I write this blog in my last week at DCC and as I sit at home in circumstances I couldn’t have predicted just three months ago, I’m reflecting on three years of monumental and at times unpredictable change.
I joined DCC in 2017 at a time when interoperable (SMETS2) smart meters had yet to be installed and people were beginning to grapple with how to make the first-generation (SMETS1)meters interoperable. DCC consisted of around 250 London-based folk, with a Capita-owned call centre in Ruddington near Nottingham.
Just after I arrived a note was sent around with thanks from British Gas as the first successful tests were being undertaken, connecting their systems to a smart meter through a SMETS2 comms hub. Our technology team was instrumental in working with them to get these first tentative services up and running. This picture shows the team discussing this at the time, featuring Joan Whitehead , our Chief Operating Officer.
The SMETS1 programme at the time was still wrestling with the concept of how to migrate meters that hadn’t been designed with migration in mind, and a concept test lab was being created at Ibex House, our London office, using one of the kitchen areas.
The Switching Programme had kicked off three months earlier and was in its initial phases of building a business case for Ofgem to create a next-day switching capability.
Wow – what a lot has changed in those three years!
As I sit back and reflect on the period – the laughs, the stress, the difficult meetings and above all the pride -- what strikes me most is how DCC has matured over that period of time into a business with the necessary functions to deliver for its customers and its people.
Some of the history has come in big milestone moments – for example the successful launch of Release 1.3, 1.4 and 2.0 of the Data Services Provider (DSP). When we look back now at Release 2.0 it’s easy to forget the understandable focus of industry on our first major release with live comms hubs on the system. The fact that it went so smoothly is testament to our ability to manage an operational system and communicate with suppliers and customers. There’s always room for improvement, of course, but we really have come a long way since then. So much hard work has gone on to build an operational capability and create a Supply Chain Management function with decisions now much more driven by data than they were three years ago.
The complexity and challenges of bringing so many parties together to build an interoperable network bigger than any previously seen in this country were many and varied; but working with our suppliers and customers, the people at DCC delivered.
One great example of this collaboration was in resolving how electricity meters were interfering with the communications hubs. This problem could have caused huge issues for the roll-out programme, but instead my people got together with counterparts in Operations and Regulations, and worked with them to put in place interim measures to keep the roll-out moving whilst the problem was resolved. When we collaborate like this with suppliers, regulators and the wider industry we can achieve great things for our ultimate customers – consumers paying their energy bills.
DCC’s work to migrate millions of SMETS1 meters – a highly complex task retrofitting hundreds of technology variants to our network – is progressing well, despite the lockdown. The number of meters successfully connected is well into the hundreds of thousands. The programme to enrol and adopt these meters will restore to consumers the full benefits of smart metering, and allow them to switch supplier if they want without losing smart functionality. I saw DCC’s commercial team save our customers millions of pounds through their negotiations with SMETS1 suppliers.
The Switching Programme is also something for the whole industry to be proud of. What we are building for faster switching will revolutionise energy in this country, and we shouldn’t underestimate what impact this will have on people’s day to day lives.
But it’s not only our projects and how we’ve deliver them that have changed. When we opened the DCC office at Preston Brook near Manchester, it was only intended as a call centre. However, staff from analysts and project managers to operational and communication staff came to be located there, and we realised that the site was unsuitable. As a provider of essential national infrastructure, we also needed far better data insight and we saw an opportunity for driving down testing costs and creating a world-class testing facility.
When I took on joint responsibility for finding a new northern office for DCC, we looked around many locations, but Brabazon House in the Concord Business Park stood out. What the project team delivered was staggering: an office location DCC is justly proud of – modern facilities and a world-class Test Lab and Operations Centre that will support the industry for many years to come. Now Ruddington House has been refurbished to the same standards, and Ibex will soon follow suit, giving DCC a set of facilities as good as any company I’ve worked in.
And so to the future. It’s a really exciting time for DCC, with lots of opportunities. The rate of SMETS2 installations is already starting to build again, and SMETS1 is at a point where numbers will start to accelerate rapidly. We are talking with the Government about Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure; the opportunities for reuse of a highly secure network that covers the length and breadth of Great Britain are endless.
As ever, DCC is only as good as its people, and that’s why I think you will go and do many more great things. I’m looking forward to hearing about the start of our first apprenticeship scheme this autumn, and will watch with interest as you move from strength to strength.
It’s been a fantastic three years to be working here, and I’m sure the next chapter will be equally exciting. Stay safe, everyone!
By Ross Catley, Chief Technology Officer