Corina Popescu, Electrica SA: Whoever adapts faster will win

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The Electrica Group’s strategy was to ensure a balance between creating long-term value and maximizing profit for investors. These priorities remain unchanged, said Corina Popescu, CEO of Electrica SA. The current context has accentuated the need to increase the degree of grid automation. It is also essential to develop and adapt the portfolio of services, also because during this period certain consumer behaviors have changed, which could lead to new trends or, at least, to the acceleration of those already in place before.

What solutions did you find to the main crisis of 2020?

We mobilized very quickly and we quickly developed and implemented resilience plans, which include organizational measures adapted to this context, at the level of all companies within the Electrica Group. Our objectives were to provide protective equipment and to create strict rules, designed to provide safety for our employees, partners and customers, so as to ensure the continuity of power supply. Resilience plans have been developed on the basis of evolution scenarios, taking into account both the availability of staff, especially for essential activities, as well as the locations and facilities in which we operate.

In our case, it was a priority to identify solutions designed to ensure the protection of colleagues “in the front line”, whose physical presence is absolutely necessary. Based on clear procedures, we quickly took all necessary measures. Where possible, we implemented the telework regime, and in certain locations, some customer service centers included, we temporarily suspended access during the state of emergency. We have also encouraged the use of digital interaction and digital payment methods and expanded the electronic signature system that allows us, for decision-making and administrative processes, to work efficiently remotely, without significantly affecting support activities. Moreover, tele / video conferencing systems facilitate our interaction, coordination, communication and decision-making processes.

Additionally, in case someone from our team’s or colleagues’ families needs it, we have set up support cells, voluntary help groups, at the level of each county where our operational companies operate and provide the necessary support.

How do you see the future of business, including by maintaining or even expanding the solutions adopted during the crisis?

It is a period full of challenges, but also of opportunities, in which it is essential to succeed in adapting our business to these new conditions. We even managed to accelerate the transformation projects we had been thinking and planning for some time at the level of the entire Group.

The current context has highlighted the need to increase the degree of grid automation, for example, the digitization of processes, the creation of alternative channels of interaction and payment in relation to customers, and the need to provide tools and remote working conditions for our employees.

Throughout this period of health crisis, it is a priority to continue to provide our employees, customers and partners with a safe environment for business, so we constantly monitor the context to limit any potential risks and we will adapt to the reality we face. We have a clear strategy for the coming years by which we prepare the organization to be able to respond to the challenges related to the current context, but also to the legislative changes at European level, an aspect that requires time and resources. But we also need the support of the authorities, especially in terms of the predictability of the regulatory framework, which will stimulate investment and innovation.

How did you avoid losses and risks (health, operational) and what are the investments you are currently considering?

In the field in which we operate, the evolution of technology has also attracted changes in the way we work and we have streamlined a large part of the processes in the distribution and service areas. Next, we need an analysis of new technological solutions, gradual implementation and measurement of the real efficiency they bring to our activity.

We are in the process of digitization, and the current context has not changed our priorities, but it meant a need to concentrate our efforts to accelerate their implementation.

In the case of Electrica, digitalization is a real opportunity to streamline processes, but also performance by automating networks, improving the IT system, reducing consumption and increasing sustainability at the group level and implementing a smart metering system. This need has become even more evident in the context we are going through. Moreover, we need solutions and tools that allow remote work for our employees.

All these represent a priority for us and are already part of the major optimization and efficiency projects that we have implemented at the Group level, on the three main business directions: distribution, supply and services.

We are also proud of the fact that Electrica has become the largest investor in the modernization and refurbishment of power distribution networks, with a total of approximately 4 billion lei invested in recent years. On average, 40% of the value of our investment plans is to support the improvement of the distribution service. For example, last year we managed to improve by 34% the performance indicators that measure the duration of unplanned outages at Group level, which contributed to increasing customer satisfaction.

Beyond the short-term adaptation, how can company departments and operational flows be reorganized?

The Electrica Group’s strategy is to ensure a balance between creating long-term value and maximizing profit for investors.

All the analyzes performed at Group level revealed the need to continue the transformations initiated in recent years, in all our business lines. On the one hand for internal optimization and compliance with regulatory parameters set by the authorities, while ensuring benefits and a higher quality service for consumers and, on the other hand, to prepare the organization to meet current challenges. We continue to develop our business portfolio in both the supply and service areas.

By implementing the current strategy, a very ambitious, consistent and coherent one, we will be able to obtain medium and long term benefits for shareholders, customers and employees, as it will allow us both cost efficiency and accelerate the digitization of major business processes. the current context.

How did you stay close to your customers and partners?

In a period full of uncertainties, we have provided a safe environment for our employees, customers and partners, managing to adapt the business to the new conditions.

It was a team effort. Electrica proved even in this difficult period that it is one of the pillars of the economy, a strategic group, formed by solid companies both from an operational point of view and from a financial point of view. We took responsibility and continued to invest. We have consolidated our status as the largest investor in energy infrastructure, we have initiated the expansion of the value chain of electricity, especially in the area of production from renewable sources, which helps us achieve important synergies and we have accelerated transformation and optimization projects in the Group.

We maintain our confidence and consider that the premises for the activity and results of the Electrica Group are positive. Our goal is to further ensure the sustainable development of the company, we have plans that we believe will bring added value to all stakeholders.

What are the trends you anticipate for the future?

The long-term impact is still difficult to estimate now. It’s a complicated time for everyone, but often vulnerabilities can turn into opportunities. Those who will be able to adapt the fastest to the new context will gain in the long run. For example, accelerating the digitization process has become an absolutely necessary condition. It is also essential to develop and adapt the service portfolio, both according to customer preferences and the national and European regulatory framework and, implicitly, new models and sales channels has to appear. During this period, certain consumption behaviors have changed, which could bring new trends or, at least, the acceleration of those already in place.

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This interview firstly appeared in the printed edition of Energynomics Magazine, issued in October 2020.

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