Scaling data, school of fish
Digital at Scale

Norlys’s digital customer crusade

In a sector where the competition for customers continues to intensify, Norlys is working on creating outstanding digital customer experiences. At the same time, the VP for IT Development, Morten Sloth O’Donnell, and his colleagues need to protect the infrastructure from threats and prepare the electricity grid for a future where there may be one or two electric cars in every garage.

Relative to other development directors, Morten Sloth O’Donnell has a strategic advantage. Norlys’ group mission states in black and white that the company exists to create better customer experiences as well as to influence Danish social development through green transition and digitalization. From day one, this has helped generate a strong digital culture in Denmark’s largest integrated telecommunications and energy group, which was founded with the merger of SE and Eniig in June 2020.

"The mandate to digitalize is part of our new company DNA, and it is part of the dream of a new and better company. The concept of improving our customers’ experiences through digitalization is something that permeates the entire group. As an IT department, we do not need to inspire the company with proposals for projects that can move us in that direction; we have plenty to do with what we need to deliver," says Morten Sloth O’Donnell.

Business case based on social responsibility
The improved customer experiences can come in many shapes and sizes, from an improved online self-service universe to the potential future option of trading electricity locally with data from electricity meters and intelligent consumption management. Norlys is also very aware of its social responsibility, since a well-functioning internet and energy infrastructure significantly impacts quality of life in Denmark.

"Of course, it needs to result in a financial gain, but for us the primary driver is an optimal experience and stability for the customers, who often are our shareholders. Taken somewhat to the extreme, the sector has been accustomed to having customers come on their own. Now, we have to compete for customers and to be extremely proficient at the support experience. Furthermore, we have to ensure low rates through economies of scale and to live up to our social responsibility. For example, we can do this by introducing high-speed internet to sparsely populated areas, despite that it is not financially beneficial, because it is important for our shareholders and thus the right thing to do," says Morten Sloth O’Donnell.

High data quality is an important prerequisite for good customer support, and this is not always easy in a company with multiple old integrated systems.

"Internally, the greatest obstacle is the dead weight of old business systems, where data is distributed in many different places. We need to get things in order because the foundation we are standing on is the result of over 20 past mergers. This is where the merger that resulted in Norlys is helpful because it provides an opportunity to start over and do things right from the get-go. As my director says, we are building ‘Company 2.0’. Among other things, we are in the process of updating our ERP and CRM systems to Dynamics 365, and we are also in the process of configuring an entirely new settlement and product system for our telecommunications business."

Ready for the green transition
A great deal of digital innovation is also required to fulfil Norlys’s mission, which is about green transition. For many years, the electricity consumption in Denmark has stagnated, but this can quickly change if we suddenly have one or two electric cars in every garage. There are also significant demands when electricity from private wind turbines and solar cells needs to be returned to the electricity grid.

"Who is responsible if you need more capacity in your electrical installation? In Norway, consumers order and pay for new connections themselves if, for example, they purchase an electric car which needs to be charged in the garage. In Denmark, a person living in a residential neighborhood and a large company are considered equal joint owners of the electricity grid. I think this is an amazing basic concept of the cooperative enterprise. So, it is important that we, as a utility company, can use big data to predict consumption and establish the size of the grid in time", says Morten Sloth O’Donnell.

A part of the solution could be to use intelligent solutions to distribute electricity consumption more evenly over the day.

"Today, much of the energy consumption takes place during peak periods. Perhaps it would be possible to send a message to your electric car to tell it to charge during periods of low electricity consumption? In effect, this could extend the viability of the current grid somewhat. It would also be the cheapest and best solution for society, and it could largely be managed using existing data. The trick is to set it up right. The next step might be to facilitate micro transactions between private persons. Then, you could become your own energy company and sell energy from your solar cells to your neighbour while you are on holiday."

Digital facts about Norlys

  • At Norlys, the responsibility for digital development falls to the innovation unit, Insight & Innovation, which is organized like the IT Development Area. The unit usually engages in agile work, with a high degree of user and customer involvement. The responsibility is then transferred to the development area, which ensures that the successes can be scaled and managed properly.
  • Among other things, Norlys has developed a method for predicting when a customer is at risk of leaving the company, based on data such as customer service calls and replacement of equipment. This allows the dissatisfied customers to be contacted proactively for win-back.
  • As a supplier of critical infrastructure, Norlys works closely with relevant authorities in the area of security. Among other things, this means that, in some cases, Norlys acts as consultant to the authorities concerning choice of suppliers and partners.

Morten Sloth O’Donnell’s best tips for the agile CIO

  • Have a realistic relationship to the product portfolio and choose your projects carefully. Two projects that each take 5 units of time to complete might take 14 units of time if run simultaneously. And even worse, you will only benefit from these projects at the very end, rather than if they had been completed one at a time. So have the courage to choose the most important one first.
  • Introduce the concept of agile as a grassroots initiative, where you gradually educate the rest of the company in the methods. An organizational trick we are currently testing is to hire product owners in IT as a connecting link. Later, we can offer the employee to the business unit or use that person to train a new contact.
  • Assume a long-term approach in relation to the employees and use consultants during busy periods and for special tasks that you do not need to learn or understand yourself. Things will always be hectic, so keep one hand firmly on the helm and treat your employees properly. We need to be effective, but no one benefits from pushing people too hard to meet your deadlines.