Some might wonder why a high-level technical manager would quit and go to work for a utility.
That’s what some people asked of Adriana “Andi” Karaboutis, the former Dell CIO who left the IT giant and was named National Grid’s global chief information and digital officer in 2017.
His answer ? She manages to change the world.
“It’s one of the most stressful, yet challenging jobs – it’s about securing and transforming critical national infrastructure,” says Karaboutis, who is excited to be part of not one but two global initiatives. challenges: securing national infrastructure against cyberattacks and transforming global energy. network at a time of epic technological advances to slow climate change.
As global CIO, Karaboutis is the chief architect of the digital transformation of the $20 billion British multinational in the UK as well as New York and New England. Currently, she is working with two governments to strengthen the cybersecurity of several NATO power grids and, at the same time, transform the company into a “smart connected utility”.
Chances are the US President or UK Prime Minister is more likely to get a phone call from National Grid’s CIO these days than from a technical manager. Being on what she calls the “frontier” of global energy transformation may keep her awake some nights, but it’s “rewarding” beyond words, says Karaboutis, who will speak at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium this week. next.
“You can imagine what the Infrastructure Act and the Go Green [initiatives] meant for my budget. It has increased by 30 to 40%,” she says. “I don’t want to give you exact numbers, but I had a smaller budget when I was chief information officer at Dell.”
Modernizing the data architecture of a public service
National Grid is a big customer of the Microsoft Azure cloud because of its secure and proprietary nature, says Karaboutis, and uses a host of industry-leading tools, from Snowflake, Azure and Matallion ETL for data tooling, Informatica for quality management, Reltio for master data management, and Blue Prism for RPA, to name a few.
The utility is about a third into its cloud journey and is focused on moving customer data and workforce data to the cloud first to get the most business value . Next, Karaboutis says, National Grid will migrate field force data to the cloud from its fleet of 7,000 field workers serving consumers and businesses.
“These capabilities allow us to reduce business risk when we move away from our monolithic on-premises environments and provide cloud resiliency and scalability,” the CIO says, noting that National Grid also has a major data center consolidation underway. as it moves more data to the cloud. “We are very mature in our data architecture and what we want. It’s getting closer.
Not all data will be migrated offsite — only data that makes sense running in the cloud, she says.
“I call it cloud density in a good way,” adds Karaboutis. “All of our investments are value driven. And in many cases, it’s not just about ROI and savings, but about removing the hidden costs and shared costs of managing technical debt, like not having to perform upgrades. This is to increase state security. It’s about capacity management and resilience. All of this together is how we measure the value of moving to the cloud. »
Staffing to move to product-based computing
Talent, data and cloud operating models. These are the basic ingredients of National Grid’s digitization efforts, which Karaboutis likens to building the “intelligent connected utility”.
The first is to create and buy talent to fuel National Grid’s IT transformation, which includes digitizing the network and connecting it to a wide range of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and devices and the host of emerging renewable energy sources such as solar, wind turbines, hydro innovations and even battery technology. National Grid, which has pledged to be fossil-free by 2050, also has a geothermal project underway in New York.
To do this, Karaboutis will rely on 1,400 badged IT specialists and 2,500 other subcontractors. Its budget has also increased significantly, so it has hired product managers as part of a transition to convert IT operations to an agile, product-based operating model. Karaboutis has also hired UX designers, data scientists, enterprise architects, and RPA writers, but it can’t find “talent density” fast enough.
To fill the void, Karaboutis uses Pluralsight and LinkedIn for development initiatives and continues to outsource application development and maintenance to Wipro, IBM and Atos. National Grid also works with traditional recruiters to create “talent density” and partners with agile innovation consultants such as Thoughtworks, Giant Machines and Palantir, among others, Karaboutis explains.
Optimize with machine learning
Meanwhile, National Grid is building its grid to interface with solar, wind and battery storage. It is also exploring renewable natural gas derived from waste and has purchased wind farms. But he keeps an eye on cutting-edge technology and uses it to optimize his core business, electricity.
As part of this, National Grid is applying Microsoft AI machine learning (ML) algorithms to optimize its “vegetation management” pruning plans under the “Copperleaf” project to prevent fires and other disasters. It also uses geospatial technologies in concert with artificial intelligence to make the “right decisions” on how to maintain undersea cables and make routing and investment decisions.
The utility is also exploring ways to deploy ML algorithms to better manage power outages that still occur during power surges, such as during World Cup commercial breaks or royal weddings. Such investments in “electricity balancing” could in the future rely on battery technology because it can be stored, says Karaboutis.
But despite all these efforts to transform National Grid into an “intelligent connected utility”, it is the portfolio of IT projects already underway that is energizing Karaboutis. Its grid of advanced data tools and platforms such as Snowflake and Azure is what will establish the connections and integrations with all energy sources that National Grid will look to in the future. And the data is the current of that grid.
“We used to say that data is a business asset, right?” notes Karaboutis. “Today, we know it, we breathe it, we live it, but we don’t have to say it. It is the quality of data that we are constantly working on and improving” that will make National Grid’s vision possible, says the global CIO.