Penguins and counters. Riding the waves of digitalization

May 29, 2017
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There are business environments in which the illusion is that services, products, and ways to deliver them never change. In the energy sector, where consumption is measured by “meters”, one can suffer from the – misleading – illusion that they continue to run regardless of company choices. “Meters that run and continue to run” is one of the recurring images in the analysis conducted by Andrea Prencipe and Luca Giustiniano, both professors of Organization Studies at LUISS, in relation to the recent history of ACEA.

The company, an Italian multi-utility with over one hundred years of history, is one of the longest-running organizations in the national energy landscape. The image of the meters running incessantly, almost a mantra embraced by many in the organization, clashes however with the recent past of the company, marked by radical transformations that saw the Roman municipalized company become multi-utility, listed on the Italian stock exchange, and undertaking ACEA 2.0 – a courageous project of organizational and technological innovation – at the end of 2014. ACEA 2.0 is indeed a real strategic breakthrough aimed at both dramatically increasing operational and economic performance and sharing the value generated to all stakeholders (customers, shareholders, employees, suppliers, natural environment) through rethinking the company’s role and responsibility in its social and economic settings.

Designed and implemented in partnership with the Information Technology solution provider SAP, ACEA 2.0 has enabled ACEA to: digitize both its operational infrastructure and network management processes (redefining its operating model), radically review its workforce management logic (Work Force Management), rethink the whole customer experience, via designing end-to-end processes and redefining the technical and managerial skills needed. This revolution in the operating model required a major organizational change effort, which encouraged the company’s top management to hire one of the world’s gurus on the topic: John Kotter, Harvard Business School Emeritus Professor.

In one of his books Kotter explains the urgency of change even in contexts where there seems to be no need for it by illustrating the story of a penguin community living on an iceberg that is melting so slowly that the whole group is not perceiving the risk of losing their home. The same image was soon extended to ACEA, where instead of the iceberg, to “melt” were the staticity of its (loosely) competitive environment – largely protected by monopoly – and the illusion that the users/receivers of the services – as bound – were not increasingly maturing new needs and more sophisticated expectations.

Prencipe and Giustiniano’s reflection on ACEA 2.0, therefore, deepens the theme of organizational change management and how this has been prepared, designed and implemented in recent years. In addition to a consistent and accurate document collection, the study was carried out through in-depth interviews with organizational representatives at all organizational levels as well as direct participation in internal events. The book tells how the commitment of many individuals, aware that the world was changing around the entire energy sector, found the courage to embrace the challenge of riding the wave of digitization and all that it could bring in terms of business implication. A history of courage, demonstrated by the ACEA’s leadership team and then spread throughout the organization.

La digital transformation di una multi-utility: tecnologia e persone, fattori chiave dell'esperienza ACEA

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