What the CIO balancing act looks like to Ovo Energy’s Christina Scott

CIO.com: Can you give us a snapshot of your role and responsibilities as CPTO at Ovo?

Christina Scott: I joined Ovo, the UK’s third largest energy supplier, in September 2021 as chief product and technology officer. In this role, I lead Ovo’s technology, product and data teams, who provide intelligent energy technology solutions as we work towards decarbonising UK homes, an integral part of ‘plan zero’: Ovo’s journey to net zero.

How has your career evolved up to this point?

Before I joined Ovo, I held a number of senior technology roles in media companies including News UK and the FT. I started my career as a mechanical engineer but shifted to technology when I took a job at Accenture. I have mainly focussed on leading companies through digital transition and becoming more data driven.

Amid the attention given to the numerous challenges surrounding energy in the UK, can you tell us about one specific thing you’ve worked on recently that you’re particularly proud of?

As the energy experience becomes increasingly digitised, and our attention turns to fighting the climate crisis, it has never been more important to train people to keep up with the pace of innovation, so I pioneered the launch of the Ovo Tech Academy earlier this year. It’s an apprenticeship programme focused on supporting more people to kickstart a career in software engineering. The apprenticeships are for software developers and they allow the apprentices to learn and earn from day one. Applicants need no previous experience in technology or software engineering, so it opens doors for those with different backgrounds and experiences to join. Every apprentice receives a competitive salary with all training fully paid for by the apprenticeship levy, meaning that they don’t bear any of the programme’s costs, and we hope to expand it to other technology disciplines in the future. I am passionate about bringing new talent into technology roles at a pivotal time for the energy industry.

That is certainly encouraging and addresses the long-term skills issue. So how does it dovetail with other immediate concerns?

Our biggest challenge is to be able to respond fast enough to the rapidly changing market and government demands, while also delivering and focusing on our longer-term goal of decarbonising UK homes. This requires the teams to be flexible, resilient and creative. So having and keeping the right talent to deliver on our exciting mission is critical.

How can CIOs redraw the boundaries around their ever-expanding roles, ensuring they grow and influence the business but not stretch themselves too far?

When I started in technology, it was very much a ‘support’ discipline, often reporting to a COO/CFO, and the focus was on cost optimisation. Over the years, the importance of technology and, therefore, the CIO/CTO role has shifted to be core to a company’s success, becoming more strategic in nature. As this happened, the role increasingly reported to the CEO and had a voice at the top level. There is a danger with this, though, that the technology control becomes a blocker to other disciplines in the company improving. The introduction of a chief digital officer often meant someone owning the digital transformation agenda rather than everyone in the company feeling the need to become more digital. An example is in the data space. Often data warehouses have been built, managed and controlled by the technology teams, which limits the value you can gain. If you can simplify and democratise access to the data, the whole company can use it to drive insight and innovation. At Ovo, we look at creating data steward roles to ensure the health of the data, but federate the data to the business areas.

And finally, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

Do what makes you happy, not what you believe should make you happy. I think there are some narrow definitions of ‘success’, but we’re all individuals and need to be true to ourselves.

CIO, Energy Industry