CIO interview: Hervé Coureil, global CIO, Schneider Electric

A 20-year veteran at energy management firm Schneider Electric, Hervé Coureil became CIO five years ago, crossing disciplines from finance

CIOs often find themselves under extreme pressure from the chief financial officer. But Hervé Coureil became CIO at energy management company Schneider Electric five years ago, having spent a career in finance.

With a background in finance and accounting, he says: “People in IT approach problems in a very different way to finance.

"They rely much more on benchmarks and get passionate about the technology, while finance tends to deal in confidential data.” Finance people generally do not get passionate about spreadsheets either, he says.

Coureil previously served as chief financial officer for the critical power and cooling services (CPCS) business unit of Schneider Electric, which was formed in 2007 following the acquisition of APC. His current responsibilities cover IT, legal and strategy.

From his finance experience he says he gained an insight into how to chargeback for services, which is an important step for an IT department moving to becoming an internal service provider.

Coureil's background lent him credibility with senior management essential to the role, he says: “Over the last four years I have moved the IT function from small teams to a global service provider.” 

Retaining communications with the business is a priority that can easily be lost in a global re-organisation. To keep the local presence strong he has divided the IT into zones where local IT managers work closely with country managers.

Keeping control over cloud

Like many CIOs, Coureil is embracing trends such as cloud computing and IT consumerisation. “We will look at cloud for anything new,” he explains. 

The business has a major implementation of and is now running a 2,200-user pilot of the enterprise cloud storage service, Box. The rationale is to encourage staff to move away from the uncontrolled consumer collaboration available from the likes of DropBox, GoogleDocs and SkyDrive. 

Such services are outside the control of IT, which means the business cannot track or audit where its data is being uploaded and who has access. “We are more worried about the things we don't know,” Coureil explains. Box tackles the limitations of consumer-orientated cloud storage services, by adding in a layer of security and auditing.

Box will be used to enable IT to regain control and prevent data loss by offering users a service similar in usability to the consumer-based cloud storage that they may already be using. He says: “Box is used for user-generated data. It provides a consumer-like file sharing experience and works on mobile devices.”

While it involves 2,200 users in 67 countries, the pilot's scope is limited to internal communications and IT. Coureil says: “Internal communications used to share video files via FTP and then use email to discuss the video.” 

In doing so, they would separate the file from the discussion, which could hamper collaboration. Box allows the discussion and file to be hosted in the same place. 

With the internal IT pilot, he says he wants to understand the network impact. “Cloud computing changes the network and how you manage cloud computing.”

Changing role of the CIO

Speaking on how the role of the CIO is changing, Coureil remarks: “We don't focus any more on transactional systems.” 

The big ERP programmes of the 1990s are long gone. “There is much more of a focus on the customer experience and digital enablement. When you create a more efficient environment everyone benefits – you, the consumer and your business,” he says.

This shift means that, while his predecessors may have dedicated 80% of IT's time to the transactional systems that run in the back-end of a business – for tasks such as order processing and invoicing – these days such systems of record may only account for 50% of IT's overall effort. 

"The other 50% is about differentiation,” he adds.

This differentiation comes from building federated layers that bridge silos of information, facilitate collaboration and traverse the flow of information throughout the company.

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