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National Grid leadership power up innovation opportunity

Electric Transmission Tower on filed

The National Grid’s new executive director Nicola Shaw hit the headlines yesterday with the announcement that the UK doesn’t need new power stations, but instead should focus on developing an intelligent energy network.  Horizon recently met with UK CIO for National Grid Max Currie and his team and discussed how the organisation is reshaping itself to be at the centre of a software defined energy system.  

Shaw’s interview with the BBC was full of potential and demonstrated a leader aware of the innovation opportunity, trends and how the organisation she leads can be at the centre of a disruption, whilst also being the stable and critical provider.  CIO Currie joked with me that there is a love of boring at the National Grid, because it has a government mandate to ensure energy is safely delivered to homes and enterprises.

Shaw described an Internet of Energy in her BBC interview with Smart systems ensuring that energy is used when it is at its most abundant and/or a grid that is monitored and intelligent and reacts to need.  The grid is a utility and as a result is treated like a tap, turned on and off at will. But a utility attitude leads to complacency, which in turn leads to waste.  Energy usage is rising and there are growing pressures, economic and environmental, on its production.  In suggesting that energy can adopt flexible and surge pricing techniques which are already mature in retail, tourism and travel is a sign of a senior executive ready to embrace opportunities and not just throw money at the situation.

Economic forecaster Richard Watson recently told IT leaders at Northumbrian Water: “Pricing is fascinating and there are so many models an organisation can consider such as seasonal, surge, usage and sell back.”

Nicola Shaw
Nicola Shaw

Shaw’s vision resembles the software defined networking and software defined storage innovations coming through from leading technology providers.  Just as CIOs and their suppliers have had to find innovative ways to make better use of existing infrastructure, so too will organisations like the National Grid.  Currie’s predecessor David Lister told me in an interview that the national appetite and financial ability to expand the infrastructure was non-existent. So a smart or software defined solution to increase the capacity of what already exists is the right way forward and in-keeping with the economic times; the sharing economy is a smarter use of existing facilities, whether a room, journey or skills.

Currie and his team shared with Horizon the journey they are taking National Grid on to prepare for a next generation National Grid.

“We are moving away from the big hardware providers like ABB and Siemens and moving to where you are buying a set of packages,” they said at their London headquarters. A move to packages is also disrupting the place of systems integrators and service providers.

The technology team at National Grid has been in-sourcing and breaking up major systems integrator deals that it had formed in the early part of this century. Currie pointed out major providers still play a crucial role at the National Grid with CSC operating datacentres and IBM the collaboration.  Whilst areas like service management and application development have been brought back in-house and now supporting a graduate recruitment scheme.

If National Grid is to become a software defined network its information focus – already impressive – will increase in voltage too.  The technology leaders at National Grid are already developing increased visualisation and mobile applications to give its huge field force more information.  With Shaw describing a future of micro-generation and smart systems the field force will need to be charged with the very best and accurate information available.

It would be all too easy for a critical infrastructure organisation like the National Grid to be a barrier to the development of a smart energy network. Listening to Shaw, CIO Max Currie and his team, it is clear that there are major stable, sometimes “boring” organisations that embrace disruption and innovation.

About Mark Chillingworth 168 Articles
Mark Chillingworth has over 20 years of journalism and editing experience across all media platforms including online, live events, print magazines and television.
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