Severn Trent Water is in the middle of a major technology transformation that will see a fundamental change in the way its employees work and also underpin a new state-of-the-art headquarters.

When Myron Hrycyk joined Severn Trent as CIO around two and a half years ago, he was charged with constructing the technology strategy that would support the utility company’s next five-year planning cycle, which starts this April.

The cycle will be focused on the twin challenges of reducing customer costs while delivering better quality services – challenges the water industry as a whole is being put to by its regulator – and Severn Trent is already using technology to help meet these objectives by making staff more effective and efficient in their daily work.

With such efficiency in mind, the technology transformation currently underway at the water company will change the way the company is organised, with a higher degree of mobility a priority.

“What I realised when I joined two years was that actually to achieve those new ways of working… what we needed to do was transform the underlying technology infrastructure,” Hrycyk told silicon.com.

The business transformation kicked off in December 2008 with the implementation of a new SAP ERP system, to replace ageing Oracle financial technology as well as more than 100 other legacy systems.

A major tech transformation is underway at Severn Trent Water

A major tech transformation is underway at Severn Trent Water
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

With the help of IBM, the replacement of the legacy back office systems was completed one year later, and saw the introduction of new employee and management self service portals, as well as core HR, financial and procurement tools.

The second phase of the SAP implementation, begun in January this year, will see the replacement of the company’s legacy asset management system as well as bringing in new work scheduling and mobile functionality to employees.

The £60m SAP implementation went on to spawn a desktop virtualisation project to allow staff to access business systems wherever they happen to be working within the organisation, helping to support the aim of making the workforce more mobile.

Around the time the first phase of the SAP rollout was completed, Severn Trent commissioned Computacenter to run a desktop virtualisation pilot of around 50 staff to deliver the Windows 7 OS to thin clients PCs using technology from Citrix – something that was quickly seen as a success.

“People who weren’t on the thin clients, virtualised technology and new Microsoft platform actually were clamouring to get their hands on it because they could see the look and feel was better and the features were really attractive,” Hrycyk said.

Following the pilot, Severn Trent chose Computacenter to carry out the full-scale rollout of the virtualisation technology, with the planning stage beginning at the start of 2010.

The deployment, due to be completed in June or July of this year and costing Severn Trent £3.5m, will see the 2,000 strong workforce move off a Windows XP and Lotus Notes environment onto…

…Windows 7 and SAP.

Windows 7 will run on twin datacentres, overseen by Hrycyk’s team and pushed through to thin clients using Citrix desktop virtualisation software. The datacentres will use VMWare virtualisation technology within a private MPLS cloud provided by BT.

According to Hrycyk, making sure software – such as Windows 7 and SAP – is certified to work together has proved surprisingly tricky.

“I’ve been a little bit surprised that we seem to be coming across certain components of reasonably new technology, but not actually brand new technology, that’s still having to be accredited and certified to be supportable.

“If you’re pushing technology and you’ve got a platform of various number of components of technology, making sure that each component can work with the other, is certified and has got support from the vendors is absolutely critical.”

Another major part of Severn Trent’s business transformation is the construction of a new high-tech head office in Coventry called the Severn Trent Centre (STC), which the company is planning to move into in September this year.

Severn Trent Centre

The company’s new headquarters in Coventry, Severn Trent Centre, will be brimming with new technology
(Image credit: Severn Trent Water)

The timescale of the desktop virtualisation project has been driven by this move and Hrycyk said the plan is to have all staff who will move to STC using the thin client system ahead of the new office opening.

Hrycyk is also looking at what new IT may be introduced once the building is open.

“I started to look at things like wireless computing in there, different technologies around the place in terms of could we have a smart building where for instance your pass key coming in also controls printers, also controls buying stuff in the canteen and that kind of stuff. So we’re looking at technologies that will make that building work differently,” he said.

The set up of the new office will encourage mobile working, desk sharing and teams coming together to solve problems, making it a major element in changing the way people work. Ways in which this will be done include staff being able to access their work from any thin client device in the office along with the use of wi-fi.

The technology transformation will also support employees working away from the offices, maintaining and repairing the infrastructure, including through the provision of SAP scheduling tools and an information portal to help workers solve problems first time, replacing a bespoke system developed in-house which didn’t provide sufficient functionality to support the aim of improving customer service.

The team is now testing a mobile version of the SAP tools as well as Click, an application to help off-site workers schedule their jobs, optimise routing, provide maps and information on assets – all of which is due to…

…be rolled out in June this year.

“[For] the guys out in the field repairing the infrastructure, one of their main tools is knowing where they’ve got to go, having the plans of where the infrastructure is, what they’re looking at, the size of the pipe, how old it is – and there’s a whole new deployment of systems in that area that we’re driving,” Hrycyk said.

Maintenance staff will also be issued with laptops equipped with cameras meaning they can transmit images of problems they’re looking at to get advice from colleagues who may not necessarily be with them.

Nevertheless, there remains a large amount of work for Hrycyk and his team around the technology transformation, with other areas due for closer inspection later this year including voice.

Towards the end of the year, the tech team will standardise voice comms onto a single smartphone device for each worker with a single phone number, meaning workers can be contacted wherever they happen to be working in the region.

“If we’ve got these smartphones and we’ve got the thin clients then how can we start to blend voice and mail and presence together to start to improve the communication between what’s increasingly this mobile workforce? That’s the next challenge.”

While the ongoing transformation may be a tech one, one of the most important considerations for Hrycyk has been a one of personnel: communicating with users of the new technology about the changes.

“I think we as IT leaders actually need to take that view because it’s the communication of what this means to our workforce, why we’re doing it, what’s in it for them, what the impact on them will be, [that] is probably more important than just worrying about deploying servers and virtualising etcetera.”

For example, the move to mobile working has almost prompted a cultural shift within the company, where staff have to adjust to not having the same PC which they return to every day, but rather sharing it with others in the organisation.

Myron hrycyk

Myron Hrycyk, CIO, Severn Trent Water
Photo credit: Severn Trent

For people who have become used to sitting at the same desk with the same device, next to the same people for several years, this will represent a significant change in how they work and may take some time for them to get used to.

“As I’ve explored this, it’s a real opportunity to revisit the behaviours and the ways of working with people. So for instance is this an opportunity to change our behaviour about using email? Is this an opportunity to change people’s behaviour in terms of collaboration, in terms of sharing documents in a different way?” Hrycyk said.

The project is also an opportunity to influence people’s approach to technology for the better, especially around taking more care to safeguard data, he added.

“We’re trying to become more progressive and more forward-thinking in our deployment and use of technology and I think we’re going in the right direction.”