Northern Powergrid Head of IT Russell Morris plans to embed a digital culture across the Berkshire Hathaway-owned electrical distribution company, ending their single outsourced model and developing in-house expertise to achieve their aims.
Name and job title
Russell Morris, Head of IT, Northern Powergrid
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
The business has a very customer centric focus, aligning IT to focus our efforts on leveraging technology to deliver a step change in customer experience. Last year Northern Powergrid were the first Distributed Network Operator in the UK to offer our 3.9m customers the ability to log power cuts online. In the Christmas 2015 floods it handled more than 1500 customer power cut alerts in 15 seconds, calls that would have previously been diverted to an IVR or the Customer Contact Centre.
How as CIO have you affected cultural change and / or behaviour in your organisation and to what extent?
As part of Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, we have a very mature culture of integrity and reputational awareness. Our internal relationships engender openness in order to deliver a great customer experience. In partnership with the business, we have recently automated many of our internal training and awareness sessions with much more convenient online alternatives that have improved our attendance and reduced our travel costs.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s company performance
In the areas of managing business change we didn’t have a common wide methodology that was universally utilised. In July 2015 we launched a holistic Governance Gateway Project. This was historically only used within the internal IT Project Management office, where it began its life, but was so well regarded it was adopted and expanded by the Executive team to be used companywide. A great accolade for the IT team. It provides a scalable project delivery methodology with predefined checkpoints, and drives a common sense standard across all non-industrial business investments.
Describe how you have used organisational and third party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
Getting a breadth of market, and technology information has been key to us ensuring we future proof our organisation. We take a global view of the trends, apply it to our business strategies and then leverage our insights to deliver at an optimised cost to business value
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Our main business plan runs from 2015-23 and is all about delivering more for less for our customers. The IT Plan (produced and submitted in parallel) therefore also needed to deliver the same customer focused outcomes. Being relatively new to the Power Industry, with the task of creating an investment plan that would fix our IT budget from our regulator for the next 8 years was one of the most challenging tasks I have faced. The fundamental principles of the business strategy were to spend less on a like-for-like basis, but ensure our customers will benefit from 20% shorter power cuts, 30% faster connections and a host of new and improved services. The IT team itself is made up of: Enterprise architecture - Ensuring new IT solutions are cyber secure and viable. They also identify which IT projects and investments will help the company directly achieve its business goals. Project delivery and PMO - deliver IT projects and control them throughout their lifecycle. It also provides IT project management support for business programmes and projects. Telecoms provide support of the existing telecoms networks, systems and services and providing development and delivery of resilient electrical communications solutions, that align to the businesses operational strategies. Service delivery provides day-to-day IT support and help manage the migration from a single IT supplier to multi-sourced contracts. Most importantly, we all work together with a “one team” ethic.
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
As digital embeds itself in our everyday lives, we are embracing this within NPg therefore do not see this as an IT only delivery but a cultural change and business delivery to better serve our customers
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
We have markedly more success when we get back to basic principles. The classic maxim of People, Process and Technology is ever present in our thinking. Therefore Technology is always the last thing to feature in our discussions, preferring to focus first on business outcomes and serving our customers. Technology is a key enabler of great business ideas, rather than a solo catalyst in its own right. We are not scared to try new technology, but have a "Fail fast, fail cheaply" concept.
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?
In the last 12 months we have established an IT Business Relationship function. The role of this small team is to help maintain strategic alignment, supporting and promoting key business initiatives and seeking out opportunities for continuous improvement. This is an engagement focused role designed to maintain strong relationships with all level of the business from electrical jointers to Executive board members. We also issue out quarterly newsletters showcasing key achievements delivered, with a forward forecast on what’s to come. We are embracing technology in how the business interacts and communicates, driving to match the technology that is in use every day at home, but with more corporate robustness. This is part of our strategy to embed digital culture into the organisation.
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
Social networks can be many different things. I subscribe to a small number of electronic social networking groups (they have their place), but find the most effective are the face to face engagements that deal with and debate real life scenarios. There is nothing more rewarding than sharing with industry how you tackled a problem, the mistakes you make along the way and how to avoid them the second time around. I find this pays me back 10-fold when I myself face a new challenge; I am not short of people I can call on for help and advice.
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?
I chair a now well well-established Investment Programme board that meet on monthly basis, with IT and key business representatives to track and monitor all significant technology investments. We also produce monthly Executive Board reports featuring subjects from Cyber Security to Digital enablement, to ensure continued alignment.
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
I get valuable insights from industry advisory groups, as well as maintaining subscriptions to some well known research organisations. In addition to this I attend regular external workshops to network with CIO peers, I have yet to come away from a networking session without learning something new.
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
Having been largely outsourced for the last 15 years, it has been important to recognise where we outsourced our opinion in the wrong areas, and became too dependent on commercially interested third parties. We have moved away from a generalist approach, instead promoting internal team diversity, and creating a team culture of playing to our strengths. In this way we always make sure the right person with the right skills is assigned to delivering the right business outcomes.
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
Trying to be an effective leader I rely more than ever on utilising different social styles to create a comfortable culture in which to influencing others. Technology can still be a threatening thing for many people, fearing its potential to disrupt rather than deliver. This means I need to be playing on their home turf understanding their world in their shoes. I have been fortunate to engage with our Parent organisation in the USA, on a number of occasions providing thought leadership on Cyber Security and sharing lessons learned with other Berkshire Hathaway businesses.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
I have developed my own skill set largely by observing those that I consider to be world class at it! There are a few household names I admire, as well as some incredible people in my local community that are a constant source of inspiration. Inside my own department I put aside time each month to personally mentor high potential individuals within the team. This has been extremely rewarding and valuable for me in equal measure. I encourage full candour in these sessions and no subject is off limits. I think it would be true to say I have received just as much learning from it as I have imparted.
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?
Wearables, including smart watches and wristbands, are on the rise, I predict this area will continue growing rapidly. Machine learning and predictive analytics will gain even more traction at Northern Powergrid as we become a more digitally integrated business than ever before. As an electricity distribution company the data challenge of Smart Meters, Smart Grids and the Internet of things will take on an even greater significance.
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?
Like any successful business we are focused on cost and delivering great service. We therefore always look to fully leverage our existing investments before we look anywhere new. That said, we are constantly evaluating the “make/buy” decision often preferring to take a best practise off the shelf services rather than developing internally. The decision making process is largely driven on playing to our strengths. We are turning to the cloud much more for proof of concept environments, ensuring our on-premises systems are fully utilised in running live business systems. We adopt a Design, Build, Run philosophy that often need a different skill set at each stage of the development lifecycle. In these cases we rely on specialist contractors or vendors to augment our excellent internal team.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
We hold monthly strategy workshops to learn about emerging trends or explore new ideas within the senior leadership team. We regularly invite research organisations to participate; sharing our business challenges with them, in return for a non sales focused “art of the possible.” These sessions provide an important release from the day to day pressure of business creating important time to inspire and think creatively.
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
We are currently embarking on a new multisourcing Transformation, ending our single outsourced model we have operated for the last 15 years. This project is at the heart of Northern Powergrid’s vision to be the best at serving our customers. Quality IT systems running on class-leading technology will be our springboard to drive top quality service.
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
Standalone technology innovations are rare, business innovations enabled by IT are much more commonplace. In the last year together with the business we have taken our CRM capability into the Cloud delivering a an improved customer service from day 1. To maximise business benefits from this and other digital integration projects we have implemented an Enterprise Service Bus to remove point to point interfaces as well as a new Master Data Management project to ensure one version of the truth exists from which to drive predictive analytics and reporting. I am really proud of an internal innovation we call #dataclub, where the business teams openly discuss their data challenges with IT colleagues in an effort to drive process efficiency and remove waste.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
IBM – backend optimisation and architecture.
Oracle – classic ERP as well as new cloud-based innovations and integration solutions.
Microsoft – Leveraging the Berkshire Hathaway relationship.
GE – For industrial controls.
BT – Mobile diversity and vehicle mounted Wi-Fi hotspots
How do you rate the following as sources of innovative technology suppliers:
Analyst Houses - Often use
Consultants - Often use
CIO Peers - Always referred to
Industry Body - Always referred to
Media - Occasionally use
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber-security led and discussed by senior management?
We have a very clear strategy embracing protect, detect, respond and predict to keep our customers, employees and company safe. The company culture is that our people are our first, and best line of defence and as such every single employee’s understands they have a responsibility to be cyber streetwise. As our home and work lives become increasingly linked, the IT Security function regularly gives supporting advice on how to stay safe at home as well as within the work environment.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What is the annual IT budget?
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
What percentage of your budget is spent on:
IT operational spend ("keeping the lights on") - 80%
New developments (innovation) - 20%
What number of users does your department supply services to?
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?