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Lessons in digital transformation from the front line: a Q&A with First Gas

We had the privilege of spending time with First Gas recently on two fronts. Firstly, we got the chance to sit down with Gerard Brown, Solutions Manager and Huw Griffiths, Information Services Manager from First Gas and ask them to talk us through their digital transformation journey. Secondly, we got to take the show on the road and talk to the audience at DX2019 about enabling your business to be successful in today’s fast paced world of technology. 

Customer Experience: First Gas at DX2019

Tell us about your organisation and how you serve the needs of your customers. 

First Gas is New Zealand's largest gas network with 2,504 kms of high-pressure gas transmission pipes and 4,800 kms of gas distribution pipes in the North Island. Based in the energy-rich region of New Plymouth, First Gas has a focus on a safe, reliable supply of gas to more than 65,500 customers right across the North Island.

In what ways have you seen your customer/user needs evolve over the last five years?

Our customers have very limited direct interface with our business, so for the purposes of this interview and from a technology perspective we will refer to our internal customer/user who make our business possible.  

Over the last two and a half years, since First Gas was formed, we have seen a much greater demand for information and data-based decision making for our users. One of our priorities is on bringing our data together and integrating it across our multiple systems to make it available to users. We started out with quite a siloed set of technologies and a lot of work has been done to integrate these and establish our core systems.

We are also seeing a much greater need for mobility and getting the relevant information out to our people in the field. The big challenge for us is that many of our field staff work in very remote areas with no coverage whatsoever, making mobile solutions quite challenging.

How has your organisation responded to these needs and changes? What changes in approach have been required?

Our approach is to understand our users clearly and the business process end to end. From a user perspective, this involves finding out what they really need in the field and, from a business process perspective, whether the data and systems available will in fact enhance the process. That helps give us a bit more perspective and prioritisation.

What has become very clear to us is that we have a pretty good technology stack and range of solutions available to our people but their confidence and capability with those tools is not as strong as we would like. A big focus for us has been on looking at how we do things differently so that we engage our people in the conversation around how technology is supporting them and what works best for them.

We are also exploring how we can deliver training that is meaningful to our users, that they will take on board and that will give them the confidence and capability they need. 

Tell us about your digital transformation journey.

Our digital transformation journey started from two different directions. Within our team (Information Services) we identified that we needed to do things differently by focusing on engaging users and making sure our solutions are business-led, focusing on how we deliver those solutions for maximum engagement. This led us to team up with Intergen to help create and put in place a much stronger roadmap and approach.

Together we addressed how we were going to transition our technologies but also how we would engage our people with that technology throughout the journey.

At the same time there was a drive to adopt the principles of continuous improvement from the business, with a strong people-driven philosophy and a focus on process.

These two initiatives sprung up around the same time and we’ve gone through a process of figuring out how we work well together. Now that our teams are working very closely together, we have formed a strong platform where the continuous improvement team work with people to refine our processes, find great opportunities for improvement and then come to us for a technology contribution to solve that issue. This has allowed us to work in a much more strategic way. 

How has technology supported or underpinned your customer/user experience focus?

From day one, our focus has been on making our users’ experience a lot easier. For example, we have a high saturation of laptops versus desktops and a lot of our solutions are cloud-based, so the ability to work anywhere with an internet connection is prevalent in our solutions. We had a couple of situations last year where we had to vacate our premises and a high percentage of the workforce could carry on working remotely. 

What results are you seeing, or do you expect to see, as a result of your customer/user experience focus?

We are seeing ease of use when out on the field. There are some areas we are still working on and many that are now fully mobile and also have ease of access to relevant data.

We expect to see a higher engagement with our technology solutions, which is a strong focus for the business. There is a good opportunity to build confidence, capability and trust with our solutions. We are seeing that with some parts of the business it is there and, in other parts, there is a great opportunity to grow it. 

What’s worked well so far? What hasn’t? Are there any key learnings you can share with us?

A key learning is around business ownership. You can really tell the difference between a project where there is strong business ownership in how that project was defined, managed and delivered versus one where there is a lack of ownership from the business and it is much harder to drive engagement on delivery.

Projects that are people-led lend themselves to engagement. We are seeing improvements by encouraging the business to seek technology solutions for business challenges and allowing them to feel empowered to solve them.

The continuous improvement team have been great in this space. If someone steps forward with a great idea, they will backfill that person’s role so they can take a lead role in the project that delivers the solution. This is very powerful from a business engagement perspective, helping to build confidence, capability and trust. When it comes from the business and they can see that it’s one of their people right at the centre driving it, it’s gold.

Making the most of the technology we already have has been a big focus, along with a conscious decision to help build user confidence, capability and trust.

What does the (near) future hold for your organisation in terms of its focus on technology-enabled customer/user experience transformation?

The key focus areas in the near term are:

  • Pinning down our mobility strategy this year.
  • Defining how we communicate and interact with the business for highest user engagement.
  • Determining our delivery model for projects around training and how we engage our users to be really interested in the fact there is new technology and capabilities and keen to learn how to make the most of them.
  • Building confidence. We know the capability of our users is good, but we need to work on their confidence in using the technologies.


This blog is part of the #cxreimagine series. For more experts' insights, clients' experiences and to download the whitepaper, click the banner.

For more experts' insights, clients' experience and to download the whitepaper, click the banner #cxreimagine

Posted by: Gerard Brown, Solutions Manager, First Gas (Guest Contributor) | 27 March 2019

Tags: Digital Transformation, customer experience, #CXreimagine

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