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The role of quality assurance in the UK energy sector transformation

Published: 8 Jul 2021

For Ivan Ericsson, Head of Quality Management at engineering and management consultants Expleo UK, treating assurance as a strategic tool, rather than just a box-ticking exercise, is critical to the future of the UK energy sector.

With the UK government’s ambitious target to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, as part of its plan to be net zero by 2050, the energy sector needs to begin the transition to sustainable and affordable energy supplies quickly. 

Ivan Ericsson is Head of Quality Management at Expleo UK, part of the global Expleo group, which works in industries including energy and utilities. He says that to reach these climate goals a combination of high-quality technologies will be needed to accelerate digital transformation and invest in digital solutions to embrace the issue. 

“To reach a transformation of any kind, energy companies must use quality assurance and testing to make sure the new product is efficient and functional, and to catch any issues throughout the process,” he says. “Having real-time, independent quality assurance in place ensures the smooth implementation of high-value digital transformation projects, and enables businesses to reap the benefits – including increased staff productivity and offering new services to customers – of their investment faster.” 

Assurance as a strategic tool

Ericsson says that regarding assurance as a strategic tool, not just a box-ticking exercise, is critical to the future of the UK energy sector. Independent quality assurance can then help support the business, ensuring it adapts to new digital transformation processes and encourages ongoing improvement.

“Expleo worked with the Smart Data Communications Company (Smart DCC) as its independent quality assurance provider, supporting our client in the design, build and test phase of its own new programme,” says Ericsson. “Our team brought understanding of big transformation programmes in the energy and utilities sector, as well as lessons and ideas from other sectors, drawing on delivery programmes that stretch beyond just assurance.”

Having real-time, independent quality assurance in place ensures the smooth implementation of high-value digital transformation projects, and enables businesses to reap the benefits of their investment faster.

Ivan Ericsson

Working collaboratively 

For Ericsson and his team, the vast number of parties to be integrated was a source of complexity on the programme. 

“Each had to interface with a new national system that will process the live data moving forward,” he says. “We collaborated with industry service providers and Smart DCC’s suppliers to ensure systems were functioning, changes were delivered according to timelines, and risks were identified and mitigated.

“Throughout the pandemic, we fostered collaboration and coordination between us and our client to ensure the programme maintained its delivery target. We worked closely as a team, attending regular meetings and giving our independent opinions and feedback every step of the way, with full transparency. 

According to Richard Hilton, Director of Smart DCC’s programme, this was essential for success. “On the assurance service, the transparency feeds the energy in the room,” he says. “There are no unpleasant surprises, because any news in the update reports has already been discussed and actioned in the meetings.”

This approach also minimised the potential for gaps in understanding – which, while appearing small, can have large ramifications if they are a key input into the next activity. The repercussions of these gaps in understanding, Ericsson says, might not show for six months.

“It was important to report any possible problems and make sure we were quick when sharing new information with the client and partners,” he says. “Close communication meant we were able to gain insights in real time. 

“By working in real time, any recommended actions were made pre-assured, which built confidence to act quickly. This meant that necessary fixes were made every step of the way, rather than responding to challenges later down the line when they are harder to fix.

“The right quality assurer will spot issues early, which will help to build trust and increase client confidence. As a result, large innovative projects can be implemented faster and more efficiently. This approach gives the energy company’s customers an improved quality of service, which, in turn, increases client satisfaction.” 

Asking difficult questions

Building trust from a testing and quality perspective means asking difficult questions throughout the process. 

“The goal of a quality partner is to be an independent adviser who fully understands its client’s challenges and culture to best support the activity,” Ericsson says. “That relies on having the freedom to remain impartial, but also the scope to talk to the full range of suppliers. 

“It is more than just providing error reports; it’s about being a second pair of eyes for the client, offering and implementing critical solutions.

“When we worked with Smart DCC, we mobilised our in-house code scanner, which revealed several important technical aspects of the solution that needed improvement. Early identification of these issues saved time and cost further down the line. 

“Remaining impartial is an essential part of an assurer’s role, as it helps to identify genuine areas of improvement and allows the quality assurance team to give accurate, actionable guidance.”

According to Ericsson, there is no reason for businesses to be left behind in digital transformation.

“Having proactive independent quality assurance at the centre of your approach can add value and ensure quality is delivered throughout,” he says. “By making assurance a strategic priority, we can help businesses to operate with speed, confidence and composure, providing them with senior strategic insight that can make a difference day to day.”