CIO100 2018 #7: Kevin Angland, Mercury
Leading a large and diverse team and building a culture that is more akin to a fast-paced, entrepreneurial startup were conjoined challenges for Kevin Angland when he joined Mercury as its first GM digital services.
Angland has previously led larger IT teams, but his team at Mercury of 338 people has more diverse assignments. Apart from the traditional domains of ICT, his teams are assigned to portfolio and project management, digital strategy and delivery, customer services and customer operations.
The impact of the combination of these different functions is demonstrated in the newly established Digital Accelerator (or DX) Programme.
“This accelerator programme has become the foundation for how Mercury delivers outstanding solutions and how we want to work, not only in our digital services area but across all parts of our business,” says Angland.
It has resulted in six agile delivery teams and their number is growing across the business.
“We have a unified vision across the business, which is a powerful enabler of cross-team collaboration. When our people come together we can achieve wonderful outcomes,” he says.
The delivery teams are now virtual teams made up of capabilities from across Mercury and its partners.
“Our organisation works without barriers, which ensures we are working on the right things and have the right capability to deliver. We are able to quickly ascertain value, we are nimble and move as needed when the market or technology changes,” says Angland.
“Ultimately, this reduces the risk of large projects that go into a black hole and creates a very visible, flexible and inclusive delivery mechanism focused on value in the hands of the customer.
The DX programme has delivered more than 20 functional releases in the first six months of operations, compared to an average of one release per month over the previous year.
He says these new ways of working and delivering initiatives were a fundamental shift in Mercury’s work culture and practices.
He says the team deliberately took a phased approach to implementing the new delivery model, and clearly communicated the changes and impacts across the business.
“The result, when you walk around our offices you can feel and see the change – we are thinking differently, we are behaving differently. Collaboration is everywhere you turn - delivery teams are made up of technology and business representatives, decisions are made together and conversations about solutions are driven by customer experience and outcomes,” says Angland.
“It was a catalyst and movement that translated not only across the teams at our Greenlane site, but also to our Taupo, Rotorua and Hamilton offices.”
As the team was strengthening Mercury’s core technology platforms (which included significant upgrades of their customer and billing and asset management platforms and migrating them both to AWS), it was also exploring emerging technologies for future growth and efficiency.
One of these is their work around geothermal reservoirs.
“Geothermal reservoirs are complex ecosystems and since we cannot see what’s happening underground we rely on collecting and understanding data,” says Angland.
The team created a 3D software application and using virtual reality goggles, provided a new way of reading insights by visualising the data in a 3D model.
“This enables us to optimise our fields and manage a more sustainable operation, giving us a real competitive advantage in NZ and globally.”
He says Mercury’s metering business Metrix also released a 24-hour, seven day unified service request system.
“This was achieved through the deployment of its digital Service Request Management platform to its aftercare service provider. The new service provides a faster turnaround of fault management and reconnection service, resulting in an improved customer experience with cost saving benefits.
“This is just another example of how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors,” says Angland.
Mercury has also formed a partnership with PlugShare to deliver “The Electric Highway”, a mobile app and online tool allowing electric vehicle (EV) drivers to easily locate New Zealand’s 500-plus charging stations in a single app.
Late last year, Mercury demonstrated its Tesla Powerwall 2 battery and mobile app. The app will allow customers to control their energy seamlessly, monitor and manage their power, solar panels, Model S or X and all this straight from the palm of their hand, says Angland.
And just last month Mercury became New Zealand’s first energy company to commit to bringing Amazon Alexa to consumers. Customers will be able to ask Alexa for energy savings tips and information about their account as well as unlocking discounts and other offers from the comfort of their home.
A project impacting another part of their business was implemented after Spark announced it is retiring its paging service. Mercury had to decommission the in-home devices used by around half their 25,000-plus GLOBUG customers and migrate them to digital channels including a mobile application.
GLOBUG is a pre-paid power service and offers financially vulnerable customers a way to take real-time control of their energy usage and costs, says Angland. Customers are able to match their electricity payments to their household income cycle, helping them stay connected and out of debt.
“For our customers, the shift to the new digital channels was the equivalent of the TV network signal change from analogue to digital,” says Angland.
“Old technology would no longer work, and they would need different tools to continue to engage with us and manage their accounts.
Angland says they took this challenge as the catalyst to go wholly digital. Mercury saw an opportunity to provide a modern, enhanced product to vulnerable customers.
“We also made sure all customers could access these channels by offering a low-cost smartphone that they could pay off with no interest or fees. Over 700 took up this special offer.”
“We continue to receive good feedback from customers on the change because a basic smartphone costs as little as $49, less than the old IHD unit at $70.”
Inclusivity and customer-centricity
Angland says all of these programmes were planned and delivered “through a customer-centric lens”.
“In this way we ensure we remain relevant and deliver long-term value and sustainability,” he says.
The makeup of the team that will take on a new programme of delivery is important.
For Angland, this means establishing programmes to attract and retain the best talent and grow internal capability.
“We have to ensure our people are equipped for the future and this means we need an agile team built upon high levels of trust and collaboration and a shared purpose,” he says.
He describes his current team as “well balanced” and fostering “diversity and inclusivity”.
As well as recruiting capability from outside the Utilities sector, he has also focused on introducing greater diversity to the wider team. He introduced Mercury’s first ever ICT graduate programme, and points out more than 15 different cultures are represented in his team.
Angland says an important part of their work is forming strong partnerships in the innovation community and investing in areas that have the potential to create future value for Mercury
“I engage regularly with my peers to understand their issues, challenges or opportunities and help them understand where technology or digital capability may deliver value for them, their teams, Mercury, our customers and stakeholders.”
He represents ICT, digital and retail customer business in these meetings.
He attends monthly meetings as well as twice yearly strategy meetings with the Board.
In the most recent strategy session, he organised a ‘digital exhibition/science fair’ demonstrating four different digital initiatives across the business.
“The heart of my role is to ‘inspire and innovate’,” he explains.
“Consistent and constant communication is the glue that binds the organisation together. In turn, this filters through to my team and this is how we have created a movement… it’s like we are holding a tiger by the tail, and all of this is happening ‘organically’.”