Using data to drive innovation at Centrica

Peter Sueref

By Peter Sueref

Peter talks about his passion for running Centrica's first Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Cardiff Business School.

Big data has changed the world. Algorithms are everywhere. Understanding the vast volumes of data will be what defines successful companies. The most valuable companies in the world are now data companies; Blockbuster, Kodak and Xerox were all market leading before they fell to disruptive, digital businesses that put data first. Within ten years of Blockbuster turning down the purchase of Netflix for $50m, Blockbuster had gone bust and Netflix were offering a million-dollar reward just to improve their recommendation algorithm. It’s a stark illustration that the world has turned digital.

Energy is also changing. Decentralisation, renewables and smart grids are disrupting how we think about, generate and consume energy. Technology is impacting the energy grid in unexpected ways. Battery and solar prices are dropping. Cryptocurrency mining now uses more energy globally than real gold and copper mining. The growth in electric vehicles will change the mix still further.

The pace of change can be intimidating. With the growth of digital services propelling changes to our lifestyles there is more choice and increased expectations on companies from customers, stakeholders and employees. Businesses need to embrace digital innovation to succeed.

At Centrica, we have a growing data science capability and a team that understands the value of data, from our leadership through to our front-line. Using our data is key to us realising and satisfying our customers’ changing needs. Over the last few years we have been embedding data scientists across different functions in our business: HR, Field Operations, Customer Services and Marketing, to name just a few. We have been building deep expertise in both technology and the processes they support.

But we know we can do more which is why we’ve teamed up with Cardiff University. The Business School has conducted academic research into how organisations transform through the development of new technology, how to build digital competency, and the impact on human talent.  It has a great track record working with businesses to create and embed Accelerated Innovation inside the organisation.

We’re delighted to be running Centrica’s first Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Cardiff Business School. The KTP scheme is run by the Government and helps businesses in the UK to innovate and grow by partnering them with universities. Our KTP is about taking the internal innovations we are delivering in data science and elsewhere, and to build new business models that let us speed up the process and scale them. Through this three-year partnership we will deliver a wide range of benefits from new products and services to creating a more entrepreneurial culture inside Centrica.

We have a 200-year history of innovation, highlighted most recently through businesses such as Hive, Local Heroes and Io-Tahoe, and we want to accelerate this even further. By drawing on academic expertise through our KTP and researching, testing and refining our approach to digital innovation, we hope to generate more valuable products and services that can benefit our people, our customers and the energy industry as a whole.