It’s unsurprising that Shell’s technology is complex. The oil giant operates globally and its business covers everything from drilling in the ocean to providing customers on the forecourt with their petrol. A diverse supply chain and variety of customer needs - from your regular car driving consumer to airlines needing refuelling - means one thing: complexity.
And despite high barriers to entry, Shell Downstream CIO Craig Walker is not complacent about how Shell might end up facing increased competition in a digital world. Car sharing services, the rise of Uber and services offering to refuel your car for you (meaning the choice of where you fill up no longer rests with you) are all having an impact.
I got the chance to sit down with Walker at Salesforce’s World Tour event in London last week, where in a wide ranging interview he explained how Shell is using Salesforce to improve the way that people work, as well as improve the way it interacts with customers to create a better experience.
He also shared insights into how Shell shouldn’t become complacent in a fast moving digital world.
Walker explained how in the early 2000s Shell decided to spend a lot of money on IT to standardise and globalise on its technology platform - SAP, amongst others - as it was operating as “120 separate companies around the world”.
However, he added that this didn’t mean that Shell didn’t go down the dangerous route of heavy customisation. Walker said:
Being Shell, we do have a habit of thinking we're very clever, and so we customize things a lot, rather than go with the industry standard processes. And we arrived at a position, maybe three years ago, where we said, "You know what? This is too expensive. We're running to many apps. We've indulged too much customization in places where, actually it's what I call a parody process." It really doesn't add value to the company, other than you want to do it really well.
Why have we insisted on building our own? Let's get sensible about this. Let's look at those industry players who have offerings that, okay, are configurable to a certain extent, but basically, off the shelf, do some pretty cool stuff.
Walker said that Salesforce “fit” that criteria for him and now has two use cases internally at Shell - to provider a wrapper on the legacy systems to improve the way that the business runs and to also give Walker the capabilities to compete with digital businesses. He said:
So I see two uses of Salesforce. One is I'm able to put it as a wrapper around some of these legacy systems and I can re-engineer, simplify, if you like my processes, use some of Einstein's input to help me make better decisions as I run some of those processes. But actually underneath, I've still got the investment I made, because I'm not yet ready to replace or do a major league upgrade.
Let’s use this to make the user experience much better, harmonize some of the data, harmonize some of the processes, and give our people, be they suppliers, customers, or employees, a better way of working. So instead of the five screens that SAP might use, I'm gonna give it to you on one and I'm gonna give you a bit of thorough process behind it.
The other one was, if I look at that world of digitalization and I'm confronted with, as a CIO, some magnificent opportunities - be it mobile, data analytics, big data, artificial intelligence. And obviously, just getting things up into the cloud because that gives me a better price point.
Centre of Excellence
Walker explained that he is now the executive sponsor for Salesforce internally, which he felt was an important role because he didn’t want the Salesforce platform to sprawl in the wrong way and create problems further down the line. Walker said:
How do I keep people engaged and say, "Hey, here's something. Here is a platform that really gives us great opportunity." Now, with great opportunity, of course, comes great risk, because, as we all know, I have a lot of legacy that isn't very well joined up at times. It takes a lot of integration. You could end up in the same place here with Salesforce.
So I think you've gotta know what you're stepping into, and understand how I'm gonna govern and manage Sales Force implementation in my company. But I think if I get that right, there's a huge amount of opportunity there. So I came at it from two sides, if you like.
So if I can provide the platform and help you with the rules and the guidelines and I put it in production for you. Hey Mr. Trader, or Mr. Whatever, if you have the skills to write it, I'm happy for you to do it.
It will go through my quality control, my security, my data privacy checks, but hey, if you've got the skills to do it, I don't want to stop you. Because to me, you stop people, it all goes underground, right. That's the way life.
Let's get a proper roadmap for this, not because I want to slow it down and get in the way, in fact, I want to let rip with it, but let me get some guidelines in place.
Walker said that this will result in a Centre of Excellence for the Salesforce platform - a place where employees can get advice, guidance and best practice advice on how to use it effectively. Walker sees this eventually resulting in the creation of a DevOps team that will be scaled up, to more closely align the business and IT.
Walker very frankly admitted that Shell “should be scared” during our discussion, where he said that one of his biggest fears is having to go and tell his director that he’d lost a billion dollar business because he didn’t foresee a new business model for Shell, enabled by new technologies. He said:
That's not solely my fault, but I think as their CIO, my job is to have some future vision. And you look at what other companies are doing and how easily I could be taken out.”
You only have to think about your own life and how things work, right? If it's easier to go order what you want here or get it through this route, you will do it. And actually, you probably don't care if it costs five cents more, or five cents less, you just don't have the time to piss around on a site that doesn't take your credit card properly, doesn't seem to know who you are, and just seems a pain to get around.
I think part of my role as a CIO, is how do I use all of this great technology, not only to understand you better, and that's one side of all of this, but ultimately, through that, make your desire to come to me, or drive an extra mile to come to me, rather than stop at this service station, a more enjoyable experience.
Make it easy, make it surprising, make it something the customer's not expecting. But that's my retail business. Then you think of all my other businesses and look at the potential disruptions there - because you can bet your bottom dollar I know where the money's made on that value chain. So do 20 million other people out there, who are going, "All right, Shell are slow. Shell will struggle to disrupt themselves." I'm gonna take that bit away from them.