Business alignment with a spark

There are many ways to align IT with the business, but few IT directors have the opportunity to demonstrate this as managing director of their own division.

There are many ways to align IT with the business, but few IT directors have the opportunity to demonstrate this as managing director of their own division.

EDF Energy’s Benoit Laclau’s is one such individual, whose journey began with the change from IT director to managing director of EDF’s business improvement and technology division which has almost 1,000 staff.

Laclau joined EDF 18 months ago, having previously worked within the utilities practice of Accenture and taken over the IT department that formed as a result of the merger of Seeboard, London Electricity and part of the Eastern Network, each with its own IT team.

The business improvement and technology division he heads up is responsible for managing the IT service for EDF Energy’s 13,000 employees, implementing end-to-end change initiatives across the company and managing services.

Its responsibilities include maintaining and developing the networks control systems – critical in ensuring continuity of electricity supply to millions of people. It is also responsible for the systems that read, bill and provide customer care services, and provides maintenance and support for the 24-hour trading and generation systems for the EDF Energy Branch.

Laclau’s goal has been to improve internal customer satisfaction, satisfaction of the IT team, and reduce operational costs through a three-year plan which would see IT costs reduced by 25%.

Customer satisfaction had to be tackled throughout the IT supply chain, which meant suppliers had to be involved. As such, the fate of desktop support and service delivery now rests with the outsourcing supplier. “They need to be part of the [business] objective,” Laclau said.

Laclau has had to work closely with the suppliers to help them adapt to new ways of working to enable EDF to measure changes in the perception of IT, in order to gauge internal customer satisfaction.

Costs were tackled on a number of fronts and to date have been cut by 15%. “Telecommunications is a big cost for us,” he said. Not only is there the cost of running the call centres which needs to support five million customers, but mobile calls were proving a big cost.

Laclau’s strategy involved transforming the wide area network, using Cable & Wireless both for the Wan and the telecommunication infrastructure, and selecting Orange through a pan-European tender to reduce mobile costs.

Within the datacentre, Laclau has been keen to take advantage of server consolidation and virtualisation to make better use of expensive hardware. “We are looking to allocate spare capacity,” he said. This includes metering data collection which requires processing power in the morning, but frees servers in the afternoon for other applications.

The integration of the IT departments took six months to complete. “It was a top-down reorganisation, changing the mode in which we operate,” he said. This involved separating day-to-day IT operations from application development.

His second change was to give his IT team new career opportunities. “I wanted to provide staff with a challenge. Just because someone has been a mainframe [programmer], they do not have to be on the mainframe for five years. They can move onto SAP.”

His approach involved establishing a resource pool and running IT the same way as IT services businesses such as IBM Global Services and Accenture. This provides flexibility for managers, he said. “[Management] is easier when people can be assigned to teams.” At EDF a manager can assign staff to teams at any time through a supply and demand model.

Since February 2006, Laclau has been the managing director of the business improvement and technology division, allowing the IT department to take full control of project delivery. This has meant taking a new approach to measuring successful project delivery, and scope and quality are now the criteria on which projects are deemed successful at EDF.

Quality can mean data quality and the quality of data migration, and in an integration project with enterprise resource planning, data quality is critical. “The system will not work as it is intended to if data is of a poor quality,” Laclau said. End-user training is another important criteria for measuring quality.

Running up to 80 projects concurrently means Laclau needs a good handle on project management. “There is very strong demand from the business to build our project management acumen,” he said. As a result he has begun rolling out a project management programme, providing recruitment, training and development to build a project management resource.

Laclau is also implementing the IT Infrastructure Library, and a variation of Prince2 is being used as EDF’s project management methodology.

The recruitment process has involved hiring both internal staff and external consultants. “I want to demonstrate to the staff that they can have a career outside line management,” he said. Significantly, there have been far more internal recruits joining the division than when it was just the IT department.

To date, engineers, customer service staff and financial controllers from within EDF have joined Laclau’s programme. Sixty per cent of the recruits are from within the business, while 40% are IT staff. “This helps to align IT with the business. It is also a great way for us to gain credibility and for us to understand how to meet business requirements,” he said.

But has this business focus alienated his IT team? “The key is how we promote internally. It was critical to take on board people who have worked in IT a long time, allow them to work on a range of projects and demonstrate the trust the business shows towards them.”


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