Our CIO, Michiel Valk, has been nominated for the CIO of the Year Award!
We are proud of his nomination and believe it’s fair recognition for the vision and drive he brings to Essent.
As part of the run up to the ceremony, Michiel provided an interview in which he shares his vision about IT, and the challenges he faces. You can read it below.
WHAT IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGE ESSENT IS FACING?
We must take new steps toward the energy transition. Recommending appropriate solutions to our customers is crucial. Customer circumstances vary widely; solar panels suit one customer, and insulation another. We must help them keep the bill affordable and take the next step in the energy transition. That is our biggest challenge.
Energy has become such a relevant product, everyone is concerned with it, whether it concerns affordability or more sustainable use. How do we guarantee that customers consistently have accurate insights into their energy consumption? From an IT standpoint, this is a great challenge. Our task is to ensure the correct presentation of data, enriched with meaningful insights, and to maintain its constant availability through our app and website.
WHAT ROLE DO IT, DATA, AND DIGITIZATION PLAY AT ESSENT, AND WHAT IS YOUR VISION ON THIS?
Understanding and empathizing with our customers is essential. We need to resonate with their experiences, challenges, and needs to offer solutions that make a difference in their lives.
Our collaboration extends across various departments to ensure a well-rounded perspective. However, I make it a point to regularly spend time at the call center, listening to customer interactions firsthand. This helps in understanding the challenges faced by our customers and in avoiding assumptions about what is important for them.
We must also ensure optimal connections between colleagues in marketing and operations and those in IT. Ensure you offer everyone the right solutions, rigorously test and improve them, and bring short-cycle successes to solutions that increasingly meet customers’ needs.
I see myself as a ‘Liaison Officer’ who optimally connects IT, the other departments at Essent, and our customers – understanding what they need. I think making that connection is very important. Technology, of course, plays a vital role; you have to ensure that all systems are available and scalable. Ultimately, it is about making digital products as accessible as possible, so that customers have insight into their energy consumption and keep control of it.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
Due to the movement in the energy market, customers started using our app and online environment much more intensively. We initially had some problems with this; we had to ensure the performance remained stable. We have made great strides by completely renewing our technical architecture and working methods, and I am very proud of that.
My IT colleagues really want to understand the next steps in the energy transition. That is why we, instead of being a supporter on the side line, are now at the heart of the organization. This way, we have a good idea of the consequences for our IT roadmap, and confidence in the solutions we as IT offer has grown enormously. I believe you must make technology understandable; ultimately, it is about its application in practice and that the people in the organization embrace it. When you do not understand each other – that’s where the difficulty lies. We want to understand each other, so we avoid developing something technically new and innovative that is ultimately useless to the customer.
We, therefore, work closely with our customer agents. We need to know how they work and think. The IT we offer should not stand in the way of optimal customer service. Understanding the employee experience and customer experience is important. This is becoming more and more part of my role. Bringing these ways of thinking into the IT organization is often underestimated. People saying: ‘Oh, that is something for the business to deal with’ is not something I find correct. As an IT professional, you must understand it yourself too.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE AS A LEADER, AND HOW WILL YOU SOLVE THEM?
The energy market is dynamic and will become even more dynamic. The question is: how do we become even more agile? How can we learn and innovate faster so that development cycles become increasingly shorter? You cannot predict with one hundred percent certainty which technologies, propositions, and products will grow in the energy market. In addition, legislation may change. So we must increase our speed without the quality and availability deteriorating; after all, we are open and available 24/7. I think that is a major challenge.
Technology is complex in some respects; you have to deal with many systems, dependencies, and partners with whom you interact. How can we organize the environment in such a way that we can increase the speed even further? We have a program for this, Accelerate our Future, in which we are taking steps to accelerate further.
DO YOU HAVE ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOUR PEERS?
Make sure that you, as IT, are at the center of the organization. On the one hand, you must understand very well what the needs of all stakeholders are; on the other hand, you must also understand what the market and the customer needs. Take the lead in that. See your colleagues at the business not as internal customers but as colleagues with whom you must get the job done. It’s really about connecting and working together.