by David Cooper, CIO British Gas

British Gas director ensures customers join digital economy

May 06, 201521 mins
Energy IndustryIT LeadershipUtilities

Transformative CIOs never fail to highlight the importance of their teams and the Direct Reports that deliver many of the outcomes that the CIO and the business strategy demand. For the 2015 CIO 100 existing members of the CIO 100 community were asked to nominate someone from their team that they felt deserved recognition.

Two candidates stood out and both will receive mentoring from the CIO 100 panel of experts. British Gas CIO David Cooper and his peers nominated Daljit Rehal (pictured with CIO 100 panel expert Mike Altendorf), below they detail Rehal’s achievements as direct report.

The role and achievements: Daljit Rehal is Director of Strategic Systems for British Gas Information Systems (IS). Rehal is a major force both within IS and the British Gas business, responsible for enabling British Gas customers to become part of the connected digital economy by delivering innovative and superior multi-channel systems, services and information.

Rehal has shown pragmatism, tenacity, innovation and immense talent in delivering multi-channel systems; leading teams to deliver change programmes in the data, digital and mobile space; programmes which have been recognised as award winning.

Rehal has been at the heart of many of the radical technical changes introduced to British Gas IS in the past year, making him a respected and appreciated leader across the whole business.

British Gasstrategic priorities are to deliver great service to our customers and to grow the business through transformation.

“When Daljit joined my team these goals were hampered by a technology estate that was fragmented across different customer product teams and had suffered underinvestment for many years,” Cooper says.

Delivery British Gas strategic priorities has depended on major IT transformation. Including: 1. Systems replacement and transformation in digital self-service across both our B2C and B2B businesses. 2. Completion of Data Centre Migration project to move to modern Linux and Windows Server based environments throughout the estate, as well as performing critical systems upgrades and the replacement of all legacy technologies.

All IT transformations including the above were delivered while making significant savings from our IT budgets to reduce by a quarter our annual expenditure in technology.

The investments in systems that serve our customers have given us unprecedented organisational agility to respond to customer needs, share information about our customers’ across out contact centre, self-service and field channels, as well as develop propositions that leverage all of the products that are on offer. British Gas create and test new customer journeys and content in a continuous way so that it can promote improvements in a matter of hours.

“With these strong foundations Daljit has ensured that we are able to realise the next generation of our vision, to deliver higher levels of customer service quality and invest in digital business transformation whilst continuing to simplify and take cost out of our core systems technologies. He is part of this next wave of innovation and transformation as he takes the helm of our Big Data programme. This programme is revolutionising the business through Hadoop and the data lake – giving it unprecedented customer insight and in turn dramatically improving our customer journeys,” Cooper says.

Ian Peters, Managing Director, British Gas added: “Daljit is renowned for four things: 1) When everyone else is stuck for a solution, he is the “go to” man – and has never failed to come up with a way through a problem, earning him the nickname the “magician”. 2) He scans the technological world to bring commercially step-changing innovations into our business (Hadoop and the data lake transform our customer and operational insight). 3) Dogged determination and a refusal to be beaten by a challenge (turning round our doomed data centre migration to eventual success and sorting out our management information). 4) Just as important, he is a genuinely nice guy, a collaborative colleague, with an ability to inspire and develop his people.”

A positive force of disruption and change in your organisation To transform into a modern digital business, mobile, data and digital needed to come together under a strong, visionary leader. This is the role that Daljit Rehal has played.  He convinced the British Gas Leadership Team including the Managing Director to invest in new ‘disruptive’ digital technology; introducing such things as ‘Big Data’ NoSQL solutions. He succeeded in changing the operating model for digital areas. He innovated in the machine to machine sensor networks area for energy monitoring in the corporate and SME segment of the market. And he disrupted conventional wisdom in many ways, including the creation of a new vision for Data and Information Management; which has now been adopted throughout the business. He also succeeded in challenging the organisation to deliver ‘change’ in new ways, in some cases reversing the trend that has been in place for several years, for example, moving some of the development teams back onshore from offshore development centres.

Data: Daljit led on the decommissioning of old data centres and the commissioning of new environmentally sustainable data centres, involving over 600 applications, several thousand pieces of equipment, and four Peta Bytes of Data. Daljit was asked to take on the leadership role as it needed to make faster progress. The project is delivering cost savings in excess of £200m over several years.

With the completion of this key programme, British Gas now has the opportunity to build exciting next generation technology services and capabilities on a stronger technology foundation. For example, core information and processes are now integrated in both our Residential and Business systems architectures.

Daljit delivered a proof of concept for a state of the art Big Data solution which is now a full project delivering the corporate data strategy. He has been the driving force behind the technical innovation of a Hadoop implementation and move to self-service BI.

Mike O’Donohue, Insight and Data Director says:  “Daljit and his team have been the driving force behind the data lake.  Over the course of two years, he and his team have taken this from an interesting R&D project to become the enterprise solution for how we will manage and exploit data.    They have consistently innovated and come up with cutting edge thinking to get around the problems of implementing the lake at scale.  The lake is generation jumping technology that will revolutionise how we exploit data to create commercial value.”

Digital: Daljit has worked collaboratively with the Head of Digital and the Head of Connected Homes at British Gas to ensure that our systems are modernised and integrated into Digital self-service channels. He has helped them to deliver changes to the website and Apps as well as launch a brand new social media experience for our customers.

Arslan Shariff, Digital Director says: “Daljit has been instrumental in changing the way we deliver transformational digital initiatives. Our new agile approach is allowing us to get to market quicker and in a cost-effective way.  Daljit’s tenacious style ensures we stay focused on what’s right for the customer whilst leveraging our technology capability to deliver the best solution for our business.”

Mobile: Under Daljit’s leadership British Gas customers are being given unprecedented levels of access via their mobile phones to British Gas services. For example, his team developed the British Gas App which has been downloaded over 1.5 million times in the last year.  He also led on the mobile energy phone application ‘me’ which was targeted at helping young people manage their bills and energy usage, even for house sharers. This App was voted top ten Apps in the Apple store; joining the ranks of popular Apps such as Strava, Flickr, Xfactor and Pintrest. It also achieved a five star rating on the Google Play store and received very positive customer reviews.

Thanks to the accessibility of both the website and the Apps that Daljit has overseen, around two thirds of our residential energy customers are now choosing to contact us online, and around half of these are from a mobile device. Not only does this empower our customers but in turn it is taking pressure off British Gas call centre agents. Daljit has also empowered British Gas employees, giving its 8,500 engineers applications on their iPhones and iPads that arm them with the information they need to help our customers, as well as a texting solution to contact customers about service bookings prior to ringing or writing to them.

David Brand, Customer Services Director, Services and Repair Change says: “The first thing that comes to mind is his passion and excitement for new ideas and the potential they could provide. Daljit is considered by our Leadership team as a real innovator with a fantastic ‘can do’ attitude.  He engages with such enthusiasm.  Daljit was at the forefront of our ‘Engineer Apps’ development, not only informing us about how the engineers could get the best from their iPhone but also changing the IS operating model to deploy the changes in a much more agile and speedy way.”   

Understanding of your business and its demands

Rehal has a good grasp of the energy market in the UK and understanding of how the energy and home services market is changing through regulatory reform. Rehal believes that with new tools,  users will be able to self-serve within the business units, whilst the ‘Big IT’ continues to be centralised under the CIO function. Rehal’s position on this matter is based on his understanding of the challenges his commercial teams are facing.

“One of Rehal’s key strengths is his creativity, he has a natural ability to think ‘outside of the box’ and he uses this strength to simplify complex problems into easier to understand challenges,” Cooper says. For example: •    He has been a key mover in the shift to a ‘Self Care’ approach to management information. He did this because he recognised that IT people are not always the best people to write MI reports. So by working closely with his colleagues in the commercial teams to understand their needs, he handed control of the report production back to the business units.  This has allowed him to align this important IT resource with the key strengths of both information systems and the business; •    He recognised that new tools enable more control within the business units, with IT playing a role in governance, quality assurance, security and strategy. He is able to challenge business orthodoxy in a constructive manner; •    Working as a part of the overall IS modernisation effort, Daljit brought stability to some of our key business critical applications.

Kassir Hussain, Director Connected Homes says: “Connected Homes would’ve delivered far less and more slowly had it not been for the numerous interventions from Daljit and his team. There are far too many examples to share, but Daljit’s involvement in getting the architecture for the Smart infrastructure stabilised and upgraded meant that half a million customers could see their energy use right up to yesterday rather than that of ten days ago. Daljit is able to identify and remedy business problems in a way that many technical leaders wouldn’t be able to.  On top of this, Daljit’s behaviours and can do attitude are an exemplar for us all.”

Running major projects:

Data Centre Migration & Transformation (DCMT) This project, which was for all of Centrica’s UK business units, had two elements. DCMT and End User Computing (EUC) Transformation.

The biggest challenge for Rehal with the EUC programme was the quality of the legacy data. Rehal and his peers worked together to plan this element of the transformation but had to adjust the plan in an iterative manner as we untangled and separated out what T-Systems actually had.

Ultimately British Gas had 14 separate projects across IS, covering key services such as shared storage, emails, internet access and VMs. When the programme finished last year, included amongst the many improvements users were able to enjoy were; •    More stable email services and increased mailbox size •    Increased stability in file services •    More robust internet services, including more effective remote access •    Lync service to enhance collaboration

The migration consisted of over 45,000 mailboxes service and 140TB of personal and shared data to the new file services. As a result of this massive transformation every end user is now enjoying a greatly enhanced service.

Moving onto the DCMT, the scale of the work that Daljit oversaw here is immense: Rehal led on the: •    Migration of data equivalent to 20 million 4-drawer filling cabinets all filled with densely typed documents including 170 applications •    Closing 10 data halls – some the size of football pitches!

It was a massive challenge as the existing infrastructure was not fully documented. It is worth highlighting that this transformation was also completed against a major programme of other IS change. Not only did this impact directly on the infrastructure Daljit’s team needed to deliver, but it meant he had to share people, resources and access to environments as every change programme looked to hit its target dates.

Rehal ensured his team, which involved up to 800 different people over three years, made the moves to the new data centre at times that minimised impact and ensured the business and our customers weren’t disadvantaged.

This project has delivered cost savings in excess of £200m across the entire programme including EUC over seven years. Apart from the savings, the business is now able to use the latest versions of applications, everything is standardised and documented.

Last year the project team won the IT Industry Award for Project Excellence; fantastic recognition for what we’d achieved.

Big Data: Rehal pioneered the use of Hadoop as an answer to our business need to exploit new data domains in order to understand our customers and their needs better, in a manner that provided economies of scale. Hadoop is being used to extract, store and process large amounts of complex data from our Core application. Under Daljit’s leadership we have also been able to significantly reduce the time it takes to extract data from Core applications.

Rehal also brought Smart data into Hadoop, enabling data discovery through the use of front end Business Intelligence (BI) tools. This provides the business with self-serve capabilities, as well as enabling new business insight and discovery by connecting our traditional sources with Smart.

A great example of how Rehal has put Hadoop to good use comes from the need to combine telephony and agent data where the volume of data required daily was becoming difficult to manage for the ageing solution. 

The data lake on Hadoop is now doing the hard work of collecting, storing and processing the growing dataset from our CRM system and making the result set available for our systems to consume. Initial observations show a dramatic improvement with data collection times more than halved by simply offloading the piece to Hadoop without any additional optimisations. This helps in the migration of the estate from the old to new solutions.

Future capabilities Rehal has planned in the platform include batch, interactive, near real time and real time use cases to exploit, analyse and deliver data applications.

TDWI: Daljit led the Smart Energy Analytics solution project which was recognised for its excellent work by the Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) best practices awards where it won the ‘Right-Time Business Intelligence’ award. The solution for business and residential customers, was implemented in two phases:

Phase 1 was Energy Insight and Data Analytics (EIDA) for business customers with: •    Easy-to-use smart meter consumption dashboards to small and midsize business customers •    Energy analytics Web portal for use by internal energy analysts to validate, estimate and edit the Smart meter data being cleansed by an automated data cleansing engine.

Phase 2 was a Smart Energy Report for residential customers that provides British Gas smart meter users with a detailed insight into their energy consumption and generates personalised tips and hints for reducing energy consumption. This included: •    A data cleansing engine (to validate, estimate, and edit the customer and smart meter data) •    A web portal supporting the data-cleansing activity •    Energy dashboards that customers can view for effective usage of consumption •    A smart energy report sent with energy bills to help  customers compare consumption with households in same the postal code •    Tips on effective energy usage •    A projected energy graph •    Insights on the energy used by various household appliances.

Web transformation:

Daljit set up web transformation to deliver a new British Gas website and supporting backend infrastructure using lean/agile methodology that is customer-centric and cost effective. The focus of this programme is to deliver a better online customer experience, higher converting journeys and a more flexible technology infrastructure.

In order to achieve this Rehal deliberately structured a leaner team so that they would be set for success and able to deliver high quality, user focused, deliverables, in short timescales and cost effectively.

Firstly Rehal drove them to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP). This meant that rather than assuming that they knew all the features/functionality customers wanted, instead they built the MVP and let customers inform their roadmap. This also allowed for an iterative delivery – where the team were able to deliver frequently. For example, if the design approach wasn’t working Rehal would get them to pivot the design to make sure it was achieving ‘product market fit’. This way the teams could learn and adapt quickly.

Rehal also adopted a ‘Genchi Gembutsu’ (go see for yourself) with his internal stakeholders encouraging them come to user labs, see what customers were saying through surveys, pub tests and a Show & Tell. The later was a way of showing stakeholders progress via physical demonstrations of deliverables (code demos, design demos etc.). The ethos of these ‘Show & Tell’s’ was physical delivery is what counts; not paperwork/vapourware. This really pleased the stakeholders as they could see what was being delivered for themselves rather than being told.

Rehal encouraged the use of customer archetypes/personas, which build on real user case stories, to bring the end user customer to life and ensure that his team knew who they were building the new website for.

Data underpinned everything Rehal ‘s team did and this ensured that they understood how people are using the site at any given moment, what they were using the site for and equally important – what they weren’t using the site for.  This allowed for actionable metrics which drove business results.

Daily stand ups (scrums), run by a Scrum Master ensured a regular stream of updates on what the team were up to yesterday, today and tomorrow. Not only did this mean there was no place to hide, but more importantly, it was easy to stop work or reprioritise it as and when needed. Also the whole team was aware of the big picture and what everyone else was doing and how they all fitted into that big picture.

This approach, which involved a huge mind-set shift for some people, has led to quicker, cheaper and more customer focused deliverables.

Leadership qualities

Rehal is naturally a very creative and inquisitive leader. No matter what the problem he always finds a solution.  His technical knowledge is extensive and comes from the array of industries he has worked in. His pragmatism is a major strength and when combined with his creativity and knowledge he is a major force in IS and business. This strength means that Rehal has been able to mobilise British Gas to modernise in the areas of Mobile & Digital, Infrastructure, Data and information management.

He’s been able to do this because he recognised that IT transformation is more about people than it is about technology.

While he has great ideas himself he also inspires and challenges others to think differently about their skills, their personal development as well as how they recruit for team members.  And he’s managed to do all of this at the same time as encouraging people to have fun with technology as he finds extremely creative ways to engage and stimulate them. A great example of this is the regular ‘Hackathons’.

The Hackathons brought together British Gas IS software developers, designers and others to unleash their creativity and collaborate intensively on software projects. The first hackathon that Rehal ran focused on solving a problem.  David Brand, Change & Transformation Director in Service & Repair had flagged up the difficulties engineers faced in accessing the work scheduling and management system, so the goal of the Hackathon was to develop an App to ease some of the pain for Home Services. And the outcome of this inaugural Hackathon was pretty impressive. In barely eight hours, the combined team had built an App and supporting database that looks to give service engineers up to date information on their appointments. This was later trialled as a proof of concept and is now a fully functioning iPhone App used by engineers. It takes appointment information from the scheduling systems on an hourly basis and feeds it to the App that the engineers have on their iPhone. Future Hackathons were free sessions where the developers decided what they wanted to work on. One of the recent sessions involved building sensors using Raspberry pie handheld computers.

Within British Gas Rehal enjoys high levels of trust from business units, who see him as a positive force, particularly in addressing and correcting perceptions of IT and technology. He wins this trust through inspiring people to deliver collaboratively with him. The words of his stakeholders say it all:

Stuart Rolland, Managing Director British Gas Business says: “Rehal is the ultimate creative IS professional.  He loves solving problems for other people – nothing is too much trouble – and he always finds ways of achieving the seemingly impossible.  He led his team in developing breakthrough new smart metering propositions for us.  And his stack of laptops to power the mighty Hadoop is a work of art.”

Bjoern Reinke, Smart Change Director adds: “Daljit is a great listener and seeks out feedback and advice from all angles and all levels, irrespective of hierarchy. He makes everyone he is involved with feel engaged, supported, consulted and part of his innovation. He is very patient when others require some time to understand his vision: which sometimes happens when he’s thinking 5-10 years ahead.”

Rehal works closely with Royal Holloway College (University of London), where he sits on the Industry Advisory Panel for Computer Science Department. He also enjoys Non Exec Directorships as a technology advisor for start-ups. Daljit’s strong communication skills have been put to use when he has presented at several internal and external conferences about the ways in which he is introducing change at British Gas. He is in continual dialogue with end users; helping them to understand and engage with some of the complex, disruptive change that we are bringing in. He is highly effective at managing vendors especially in providing direction for future growth, innovation and how to add value. Many of the vendors are seeking to partner with Rehal and his team through several projects and R&D activities. Some of the large hardware vendors have gone from trying to sell ‘kit’ to Rehal to offering value added services. This has included discussions about buying back from British Gas some of our intellectual property to offer it as a managed service to other non-competing clients.  Rohit Gupta, Cognizant Head of Energy, Utilities, Manufacturing and Logistics Business Unit says: “Daljit is a leader who leads from the front. First and foremost he is a keen technologist with an infectious curiosity to seek, learn and most importantly mentor his teams and partner members.

Cognizant is a long term partner of British Gas and has been part of the technology transformation programmes that Daljit has initiated and led over the last few years.

Daljit is a lateral thinker who challenges the norm. This was most noticeable with the rollout of Big Data and the enhancement of the Digital platform as well as adoption of open source platforms such as Hadoop. His astute foresight of the future of technology and trends is proven time and again – most recently with a cutting edge implementation of the Data Lake strategy based on Hadoop.

Daljit’ s  focus on effectiveness and his game-changing approach to delivering transformation programmes such as the Data Centre Migration has brought substantial cost savings to British Gas.