Reorganizing for innovation
Jay Cavalcanto, vice president of cloud and infrastructure engineering at Exelon, an energy utility, says change comes slower in some industries than it does in others. For example, he quips, if Alexander Graham Bell came back to life and saw a smartphone, he'd be blown away by the evolution of his invention. Thomas Edison, on the other hand, would be unimpressed by the lack of progress in the way we use electricity. "The utilities industry has not been fully disrupted yet, but it is right there waiting to happen," says Cavalcanto, and Exelon is ready.
Exelon is the great-grandchild of several 100-year-old utility companies that have merged to create one of the nation's leading energy providers. Cavalcanto fights inertia by disrupting IT, and then disrupting it some more. "Don't let them settle back into that complacency hole, and don't let the money stop or defer investment" in technology, he says.
Cavalcanto needed Exelon's IT group to be nimbler in adopting new technologies, so he started by separating the engineering and operations units. "By separating [the two groups], we can focus on innovation centers of excellence where we can harness new technologies such as analytics, cloud and mobile more effectively," he says. "Our engineering group now has a cloud-first mentality, taking advantage of the speed of deployment, cost savings and back-end flexibility to drive rapid transformation. Meanwhile, our operations group keeps the lights on and the business running."
It hasn't been easy. Some staffers don't like the stigma of being in operations even though it was already part of their daily jobs, or they don't want to give up what they know in engineering. But Cavalcanto is starting to see momentum build. "You have to create a viral pull for these changes rather than a push, where people realize 'Wow, I'm only on call every five weeks now instead of every two weeks,'" he says, adding that the full transition will take about a year.
Cavalcanto also wanted to keep money moving toward the right projects. He developed a ranking system for every app the company used, designating each as either gold, silver or bronze based on its business importance and total cost, including infrastructure and labor.
"This starts to change the conversation with the business from how IT is too expensive, to 'This is what your apps cost and why,'" Cavalcanto says. It also helps him identify opportunities for savings. "If only three guys in a basement are using [the app], then shut it off," he says. "This has demystified technology conversations and helped us become a more effective partner to the business."
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