak at tech events.

How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
We are very active in twitter, we manage our ovotech twitter account and we interact with suppliers and colleagues over it. I am also part of multiple meetup groups of CTOs and CIOs in the UK

How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
As said before, Technology is a key part of every project and objective, so together with my tech leadership team we sit on every steerco and we run many of the projects at Tech driven. We also organize monthly show and tells, open architecture meetings, Ovo Tech Talks and Coding Dojos / Hackathons for the entire organisation to join.

Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management e.g horizon scanning, technology strategy workshops, involvement in industry events and bodies
We have an active relationship with key technology suppliers, like salesforce, CGI or Microsoft, we usually take part of their events covering new technologies and product roadmaps. We also organise tech talks at our offices where we invite speakers from different industries. Personally I am also a member of Bartech and London CTOs where I interact regularly with some of the best people in the UK.

Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
We went from three inhouse developers to approx 40 now, growing the technology team to approx 100 people. I have teams in London and Bristol, and have people from all over the world, including Australian, American, Kiwis, Brazilian, Indian, and of course Argentina! Our culture is passion for technology, we all speak the same languages: Java, Scala, Javascript.

Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
Reporting directly to the CEO I am a key member of the company's leadership. I work side by side with the COO and closely with all the heads of department across all functions. We are a small and lean company, we have few governance meetings for decisions and we all work very close together.

Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
I have experience managing bigger teams than Ovo Tech which puts me at the moment in a very comfortable position. I attend quite a lot of CTO oriented events and try to learn from the best, I try to be very active in the London CTO community. But most importantly, I talk and learn from everyone on my team, I code at least a few hours a week on the job and a lot more in my personal time, I don't want to move away completely from the technical aspect, I join as many architecture meetings as I can despite the level. I am constantly reading about everything going on in the market.

Are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with: Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence; Data Analytics; NoSQL; wearable technology; Enterprise Apps; Internet of Things; Automation and Robotics;  3D Printing; the Sharing Economy; Anything else?
The energy industry is changing, and now presenting a great for use of big data technologies to analyse customer consumption data that before smart meters was not available. At Ovo we have 20% or our base in smart meters already, transmitting consumption data to us up to every 10 seconds. We have developed a smart IOT device that connects to the meter via zigbee and gives us data on real time, we store everything in Nosql and time series databases and analyse it using machine learning.

How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach – e.g. from consuming services from the cloud or on-premise products through to spinning up in-house development teams for bespoke work?
I have a few very clear principles that guide me on this decisions. We are very customer centric which means we tend to add as much value as we can on customer facing tools. Every decision is at some point customer focused and we try not to invest or overcomplex areas that wont add direct value. I am a big fan of the wardley mapping technique.

Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
As a company in hyper growth mode we are constantly reviewing almost every part of our infrastructure, architecture and platform. We are always trying to improve quality and efficiency.

Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
We inhoused all our customer facing systems, we implemented Salesforce as a CRM, SCV platform and Tool for customer support agents. We use a combination of Microsoft Dynamics and Energy specialised backoffice systems for billings and finance. We built our own DWH and we inhoused development also of MSFT dynamics platform. We use SAAS for best in class non core systems, like hr, expenses and procurement.

Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
5 star rating mobile apps, AWS for all front end cloud hosting with zero downtime releases and auto scalability. Big data environments for 10 sec smart meter data that offers realtime consumption to customers and also we are the first energy company to have an apple watch app.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, AWS and Google cloud for bigquery and analytics. We work with the best.

How do you rate the following as sources of innovative technology suppliers:
Analyst Houses - Occasionally use
Consultants - Occasionally use
CIO Peers - Always referred to
Industry Body - Often use
Media - Occasionally use

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

How is cyber-security led and discussed by senior management?
We have a security information officer that leads the security steerco, we are working on becoming ISO27001 compliant.

When did you start your current role?
May 2014

What is your reporting line?
CEO

Are you a member of the board of directors?
No

What is the annual IT budget?
£14 million

What percentage of your budget is spent on:
IT operational spend ("keeping the lights on") - 30%
New developments (innovation) - 70%

What number of users does your department supply services to?
1100

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
No

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

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes

How many employees are there in your IT team?
85

Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Yes

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
70% inhouse