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National Grid seeks £5m of external help to become “agile digital” organisation

Energy powerhouse eyes Agile at scale; help with DevSecOps.

National Grid is seeking external help in a mission to become a “more agile digital organisation” and plans to go to market in early April with a contract worth up to £5 million – with the energy company seeking a partner (or three) to “help us identify… transformation workstreams, intervention areas, and implementation plan(s)”.

The contract will help the company deliver a wide-ranging cultural shift, an early public information notice (PIN) suggests, with the partner setting up and driving a  “Digital Agile DevSecOps transformation office.”

(DevSecOps refers to development, security, and operations and is an “approach to culture, automation, and platform design that integrates security as a shared responsibility throughout the entire IT lifecycle” as Red Hat puts it crisply. It typically  means integrating security earlier and more robustly in application development.)

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National Grid added in the PIN, published on February 10, that it is looking for “a strategic partner who can support our ambition to become an agile digital organisation. The scope of the engagement will encompass all aspects of organisational transformation workstreams; broadly categorized into People, Process, and Tools.”

It anticipates publishing a contract notice by April 10, 2023 with a value of between £3 million and £5 million which it says it is open to splitting across up to three partners –  that openness may give smaller independent consultancies a chance to compete alongside some of the “usual suspects” that often win this kind of contract.

The notice comes as National Grid’s Chief Information and Digital Officer, Sarah Milton-Hunt, who joined the company in September 2021, noted in a social post that “Strong leadership is necessary for a digital transformation to succeed. A project's chances of failing are all but eliminated with an agile methodology. Daily updates, ongoing communication, frequent testing, and collaborative feedback at the conclusion of each sprint guarantee that nothing is overlooked and that all problems are identified and addressed as soon as they arise.

A screenshot of a transmission network control centre.

National Grid Agile contract: Lots to transform…

National Grid is one of the world's largest listed utilities transmitting and distributing electricity and gas. It is the electricity system operator (ESO) across Great Britain, and owns and operates the high-voltage electricity transmission (ET) network in England and Wales. It also owns and operates electricity and gas networks in the US.

Like many utilities it has a strong engineering heritage and a host of operational technologies but is under pressure as the sector evolves to “digitally transform our processes, strengthen our customer focus and sharpen our commercial edge” – as well as to keep costs low for customers, returns robust for shareholders, innovate aggressively and help the UK deliver its Net Zero ambitions; a heady brew for any organisation.

See also: The energy sector’s digital transformation and data blockers

Grid has not been shy about adopting new technologies – and not just on the operational technology side.

Its Electricity Systems Operator (ESO) arm in the UK in 2021 for example launched a mission to “digitalise our energy system by constructing real-time digital twin replicas of our entire energy landscape, working in parallel to our physical system, thereby creating a virtual environment through which we can share data and model and test scenarios to make our decision making more robust [and] create valuable insight to help guide and govern how we generate, manage, store and consume energy, helping us make better decisions for Great Britain’s aim of achieving net zero targets more quickly and efficiently,” ” its 2021/2022 annual report revealed.

CEO John Pettigrew has also given a nod to the company’s use of “military grade satellite imagery that allows us to more directly manage vegetation management”, saying during National Grid’s 2021 investor day that “if you manage your vegetation really well, you improve reliability of your customers. [Vegetation management] is the single largest OPEX number in any distribution company. We're using that digital technology to fundamentally change the way that we manage all the trees that put our networks at risk” he added.

Its annual report also gave a nod to the “successful go-live of the new enterprise resource planning (ERP) and general ledger system in the UK” – no doubt a welcome relief given institutional memory of a botched SAP ERP migration a decade ago that triggered lawsuits and saw thousands of suppliers and staff go unpaid or overpaid.

It also has a corporate investment and innovation arm, NGP, which has invested in a wide range of startups, including operational technology (OT) security specialist Dragos, which is among its cybersecurity suppliers.

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