Digital transformation to deliver next-gen services at pace
In the 22 years since its inception, SSE Energy Services (has become known as an innovative mainstay in the UK energy sector. As the third largest energy provider in the UK, SSE Energy Services has distinguished itself via its pioneering attitude, which saw bold investments core services, home repair services, broadband, and has one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings in the sector, where strong, customer-centric business ethics ensure the company’s competitiveness in the market.
In 2019, Bristol-based energy supplier OVO Energy acquired SSE Energy Services from SSE PLC, a move which accelerated the former’s ‘Plan Zero’ journey towards carbon neutral trading via investments in technology, digital and a large-scale modernisation agenda.
It was significant, states Philip Clayson, Chief Information Officer, because with new ownership came an entirely different way of operating, more like a startup than a long-established brand. “We've gone from being part of one of the Big Six energy companies in the UK to being inside a challenger brand,” he explains. “Looking forward, my job now is to deliver the post-acquisition transformation at both a technology level and a people level.” Clayson’s expertise and skill in his field is apparent from an impressive career, including executive-level positions with some of the largest UK and international brands. One thing that has characterised his approach in each role has been fast-paced, visionary leadership: “I'm not a steady-state CIO; I'm a transformational CIO. It’s what I do.” Recognised as ‘Transformation Leader of the Year’ at the 2019 Tech Leaders Awards and also a finalist for ‘CIO of the Year’, it is with this inspiring attitude that Clayson has been spearheading the company’s digital evolution since mid-2019.
Clayson is quick to point out, however, that SSE Energy Services’ transformation wouldn’t have been able to take shape so effectively without the input of Infosys, an IT and tech consulting company based in Bangalore, India. Chirag Khergamkar, Client Partner to SSE Energy Services at Infosys, says that the two companies have a history that reaches back to 2004, a relationship which has continued to develop ever since. “In 2019, we were selected by SSE Energy Services as one of its partners for a digital implementation project with Pegasystems,” Khergamkar explains. Infosys provided DevOps and security monitoring services for SSE Energy Services’ collaboration with Pega, a telco helping to transform the company’s customer service experience. “As I look at the partnership today, it is about being closer and more strategic to SSE Energy Services’ retail business by jointly exploring where we can make a big difference.” This sentiment of camaraderie is echoed by Clayson, who says that collaboration is vital to SSE Energy Services during this exciting time and that, in his view, “Being a proper partner means blurring the line between one organisation and another. Infosys is exceptional at providing this next level cooperation.”
Whilst the objective of digital transformation is relatively commonplace in contemporary enterprise strategy, Clayson highlights that the OVO acquisition has given SSE Energy Services an edge that few of its competitors share, “OVO is another magnitude of speed: it's an incredibly agile, nimble business.” This fresh attitude compliments what both companies already share: a dedication to best-in-class services, high-quality customer service and outstanding products. “OVO is very interested in helping customers that want to save energy, from solar panels to electric vehicles and its Plan Zero environmental strategy. “This has enhanced so many aspects of business we were already operating in since the acquisition,” he says.
The core focus of SSE Energy Services might have remained the same, but its appetite for upgrading legacy systems and adopting digital solutions appears to have hastened significantly since OVO’s acquisition. Part of this is the result of empowerment strategies to equip the team with the necessary tools to excel in the new digital era. When he first arrived, Clayson recalls, the team was recognisably in need of tech investment and training. “We looked at cloud, cybersecurity, automation and other cornerstones of a modern software and technology enabled company. We put the UK teams through a massive training program.” Certain that the large scale investment being made would ultimately pay off (approximately £250,000 in three months), wherein some employees spent almost 50% of their working week in training for many weeks, Clayson confirms that encouragingly positive results are starting to show. “Motivation has never been higher; peoples’ morale has improved and their ability to understand the latest developments in the tech space has also grown too, ” he stated.
With SSE Energy Services’ staff now properly prepared, Clayson began implementing the company’s wider digital strategy. Recognising that customer preferences for digital journeys have increased in recent years, the expansion of self-service capabilities for apps and websites - some of which didn’t exist at the beginning of the year - has been a central focus for SSE Energy Services. With downloads of the ‘My SSE’ app gaining speed and very positive consumer reviews (currently 4.6/5 on the app store), Clayson is confident that the appropriate level of developmental pace is being set. Simultaneously, the company has embarked on a digital data journey, combining the insights of multiple departments and teams to discover the best method of leveraging enterprise data and unlocking its value. This necessitated a much more cloud-based platform (using AWS and Microsoft Azure), a transformation which Infosys has been instrumental in helping SSE Energy Services to develop. “We are working together across the teams to modernise this legacy estate of older systems and migrate them to the cloud,” says Khergamkar. “Not only will this lower costs drastically, but I think it will, more importantly, allow SSE Energy Services to release products faster.”
This accelerated R&D capability aligns perfectly with the SSE Energy Services agenda, which will see it build on current success within the smart home and smart utility sector. These are concepts being explored by the company as it seeks to deliver savings, efficiency and a next-gen experience to its customers. “There are big investments coming into EVs (electric vehicles): charging points on the streets and much more engagement with all sorts of home-related energy-saving devices,” informs Clayson. “It will include joining up the ecosystem including solar panels, ground pumps and more. It's a cohesive carbon reduction agenda; it doesn’t end at smart meters.” Distributed energy management, in particular, holds very exciting possibilities: a future where all electrical appliances are connected to the grid to maximise energy efficiency by eliminating excess and channelling power to where it is most needed. “We're not there yet,” Clayson clarifies, “but the technology exists to make every household a contributor to the grid rather than simply a user of the grid.”
Focusing on the future of the industry calls into question the concept of the ‘new normal’ - how workplaces will operate post-COVID-19 - and how SSE Energy Services will adapt to the challenges therein. When the business community collectively realised that prior paradigms for working had to be discarded in order to ensure continuity, Clayson states that the creativity afforded to the IT sector was refreshing and invigorating. “The amount of remote working we now do and our usage of video conferencing technology has been a massive change. SSE Energy Services is now looking to make further investments in automation technologies offering an immediate resolution for customers wanting a more instantaneous response.” Customer-centricity is, of course, something that will not change for SSE Energy Services, whatever the business landscape shapes up to be. When asked what he considers to be the company’s greatest accomplishment, Clayson has no hesitation in identifying SSE Energy Services’ enduring acclaim amongst its customers. An appreciation which is unquestionably reciprocated, SSE Energy Services has been able to give back to its customers via OVO’s £50mn hardship scheme - an initiative to help make utility bill payments more manageable in light of COVID-19 related complications.
Despite challenging circumstances, the digital future looks positive for SSE Energy Services. Properly implemented digital transformation can be difficult, but, if he can lead the company through data transformation, cyber transformation, initiate a culture shift and establish better working relationships with partners like Infosys, Clayson states that he will consider the result well worth the effort. “If COVID-19 has taught us anything,” he concludes, “it’s that IT can find solutions for problems thought unsolvable previously. Culture change, industry change and definitely technology change will shape SSE Energy Services’ future.” With the company’s new-found agility and innovative, forward-thinking approach augmented by the latest digital tech, SSE Energy Services looks set to deliver solutions to customers at a new, unprecedented pace. “I like pace: people understand it. Delivering at pace is what it’s all about.”