There’s an unexpected food metaphor on the menu as Marc Lallemand, CIO & Chief Symphony Officer at ENGIE Belgium, describes the energy powerhouse’s digital transformation of its IT systems:
We started with spaghetti in the 90s. Then we went to lasagne with SOA [Service Oriented Architecture] with the splitting the back end from the front and in the different layers. Lately we had micro-services. That's what I call the ravioli ecosystem. And we then came to pizza. What did we have for desert? A kind of tiramisu ecosystem.
That gastronomic pitch does leave one lingering question unaddressed - what’s a Symphony Officer when he or she is at home? We’ll come back to that one. For now, Lallemand, speaking at Salesforce’s DreamTX - the online Dreamforce conference avatar for 2020 - picks up on the challenges facing ENGIE as one of the largest utility companies in the world:
Over the past few years, we have decided to promote energy transition as our main mission in the world. We aim at helping our customers move towards zero carbon and this is the case for both B2C and B2B customers. Energy transition has become an increasing topic in our discussions with customers and also [government] departments.
An increasing number of them want to really be active in this important shift, by conviction or for the image, and ENGIE has the knowledge to help them on this tricky path. So a few years ago we decided to divest massively from our polluting assets to be able to have the cash to invest in digital technologies that support our mission towards zero carb and moving towards a zero carbon economy.
There are some clear requirements around tech choices here:
We need to get data and also the tools to analyse and communicate correctly and efficiently to our customers, enable them also to make the right decisions on investments to be made, or even on a day-to-day basis to manage their energy efficiently.
Technology has evolved, so things that were not possible few years ago, have now become possible, thanks to smart meters, for instance, or energy management systems that we can put in in the homes of people. We did this for large B2B customers for years. It was impossible for B2C customers, but now technology has evolved and we have also the opportunity to do this, even for B2C customers.
Switching on to Salesforce
ENGIE’s relationship with Salesforce began in 2017, recalls Lallemand, alongside mobile software provider Vlocity, itself now part of Salesforce:
It was part of our IT strategy and IT business strategy to go there. We decided to move in order to be able to give the right information to our partners and our customers. We decided to move on the investments also for boiler replacement, insulation, solar panels, windmills for the customers and really provide the right information for the customers, but also for the partners that need to advise the customers correctly. This is really a tool to be able to provide value-added information to customers on a day-to-day basis, to monitor and optimise usage of energy.
The firm also developed specific processes for energy that were not available as standard in Salesforce, a practice facilitated by using Vlocity, he adds, although at first this wasn’t a decision that went down well internally at ENGIE:
We looked around and discovered Vlocity. At first my teams did not want to use it, because they are the professionals, they know the business, they know utilities and so they said, 'No, we're not going to use an accelerator, we don't need to do this, we are going to get development done by ourselves'.
As I usually say, we build nuclear power plants, so why shouldn't we be able to build software? They could do it probably - that's not the issue - but I asked them to go and have a look at Vlocity all the same. So that's what they did and after a few weeks, to my great surprise, basically they came back and said, 'It's a good tool, we'd like to use it. Probably, we'd go faster using this accelerator than building it by ourselves'.
And that’s what happened in practice:
We had great results and we could develop the whole project in a timespan of nine months, which was much quicker than we could ever have imagined [when] working with the normal tools like we did before. So basically we cut the time of the project in two by using Vlocity and Salesforce.
We had a very hard deadline because we were going live with this project in November 2018, so we only had nine months to develop. We knew it would take us two years probably to develop it with the standard tools we had in-house and so we had no choice - we had to find something else, some other ways to work, to be able to develop things as quickly as the business needed to go to market.
Since then, ENGIE, Salesforce and Vlocity have become a productive triumvirate, with Lallemand citing it to be an example of “a real partnership”. That’s a marketing claim that gets made a lot by vendors in relation to their marquee reference customers of course, but as Lallemand wryly observes, “It doesn't work quite as well all the time”. Not so in this case, he insists:
We do co-development, certainly for the big B2B Customer Relationship Management project we have running for the time being. That is due by early next year. It's a real win/win situation because we benefit from Salesforce's experience in software development, [they] benefit in return from our experience in the utility market. That’s what I call a real win/win partnership in building a solution that will be also sustainable in the long term for us, instead of developing specific software for our needs. This will enable us to keep really standard what we really want to have and reduce the cost as well, maintaining a long term sustainability.
Back to the pizza
All of which brings us back to that pizza reference at the start. It’s a reference to all the new tools that ENGIE has rolled out to support its transformational needs, explains Lallemand:
It's basically all the parts of the ecosystems we need for a customer engagement platform. On one hand, a real back-end system of record that is working fine with SAP, but also the tools we need for API connection.For instance, because we work in an ecosystem, [it is] capturing also the IoT [Internet of Things] data and putting everything in a data platform, in order to be able to fuel the whole thing and give the right information to the customers and [to enable] the back ends to make the right decision.
And in this ‘pizza’, Salesforce is providing the customer engagement ‘topping’ and, according to Lallemand, everyone wants a slice:
To my great amazement, the guys replacing the boilers work with Salesforce and they really love it because before, they were filling in sheets of paper, and now they have access directly to Salesforce and Vlocity to give an input directly to our systems. I did not imagine those guys working, blue collar guys working replacing boilers, would like to use the Salesforce system or the Vlocity system, but they do. We get really very good feedback and some of those companies have dropped completely everything on paper and they use only digital with Salesforce This was a great achievement and basically an amazement to me.
COVID and beyond
Given 2020’s COVID crisis, ENGIE’s digital shift has proved timely, says Lallemand, and made keeping in touch with customers easier:
There have been difficult times, but customers have also expressed satisfaction and after the crisis we've never seen such a high NPS [Net Promoter Score] coming from the customers. They're really happy that we were there for them, helping them in these difficult times, giving them more time to pay their bills or just answering their questions about what was happening. So using the tools we have put in place has helped a lot with the knowledge we have on the customers, with very good feedback from the customers as well.
That's the whole point - getting a 360 degree view of the customer and giving the right information, real-time right information, to the customer, getting the next best move for the customer. It's the best move for us, of course, commercially, but also the best move for the customer. That's what we are looking for - getting a win/win for the customer as well, for both us and the customer.
Expect more transformation to come, he concludes:
We're moving to more and more digital and to more agile ways of working. We embarked on HR transformation in my teams over the three last years. This has given very, very good benefits and big changes as well for the people. This is an interesting move. We see really the fusion between business and IT. I'm in the business, I'm not an apart IT department, but all the same, we still have a difference between business and IT. We are really merging those teams, working quicker and more customer-focused as well, much quicker on the market. We've put in place all the tools to do it and now we need the business to use them as much as possible, to react quickly to the market, be there for the customers, be able to make new value proposals very quickly based on a market that is really changing very very fast.
His advice to other organizations is simple:
Go for digital! Don't be afraid of digital, go for it. It's really a golden path to your customers, to partners. But be very well prepared. Take time to prepare it correctly. Define a clear strategy with your business, not on your own as IT. Choose reliable partners for the long run, because it will take some time. Prepare carefully your people internally, but your customers as well. Prepare them and your partners for massive change, because it is really a massive change for everyone, for your people internally, for the customers, for the partners.
As for that job title, there is a good reason for it that follows on from that guidance:
Everyone will need to work completely differently. My advice is that digital is not that much about technology; it's all about people. So take care of the people internally and externally to get real success in digital. Make a symphony out of it. That's what we mean with the term, Chief Symphony Officer.