The most effective IT leaders are those who can bring more to the table than an understanding of enterprise technology; in fact, it’s becoming more important than ever for the IT leader to be truly versed in all aspects of the business. Marie Mouchet, CIO of Southern Company Operations and Southern Nuclear, embodies such an executive. In her three decades with the company, she’s crossed into several roles, building a foundation from which she can contribute meaningfully through IT.
Mouchet has carved a mazelike path through Southern Company that’s taken her through numerous departments and subsidiaries. She’s worked in rate and economic services, PR, marketing, and more. She’s conducted consumer research, edited annual reports, coordinated public events, developed marketing campaigns, written testimony for executives, and created internal programs.
That varied experience, according to Mouchet, provides unique insights that those without a similar background lack. “Throughout my career, in all these roles and businesses, I was an IT customer,” she says. “I understand how business partners use technology and can anticipate their needs, which helped the IT organization further develop on the strong relationships across the enterprise. My background and experiences gave me credibility, because I was a business leader who is now a leader in IT.”
Admittedly, Mouchet encountered a bit of a learning curve when she stepped into the CIO role in 2003. “I had to be willing to ask questions,” she says. “I couldn’t assume that I know the technical side like my IT colleagues, but I’ve always believed in learning on the job.” Mouchet’s group is closely aligned to its business partners, which is critical to making their relationship work. She scours the talent pool for skilled technicians and then leverages her acute knowledge of the business to guide them in producing the tools and solutions that move Southern Company forward.
Vogtle Nuclear Plant’s TECHNOLOGY Road Map
Georgia’s electrical demand is expected to increase nearly 30 percent over the next fifteen years. To accommodate, a Southern Company subsidiary is expanding from two to four nuclear power plants with Vogtle 3 (shown here) and Vogtle 4. Mouchet lays out her technology framework for the $10 billion capital project.
1) Interviews: Mouchet’s team interviews functional heads of nuclear divisions to identify and understand technology needs across areas, including chemistry, physics, maintenance, operations, and engineering; then they define efficient processes.
2) Planning: A dynamic and flexible plan is developed using existing fleet systems and emerging technologies.
3) Milestones: Project milestones for construction and operations are established with on-site IT teams.
4) Model: A technology governance model is created. The team builds business cases and presents cost estimates, options, and recommendations; sets budgets; stays up to date with changes in the construction schedule and emerging tech; and develops and installs applications.
5) Final planning and implementation: The team develops all plans with considerations for compliance, regulation, and cybersecurity.
Mouchet believes so strongly in creating a business-minded team that she’s changed her hiring practices accordingly. Instead of zeroing in on technical skills, she looks
for a blend of “technical experts and good business minds.” At each stage in her career, and with each role, Mouchet has learned to recognize which skills are critical for success and how to go about finding those skills.
Mouchet has also learned the importance of relationships, no matter the division. “When I served as a liaison at the public service commission, I had to build bonds with many different parties, and I carried the importance of creating these networks to other parts of my career,” she says. In leading her teams, Mouchet promotes this idea of collaboration, knowing that she’s likely to work with the same people again and again.
In early 2014, Mouchet found the opportunity to restructure her team after several leaders accepted promotions into other business groups. “We looked at where Southern Company is going in the next three to five years and asked ourselves, ‘What does this mean to us? What kind of people do we need to keep us energized, fresh, and help us gain efficiencies?’” she says. Today, many of Mouchet’s direct reports are new. She’s updated her organization’s structure to take IT into the future, aligning with business partners as they evolve. Some of the changes include a new commercial operations services group, a dedicated cybersecurity team, and a portfolio of applications that are shared across the company’s operations and nuclear businesses—all with a focus on diversity to bring different points of view to the table.
Together, the new team is supporting Southern Company’s generation business for its seventeen power plants. Additionally, they support the transmission business and unregulated generation operations. Major projects include tech solutions and infrastructure for the United States’ first nuclear power plant in thirty years—the nation’s first digital nuclear facility. A similar effort is underway to support the construction and operations of the company’s twenty-first-century coal plant located in Kemper County, Mississippi.
As Mouchet leads these and other substantial tech projects, she’s using her status as an IT outsider as a strength. “Our business is to serve customers with reliable and affordable energy,” she says. “IT is aligned with the groups that generate and transmit the electricity to more than 4.4 million customers. Tech is vital to all of our business units, and the IT professionals on my team can connect the dots through the organization to see how tech drives it all.” Mouchet has seen Southern Company from many angles, and says there’s no better place to be than in IT.