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Digital technology as a lever for business transformation

James Lawrence and Irène Lopez— February 2020

Dominique Pardo, head of Global IT Services at Total, highlights the pivotal role that digital teams are playing in the energy giant’s metamorphosis.

‘Business transformation’ is a term loosely applied to the ambitions of many large organizations today, when in reality many are doing little more than making tactical adjustments around the edges of their business models. However, if you’re an energy player at the level of Total, the world’s sixth-largest oil and gas company, superficial change is simply not an option.

The French giant, whose sales hit $209 billion in 2018, fully recognizes the business and environmental imperatives that require a dramatic shift away from its traditional carbon-intensive fuel sources towards cleaner, more sustainable energy. And underpinning that fundamental business metamorphosis is a far-reaching digital transformation program.

“The group’s purpose is to provide the cleanest, most affordable energy possible to the largest number of people on the planet,” states Dominique Pardo, president of Total Global IT Services, the company’s 5,000-strong tech subsidiary. “Digital technology is a lever for [business] transformation and we are investing to transform our group.”

This involves supporting a growing focus on developing renewable and low-carbon energy sources, he explains — with each new area of operations the equivalent of absorbing a new business into the existing organization. “For us, our ‘energy transition’ has already begun,” says Pardo. That spans the production of low-carbon electricity from gas, the construction of solar power plants and wind farms, the capture, storage and recovery of CO2, and the creation of natural carbon sinks such as forests or wetlands. “These are major transformations, since we are creating/acquiring new businesses and gradually integrating them,” he says.
Essential forces

None of this could happen without the digital transformation that is happening in parallel, Pardo stresses. “We have made a lot of progress in our digital activities,” he says. “And we are providing all the IT building blocks that are necessary to do this [transformation],” he says. IT may have been an essential component in business for the past half century, but now as a lever for business transformation “it is becoming increasingly essential.”

Pardo cites several major initiatives that are helping to drive the pace of business change. “We have set up a research center that leverages digital technology. We have a program called Refinery 4.0. And “We are creating a ‘digital factory’ as a means to accelerate the spread of digital capabilities within Total’s multiple businesses,” he says.

The challenge with digital is not necessarily a technological one, he emphasizes. The challenge lies in how well the business units can adopt and absorb digital innovation — which is where the digital factory can help. And ultimately, it is a transformation in the way digital is applied that will enable improvements in business performance, he says.

A critical path to making that digital journey successful, explains Pardo, is finding the right balance between legacy systems and the ability to offer game-changing new technologies to the business. “Each generation has seen programs and IT applications that have come into the organization and need to be managed by IT,” he says. “But the leverage comes from the capacity to manage our existing IT while offering users new services — the ability to use technologies such as cloud, the ability to use data platforms, for example, the ability to use DevOps platforms or artificial intelligence.

“People say large organizations are dinosaurs compared to start-ups. But there are heaps of things that can lead to change and leave your people saying, ‘We can do this.’”

However, anyone who has ever attempted to lead a major transformation program within a large multinational like Total, with its 100,000 employees operating in 130 countries, will know that such projects can be fraught with the kinds of challenges that result from corporate inertia and bureaucratic red tape.

Pardo believes that overcoming such issues is less about the technology per se and more about having the right mindset — and that is particularly important for his IT team and how it interacts with the rest of the business. “People say large organizations are dinosaurs when compared to the likes of a dynamic start-up. They say, ‘Shifting them can’t be done,’” he says.

He clearly doesn’t share that opinion. “Of course, large groups have rules: there are HR rules, financial rules, legal rules and a whole framework and structure to respect. But within these rules, there is room for maneuver.”

He gives some examples of simple approaches he has deployed to push the transformation agenda. Hackathons, offsite brainstorms, collaborations with academia and start-ups on building alternative models and roadmaps are open to everyone, he says: “There are heaps of things like this that can lead to change and will leave your people saying, ‘We can do this.’”

First published
February 2020
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About: Dominique Pardo
As president of Global IT Services at Total, Dominique Pardo leads a team of 5,000 IT professionals located around the world — from Houston and Singapore to the energy company’s HQ in Paris. A mathematician by training, Pardo is passionate about the positive impact of digital innovation across all areas of business and society, with his current interests including voice-activation, workplace IT and artificial intelligence. Indeed, he obtained a master’s degree in AI during the technology’s formative years in the early 1980s.

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