Dreamforce 2019 - Engie powers up data-centric global digital transformation to tackle the climate change crisis

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan November 19, 2019
Energy giant Engie has roots dating back to the 19th century, but it's 21st century planet-saving issues that are driving its global digital transformation program.


There are many reasons for organizations to embark on digital transformation programs, but few are quite as compelling as that driving energy giant Engie - the fate of the planet in the face of the climate change crisis.

As Chief Digital Officer Yves Le Gelard puts it:

The fundamental reason why we need to reinvent ourselves is the issue of climate change. As a very large energy producer, we were part of the problem. We decided, four years ago that we wanted to be part of the solution.

With that in mind, the company set itself a goal of becoming a world leader in the zero-carbon transition, morphing from being a utility company to becoming a provider of low-carbon energy and services.

This objective would require the firm, the world’s longest-running multi-national company with its origins dating back to 1834, to re-imagine the way it engages with its 25 billion retail customers in over 70 countries in the 21st century. The company’s formal mission statement gives some indication of the scale of its ambitions in this respect:

Engie is committed to responsible growth of its businesses (power, gas and energy services) to succeed in the central challenges of delivering an energy transition to a low-carbon economy: providing access to sustainably generated energy, combating climate change, reducing its effect and making responsible use of natural resources. The Group is developing high-performance, innovative solutions for personal customers, urban authorities and companies by applying its expertise in four key sectors: natural and renewable gas, renewable electricity, energy efficiency and digital technologies.

In pursuit of this, there have been some big changes, observes Le Gelard:

We've disposed of coal. We've sold $15 billion of the coal [business] and we've injected $15 billion into the sun and the wind. Now, we're pushing this to a new way, which is that as a company we want to position ourselves as the zero carbon partner of the Fortune 500, and the world's largest cities. So it's a radical change.

We used to sell energy and the more the better. Right now, the 150,000 staff are engaging with customers to save energy, to sell less. Less is more. And that's a complete shift. In order to be successful at doing that, you need to understand precisely what's the carbon footprint of your customer. And as a result, you need data, you need software, you need a whole world of digital technologies and that's what we do within the company.

Global customer engagement 

To arm itself for this digital overhaul, Engie is working with Accenture, Vlocity and Salesforce to deploy a global unified CRM platform.

Accenture is helping to define the business model, operational processes and IT architecture, and is implementing and deploying the technology, while Vlocity is delivering omni-channel and industry-specific cloud and mobile solutions. Meanwhile Salesforce is providing cloud solutions, notably Salesforce Community Cloud, Einstein Analytics, Marketing Cloud, Sales Cloud and Service Cloud.

The aim is to provide Engie staffers with the elusive CRM Holy Grail of the 360-degree customer view as well as personalized recommendations, collaboration capabilities with customers and  proactively managing relationships to reduce energy usage and consumption over the next 50 years.

At the heart of all of this is an increased dependency of reliable, real time data, says Le Gelard:

Data matters if you want to seriously, address the zero carbon agenda of any organization, you need to understand where carbon is being burned.  Production transportation distribution - you need to understand all that. For this you need sensors, you need an immense amount of data, you need that.

Data is also vital because however idealistic a ‘green’ vision might be, there will still be a need for energy, notes Le Gelard:

Although you would reduce it drastically by capturing the right data and addressing behaviors, you would still need energy. Green energy presents the challenge of being intermittent. There is not always sun, there is not always wind. And storing electricity is still a challenge. Although batteries are making huge progress, still it is a challenge.

So, in order to make sure we understand all this and to be able to constantly match [demand], we need to understand precisely at which moment there is a particular need. Precisely because you've got a lot of renewables on the production side, then the understanding of maybe the very second when you need to provide electricity - and where - would prevent the sort of challenges that some parts of the world, including California, suffer from time to time - outages.

This is why being able to share data end-to-end, and make sure that necessary Artificial Intelligence technologies are being mobilized is so key to this transition.

He adds: 

The number one challenge is really to digitalize the world. We need to install millions and millions of additional sensors, all across the chain, to be sure that we monitor all the time. Because actually, the need for [power] balance is down to the millisecond. so you really need to know what's going on. That's the number one thing.

The other thing has to do with helping customers to understand how to behave.  This is a cultural shift whereby you need to explain the consequences of behaviors to millions of customers to millions of users.

Those customers are increasingly front-of-mind for Engie:

What has really changed is the fact that in the previous world we had a big power plant, a transmission line, and something that we call a meter. We've recently discovered that there is a human being behind the meter. And as a consequence, it didn't take us a long study to pick Salesforce as a strategic partner to handle this person that we've discovered is behind the meter. It turns out there was a person there.

Digital transformation of organizations of any scale are typically multi-year marathons, but Engie is acutely aware of the need for speed in its case. Le Gelard knows what the desired outcomes are here:

It's zero carbon as quickly as possible for everybody. The clock's ticking guys, and this is serious and we all can feel it. But the other thing, perhaps the most important thing, is that the future of energy is to provide energy to the 2 billion people that do not get energy today.

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