Disruption is affecting companies in nearly every corner of the economy and the energy industry is no exception. Meanwhile, technological innovation is contributing to the falling costs of renewable energy and energy storage.
As VP and CIO at Shell Downstream, Craig Walker and his team are immersed in these disruptive changes affecting the energy industry. HMG Strategy recently caught up with Walker, a chairperson and a speaker for HMG Strategy’s upcoming 2019 London CIO Executive Leadership Summit taking place on May 9, to get his perspective on the CIO’s role in helping to guide disruptive change within the enterprise.
HMG Strategy: What should be the role of the CIO in working with the CEO and the Board to guide the company toward its future state objectives?
Craig Walker: You can no longer be the head of technology and waiting to provide service when asked. Every single person in the IT organization needs to understand how the company makes money. You need people in IT to have a commercial mindset. You are a business person first.
Finding people with that mindset is not easy. The other thing IT people find hard to do is to say `no.’ You need to have the credibility to be able to walk into a business meeting and say, “Sorry, this is not the way we should do this,” and then explain why or offer alternative options.
How do you go about building these business skills among your IT team?
CW: We have people that are called IT managers but they’re also known as the business interface. They don’t have day-to-day responsibility for delivery of IT services but they do have accountability to the business for all IT does, and to be highly visible in the business and play a lead role in shaping strategy and making tactical decisions in business meetings.
We’ve held workshops around the world to develop the business skills that our IT team members need. We’ve taught them a lot about stakeholder management, value delivery and innovation. They’ve been on quite a journey. This has involved training, with plenty of role play, to help guide a conversation with a senior executive, how to take control of a situation, influence, explain etc.
It’s been a difficult journey for some and others have thrived in it. Some have been moved back into more technical roles because they’re more comfortable there.
I want people to spend 10% of their time learning. You have to constantly learn in today’s environment. And it’s tough because the pace of change is occurring so quickly.
Our whole premise is changing. We’re moving from being a hydrocarbon company to an electron company. And IT is a big part of it. We won’t thrive in this energy transition if the IT does not deliver.
How do you reimagine and reinvent? Where do you get the inspiration?
CW: I think I was lucky in my career in Shell that you get sent to offices overseas and you’re given the autonomy to get things done. I’ve always been turned on by the business. I like the technology but it’s all about the business.
Each of the people who work for me would be a Top 50 CIO for another company. I have a fantastic team under me. I’ve had a chance to step back and think about how to my team and technology can help Shell thrive in the energy transition. And everything involves IT. For over a hundred years Shell has been at the cutting edge of innovation and this has allowed us to move with the times. Now, as we are working on the challenge of bringing more and cleaner energy to the world, we are investing in the new energy solutions and have set the ambition to cut the net carbon footprint of our energy products by around half by 2050. And we fully support the Paris Agreement.
Can you point to an example of what Shell is doing over and above its traditional oil and gas business?
CW: It is about moving from selling great products, to delivering great services wrapped around those products. In the U.K, through Shell Energy we provide 700,000 homes with renewable energy.
Shell’s NewMotion is one of Europe’s largest electric vehicle charging providers to homes and businesses. In early 2019, Shell announced the acquisition of Greenlots, a California-based company that provides electric vehicle charging points, charging network software and grid services across the United States. Greenlots also has a growing business in Canada, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. With NewMotion and Greenlots, Shell is developing flexible home and workplace charging solutions, including for fleets.
At the back end of this you have our traditional retail sites, which also increasingly provide electric charging through Shell Recharge. What I really want to do is if you’re a homeowner and you show up at a Shell charging station, I want to be able to recognize you immediately. We want to be able to provide customers with differentiated services they’ve never seen before. Take care of their energy needs whether at home, work or on the move and make the experience as seamless as possible.
Which technologies hold the most promise for you at Shell?
CW: What we’re doing at the moment with machine learning and AI has great possibilities. Where we have big data sets, AI is performing for us. Where we need to do more with AI is in the use of our customer data. With AI, you’ve got to pick the right places to use it and to use it carefully. The goal is to apply AI against customer data to identify opportunities for providing a frictionless customer experience.
We’ve got to become a customer-centric organization. What works for customers in Malaysia may not work for them in South Africa or New York. It’s easy to say but ridiculously difficult to do.
I’m working very nicely with our downstream directors who are leading the customer centricity drive. You really need to step back and listen to what others are saying. We have always been known for our high quality products ; now more than ever our customers needs and expectations are at the heart of everything we do, and that is not an easy journey.
We must demonstrate, through actions, that Shell is an energy company that is striving to do deliver cleaner energy solutions to the world; and all of that will be backed by excellent IT solutions. It has never been a more amazing time to be in Shell and to be a CIO.
To learn more about HMG Strategy’s upcoming 2019 London CIO Executive Leadership Summit and to register for the event, click here.