Engie puts energy into hiding legacy complexity with Okta


French energy supplier, Engie, began using Okta to get a single view of the company to roll out Office 365, but is now using it for broader digital plans.

The global energy market is changing rapidly. Suppliers are having to adapt in a market whereby consumers are now producing their own energy via solar technology, where renewable energy is coming to the fore, and where there is an incredible amount of data available to help customers become ‘smarter’.

This is certainly the case for French energy supplier, Engie, which has implemented a new corporate strategy that centres around the ‘three Ds’:

• Decarbonization – worldwide renewable energies: annual additional capacity to grow by 70% in 2030 vs 2015.
• Decentralisation – decentralised solutions to more than double by 2030 (power grids are no longer the main priority, consumers have some control).
• Digitalisation – digital disrupts energy systems and improves customer offers (smart meters, etc.)

I got the chance to sit down with Youssef Tahani, Chief Infrastructure Officer, and Alain Delava, Deputy Chief Infrastructure Officer, at Engie, at Okta’s annual user event in Las Vegas this week, where the pair explained how the energy provider is using the cloud identity management platform to gain a single view of the company for the first time ever and help achieve these corporate goals.

Tahani said:

The thing is we were a traditional utility electricity company running power stations all around the world. Now, with the energy revolution, it’s completely changed. We’ve got a new business strategy, which is basically to be the leader in the energy transition.

You no longer need big power grids. You can do solar on your roof. You can have a wind farm next door. This means the days of the big power plants with a purchase agreement with the government for 20 years at a fixed price are over. We now focus on energy efficiency services, on natural gas, on renewable energy production, of course, and on digital technology as a way to manage energy, in general.

A single view

To become a leader in ‘energy transition’, Engie soon realised that it needed to act as one entity and wanted to introduce a collaboration platform to allow for cross-organisation working. However, with multiple companies in operation, many of which have been acquired over the years, and with a complex array of systems – getting all of the users onto one agile cloud platform didn’t seem entirely feasible. Engie knew it wanted to implement Office 365, but it needed a new approach before it could get to that point – it needed a single view of the company, in order to integrate into the Microsoft cloud system. Which is why it came to Okta.

Okta’s USP is that it not only acts as a single sign-on tool for enterprises, but it also acts as an integration layer for multiple systems, connecting the dots for companies and giving them a clear view into their user base.

Tahani said:

The first part of it, wa targeting the employees. And, particularly with the organization change, targeting to build what we call, “The one company.”

One of the main first challenges we had to achieve was about to build a transversal collaboration between all the employees of the group, whatever business organizations they belong to. A single collaboration platform from Shanghai to Santiago. This was our first challenge, to try build something whilst coming from a very heterogeneous and very complex landscape in our different organizations.

Tahani said that it soon became clear that identity would be the first foundation to building this collaboration platform. Engie began implementing Okta from mid-2015, up until January 2016, with more than one hundred thousand employees in the group being brought on board. Okta is now becoming the platform that gives IT a single view of its systems and people. Tahani said:

This basic foundation about the identity and the access was there, giving access to all the employees, from all the hundred and thirty plus different local IT organizations, we found it very easy then to leverage on that platform. So, we started integrating other applications, so either global group applications, or sometimes very local applications. Now, we are having about a hundred plus applications connected to Okta and using Okta as the digital access management to those applications. All those applications are targeting the employees, plenty of applications.

And Okta is now being extended to be used outside of the organisation, where it could become the access point for customer facing applications. Tahani said:

What we’re about to actually work on … and this is something on which we started working with some of our business organizations … is more to use Okta for the customers, either B2C, or B2B customers, to try to integrate some existing or new applications being developed in the frame of Engie Digital that range in on what we already built with the Okta platform.

Extending beyond the four walls

Delava explained the importance of Okta to Engie’s digital strategy, within this context. He said:

We started with the employees. Initially, we selected Okta just to do office 365, because to hide, I would say, the on-premise, legacy complexity and present Engie as a single company, even though we’re very de-centralized, with plenty of different IT teams and IT systems. Present ourselves as a single company towards Microsoft. That’s where we went to Okta, because we had a good deal with Okta, we pretty much discovered, well, okay, let’s add more applications, because everybody’s in the universal directory for the first time in our history.

Then the second step is, and we’re looking at that now, and we’re discussing what’s on the commercials, on how can we use it for the B2B and the B2C. First of all, B2B: Of thousands of customers, if you look at B2C, a company like Engie, we’re in the millions. So, we’re not there yet.

Okta isn’t yet being used for the B2C or B2B side of the business, but Delava gave an example of how it could be utilised within this context. He said:

In terms of application, for example, as we work on energy efficiency, we do intelligent building management systems, for example. That’s a good example, because there you have the association of sensors that measure the consumption of gas, electricity, and water in the building, and measure the temperatures, and so on. Then you aggregate the data and do some data analysis.

I would say so the challenge there is that Engie provides facility management along with an application to the customers. If it could give those customers who are actually the guys in the buildings managing, turning up the heat, and doing the day-to-day work, that’s where you need to start being able to have the identity of the customers in your system. Technologies like Okta can help with that.

A caution

I was keen to find out from Tahani and Delava what advice they would give to other companies carrying out a similar transformation agenda, what advice the pair would give.  Unsurprisingly, Engie’s key focus early on in the project was getting its data in order. Delava said:

Data quality, I would say, is very important.. And standardization of the definition of attributes. To give you an example, as we mentioned, we have more than one hundred active directories, as a result of mergers and acquisitions. There’s no two environments with the same attributes, with the same definition, like, “What is an internal employee versus a contractor?” And stuff like that. That’s an attention point.

We didn’t encounter a problem because I think we had the right approach, which is to define technical joining rules. It’s not just about deploying a connector a hundred times. It’s about preparing the local environment before it’s connected. For that, standardizing the attributes and having the same common definition, especially when you’re in seventy countries. So, there can be differences in terms of meaning of certain words – what’s an employee, and what’s a contractor, and so on and so forth.

Image credit - Image sourced via Engie website