Making technology a natural part of the toolkit 

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Werner Bornman interviewed by James Jeune

Jersey Electricity director of technology Werner Bornman tells Emily Moore why the organisation is committed to finding digital solutions to help individuals and the community to enjoy an enhanced energy lifestyle

In its most simplistic form, the word lifestyle is defined as the way in which a person lives. 

But imagine for a moment just how different our lifestyles would be without technology. Most of us never question whether the lights will come on when we flick the switch or think for a moment, when arranging a work or social event, that those plans could be affected by a power outage. 

But how much more technology can be deployed or developed to further enhance our energy lifestyles while simultaneously helping to lower carbon emissions to aid the environment? 

This is the question which Jersey Electricity director of technology Werner Bornman regularly asks not just himself and his “awesome” team but also the company’s employees, customers and partners. 

Originally from South Africa, Werner has perhaps more experience than most Jersey residents of the way in which power outages can affect people’s lifestyles.  

“In Jersey, it is easy to take our electricity supply for granted and JE’s vision of enabling life’s essentials and inspiring a zero-carbon future may sound relatively straightforward,” he said. “But it is easy to forget that people’s lives depend on a reliable energy supply. Imagine, for example, having sleep apnoea and going to bed at night not knowing whether your oxygen supply will run until the morning.” 

Having joined KMPG in a technology advisory and consulting services role after graduating from university with a degree in technology, Werner moved to Jersey with his wife and two daughters in 2019 to take up a position as a senior leader at JE. 

The executives at JE were acutely aware of how digital would help shape the future of JE, and the support they provide has enabled Werner to deliver on many customer digital and internal improvement systems.   

But even with his love of technology, he had no idea at that stage that, a year Covid would trigger a widespread shift to remote working and, as Werner says, gave people a “new-found appreciation of technology”. 

“Before Covid, a lot of people were given a computer and a keyboard, and told this is how you do your job,” he reflected. “During the pandemic, though, people started to think differently about technology and to see it as a tool of empowerment rather than just something that they had to use to perform a certain task.” 

And that sense of technology empowering individuals is, he says, central to JE’s “multi-faceted” digital approach. 

“We focus on corporate, operational and customer technology,” explained Werner. “But whatever we introduce has to link back to our strategic goals of helping people to reduce their energy consumption, reducing their carbon footprint, empowering people to make more informed decisions and reducing our operational costs. By measuring everything against those guide rails, we select technology which will support our projects and, ultimately, benefit both customers and the environment.” 

“Whether we are talking about solar, nuclear or locally-produced energy, the question is always how do we get it to the customer more efficiently, effectively and cleanly, so that we can serve the community better,” he said. 

And while that continues to be a core part of the energy firm’s commitment to supporting the government’s Carbon Neutral Roadmap, JE’s activity extends beyond that. 

“We really do focus on every end of the value chain, from the top end where, for example, we own the biggest solar installations in the Channel Islands, through to the end user, customers, where we have developed a mobile app to help people to understand why they are using so much energy and identify ways to reduce that consumption,” he said. 

To support that goal, the company’s Energy Solutions team has recently launched the thermal imaging camera loan scheme to customers to enable them to assess heat loss in properties, so that they can take remedial action. 

“I don’t think many energy companies encourage their customers to use less energy and reduce their bills but this is an integral part of our commitment to doing the right thing for the community and our customers,” said Werner.  

It is a commitment which has also won the company a number of plaudits. The My JE app won the sustainability award at Digital Jersey’s TechAwards in 2021, while Werner was named Leader of the Year at the same event this year. And last month, JE beat the likes of Octopus and British Gas to take home the Best Consumer Proposition award for the utility and energy sectors at the Electric Vehicle Innovation and Excellence Awards for its home electric vehicle charging offering. 

Werner Bornman

“EV charging has been a huge focus for us this year, working on having the best technology in place to support drivers as they switch to electric transport, and we completed a significant infrastructure project to upgrade the public EV charging network, Evolve, last summer,” explains Werner. “Not only was the project significant because of the enhanced service it offers the public but it also really demonstrated the culture within JE. It would have been easy to think that this was a piece of work to replace chargers but, in fact, every single team was involved in some capacity. 

“The enhancements to the EV public-charging platform were designed to make seamless charging solutions a reality. Previously, if you had taken your car to France or the UK, you had to download multiple apps or use your credit card to pay for your overseas charging. Now, you can just use your Evolve app. This a demonstrable example of how, as an energy company, we can introduce technology to enhance people’s lifestyles.” 

And the charging facilities for EV drivers are just one of the areas in which Werner and his team are planning to deliver further improvements over the next year or two. 

“We have a multi-year programme of initiatives that we will be running to make life easier both for our employees and customers,” he said. “With the My JE app, for example, we have new features planned for deployment regularly over the next two years. The first of these to come out is a customised energy adviser, which will monitor your energy consumption in different areas and give you a list of recommendations to help you reduce your usage further.” 

Meanwhile, a new enterprise asset and workforce management system, designed to “give the right data to the right people at the right time” played a crucial role, Werner says, in the recovery process from Storm Ciarán. 

“The first priority was ensuring that all our staff were ok and then mobilising and structuring the teams to respond to the difficult situation,” he said. “It was an immense effort for all at JE but what was really heartening for me was the way in people drew on the engrained technology to communicate with people in the field and identify the work that needed to be done and the fixes applied. 

“In that situation, no one told the team to use certain tools or forced the technology onto them; it was a just a natural response and that really demonstrates how, when technology is picked to solve a problem or progress a situation, it becomes a natural part of the toolkit.” 

And it is perhaps for that reason, although he is too modest to say so, that Werner won the Leader of the Year category at this year’s Jersey TechAwards. 

“The traditional way of using technology is that someone tells you what is being used and then trains you to use it,” he commented. “We don’t do that. Instead, we involve everyone in the decisions and the testing. They go through every phase of each project with us, so that it is no longer a technology thing but a cultural thing.” 

Admitting that it had taken a certain degree of “stubbornness” to achieve this breakthrough, Werner says that the benefits have been seen throughout the organisation.  

“Because people have seen the advantages of each project we have introduced, they now buy in to each initiative,” he said. “When I joined JE five years ago, there was a strong appetite to do all sorts of things but people weren’t sure how to go about it. Now they have the platforms to do it and can build their products or services from there.” 

And it is not just for the team that Werner wants to build further seamless products and services. 

“When you go to a shop to buy bread and milk, you select your product, scan and pay for it and walk away. There is no disruption to your lifestyle in that process,” he said. “That same simplicity should apply to your energy consumption, whether that relates to managing your household bills or charging your car. We can already see that our technology is changing people’s behaviours and our role now is to find further ways of delivering that enhanced energy lifestyle for individuals and the community.” 

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