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​CIO100 2017 #31-100: Cobus Nel, Transpower

  • Name ​Cobus Nel
  • Title General Manager, Information Services & Technology
  • Company Transpower
  • Commenced Role November 2014
  • Reporting Line CEO Alison Andrew
  • Technology Function 119 IT staff and 60 contractors
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    Within Transpower we’re working together to put in place processes and ways of working that will improve and enhance our business outcomes, says General Manager, Information Services and Technology (IST) Cobus Nel.

    There are two areas of focus to our transformation programme – operational transformation (the way we operate our business) and behavioural transformation (the way we lead and behave within it), says Nel.

    “Our operational transformation is putting in place processes and ways of working that will improve and enhance our business delivery. Our behavioural transformation programme guides and encourages us all the behave in ways that will make it easier to deliver the results needed.

    “Central to the programme are four behaviours we need to display to reach our goals: Clarity of purpose, supporting collaboration, taking personal accountability and enabling our workplace delivery. The IST division actively embeds these behaviours in our workplace and everyday language,” says Nel.

    Like any business, Transpower needs to develop a realistic view of the future to ensure its services meeting customers' ever-changing energy needs, says Nel.

    “The Strategy and Architecture team has partnered with the business to identify the capabilities required in the future and are developing longer term roadmaps around people, processes and technology to support the required business capabilities. This work will improve and enhance Transpower's business outcomes due to the creation of business-aligned IT plans and roadmaps.”

    Themes that have strongly emerged from this planning are a renewed focus on information management and more extensive use of analytics and data warehouses, to produce valuable dashboards and reports for measurement and improvement reporting.

    Information Communications Technology (ICT) innovation and digital transformation is a major focus for our division,” he says. “This year we have been educating the wider business on what innovation and digital transformation is and why we need to innovate, and how we relate this back to our corporate strategy.

    "The main aspects we are looking to answer are, how much does Transpower spend on ICT innovation and digital transformation, how to generate ideas, what we decide to invest in, and how to integrate this within the wider organisation. We also need to win hearts and minds through progressive thinking,” says Nel. “To assist with this strategy, we have a dedicated innovation and digital transformation library and technical innovation list, with champions from each division driving them."

    Mobility is the cornerstone in one of his department's biggest projects next year - the Wellington head office move to 22 Boulcott Street, he states.

    "We will adopt a mobile working environment that technology will support. Examples of innovation we are exploring are collaboration technology, digital whiteboards for operational incident rooms and digital room booking technology. We want our people to be able to access information quickly, efficiently and from anywhere.

    “We also work closely with our service providers and business partners in developing concepts and ideas for innovation and digital transformation. Current innovations include seismic building sensors, situational distance to fault, trials of substation robots, line crawlers, drone technology and more.

    “As we operate over 170 substations in New Zealand, we've utilised mobile applications to record site visits, safety briefings and log any issues discovered. Our IP services to substations including WiFi allows for more modern and efficient of use technology and data.

    “It is mandatory our critical systems run 24x7, so we’re keeping the lights on for New Zealand,” says Nel. “We are strongly committed to innovation and digital transformation enabling our operational excellence.

    “A good example of how innovation can improve operational excellence is the use of our 'distance to fault' technology, which gives a distance measurement, allowing us to locate faults on our lines and what the service requirements are. We currently have an initiative as to how we present this outage information visually, to enhance situational intelligence.

    “We have updated our risk analysis model by integrating the use of bow-ties and Semi Quantitative Risk Analysis (SQRA) diagrams to evaluate cyber risk, and facilitate reporting and investment decisions.

    Nel says the IST division is fortunate in that it reaches into all divisions of the business and plays a vital role in Transpower's corporate strategy, leading the direction in response to the challenges and six strategic priorities developed in 'Transmission Tomorrow', a document outlining Transpower’s vision of New Zealand's electricity industry over the next 5 - 40 years.

    “We set the foundations of Transpower's future view by assessing capability and developing its long-term investment and improvement plans.”

    Transpower’s Board meets 10 times a year and receives regular updates and board papers from the IST division, and The General Management Team meets fortnightly. Together with offsite strategy days and workshops, this provides an excellent forum for Nel as a leader to be able to engage with his peers, to educate and be educated.

    As a division, IST holds quarterly team briefings and senior leadership forums, which allows IST teams to network and collaborate with each other. The division also participates in the company's graduate placement programme, which allows graduates to work across various projects and initiatives. His department hosts a section of the company induction and a separate IST induction session for all new starters to the business.

    As well as developing Transpower's long-term investment and improvement plans, Nel monitors new business trends and emerging technologies. He is looking for opportunities to enhance IST's performance and to share this with the business.

    “IST creates ICT strategies to include emerging technologies into our corporate strategy documents. The measure of success is the cost effective realisation of a long-term ICT capability plans that enables the delivery of services to meet the agreed targets of delivery timeliness, reliability and cost.

    “We measure success through a number of mechanisms,” he says.

    “Our customer satisfaction surveys measure the performance of our service desk, project stakeholder satisfaction and executive feedback. These are published in our monthly divisional report.

    “All full-time Transpower staff are surveyed on their engagement and these results are presented divisionally. The survey is run by a third party organisation and asks targeted questions to see how engaged our workforce is. Currently IST sits at 68 per cent engagement, a figure we are aiming to increase,” he says.

    Rodney Fletcher

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