A fully-digital electric vehicle subscription service (eDrive); a mobile app where customers can access their online account and earn virtual ‘dollars’ to use on a power bill or exchange for Airpoints (Mercury Go); a direct grid-connected battery that stores energy drawn from the New Zealand wholesale electricity market, before it is re-dispatched back into the grid when demand is high; and customers getting updates on their household electricity account from Amazon’s Alexa.
These are just some of the projects Kevin Angland and his 300-plus member team at Mercury have rolled out over the past year or so.
But these projects, tapping both emerging and disruptive technologies, were developed not from an innovation lab, or a specialist team.
“These innovations are all being identified and developed from within the ‘core’ of our business, not an adjunct ‘on the side’,” says Angland, who joined Mercury nearly three years ago as its inaugural chief digital officer.
“Building on Mercury’s values of ‘Share Connect’, ‘Curious Original’ and ‘Commit Own It’, we are creating an innovation culture that empowers our people to challenge how things are done, work alongside a diverse group of people brought together to think differently and to actively contribute to developing and delivering new innovative solutions,” he says.
As well as delivering tangible business benefit through improved customer advocacy, reduced customer turnover, and a reduced cost-to-serve, he says the richer experience and convenience provided by these programmes led to marked increases in Mercury’s customer satisfaction and customer effort scores.
Mercury is now reaping the benefits from the foundation technology programmes that they implemented over the past two years.
Angland says two years ago, the company’s change and innovation roadmap focused on strengthening its core customer, billing, metering and asset management platforms (SAP, Oracle, AWS Maximo) after a period of underinvestment.
The Digital Accelerator programme created a foundation of people who are capable, have a desire to succeed and a robust delivery framework that enables continuous high-quality delivery.
He says some of the notable innovations that first came out from this were a 3D application using HoloLens of Mercury’s geothermal reservoirs, a real-time electricity metering partnership with Counties Power, The Electric Highway concept for mapping EV-charging infrastructure in New Zealand delivered through a partnership with PlugShare a US-based app, energy monitoring (GEM) for Solar and the Tesla Powerwall 2 Battery mobile app.
Over the last year, he says, the focus has shifted to building out rich digital experiences that support the three pillars that underpin Mercury’s customer promise: “To inspire, reward and make it easy’.
To enable these experiences, the company has replaced the CRM solution (with SAP Hybris Cloud for Customer) and replaced its legacy telephony and workforce management solutions (with Genesys, a modern cloud-based product) in time to align with its four offices’ relocation, which brought over 500 Auckland based staff into its new 33 Broadway building in Newmarket.
Concurrent with these programmes, Angland and his team also deployed a new digital workspace solution for all 850 Mercury staff that encompasses new HP portable devices, Windows 10, Office365 and One Drive, Skype for Business, “Follow-Me” printing, Yammer, and an audiovisual meeting room solution across all their sites. As a result, all Mercury staff are now fully mobile.
Angland proudly notes how some of their projects, tapping disruptive technologies like AI, are a first in New Zealand.
For instance, the battery energy trading platform includes a significant software development that allows the energy stored within the battery to be traded autonomously, without human intervention, he explains.
Every half hour, the battery’s AI algorithm looks at forecast market pricing over the next 36 hours and designs a schedule of trading that delivers value to Mercury when responding to the market’s supply and demand signals.
Mercury was also the first New Zealand energy company to allow its customers to use Alexa to get information on their account and get discounts and other offers.
“This is a great example of how we’re making it easy for our customers through hands-free help and access to relevant information in real-time,” says Angland.
“This is a wonderful view of where our digital capability can go, and the benefits it brings to our customers, our people and our business.”
He explains the catalyst for identifying these innovative changes has been the Lean/Human Centered Design workshop approach his team has implemented.
Mercury initially partnered with Datacom for this programme, which is now being run by internal teams.
“These highly collaborative ‘Think Smash’ workshops have been utilised across many areas of the Mercury business to uncover opportunities to apply emerging technology capabilities to solve real business problems and deliver real business value,” he says.
He says the company is also exploring a range of ‘emerging tech’ opportunities around AI, machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA) and identifying how these could provide value to their customers, staff and business in the future.
The culture imperative
Angland says the right culture is important for this type of cross-functional collaboration and innovative approach to thrive.
“We have created a positive culture that is not only more accepting of change but also one driving change across the business – there have been no significant barriers to overcome,” he explains.
“Structurally and operationally, we transformed the way we deliver projects; moving to an agile, iterative format, delivering MVPs with continuous improvement – and avoided looking for perfected solutions, enabling us to access value quicker and create experiences in-line with customers’ expectations.”
As a result, he says, the team feels more empowered to make decisions and design solutions embedded within cross-functional teams.
“We have worked in partnership with our People and Performance (HR) team to ensure we cater for our current (people) needs, but also develop core-competencies required for our future workforce to drive a business that is high-performing, relevant and sustainable.”
Angland also built a well-balanced leadership team that role-models diversity and inclusivity. He has appointed two women in his team (where there was none previously) and recruited people from outside the utilities industry. He also started Mercury’s first ICT graduate programme.
The wider team is represented by more than 20 different cultures, he says. Thus, they take time to celebrate special occasions such as the Diwali and Samoan Language Week.
Angland works collaboratively on a day-to-day basis with his executive peers, and also attends the latter’s lead-team meetings.
This helps us understand their issues, challenges and opportunities and help them understand and identify where technology or digital capability may deliver value for them, their teams, for customers and stakeholders, says Angland.
Angland presents to the board every month, providing updates on ICT, details and the retail customer business, as well as cybersecurity and opportunities and implications for Mercury of emerging technologies.
Angland is a trained ‘International Coaching Federation’ workplace coach and thus coaches, mentors and has one-on-one sessions with his direct reports every month. He also provides informal coaching and mentoring with more than a dozen people inside and outside Mercury.
“Consistent and constant communication is the glue that binds the organisation together,” he says. “In turn, this filters through to my leadership team and this is how we have created a movement.”
“When I joined Mercury, effecting change felt like we were pushing an elephant up the mountain. Now it’s completely different,” he says. “We have a business that is advocating for change and in many cases, ‘we are running to stay ahead’.”
“Change is readily accepted, is happening ‘organically’, the cadence is increasing every year, and most importantly it is delivering real business value.”