Can you tell us about yourself and about your role at SSE?
I am a Strategy Delivery Manager for SSE IT. I have been here just over 15 years, previously in IT with (what is now) AXA insurance and I actually graduated in Archaeological Sciences.
The role, at the moment, is incredibly diverse. We are the Strategy Team for the whole of IT, so I have been looking at development processes one day and infrastructure partnering the next day. We cover all of the Delivery teams, all the Service Management teams. It makes for a quite an interesting life to be honest; you never quite know what is going to come through next – it keeps the interest going. It has peaks and troughs. There is obviously a sub-line of work that never goes away and then, all of a sudden, there will be a particular issue or a particular initiative that comes up in an area that we get heavily involved with, and that makes for a very busy time for a period, and then it will ease back to the base-load.
Is there anything exciting that SSE is currently working on?
At the moment, SSE is like almost all of the big companies you see out there, transforming their businesses for the next 10-15 years, and that is what we are doing. We have got a huge, diverse portfolio of businesses. We are one of the few, in fact we may even be the only, completely vertically integrated utility in Britain. So, we have got generation, transmission, distribution, and we have got supply. So, we have got many different businesses with different aims over the next 10-15 years, and we are trying to position their IT to support them in that. That, at the moment, is taking all of our focus. All of the businesses have heard the current “must-do’s” of digital, social and mobile, and all the other keywords, and they are all looking to see exactly how they are going to impact the way they work and the way that they interact with their customers (whether they be industry customers, or you and me).
There is the other side of this I suppose; you could say that we are always trying to keep one step ahead of government. The CMA review is underway (as it has been for the best part of 18 months). The media are always whipping up storms about something, so the legislative and regulatory side, whilst being very uncertain, are also a very big issue. It is quite often a tricky balance to keep focusing on the transformation that we have got to do to move the business forward, whilst maintaining compliance with the latest evolution of the regulatory framework.
What is highest on your team's agenda at this current time?
At the moment, we are looking forward to the strategic issues for all of the transformation projects and all of the directorates. Whilst we have particular debates going on, from the strategic point-of-view, what is highest on our agenda is the rate of change in technology. We are busy doing the transformation roadmaps for the next 10 years, but within that you have got to have a crystal ball to see the direction that technology is going to take. I do not mean technology with a big T; I am talking about technology that you have in your hands, the way we interact with domestic customers (whether they are going to use phones, or tablets, or wearables, and so on). You have just got to look so far ahead and almost second-guess what the next big thing is going to be, whilst still working to move the business forward in the direction they want and the way they want to run their business commercially. That is high on our agenda: what happens next.
Once upon a time, you used a phone to make a phone call; not many people do these days. People want to turn their thermostats up online, because it is cold in the afternoon, before they get home from work; people want their tech administer their lives. Which direction is it going to go in next? And how is it going to affect the way we work?
What issues within technology are concerning you and posing challenges for SSE and your team?
If you are looking a little bit closer to home, a little bit more specific, rationalising the Cloud debate is currently one of our hot topics. How much you utilise the Cloud, which type of Cloud you use, what are the benefits and what are the potential pitfalls; trying to rationalise that debate and come up with an architectural way forward is currently exercising people’s minds here. That is more for the immediate future, rather than the future we have been talking about, which is more the strategic view of ours, rather than the architectural view. That is an interesting debate as well.
You have worked in a number of positions around IT. Do you have a favourite area?
This role, the strategy role, is inevitably the most varied. From day-to-day you never know what is going to come up. My original IT role, working for English Heritage was extremely interesting, but it could barely be called IT in those days. I think that one of the favourites is what I am doing at the moment because of the variety and because of the potential, looking forward. Again, it goes back to what direction is the community going to take, and that makes it very interesting.
You have a multitude of accreditations (e.g. ITIL Foundation). How do you feel these have enhanced your career prospects?
Looking back, I have gained a variety of different accreditations, and I have come to the conclusion that the reason I have got those is because it is a bit of an inverted relationship. What I tend to do is, I move into a role and I try to embed myself in whatever the team or the group does (particularly when I have been in Senior or Management roles), so I can help the guys who are actually doing the work. One of the easy ways of understanding the very basics of what the guys do is getting some sort of foundation qualification in it. It was an enabler, rather than a prospect.
With your Business Analysis background, would you be able to give views on how this is changing and any career advice for other Business Analysts in the Forum's community?
I have a Business Analysis background from a management point-of-view. It is interesting because when I took on the BA Team here, there were about six BAs; it was very much focused on one business area and they had great technical as well as business understanding of their systems. When I took them on, over the years, I grew them into a group of 26, which covered the whole of the company and were very much focused on Business Analysis. One of the struggles that I had was getting them recognised and qualified; there was no such thing. One of the brilliant things that is beginning to happen now is that Business Analysis is becoming a qualification, it Is gaining professional training, the BCS are doing an accreditation course for it now. There are one or two ways of becoming professionally recognised as a Business Analyst, and I think that is absolutely fantastic!
It is so key to the whole end-to-end lifecycle. Getting people to understand how important they are has been a big battle from my point-of-view, and I left them in a position where an awful lot more people knew that they needed them for projects. That has developed, and I think that needs to keep happening. BAs need to keep getting qualified, keep getting accredited, and making their mark because, to my mind, they are one of the most important parts of a Project Team, throughout the lifecycle (not just doing the requirements and disappearing quietly into the background to do another project). I think it is vital.
How has the Forum community supported you and your team?
I think the Q&A responses have been fantastic. Understanding things from peers, rather than from people who work for suppliers or commercial companies who inevitably have a commercial agenda, but learning things from peers who do not have that millstone has been fantastic. You get experience, the truth of what it was really like. I think the Q&As, in this respect, were very good.
People coming back from the workshops extremely enthused by the networking opportunities, the interaction with people who are doing the same thing without this hamstring of commercialism and needing to make a sale, that is great. That is what supports us all. Keep doing it!