Many CIOs trace their career ascent with stints as a technology team member, project manager and business analyst. But Simon Clarke of Trustpower came to his CIO role via a different route, as corporate lawyer and then CEO.\nClarke has been general manager of business solutions and technology for just over three years at Trustpower, and reports directly to the CEO. He is responsible for business systems, technology strategy and services, project delivery\/project management office and the metering and field service team.\nIt is, essentially, a CIO-plus role, and was an expansion of his title, general manager ICT. He held this role for 10 months, until it evolved to his current post, a reflection of the general transformation of the company.\nTrustpower is listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange with a market capitalisation of over $2.5 billion. It provides electricity, gas and internet services across New Zealand and has over 230,000 customers. It also owns and operates 36 hydro power stations and two wind farms in New Zealand, two large wind farms in South Australia and a number of small hydro power stations in New South Wales.\nTraditionally, Trustpower has largely been a provincial electricity supplier but in the last three years it has been moving into metro markets and transitioning into a true multi-utility provider, with products across power, gas, phone and internet. It\u2019s also been increasing its generation footprint offshore.\nThis shift meant Trustpower had to undergo major systems changes and company-wide rebranding.\nIn this new business model, Trustpower used the confluence of changes to move to digital channels to grow its customer base, while increasing the number of services used by customers.\nTechnology is now more at the centre of our business rather than a service function. It is a key enabler of strategy. Simon Clarke, Trustpower\nClarke says this also brings a different dynamic to the ICT team, and his role.\n\u201cThe expectations around the technology function now is to go beyond supporting the business,\u201d says Clarke. \u201cIt is now more into leadership strategy space where it is starting to drive change and be part of the leadership story in organisations.\n\u201cThe rest of the organisation is more reliant and accepting of us coming up with ideas and executing or making the change projects.\nRelated:The five characteristics of a new breed of CIO: Gartner\n\u201cTechnology is now more at the centre of our business rather than a service function,\u201d he says.\n\u201cIt is a key enabler of strategy. Without strong technology capability and an innovative and collaborative mindset, we cannot execute our business strategy.\u201d\nClarke leads a technology team of 50 which is focused on actively working with other business units at all levels.\nThus, he sees the imperative of the technology leadership and teams working with staff across the organisation.\nHe says he makes sure he has good technology leaders who are good communicators working with other business leaders at all levels.\n\u201cWe also have a customer insights team in our marketing team and they work with a dedicated business intelligence team that sits within technology,\u201d he states. The two teams are jointly responsible for full business intelligence and operational reporting.\n\u201cThe marketing team will say, \u2018We have these insights. How can we use these in existing data to drive opportunity that is good for us to improve our business or our customer\u2019s experience?\u2019\u201d\nThese joint projects between technology and other business units were not necessarily the norm when Clarke first came in.\nRelated: Data science in the forest\n\u201cWhen I first arrived, a lot of people in the technology team were talking about, \u2018\u201dThe business wants this.\u2019\u201d\nI tried to change the language, he states. \u201cOur business is the organisation, we are a part of the organisation,\u201d he stressed to the team.\nAn important component of their job is to ensure ICT delivers quality services.\n\u201cYou have got to get all the basic IT stuff right. That\u2019s hygiene,\u201d he states. He says the team focused on a lot of these services in the first year of his term, and after that, he felt the team was getting into a better space to be \u201ctrusted to start leading change\u201d.\nNext: CEO to CIO\nPage Break\nEssential executive skills\n\nBeing a participant at Board meetings and being on the executive level team ensures technology is involved in setting the strategic direction of the organisation, and has influence and early visibility of strategic programs, he states. \u201cI think it\u2019s fair to say that ICT has repositioned itself from being thought of as a reactionary IT service provider, to becoming a business solutions focused team that is intimately involved in the business direction and strategy.\u201d\nThinking strategically and working with different stakeholders are skills Clarke honed in his days as corporate lawyer and CEO.\nBefore joining Trustpower, Clarke was CEO of Arc Innovations, a leader in advanced metering infrastructure and smart grid devices, based in Christchurch. Before Arc, he was assistant general counsel at another energy company, Meridian.\nHe started his career as a general commercial lawyer, based in Tauranga, his home town, which is also the headquarters of Trustpower. After this, he moved to Dublin, Ireland, as a senior corporate solicitor for large law firm William Fry. It was during the dotcom era, and he worked on IPOs, mergers and acquisitions and commercial contracts. \u201cThe Irish certainly knew how to play hard and work hard!\u201d he says.\n ICT has repositioned itself from being thought of as a reactionary IT service provider, to becoming a business solutions focused team that is intimately involved in the business direction and strategy. Simon Clarke, Trustpower\nBack in Wellington, he worked as an associate corporate lawyer at Kensington Swan before moving to Meridian.\nHe says having the commercial business experience while acting as the interface for technology into the executive team and the board is critical.\n\u201cIt is difficult for some CIOs who have grown up in a technology world to show up at the\nmanagement and board tables and talk more broadly on other areas,\u201d says Clarke.\n\u201cI came in from the other way and I can talk more broadly about other things than technology,\u201d he states. \u201cI have more experience in understanding how boards and executives think and what issues they need to be across and what is important to them. That means I can present the right information, have the right conversations and make sure they have a fuller understanding around a particular issue.\u201d\nHis work in corporate law provided him very strong commercial and contractual experience. \u201cWhen I was a lawyer, I was always doing deals, doing transactions, focusing on outcomes and making sure stakeholder relationships have been built.\u201d\nNext: The digital shift\nPage Break\nBuilding a digital business\n\nThe technology team needs to always be thinking about how what they are doing is creating value for Trustpower, explains Clarke. \u201cThat might be de-risking a particular issue, improving a business process or creating new margin through a new product.\u201d\nThis focus was important when they were working on moving the company to become a digital business.\nTrustpower\u2019s main digital channel was the new website, which was launched in 2013. Clarke says the new platform enables Trustpower to appeal to more digital focused consumers and hopefully make life easier for them.\n\u201cWe\u2019ve been a bit slow to move in the digital area but now that we\u2019ve made the first step, we\u2019re delighted with the new platform and how it\u2019s going," he says. "While there is still plenty to do, for us it\u2019s about making sure that our customers can engage with us in the way that they want to. For an increasing number that means online, and the experience has to be simple and enjoyable.\u201d\nClarke originally thought Trustpower could do the new website development using the waterfall strategy: \u201cGive it to someone, finance it and come back to us with the delivered outcome.\u201d\n It\u2019s an ongoing, evolving platform. The ultimate goal is to provide end-to-end service capability for customers who wish to engage exclusively online. Simon Clarke, Trustpower\nBut then he realised the Trustpower team were innately not good at \u201cbeing hands off\u201d in major projects, and doing it this way would be \u201chigh risk\u201d.\nSo they decided to work in tandem with their external partners, Tauranga-based Cucumber, DNA in Wellington and Datacom.\nThe process included \u201cdeep dive\u201d profiling of the customer base, and what they would want from a digital channel. \u201cWe were very careful upfront,\u201d he states. \u201cWe spent a lot of time on the design phase.\u201d\nA lot of thinking went on the user experience, he says. The new site made it easy for customers to explore and select relevant services, view account data across all service lines in one place and access useful and relevant content for selecting services and managing each utility account.\nRelated: What corporates can learn from the NZ Police on \u2018user focus\u2019\nIt\u2019s a first for New Zealand, he says, by giving customers the ability to see all their electricity, reticulated gas, LPG bottled gas, phone and broadband services in a single view.\nAt the same time, the platform allows Trustpower\u2019s marketers to easily create and personalise content, as well as establish and run targeted campaigns, and optimise content while reacting to market changes much faster.\nIn the past, the website did not have the functionality for customers to sign up online and required customers to sign up via other channels, through the call centres or in person.\nThe new site simplified the sign-up process including integrated credit checking and pushing sign-up data into backend systems. It includes automated workflows which frees up time from manual processing of sign-up and service provisioning actions. As the site is built using responsive Web design, customers are also able to easily sign up on a mobile device.\nNow, one year following the site launch, Clarke estimates between 10 to 15 per cent of new acquisitions each week are being completed through the website.\nThe website has also enabled Trustpower to increase the number of services purchased by each customer, as most customers signing up online take both energy and telco services.\nThere has been a 272 per cent increase in traffic to the site on average each month, with a 230 per cent increase in site traffic from search engines.\n\u201cWhen we sell our customers more than electricity, they get more value through a bundle and we get value because those customers are less likely to leave us,\u201d he says. \u201cThe cost of churn is huge so it is far better to retain existing customers.\u201d\nHe says the Government funded Electricity Authority website \u2018What\u2019s my number\u2019 has driven a whole lot of churn in the electricity market, as customers are able to check the best power deal for them.\n\u201cCustomer churn in NZ sits between 20 to 25 percent on a per annum basis. That means more than 1 in 5 customers changes electricity suppliers each year. Along with Victoria, NZ has the highest churn rates in the world.\n\u201cHopefully, providing our customers with multiple utility products and focusing on a high quality service will mean our customers will stay with us because they see more value with us.\u201d\nThe results of the new website have exceeded the targets Trustpower set prior to going live, with significant increases in the number of new customers acquired online and number of services used by each customer, as well as decreases in customer churn and the cost of customer acquisition.\nClarke says a number of online enhancements will be implemented in the upcoming months and years. \u201cIt\u2019s an ongoing, evolving platform,\u201d he says. \u201cThe ultimate goal is to provide end-to-end service capability for customers who wish to engage exclusively online.\u201d\nHe says it was necessary for Trustpower to develop innovative strategies to acquire and retain customers without competing solely on price.\nNext: 'Walk in your customer's shoes'\nPage Break\nICT teams go on field work\n\nClarke advocates a strong customer focus among his technology staff, who are asked to \u201cwalk in the shoes\u201d of other people in the business.\nSo the ICT team have spent time with meter readers, call centre staff, and the billing team, among others \u201cto get an understanding about the application and the technologies those people use to do their job\u201d.\nThus, he says, the ICT team will know how to respond better and help resolve issues, particularly those from service desk people.\nA formula for successful business technology projects\nClarke says an area where Trustpower has significantly improved over the last three to four years is in its approach towards business technology investments. He believes this gives Trustpower a competitive advantage.\n Put your best business and operational people into projects that deliver that change Simon Clarke, Trustpower\n\u201cWe make quite practical fit for purpose investment decisions,\u201d he states. \u201cWe are quite brutal upfront, we don\u2019t choose something just for technology\u2019s sake.\n\u201cWe always look at all the different options to do things. Those options always need to include doing nothing.\u201d\nFor instance, we will ask, \u2018If we don\u2019t invest in technology and do it manually, what does that cost how does that sustain itself?\u2019\nThis approach ensures solutions are \u2018fit for purpose\u2019 and not over-engineered, he states.\nTrustpower took this approach when it replaced its Customer Information System two years ago. Called \u201cProject Maunganui\u201d, the new Gentrack CIS system now provides the foundation for its retail business (including the online projects the company is implementing).\nThe CIS system represents the \u201cheart and lungs\u201d of a utility provider like Trustpower, and as a CRM and billing platform, it was their main mechanism for interacting with the electricity market says Clarke\nPrior to Clarke\u2019s arrival, Trustpower had originally been working with a well-known CRM software system and implementation partner to replace its earlier version of Gentrack..\nHowever, after a lot of hard work and some anxious moments, he says, Trustpower made the brave decision to \u201ckill\u201d the earlier project, take a write off on the money that had been spent and went back to their original provider Gentrack for the latest version of their software.\n\u201cThat was an incredibly brave decision by our Executive and Board. It\u2019s all too easy to get \u2018summit fever\u2019 during a project and just keep going. I think when we look back on that experience, we can now acknowledge that we made the mistake of trying to customise a system to meet our existing business processes rather than changing our processes to meet the system. That just gets bigger than Ben Hur,\u201d he explains.\nProject Maunganui, he says, took a \u201csystem led\u201d approach instead which focused on site specific configuration, with minimal change to the base system. \u201cA no customisation approach\u201d.\nBy minimising the development or customisation of the system and adapting business processes where required, the duration of and technical risks associated with the implementation of a major project were greatly reduced, he states. \u201cIt did, however, mean that we needed to focus more on the business change\/readiness and training side of things because processes were changing\u201d.\nBut one of the biggest lessons he is happy to share with CIOs around projects and implementation of change is this: \u201cPut your best business and operational people into projects that deliver that change\u2026They become the leaders of change and everyone follows them.\u201d\nSend news tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org\nFollow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap\nFollow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz\nSign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, views and events.\nJoin us on Facebook.