By Catherine Morin
When Johanne Duhaime was appointed vice-president of information and communication technology for Hydro-Quebec in 2016, Hydro-Quebec’s management had a hard time getting a comprehensive overview of its IT department.
Several divisions of the company managed their activities and projects in silos, which resulted in different technological choices and difficulty in collecting data scattered across various systems.
Seeing this situation as an ideal opportunity to proceed to an in-depth transformation of the IT management at Hydro-Quebec, Duhaime immediately launched a five-year plan to improve process efficiency and streamline work methods. It helped her pick up this year’s CanadianCIO of the Year award for the public sector category.
“There was a lot of customer dissatisfaction with regards to IT back then,” she indicated. “While some customers were highly satisfied, others were not satisfied at all.”
Internal IT costs were also far above industry averages, she explained.
“We wanted to come up with more projects faster and deliver more benefits to the organization. All of these factors prompted us to launch a heavily-revised, aggressive transformation plan.”
Read more about our Ingenious award winners here
She helped put together a plan to reduce operating expenditures by more than $100 million within five years through the consolidation of IT groups, the rationalization of resources, the renegotiation of contracts with suppliers, as well as the optimization and simplification of the company’s technology ecosystem.
Less than three years later, Duhaime and her team had attained their reduction target and had increased productivity nearly twofold, with almost 200 fewer employees within the IT group.
A customer-focused approach
As part of the restructuring, Duhaime piloted several innovative projects designed to improve customer experience, such as the development of the Power Outage application.
During an outage, Hydro-Québec customers can use this app to find the affected location on an interactive map and request notifications on their smartphone if the anticipated service restoration time changes.
While customers already had access to the company’s website and Twitter account to keep tabs on outages, Duhaime wanted to offer a more personalized resource.
She also led the development of the My Consumption Profile tool, which allows customers to track their daily, monthly, and yearly electricity usage online.
Both applications have won a prestigious OCTAS Award, which recognizes excellence in the IT industry in Quebec.
“We knew that we wanted to offer better products and services to residential and commercial customers, so here came the idea to develop these two apps,” Duhaime notes.
“We got together a tiny group of people in IT that were keen on innovation. They wanted to do things differently. So we said, ‘We’re going to change our way of developing. We’re going to be doing some agile development.’ We gathered these people in a room for a couple of weeks at a time, and after about 12 to 16 weeks, we had a viable prototype. We’ve been building upon that prototype, and it has won certain awards, so we’re very proud.”
Improving employee experience
Duhaime considers it essential to provide a great user experience to Hydro-Québec staff as well. She has, therefore, launched the deployment of new technical support tools for employees.
“I see the IT department as a locomotive; a key driver that can increase corporate-wide efficiency and productivity. We started deploying all sorts of tools within the organization to increase performance. For example, we have automated many of our dashboards so that employees could access information feeds instantly and avoid seeking information manually.”
She has also automated communications with the IT group, thus enabling employees from all departments to track the state of their service requests online instead of calling the IT team multiple times.
Communication is key
With active communication being at the core of any transformation, Duhaime holds regular meetings to discuss organizational priorities and sends a weekly note to all staff members.
“I give them detailed information about our performance indicators, things to watch out for, health and safety, what’s going on within the organization, or which critical implementations are coming up,” she details. “I also use the weekly note as a tool to recognize talent and contributions. For example, there was a major outage a couple of weeks ago, and many teams worked overtime, so I congratulated them for that.”
She considers that the key to effective communication is coherence. “When I say I will do something, I make sure to have it accomplished. It leads to credibility and credibility leads to better relationships. It’s a simple formula, but one that I’ve always tried to apply and one that, so far, has been very successful.”
Integrating AI to workflows
After creating an analytical platform powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to identify issues in the electricity distribution network, she plans to base more projects on AI.
“We see a lot of potential uses for AI. We started using it for fraud detection, which is key to what we do. Plus, the electric grid is becoming digital, and who says digital says that you can use algorithms to do predictive maintenance and better manage energy consumption,” Duhaime observes.
She also contemplates leveraging AI to track customers’ behavior and help them improve efficiency conservation.
Success as a CIO
Duhaime said she thinks organizations could make more efforts to promote women into leadership roles.
A successful CIO, she explained, not only understands how technology influences the enterprise but can also make these issues understandable for people in the lines of business.
“I explain what the technical issues are, but I avoid sounding too technical. I use business language and make sure everyone understands how technology helps us attain Hydro-Québec’s strategic objectives,” she said.
She also thinks CIOs must establish and maintain positive relationships with all employees within the organization and always stay open to discussion.
She nonetheless credits most of her success to her team’s remarkable work.
“I am privileged to have this job and to have such a great, talented team that constantly goes above and beyond what the normal call of duty is.”