Case study: Interim Transformation Director at Northumbrian Water Group

Case study: Interim Transformation Director at Northumbrian Water Group

Terry Noble, Energy & Utilities Consultant at Odgers Interim, speaks to interim transformation expert Tony Martin about his recent assignment at Northumbrian Water Group

The opportunity

Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) has consistently been one of the top performing businesses in its sector with a strong track record. Its success is driven by the organisation’s relentless ambition for constant improvement.

In 2019, the company decided to embark upon a programme of work designed to progressively move the business from being a leader in the water & utilities sector into a renowned company internationally, setting the bar for businesses inside and outside the water industry. The Whole Business Optimisation Programme (WBO) commenced in April 2019 and is planned to continue over the course of AMP7, extending through to 2025. The core objective was to improve business efficiency and effectiveness across the entirety of the organisation through a single-minded focus on international best practice both inside and outside the water industry.

To undertake this significant programme, NWG planned to commission the expertise of a major consulting firm that had global credentials and reach, and a deep understanding of best practice both strategically and in operational implementation. However, NWG felt they also needed a connector; someone who could both integrate themselves into the business and sit on the NWG Executive Leadership Team as well as simultaneously having the distance to be a ‘critical friend’ to objectively manage the various internal and external stakeholders involved in this broad and time critical programme of work.

The candidate

NWG hired Tony Martin to orchestrate and co-ordinate the WBO Programme, working within the organisation whilst being the bridge between the external consultants and NWG. Tony is a deeply experienced interim chief transformation officer/programme director and is highly respected across the many organisations he has worked within. He is well-versed in setting up, running and delivering all aspects of business-critical change programmes.

In a career extending over 30 years, Tony operates at both the most senior levels in organisations, building effective and trusting relationships quickly, but also gets into the very fabric of the organisation to engender and galvanise change. 

For the task at hand, Tony’s breadth of knowledge and experience working across the spectrum of sectors was critical. He has worked for organisations as diverse as The Open University, Network Rail, and National Grid as well as for FTSE 100 and 250 businesses including Diageo, First Group, Severn Trent  and Wincanton, as well as privately owned companies and Private Equity. He has worked extensively and successfully with the Big 4 consulting business’ and many other niche consultancy firms. Furthermore, he has deep international experience including working across Europe, USA, China and Asia Pacific.

The solution

Tony was brought onboard at the very outset of the programme. The first phase involved both a rigorous selection process and the hiring of the transformation consulting partner. It was crucial to ensure the chosen partner had both the capability to deliver what was required but that critically, their approach was a good cultural fit with how NWG operated. This piece of work required the NWG leadership team to consider the relevant sector expertise provided by the consulting firm (NWG were especially interested in taking best practice from the international Oil and Gas industry), the methodology in conducting the work, the experience, leadership and expertise of the proposed team to be deployed and, critically, the appropriately granular scope of work. There needed to be a clear agreement outlining what work needed to be conducted and how it would be approached while also detailing who would do it and by when.

Once the consulting partner was selected and the scope of work finalised, the consultants set aside 6-8 weeks for a diagnostic phase. Tony orchestrated a plan to ‘leave no stone unturned’ in the drive to get a true and accurate understanding of each and every business function. In this time, he and the consultants conducted nearly 100 interviews with members of the NWG senior leadership team amassing a substantial repository of information and insights. The breadth, reach and level of detail amassed was a result of Tony developing strong relationships with key NWG stakeholders from the out-set which in turn led to a highly collaborative joint effort between the consultants and NWG – it was key that the outcome of the work was jointly owned by the consultants and Northumbrian Water. Tony was able to communicate effectively with his internal colleagues to ensure what was needed was understood and this in-turn built trust and resulted in the all participants contributing to the work in an open and transparent manner.

The insights gathered gave all participants (the NWG leadership team and the consultants who were partnered alongside them) a very clear understanding of the current state of the organisation with subsequent analysis – grounded in, and heavily referencing appropriate external benchmarks and best practice - identifying four key opportunities for optimisation: asset management, procurement, customer and back-office. Over the next five months, the combined team went into further detail using appropriate methodologies to refine the opportunities. In doing this, they collectively determined a total of 21 primary programmes of work with a combined optimisation business benefit of many tens of £millions; each benefit area crucially had an NWG Executive sponsor ensuring ongoing ownership within the organisation.

Going forward into implementation in late 2019 and through 2020, the NWG leadership team took full ownership and accountability of the programme with the consulting partners, having successfully delivered their scope of work, progressively transitioning and handing over their accountabilities into the organisation. The fact that strong, constructive relationships had been built between NWG and the consultants made this transition even more seamless and effective.

The NWG team initially determined to prioritise 12 programmes of work for implementation across all areas of the business with others to be initiated at the appropriate time in the AMP. At this stage, Tony and the central programme team – comprising of himself, a programme controls manager and administrative support – were responsible for tracking delivery and reporting on each of the programmes of work. This was supported by a central information repository which allowed for consistent drum beat updates, strong governance, clear communication and transparency for all key stakeholders. Aside from the initial 12 WBO priority programmes, a further 38 in-flight projects and programmes were incorporated into a change roadmap that was updated and reported by directorate in a highly effective two-week cyclical process; this reporting approach with associated Exec dashboards will continue to ensure delivery of business benefit over the course of the AMP.

The outcome

The work Tony lead and delivered has established the foundations and business ownership for a long-running transformation programme which, in a simple and straightforward, highly granular and data driven way, is designed to ensure delivery of real benefits by month and year into the future. As interim transformation director, Tony led the organisation’s initial planning stages, has overseen the detailed design, and initial implementation, has ensured maximum value was derived from key business consulting partners, and has put the processes in place for long-term delivery. All of this whilst also becoming a key and trusted member of the NWG Executive team. Through his transformation expertise, the organisation has not only embraced the programme of work and already seen strong results, but it will continue to build on these well organised foundations by seeking new opportunities for optimisation in the future.

NWG continues to deliver on the transformation programme initially outlined and will do so throughout the AMP7 regulatory period. Last year alone the optimisation work delivered efficiencies in the tens of £millions – with much more planned to come in the next 3 years.

If you would like further information or discuss the content of this article, please contact Terry Noble 


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