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Digital transformation at Elia Group: Building bridges between the uncertain and the known

Interview with Eva Schramm, Technology Innovation Manager at 50Hertz / Elia Group

Elia is a large Belgian transmission system operator for electricity, employing over 1.200 employees in Belgium and over 900 in Germany. With climate change and the shift to renewable energies being on the top of the agenda, the company operates in an industry that will be facing major changes in the coming years. Being and staying innovative is crucial which requires companies in this field to constantly challenge their status quo. 50Hertz is doing exactly that. Since February 2021 the company uses the Tandemploy SaaS to match employees for cross-divisional projects. We talked with Eva Schramm, Technology Innovation Manager at 50Hertz, about the test run, about chances and challenges and about ways to make the digital transformation as smooth as possible and even fun for employees. 

 

Dear Eva, the past few months have been very challenging for many companies. It has become very clear how important it is for organizations to be agile and to have the right competencies in the right places. How did you experience this at Elia and 50Hertz?

The need to be agile has been evident for as long as we have been in the digital transformation. In our case, this is compounded by the ambition of a digital transformation for a successful energy transition. However, the last few months have had an accelerating effect and this constant change we are in requests specific skills and talents at the right place. This is particularly evident in the large number of new types of projects and, above all, cross-divisional projects. For example, in order to respond to the increasing demand for agile and innovative projects we launched our internal incubator The Nest last year where employees from all departments can find themselves in cross-divisional and international agile teams transforming promising ideas into digital prototypes.

 

Where do you see the role of technology and also your role as an innovation driver within Elia Group?

I strongly believe that innovative technologies and methods can trigger change and value by going beyond immediate needs. It can open up many new opportunities and completely change the way we work. In my role as Innovation Manager I try to create a save environment for the user to touch and explore something strongly unknown. The emphasis here is on the user. The more we put the human in the center and the technology fits a specific purpose, the lower the hurdle to embrace the change. Especially if it is more about the cultural change that comes with the new technology, it is important to build a bridge from something far away and uncertain to the known, so that people don’t have to jump far but enjoy walking across the bridge together, for example by having an exploration phase first.

 

You have already started to transform yourselves before the pandemic and would like to work more in projects instead of routines, for example. You are currently doing a test run here, supported by us, in order to have a reliable proof of concept. What is your first conclusion? How great is the need for project work among employees?

We are investigating in an open matching market that can simply create a sense of unfamiliar mobility for us as a company that has to operate under sometimes very strict rules to manage a critical infrastructure. Therefore, with the proof of concept we wanted to get a clear picture of the needs of our employees linked to such an open marketplace for matching skills and projects in our organization.

At the beginning, we asked ourselves whether it would actually reveal the hidden potentials, whether our employees would even want to show their hidden skills and apply them in projects. The answer was a resounding “yes”. However, we also found out which hurdles we still have to overcome in the upcoming months in order to enable a more project-based way of working.

 

We also learned a lot from Tandemploy, what it means when a technology puts the individual, the employee in the center. This mindset and the appealing easiness of the user interface has created openness for the uncertain as well as a potential new way of working and even fun at work.

 

Crazy or ingenious – that’s always the field of tension in which innovation is viewed and evaluated. How did you approach the test run? For example, how did you encourage employees to post project requirements or to apply for projects themselves? And how was the tool received by the employees?

If I had to sum it up, it would be a guiding question that has been with us over the last few months, “What’s in it for me as an employee?”. In every individual or group communication to our early adopters, we asked ourselves this question, such as “If I participate in a proof of concept, what’s in it for me?” or “What’s in it for me when I participate in a cross-silo project outside my daily business?”. We also learned a lot from Tandemploy, what it means when a technology puts the individual, the employee in the center. This mindset and the appealing easiness of the user interface has created openness for the uncertain as well as a potential new way of working and even fun at work. ;-)

 

As a transmission system operator, Elia and 50Hertz operate in an industry that is facing major changes in the coming years. To what extent can internal changes contribute to mastering these external upheavals well?

We have so many good people in our company that are co-creating the future. If we manage to give them, not only but also, the right methods and technology as a strong companion, and even a marketplace full of opportunities to work in projects and mobilize skills or knowledge, I think this will contribute a lot. It is not the technologies that master the digital transformation or the energy transition, but the people applying technologies.

 

What project would you like to tackle next – personal or professional?

I want to practice sailing again. I’ve neglected that for the last few years. My goal is to sail a bigger boat myself someday. For that, I just need some practice and courage. As is often the case in life…

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