RWE AG rebuilds its tech function from the ground up after asset swap with E.ON

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez March 5, 2020
We speak to the Head of Infrastructure at RWE AG, who explains that the project is costing in the region of ‘three figure millions’ and has huge complexity.

Image of a wind farm

German energy giant RWE AG is undergoing a huge technology transformation project, following the decision to invest more in renewables and undergo a complex asset swap with E.ON energy. Following a decision made in 2018, RWE AG is set to complete the swap of its energy networks and retails business for E.ON’s renewables business by 2020. 

However, the swap meant RWE AG has had to make some significant technology decisions. Due to the company’s IT support also moving over to E.ON as part of the swap, not only has RWE AG had to carve out its own IT function and build out its own infrastructure, but it also has to integrate this with the incoming E.ON renewables business. 

To complicate matters further, RWE AG was also operating on Windows 7, which meant migrating 20,000 users to Windows 10 in parallel. 

RWE AG chose Avanade, a Microsoft ecosystem consultancy, to help it build its new IT framework, which includes a new Azure-based infrastructure and the deployment of Office 365. The company is migrating 20,000 users, with an initial focus on operations in Germany, the UK and the Netherlands. This will later be extended to include other regions, such as the US and Australia, due for completion at the end of 2020. 

We spoke with Edward Bouwmans, head of infrastructure at RWE AG, about the project and the decision to go all in with Microsoft. He explained: 

We need a new IT operating model, but we also need a modern, cloud-based architecture to support our future growth in a competitive energy sector. Succeeding in today's energy industry requires a high degree of speed and responsiveness. It is also important to build a flexible operating environment that can adapt quickly when organizational change is required. 

[But this has been challenging], as we are effectively doing three projects at the same time - carving out our own IT, the merger with the renewables business, and a Windows 10 migration.

A greenfield approach

Bouwmans explained that RWE AG decided to take a greenfield approach building out and connecting all the components of a modern IT infrastructure. He said that the key ambition was to build an architecture that could scale with the company. 

We wanted a platform that could grow as quickly as our business is growing, but one that also has the highest security standards, is efficient to operate, and would bring all the benefits to the business that a modern platform can bring (quick single sign on, identity access management). 

The IT backbone is part of it, but that of course is only part of it. That doesn’t bring us a result yet. We also need the people to service this and maintain it. On top of that we need to do a change management process so that our incident management processes, our service management processes, everything works in conjunction - not just with the infrastructure, but also the applications. 

So our aim was to set up a system that is modern, low maintenance, as well as easily adaptable, so that we can add additional business on to the framework. This could be natural growth, but also potentially takeovers. So we needed something flexible, quick, as well as something with collaboration across different locations for the future. 

As noted above, RWE AG is migrating 20,000 users and Bouwmans said that the project will be in the region of “three digit million spend” within two years. Thus far 1,000 users have been migrated and testing is taking place, with positive results thrust far. 

He said: 

The state we are currently at is that we’ve succeeded with the help of Avanade to set up the core IT framework, which we have built around the Microsoft solutions - for security, for the IT processes, for Skype collaboration tools, O365, Azure Cloud, and OneDrive. 

[Migrating 1,000 users is a] huge milestone because it proves that the infrastructure is working. We have also implemented ServiceNow for service management, we’ve implemented new network systems, we have new IT security flows, we have new workplace providers in place. But also all the processes and people associated with this are now in the process of working with this. It works well.

Challenges and support

Bouwmans added that because there are so many pieces in play with the project, there is a lot that obviously needs to be optimised. However, he said that the overall feedback from the initial group of users has been positive. In terms of expected benefits, Bouwmans is particularly focused on user satisfaction. 

Whilst this is technology change, we are also doing organisational change to get this thing up and running. For me, the first result will be to have that under control and to prove that the user is satisfied with the product. The second KPI for me will be, how quickly can we onboard new businesses or wind farms?

However, Bouwmans admits that in an ideal world - if RWE AG had had the choice - the company wouldn’t have carried out the trio of projects in parallel. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t an option for RWE AG given the asset swap and the need to upgrade from Windows 7. That being said, he said that support from top has been hugely beneficial. Bouwmans concludes: 

If I’d had a choice, it wouldn’t be to do three projects at the same time. It wasn’t a real surprise, because if I’d had a chance I would have avoided it. But if you have the opportunity, my advice would be to do it separately. 

The other thing I would say is that make sure you have board-level support for the project. I’m in a lucky position that the board is very interested in IT, they take it very seriously. They also understand that some mistakes will be made, given the size of this project. But the support means that everyone throughout the company will make it one of their highest priorities.