Veolia Water Technologies (VWT) is a subsidiary of global environmental company Veolia group and the world’s leading specialist in utility solutions for water treatment. Here, VWT’s Laurent Pulce talks about how the chief information officer (CIO) role has changed in his 20 years with the firm.
You’ve been leading VWT’s IT function for two decades. How has the CIO role evolved in that time?
I’m going to be honest. Around 2013, I started to feel a bit bored by the CIO role. It seemed like I had done everything that could be done, and the job wasn’t so exciting anymore. Then, in 2014, we started paying attention to the cloud and watching what companies like GE, Siemens, and Schneider Electric were doing.
It required every solution provider to revisit the application landscape completely, switching from an on-premise to a pay-as-you-go model. This was a game-changer.
A lot has been written about CIOs moving up the ladder in terms of strategic importance. Is that happening at VWT?
At the beginning of my career, information technology was seen as a capex consumer and sat under the CFO's remit. But progressively, we moved more and more under operations, and now I report directly to the CEO.
That means when I speak, it’s not just IT’s voice, but a voice heard by an exco member.
How does IT now contribute to revenue—how has that changed?
In the past, we had a very powerful but also a very complex on-premise system for utility clients. It could be painful to install and secure at each plant and required significant upfront expenditure.
As more and more of our solution backend moved to the cloud, we were able to offer clients the same functionality, but as a pay-as-you-go service. That meant we could make our solution available on a trial basis and take advantage of flexible computing costs that were more aligned to our revenues. In other words, we were only paying for the cloud capacity we needed at any given time.
What would you say the success factors were for VWT as you made the journey to the cloud while becoming a digital solutions provider?
I believe our transition was very smooth. Of course, it was important to have a road map, but overall, we had to strike a balance between moving too fast and moving too slow.
In some ways, for Veolia Water Technologies, the change was drastic—we were one of the first in France to move to Google for mail, for example. But in hindsight, I’d say it’s been a big success.
That’s not to say it was all a fairytale. There was a lot of fear initially, and people instinctively don’t like change. With the pandemic, I think the penny finally dropped for everyone. We realized that having everything in the cloud meant working remotely would actually be a pretty simple shift.
What will the CIO role look like in a decade?
I think that in the future, the CIO position, or the title as we use it now, will disappear. Ten years ago, it was powerful to be the only person in the business who understood technology. Now, more or less everyone understands, for example, what an API is, how it’s used, and what its business value is.
In the future, it may be that we need specialists for things like cybersecurity. Still, as we collaborate more, the fences between roles like CIO, CTO and CDO are already disappearing.