Some might wonder why a high-level tech exec would quit and go work for a utility.\n\nThat\u2019s what some people asked of Adriana \u201cAndi\u201d Karaboutis, the former CIO of Dell who left the computer giant and was named National Grid\u2019s global chief information and digital officer in 2017.\n\nHer answer? She gets to change the world.\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s one of the most stressful, but challenging jobs \u2014 it\u2019s securing and transforming critical national infrastructure,\u201d says Karaboutis, who is excited to be a player in not one but two major global initiatives: securing national infrastructures from cyberattacks and transforming the global energy grid in an era of epic technological advancements to slow climate change.\n\nAs global CIO, Karaboutis is the chief architect of the $20 billion British multinational\u2019s digital transformation in the UK as well as in New York and New England. Currently, she is working with two governments to shore up cybersecurity of several NATO power grids and, at the same time, transforming the company into an \u201cintelligent connected utility.\u201d\n\nChances are high that the US President or British Prime Minister would more likely pick up a phone call from the CIO of National Grid these days than from a tech exec. Being on what she calls the \u201cfrontier\u201d of the global energy transformation may keep her up some nights, but it is \u201crewarding\u201d beyond words, says Karaboutis, who will be speaking at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium next week.\n\n\u201cYou can imagine what the Infrastructure Act and the Go Green [initiatives] has meant for my budget. It\u2019s gone up 30% to 40%,\u201d she says. \u201cI don\u2019t want to give you exact numbers, but I had a smaller budget when I was the chief information officer at Dell.\u201d\n\nModernizing a utility\u2019s data architecture\n\nNational Grid is a big Microsoft Azure cloud customer due to its secure, proprietary nature, says Karaboutis, and is using a bevy of leading-edge tools, from Snowflake, Azure, and Matallion ETL for data tooling, Informatica for data quality, Reltio for master data management, and Blue Prism for RPA, to name a few.\n\nThe utility is about one third of the way through its cloud transition and is focused on moving customer data and workforce data to the cloud first to reap the most business value. Next, Karaboutis says, National Grid will be migrating field-force data to the cloud from its fleet of 7,000 workers in the field serving consumers and businesses. \n\n\u201cThese capabilities allow us to reduce business risk as we move off of our monolithic, on-premise environments and provide cloud resiliency and scale,\u201d the CIO says, noting National Grid also has a major data center consolidation under way as it moves more data to the cloud. \u201cWe\u2019re very mature in our data architecture and what we want. It\u2019s getting close.\u201d\n\nNot all data will be migrated off premises \u2014 just the data that makes sense running in the cloud, she says.\n\n\u201cI call it cloud density in the right way,\u201d Karaboutis adds. \u201cAll of our investments are about value. And in so many cases, it\u2019s not pure ROI and cost savings but it\u2019s removing hidden costs and shared costs of managing technical debt, like not having to do upgrades. It\u2019s about increased security to the state. It\u2019s about capacity management and resiliency. All of that together is how we\u2019re measuring the value of going to the cloud.\u201d\n\nStaffing up to shift to product-based IT\n\nTalent, data, and cloud operating models. Those are the core ingredients of National Grid\u2019s digitization efforts, which Karaboutis equates to building the \u201cintelligent connected utility.\u201d\n\nFirst is building and buying talent to power National Grid\u2019s IT transformation, which includes digitizing the grid and connecting it to a wide range of internet of thing (IoT) sensors and devices and to the host of emerging renewable energy sources such as solar, wind turbines, hydro innovations, and even battery technology. National Grid, which has pledged to be fossil free by 2050, also has a geothermal project under way in New York.\n\nTo accomplish this, Karaboutis will be relying on 1,400 badged IT employees and another 2,500 contractors. Her budget has also gone up significantly, and so she has hired product managers as part of a transition to convert IT operations to an agile, product-based operating model. Karaboutis has also hired UX designers, data scientists, enterprise architects, and RPA writers but she can\u2019t find the \u201ctalent density\u201d quickly enough.\n\nTo fill the gap, Karaboutis is using Pluralsight and LinkedIn for upskilling initiatives and continues to outsource application development and maintenance to Wipro, IBM, and Atos. National Grid is also working with traditional recruiters to build \u201ctalent density\u201d and is partnering with agile innovation consultancies such as Thoughtworks, Giant Machines, and Palantir, among others, Karaboutis says.\n\nOptimizing with machine learning\n\nMeanwhile, National Grid is busy building its network to interface with solar, wind, and battery storage. It is also exploring natural renewable gas derived from garbage and has purchased wind farms. But it is keeping its eyes on, and using advanced technology, to optimize its core electricity business.\n\nAs part of that, National Grid is applying Microsoft AI machine learning (ML) algorithms to optimize its \u201cvegetation management\u201d pruning plans as part of project \u201cCopperleaf\u201d to prevent fires and other catastrophes. It is also using geospatial technologies in concert with artificial intelligence to make the \u201cright decisions\u201d about how to maintain undersea cables and to make routing and investment decisions.\n\nThe utility is also exploring ways to deploy ML algorithms to better manage electricity outages that still occur during power surges, such as during commercial breaks from the World Cup or royal weddings. Such investments in \u201celectricity balancing\u201d may in the future rely on battery technology because it can be stored, Karaboutis says.\n\nBut for all these efforts toward transforming National Grid into an \u201cintelligent connected utility,\u201d it\u2019s the portfolio of IT projects already under way that energizes Karaboutis. Her grid of advanced data tools and platforms such as Snowflake and Azure is what will make the connections and integrations to whatever power sources National Grid will turned to the future. And data is that grid\u2019s current.\n\n\u201cWe used to say data is an asset of the company, right?\u201d Karaboutis notes. \u201cToday, we know it, we breathe it, we live it, but we don\u2019t have to say it. It\u2019s the quality of data that we\u2019re constantly working on and improving\u201d that will make National Grid\u2019s vision possible, the global CIO says.