CIO50 2020 #26-50 Russell Morris, TransGrid
When leading a large IT and telecoms team in the United Kingdom, Russell Morris learned the power of listening, empathy and being an accessible leader. This is something that has been integral to his leadership style ever since.
During a visit to a regional depot, Morris was approached by a field team leader who was also a former British army sergeant.
“He said to me: ‘I don’t think you really know what my team do all day,’” recalls Morris. “After a moment of reflection, I concluded that he was correct. While I knew the team delivered all the outcomes we asked of them, I had a limited idea what life was like for them every day.”
Morris said he extended his visit and travelled with a field team, helping to erect a telecoms mast. He did a risk assessment with the workers, volunteered to ‘hand ratchet’ two sections of the tower together. After this, the mood changed, he felt accepted and new communication channels opened.
“I learned a valuable lesson that day: to understand the individual contribution of others and not just to measure the outcome on a dashboard. Walking a mile in the team’s shoes and engaging in the work they did created professional empathy on both sides. Having a true understanding of someone’s daily challenges is worth more than a glossy presentation at our annual conference.”
Now TransGrid’s chief information officer, Morris has led a Digital Core Program to drive business capital and operational efficiencies at the electricity transmission network over the next five years.
This program is the beginning of a journey to improve business capability and replace TransGrid’s legacy Ellipse ERP system, first implemented way back in 1996.
“Our strategic intent has been to deliver a best-of-breed approach or a ‘post-modern’ strategy, selecting exactly what was needed. This avoids investing in multiple ‘big ERP’ with features that are ultimately never used. This resulted in a lower price while providing future flexibility through the modularity of the approach,” Morris notes.
This has enabled TransGrid to improve the life of its assets and improve its decision-making ability.
The program is underpinned by a microservices architecture, Morris explains, which acts as the "unsung hero", distributing information in real time across the company wherever it is needed. By creating and sharing reusable data throughout the business, the platform will eliminate manual integration.
Over the past year, TransGrid has moved away from a traditional ‘plan, run, build’ model to a domain-based IT operating structure that is more aligned to the business, Morris says.
The tech team has now evolved from a centralised service provider role to one that is embedded in the business. Four business-aligned teams were created, each led by a member of the IT leadership team with specialist experience.
For example, the engineering operations domain, led by a qualified electrical engineer, focuses the IT team on supporting large civil engineering projects with a need for asset management strategies, and making information mobile for a large field-based workforce.
The new model supported the delivery of 20 new IT-enabled initiatives in FY20, including High Voltage Instruction improvement. The safe isolation of high voltage equipment to undertake planned maintenance requires specialist planning.
“Traditional single line electrical drawings had been used for decades, and it was time to update. The entire set of network drawings were scanned and converted to relational data, using a data algorithm that incorporated machine learning," Morris recalls.
“Multiple scenarios were modelled and coded to generate electrical switching instructions. The result is increased efficiency and accuracy that has reduced rework and improved the safety of our teams in the field.”
New strategic plan
Finally, the new operating model has also created a catalyst to improve gaps in the capabilities of the organisation’s in-house teams.
“Our ability to execute any digital transformation was dependent on new skills and capability, so we also developed a strategic sourcing plan to create a multi-source IT supplier ecosystem that could accelerate business outcomes," Morris explains.
The approach has enabled TransGrid to fill skills gaps and create lasting partnerships for the future.
“We already had a successful outsourcing arrangement with HCL but we were lacking depth and diversity of opinion. Initially, 18 organisations expressed an interest in being strategic partners on our digital journey. We now have four new strategic partners and what exists is now an ecosystem of long-term partnerships with the best in the business, quadrupling our historic capability.”