by CIO New Zealand

CIO100 2018 #31-100: Mikal Todd, solarcity New Zealand

Mar 28, 2018
APIs Artificial Intelligence Big Data

“We place great value on our customers and as part of this, the executive team launched an initiative to re-invent customer care,” says Mikal Todd, CIO of solarcity.

“We are a large Salesforce customer and our goals were to understand the key metrics surrounding care issue resolution, simplify day to day work and provide reporting and dashboarding capability.”

Through a purely agile and iterative approach, he delegated ownership of this initiative to his team, coaching and nurturing them when required.

They were given a solid understanding of the necessary success factors and allowed to demonstrate their capability.

Within four weeks, an entire customer care platform was delivered to the care team, including training and documentation. The rollout was free of any major setbacks, he says.

“Key metrics surrounding care are now available to monitor and track day to day. Reporting and dashboarding provides comparable care results over a time series, providing management with visibility. The customer care team is now able to deal with hundreds more cases per day due to simplification and the uplift in efficiency.”

Salesforce had been used by solarcity previously, he says, but the customer care component was not established. Because of this, the technology team ran a change management programme to ensure that the existing team members and users fully understood the requirements to be met, either by the initial delivery or soon after (in full consultation with them).

As I am new to the role, the largest impact I have had is stewardship and the championing of a transition from a direct sales (telesales) model to a pure online model, with the intent of having all customer interactions through digital channels.”

Since his arrival, he has worked with a partner organisation to deploy IoT connected solar monitoring and control systems to all customers.

“I engaged the vendor, managed architecture and, crucially, have championed and delivered direct data feeds including a data strategy, with which we can leverage the wealth of information from each solar system.

“With the data housed in Amazon Redshift we are now able to leverage Amazon Machine Learning directly to provide insights into energy production and consumption. The solarcity IoT platform comes with smart plugs, circuit controllers..”

He says the company’s energy as a service platform, known as solarZero, is a first for New Zealand.

“Providing energy as a service pushes us to provide continuous customer value over the 20-year service term.”

Installing thousands of IoT monitoring platforms comes with its own inherent issues.

“For example,” Todd says, “we have had signal issues with our 3G connections and have had to look at signal boosters, antennas and other measures to ensure that customer data is communicated back to the core platform.”

“I have implemented a clear customer communications strategy, moving us off the Salesforce Pardot platform and onto the Marketing Cloud Platform.

“We now have cross channel engagement via SMS, mobile app, social media and email, all within a single customer journey. Rather than the sales team manually composing and sending emails to customers, we now have an automated and data-driven approach.

“I am part of the small C-level steering team reporting results directly to the board and shareholders. A great deal of time is spent sitting with each of the steering team working through initiatives.

“One of my key beliefs is that you need to be on the floor and willing to pull a chair up to someone’s desk, or you are going to lose the connection with the reality of the business,” says Todd.

“Prior to my arrival the technology team had no training or coaching programme. Now they have free access to certifications, brown bag sessions, the Auckland Marketing Cloud User Group and personal time to develop their professional skills.”

He says a crucial lesson he has learnt as a CIO is to be willing to delegate and coach, but also be willing to stand up, take responsibility and fix bad situations.

“Never blame. Never take credit. Take all positive energy and apply it to your team,” he says.

Todd says when he joined solarcity, the head of IT had just resigned.

“We were paying consultancies large amounts of cash rather than investing in ourselves. Our internet connection didn’t work reliably and, as all our calls were made over the internet, that was an issue.

“I took note, stepped back, prioritised and executed. Firstly, I encouraged our internal system administrator to take the lead by providing support, guidance and necessary budget. I worked closely with staff to develop an understanding of what they needed and what was frustrating them,” says Todd.

Mikal Todd “has really turned the business around,” says Andrew Booth, CEO of solarcity.

“Mikal already had a clear idea of the issues we were facing, as he had worked closely with us on a major business technology change when he was co-founder of CloudinIT. During that time I was impressed with his professional approach and positive energy.

“We are lucky to now have him as part of the team and fully appreciate his objective and pragmatic approach to problem solving.

“He has stabilised our core IT infrastructure and I’m now excited that he’ll have more time to focus his wide-ranging talents on research and development.”