andrew quail 2019

At the 2019 CIO Summit, Andrew Quail, Director of IT and Innovation at SGN, described the importance of top-level buy-in and agility in his digital transformation initiatives.

Quail took to the stage at the Langham Hotel in London to explain how to maximise the current capabilities of an organisation for digital disruption and how to secure broad buy-in to shape the future of the business.

“What we did at SGN is we created a strategy, but it’s very much a corporate strategy. It is not a technology strategy and fundamentally it addresses the risk aspects of our company, and the key tenets of what we do around availability and resilience,” the 2019 CIO 100 leader said last month.

Cyber security and IT resilience lie at the heart of what the gas distribution company demands.

“For us, cyber security is our top corporate risk, which is kind of interesting at a board level ... our shareholding board deem cyber security a higher priority, which is interesting and important,” he said.

In addition to resilience, he prioritises agility in his management of digital services. 

“We use the phrase ‘think like a startup,’ but we literally had to think like a startup,” Quail said. “So rather than having a set of predefined services that we have and run, we had to think very, very differently, in the right context, of course.”

This meant SGN had to look at ways to deliver agility and opportunity for business growth while retaining that security and resiliency, which required the adoption of a different technology strategy.

“If it takes you six months to do a procurement event, to provision a new service, to buy hardware and infrastructure in your data centres, if you’re obliged to follow and regulate procurement as we are, you’ve got a problem and you have to address that,” he added.

The journey

“Fundamentally, our strategy is about reducing risk, providing better service at less cost. Who can argue with that? Our board certainly didn’t and they bought into it,” Quail added.

“In our context, at SGN we had to rebuild the core. Okay, it wasn’t a cloud-first, it wasn’t a hybrid, but it was an all end cloud strategy. Looking at automation, implementing DevOps and an API architecture. I learnt after the event that we had to also redefine and re-implement a brand new network.”

Quail went on to explain the importance of skills, culture and ways of working when starting a digital transformation journey. “The starting point for me on any change journey has been having the skills,” he said.

“It’s really important to understand that when you say the transformation journey, it has to be addressed. Don’t underestimate it, I would say that has to be at the heart and centre of any digital disruption in a digital transformation journey,” he said.

Finally, Quail explained that SGN’s transformation journey was only possible with the support of its partners and strategic vendors.

“Relying on the technical skills and cultures of those organisations helped us drive change,” he added. “So jolt the culture and ensure your partners are those that can truly take and help you on your journey.”

Quail concluded on a positive note for his fellow CIOs.

"I am a great believer that the most difficult things in life are typically those that bring the greatest rewards,” he said. "And you have a position of privilege, so use it for greater good, use it for change and be the driving force of the fourth industrial revolution, not a participant or an observer.”