UK Power Networks CIO interview - Keeping the lights on

"UK Power Networks operates critical national infrastructure and is owned by the Chinese," explains its Chief Information Officer, Andrew Bilecki. UK Power Networks is an electricity distributor for East Anglia, London and the South East of England.

"We supply 25% of the UK's population. It's an interesting business," Bilecki says of an organisation he's been with for the past three years. UK Power Networks is majority owned by Li Ka-shing, one of the richest men from Asia. Li's Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings business recently acquired Eversholt Rail Group for £1.1 billion and owns the Three mobile network. If the Eversholt deal gains approval, this Chinese company is in a powerful position of ownership of the UK's essential services. Bilecki describes the ownership structure as being impressively long-term, which is good news for a CIO of a utility company.

UK Power Networks' primary role is to take electricity from the National Grid and distribute it directly to homes and businesses in London, East Anglia and the South East of England, which has approximately eight million connections and customers. It has a direct relationship with these customers on matters such as fault restoration and new connections. Billing is conducted by the retailers.

"We try and make sure that we keep the lights on as best as we possibly can," Bilecki says of how his role really does live up to one of the mantras of being a CIO. In today's power-hungry world, UK Power Networks finds itself not only an asset operating business, but also having to be consumer focused. The past three winters have seen the UK suffer at the hands of increasingly extreme weather as a result of climate change. Over the winter of 2013-14, the UK was battered by high winds and floods, just a year after similar floods had affected other parts of the UK. The winters of 2010 and 2011 had the UK blanketed in levels of snow not seen for decades. It is clear talking to Bilecki that the planet's climate is a major factor in the organisation's business operations. In December 2014, industry regulator Ofgem forced UK Power Networks and generator SSE to pay an additional series of fines worth £3.3 million for the power cuts customers suffered during the storms of Christmas 2013.

"We have a curious relationship with the customer, as they don't pay us directly and that confuses the end customer. But over the years we have become more customer-centric, and Ofgem has encouraged that. We are trying to talk to customers a lot more through video, fault maps and social channels, so that we can push information out to mobile devices," Bilecki says of the lessons learned. He explains that as an industry, it is highly monitored for its planned and unplanned outages.

"We now sit right alongside the retailers and integrate services better, so that we can work more closely with local authorities. This means if there is an emergency, it is more seamless."

Bilecki joined UK Power Networks a year after it secured the contract to be primary electricity network for its three regions. The organisation was previously part of French energy retailer and nuclear power firm EDF. Since joining UK Power Networks, he's reshaped the relationship his technology team has with the organisation.

"IT is a bit like a utility business. We have logistics, call centres, assets and customers. So we are using the same reporting models, as it is good to talk to engineers about asset management," he says of how he has engaged the business in their language. "You base your asset principles on how you manage them and there's a little bit of sympathy from the business as a result. Nine out of 10 times, good communications will get you through any difficulties," he argues.

It makes sense, as all CIOs with legacy have the same challenges as a utility business. They have to supply a service, extract as much value from the assets as possible, those assets require varying levels of support and you have to be looking ahead for how you invest, justify and carry out a replacement for those assets, and more than likely move to a new operating model.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
7 secrets of successful remote IT teams