The flood gates are open on digital transformation at Saur. Alice Guehennec, Group Chief Digital & Information Officer at Saur, doesn’t mess around.
Guehennec’s mission is to define how digital can help to deliver water services of the future and has devised a clear digital strategy and transformation plan. About six months into her position at Saur, Guehennec had set her budget and got her shareholder and stakeholder buy-in. The team is now currently in the second year of execution.
“It's a very challenging programme because we are transforming the whole company. In fact, it's not just IT. We are building a solution that is transforming the way people deliver water services, and that involves the entire company.”
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)- The Water War
It’s a highly ambitious plan that is expected to take another two or three years. Meanwhile, they continue what Ms. Guehennec calls the water war. To ensure success Ms. Guehennec takes a no-nonsense approach, grounded in the trust of her team and the supportive foundation she and the rest of the CxO group at Saur have laid. It’s an approach that aligns well with Saur’s corporate commitment to business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR). In fact, it’s why she joined Saur in the first place.
Saur started a very ambitious CSR programme with the corporate positioning of standing for water. “We are not talking about just delivering water. We are talking about how to preserve water in terms of quality and quantity because we know that all over the world, there is climate change happening. And this has a very big impact on water resources. And the question is how we will manage the water volume compared to the population in the future, knowing that we have very dry periods in the summer and problems of flows in the winter, and that winter overflows can’t be used to make the drinking water for summer. It’s an immense challenge brought on by climate change, and at Saur, we have made it our mission to be the one water service company that will save and contribute to winning the water war.”
Success, Built on Trust and Alignment of Values
Saur believes their strong core values and corporate culture afford them a competitive advantage that’s built the strong bonds of trust found throughout their ecosystem. Over nearly 90 years, Saur’s values of responsibility, service awareness, transparency, solidarity, and local presence have been the underpinning of success.
Ms. Guehennec herself stands as president of the Diversity Network in Saur and working to drive increased diversity. “In particular, we are working to change the balance between the male and females in the company. Our industry is historically a business where there's a lot of men, and so we are all pushing to have an equilibrate rate of men in the company, particularly at management level.”
To ensure a full alignment of values, personal engagement, and clarity of expectations across the organisation, Saur published its Ethics Charter in 2014 and Code of Conduct in 2018. Guehennec says that “in terms of ethics and compliance, we have to be clear, transparent and compliant with regulation. There is no option.”
Communication- the Key to Change Management
“Change management is very important in the company because the entire company is changing at the same time— corporate, finance, logistics, operations, customer relationships.”
“Success is an accumulation of parameters. First, support from the shareholders and General Management, because without strategic alignment, it doesn't work. Second, the team, because of course, alone, you are nobody. Success is the capability to mobilise and to explain first, because if you have people that are not confident and don’t understand the targets, it, again, doesn't work. In the end, I think that mentally team spirit is very key to success.”
She walks us through the most critical step, communicating to the team. “It's important that people in the company understand where we are going, because if you are able to make them understand that, even if they are during the journey a little bit lost, they can refer to this vision and say, okay, we are a little bit struggle at the moment, but we know we will make it happen.”
“And then providing training assistance during the rollout of all the solutions. So, step by step, we'll say, okay, we will share that with you in one month. In two months, we recheck that for you. And then, six months, we will change that for you.”
“We have to be very person-oriented. What does it change for me as a professional hazard field worker, dispatcher, or as a financial person?” Ms. Guehennec explains that fear is stage two of the change curve, and so it’s vitally important to communicate exactly what the change means, in a relevant way to employees and letting them know what the next steps are so they know what to expect.
An Ambition Vision; Leveraging Big Tech for Better Ways of Working
“To understand what digital transformation looks like at Saur, you have to understand what we manage,” Guehennec says. “We manage clients, and we manage infrastructure. That means water plants and networks (pipes). So there are two parts to our digital transformation.”
“Operationally, what is first and foremost is the digital experience for our consumers, B2B and B2C. For B2B, that means things like the capability to manage their installations and infrastructure remotely with full transparency on the data, predictive modelling, and prescription analytics. For B2C, it also means full transparency and consumption and how to use nudge exercises to change the behaviour of the consumer to save water.”
“And then there is the operational part with infrastructure and plants networks), where the objective is to automate the ways of working of our plants and network.”
The water ecosystem depends on a myriad of factors such as weather and population movement. Guehennec explains that in tourist areas, for example, between summer and winter, water consumption is completely different. “So the parametrisation of the plants can be different. A storm a dry period, everything can very highly influence the water ecosystem.”
To better predict and plan, she looks to leverage deep tech such as predictive modelling and prescriptive analytics to help determine courses of action, mitigate risk, and optimise operations.
Supplier Selection: Big Ambitions, Big Suppliers
“This was the biggest challenge in my career,” says Ms. Guehennec. “Because I had to manage two transformations at the same time- business transformation and IT transformation. When you have such a big challenge in front of you, you can't choose just any partner. My experience is that there are only a few companies in the market that are able to manage this size of transformation. So we have selected two big companies, one for the business transformation [Capgemini] and one for the IT transformation [Accenture], with a part for offshoring IT services. So it's big partners because it's a very big transformation.”
“The choice was a good one because they have some standard industrial processes we were able to quickly implement. In this very strategic, challenging transformation with very stretched planning, it's really important not to lose time in defining how to work. So they came armed with their industrial mode, and from day one, we started with standard processes.”
Optimising Costs with Coupa
In order to gain better control on spend and lower costs by leveraging volumes, Saur went on the hunt for a P2P provider and found Coupa.
“We started by issuing an RFP on the procurement project with different tools, and Coupa was selected to become the procurement tool in Saur for the full P2P process. It was then deployed in the field for purchase requests to be done through the catalogue. That's the interest of this kind of solution. And then the workflow of the group. So validation of the order is fully implemented in Coupa, as well as validation of invoice for payment.”
For Guehennec, the objective was to rationalise the catalogue of products and gain tighter control on spending in order to better leverage volumes with a few key suppliers. “So a little bit of discipline to have people use the same catalogue of products and the same providers allows you to ultimately reduce and optimise costs.”
Whether it’s cost, diversity, or digitisation, it seems to me Ms. Guehennec has no problem getting her team onboard and meeting objectives, however ambitious they may be.