OGE's Nuttall: Change = new interdependencies

CIO speaks out on change management

Kate Rowland | May 17, 2012

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Not long ago, I asked Reid Nuttall, CIO of OGE Energy and winner of the 2011 Knowledge KITE Award as CIO of the Year, for his thoughts about the biggest issues or challenges facing the electric utility industry today. Here is what he told me:

"To me, the biggest issue is just, simply, change. "The change is transformational within the industry and how we do business, because we're being hit from so many sides with so many different things.

"If you talk about the IT department specifically, again, it can't be a silo in itself, because people, processes and technology all have to work together. It's an interesting industry, because in so much, it's been very project-based. You get a project, you get it done, you move on.

"Well, it's different now. When your projects don't go and operate themselves, you have a whole bunch of skills needed that need to work together. And this is also true of the big picture outside of IT. A power plant does not operate now without a significant amount of information technology. Within IT, too, you can't buy software and expect it to run by itself.

"Here is why I say the big issue is change: we're handling a level of interdependencies that we've never seen before. The industry has seen a lot of people in the same company, doing the same job, or pretty close to the same job, for life. Now all of a sudden we're saying, 'OK, the world has changed, and you have all these different things that are working in other places with other things and other technologies and other people, not just what you've been doing for life.' Technology is one of the things that is changing, but it also changes the people and the processes.

"We spent a lot of resources on data. Data's important. We worked a lot on our Information Factory, making things that relate, making it so that we take the enterprise look, not the personal look, at everything. And now, we realize that we have all these business analysts out there, and we have this data, and some of them are doing fabulous things, and some aren't doing anything yet.

"So we've created a Center of Excellence internally. We have a lot of the technology under way and the processes working, and now we're working on the people side of it. We are jointly training, having people learn from each other, having different departments show to others what they're doing. All of this helps to put some pressure on departments throughout the company to increase the quality and make it meet our standards.

"It's really interesting to watch people who have been advancing their skills in that they've been using a new version of Excel, and now all of a sudden they see that the world has changed, and the tools are amazing, but now the people have to change. It's also interesting watching the different groups.

"There are some people that, once you get them into a tool enough that they're excited about it, all of a sudden they just blossom. And then there are other people where you have to hold their hand through (the training). And then there are others that you don't want to touch because they think that the tools should do it all, and it doesn't work because tools don't work without people. So it's a challenge looking at all three.

"For us, 2013 is magic. Most of the contractors go home and we have to keep this thing in operation, so it's not just the cool new stuff we're talking about. We have everything coming in that's now in the project phase. For the past year and a half I've been walking around with a little notebook that says 2013 on the front of it that I keep writing things in. We have been spending the past year and a half building our organization, doing our total cost of ownership, changing and changing and changing, so we learn. But we're always trying to keep our focus on what it is going to take in 2013 to operate these things we're putting in.

"The other thing I haven't talked about, which is part of the change and the interdependency, is that everyone, whether it's the CIO or the IT department as a whole, is a part of the business. This is really key: be with your friends, and talk to them. The silos of the past, and the lack of personal relationships in the past, don't work anymore. You no longer need to be defensive or offensive or anything. You need to be there, and talk to each other more, because you're going to have problems and so are they.

"The key is that you have to work together. Technology means nothing without people and process. And we're all finding that out. In the old days the utility could depend on people, and then they added process to it. Now everything they do requires technology, because they're married."

Kate Rowland, Editor-in-chief, Intelligent Utility magazine, Energy Central krowland@energycentral.com

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