Eskom enjoys a captive market in South Africa, generating and supplying 95 percent of the electricity across the country and 45 percent in the entire African continent. Technology is the most vital component of the business, and as such, IT and its evolution is a huge focus; Sean Maritz, Chief Information Officer of Eskom, explains how and why in greater detail.
“From a CIO point of view, at Eskom we’re responsible for the delivery of the IT systems including the technology and the infrastructure,” he says. “In the past we had many different roles and different verticals within IT, but now it’s one streamlined organisation. We actually have a seat at the table, so we’re all directly influencing the business direction.”
Being CIO of a utilities business comes with its own unique set of differentiators and challenges. One such focus of the energy sector has to be corporate responsibility, and balancing that with the necessary development of Eskom’s economic growth. As such a large company, it takes its duties seriously:
“For a company like us, we have to manage the energy mix that we supply to ensure that we are creating a valuable planet for the future, so that’s a responsibility on our side,” Maritz states. “We have a continuously evolving business model and we are currently focussed on ethics and the environment. We look at the way we use power at data centres, how we use water at power stations, and whether we can reduce coal burning emissions, as well as smaller things like capturing endangered snakes on-site and releasing them in the wild. We want to be a responsible organisation.”
Technology and the economy
Keeping up with technological innovations is a challenge in all countries and every sector, so for Maritz and his team, a key priority is consultation with the rest of the industry. Being involved in every part of the business – not just the portion any one worker is a part of – is paramount, to ensure that everybody is equipped with the ability to understand the landscape around them.
Eskom has an advantage as such a pervasive presence in Africa, “but the fact is that carries a lot of responsibility to ensure the right value of the product that we deliver to people,” Maritz says. “Eskom has been a sound organisation for so many years because of our strong engineering capability. This company uses a mix of coal, hydro, and nuclear energy, and not a lot of companies can say that. This is why we’re one of the top 10 utilities in the world.
“Of course we have strong knowledge content, but we should not sit back and relax because we have to grow the economy in Africa. We have a big influence on it, and we aim to rectify some problems of the past. We are trying to play a huge role in changing the economy of South Africa by improving things and creating jobs – things that have made Eskom what it is today.”
All of this effort is slowly being funnelled towards the ultimate goal of making Eskom a key player in a South African equivalent of Silicon Valley. The main focus for Maritz is on peoples’ skills and their ability to innovate, as this is what will push the company ever closer to being able to compete technologically on a global scale.
“The challenge lies in creating the capabilities of people,” he explains. “We can overcome challenges by using what we have. We need to think outside the box and be a little more innovative, create innovation maps and hone our industry. This really is just the start for Eskom. We are creating IT technologists and industry experts to take the work forward, and there’s no reason our people can’t continue to innovate. They just need confidence and we need to give that to them.”
To work its way towards the advancements required for Eskom to make a sizeable impact, the business needs to adopt cloud “at a speed of knots,” in Maritz’s words. “Our big focus this year is the IT organisation, and by next year we want to turn our landscape into an infrastructure service landscape. That means lots of cloud adoption for us, and a lot of organisational initiatives that the business is undergoing and driving. For now, in the early stages, we must deliver a lot of foundational components soon for use in the future.”
Beyond the competition
This dedication to being as strong a force as possible is part of what differentiates Eskom from competitors. It extends beyond a desire to simply be the biggest, as it strives to prove itself as a positive force within South Africa.
“We need to keep on saying to our customers that we are dedicated to the country and its economy first of all,” Maritz states. “Whatever we do is actually to deliver value to the citizens of South Africa.”
Eskom works hard to prove this via its campaigns and initiatives in the market, and aims to create the kind of talent in its people that will further enrich the nation. This brings further value to South Africa, and the more innovative the business can be, the more savings it can offer to customers. The more money customers save, the more confidence they will have in Eskom.
“What makes us unique is the full value chain we offer, right from generating the energy to delivering it to the customer,” concludes Maritz. “Unlike a lot of utilities companies who need to keep things cheap, we have the ability to innovate. We are in a country that is still developing, but we can do great things because we have a captive market.
“We’re currently thinking about electric vehicles, on energy storage, and looking at what the competition is doing. We have such a lot of knowledge and expertise, and we will provide services worldwide if we can get it right. Africa is going to experience a lot of changes in the future, and that too will open a lot of opportunities for Eskom. We can always make a change, because we have great partners, and they will help us to deliver these things. In two or three years, it will be a different picture for Eskom and for Africa.”