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CIO50 2020 #1: Rebecca Chenery, Watercare

  • Name Rebecca Chenery
  • Title Chief digital officer
  • Company Watercare
  • Commenced role December 2017
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 115 staff, 4 direct reports
  • Rebecca Chenery has been leading a cultural and digital transformation of Watercare for nearly three years now.

    Chenery was head of business transformation, when she was appointed as the first chief digital officer at Watercare, reporting to the CEO.

    “Through this digital transformation, the most significant change achieved has been the cultural shift towards agile, collaborative, cross-functional team working across all areas of the business – not just projects delivering digital solutions,” says Chenery.

    She says the various divisions - infrastructure, operations, procurement and human resources - all deliver change using this new way of working.

    “This has fundamentally shifted Watercare’s organisational DNA - leadership styles, culture and ways of communicating, and has moved decision-making closer to the frontline.”

    Watercare’s business transformation was business-led, from the top, from the start - knowing that for real change in mindsets and culture to occur, it needed to be role modelled from the top, says Chenery.

    Watercare’s transformation was underpinned by the Strategic Transformation Programme (STP) which was delivered using a business-led, agile programme methodology. 

    This programme replaced legacy systems across finance, operations, asset management, infrastructure, customer, human resources, and health and safety.

    The legacy information services function has evolved into a new digital organisation, with new and improved capabilities across analytics and insights, digital operations and digital delivery - and, more importantly, a new operating model that is business led, collaborative and flexible.

    Leading a major change programme has highlighted to Chenery the importance of establishing a genuine connection to the business for the digital function.

    “This means building a team and capability that is respected and appreciated by the business as a vital enabler of Watercare’s vision and mission,” she says. 

    “This wasn’t straightforward,” she points out. “An early challenge we had to overcome was to shake the baggage of a very traditional IS function.”

    The perceptions of the IS function were not positive across the business, she says. IS was not represented at the executive team.

    “IS copped the blame for failed projects, with the business quick to point the finger. Projects were not always well run and at times ran over time and budget, further compounding the perception problem. The IS team came to work to do a great job every day but were disheartened by the perceptions of the rest of the business.” 

    “The size of the challenge was not lost on me but I was excited by the opportunity that lay ahead, for our people to be part of something different and to deliver great outcomes for our customers,” says Chenery. 

    The first simple step was to ask our customers - the CEO, executive peers and key stakeholders, what they wanted out of the digital service. 

    “As you would expect, we learned so much from this – that each of the chief’s needs for digital were quite different, some needs were the same, some were realistic, some were a bit ambitious.”

    “The simple act of asking them what they wanted, gave us the understanding we needed to build a digital capability and team that would target these actual business problems, rather than assuming what the business needs.”

    “We then considered what steps needed to tackle the gaps in skills, leadership and coaching capability that they will need as we embarked on digitising our business – and we focus on learning and growing together across our teams.”

    “It all started with listening to our customers, then listening to our people and what they needed to get great at delivering a service.”

    Open to change

    Cognisant about the new challenges in the marketplace, Chenery says Watercare had to transform fast.

    “Customer expectations had increased exponentially,” she says.

    “The demand had never been greater for Watercare to become faster, more adaptive and open to change - to become more focused on the customer rather than solely on engineering and the built environment.”

    The review of their systems also saw that the organisation’s technology stack was aging, and needed to be replaced or upgraded. This represented unpalatable risk to Watercare’s core operations.

    Also critical to Watercare was empowering our people to be able to take fast action via instant insights, accessible wherever they are on any device, says Chenery.

    Implementation of an improved, advanced analytics, modelling and visualisation capability and the establishment of a central data hub was a core foundation of the program and carried the tagline “making data great again”. 

    A team of data scientists formed the core of the team, servicing the data and analytics needs of the delivery squads. Through the Data Hub, data literacy across Watercare was significantly enhanced in an accelerated manner, she says.

    Chenery stresses the importance of regular, proactive engagement of the digital team with the wider organisation. 

    Thus, her team organises a digital transformation showcase, held every six weeks for the last two years, with attendees from all areas of the organisation. These showcases last from three to six hours. 

    Product owners talk about their successes, failures and lessons in an open forum, and this had a lasting effect on Watercare’s willingness to be open about challenges and the need to tackle them, together, says Chenery. 

    In addition, every two weeks, each of the delivery squads holds stakeholder review sessions with the business, to make sure what is being built is fit for purpose.  

    “These practices have fundamentally shifted the culture of Watercare towards one of transparency, openness, celebration and learning,” says Chenery. 

    The team has also organised two Digital Days, with over half of the company attending and more than 40 suppliers of smart technology participating. 

    “Our people have embraced the opportunity to learn from keynote speakers and experience the art of the possible,” says Chenery. 

    “Digital Day is a thought provoking, experiential opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of our people and get them thinking about how technology and data could change their jobs and improve outcomes for our customers.”

    She also organised the first Action 2030 Symposium - a two-day conference using design thinking to tackle major challenges like digital disruption, leadership in an uncertain era, resilience, individual wellbeing and sustainability.  

    “These activities have a marked positive impact on Watercare’s brand perception as a modern, digitally savvy and future-thinking organisation.”

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