Motor Oil Group chief information officer (CIO) Nick Giannakakis believes the role of the CIO is to be the “custodian of digital transformation”.

The former chief technology officer at British American Tobacco (BAT), Giannakakis joined the €9.5bn revenue Greece-based energy conglomerate at the start of 2020, sitting on its executive management team, the first time the organisation had a group CIO role.

Operating in the south-east area of Europe, Motor Oil started as an oil and gas business, and its Corinth refinery is the second-largest in Europe. It is now an end-to-end energy business as one of the biggest retailers in the region; with more than 1,300 convenience stores it sells direct to the consumer through brands like Cyclon and Coral Gas, renamed after the acquisition in 2010 of all of Shell‘s downstream operations in Greece.

Speaking with NS Media Group, Giannakakis explains that the group – 47.4% owned by the prominent Greek Vardinogiannis family through a holding company and the rest of its shares listed on the Athens Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange – also has a media business and direct-to-consumer utility business, while a small bank was also recently added to its portfolio.

“Motor Oil is a group with more than 50 years of history,” Giannakakis says, adding that after a successful period of expansion and growth the leadership started thinking about its approach to technology.

“There was no role as group CIO, although everyone on the executive management understood technology as playing a very significant role in the expansion of the group. There was an assessment from a third party about the need for a CIO based on the company aspirations, and the outcome was to establish the CIO role as part of the executive leadership team.”

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Digital transformation custodian

Giannakakis describes his CIO remit as being the interpreter and defender of the energy conglomerate’s digital ambitions, helping transform its current operations, focusing on a better experience, and embedding digital DNA in what was a traditional oil and gas business founded in 1970.

“Everyone understands that the energy industry is on the verge of transformation,” he says. “Therefore the role of the CIO is – nothing more, nothing less – the custodian of this digital transformation. As part of the remit of the role the CIO needs to be able to interpret and defend the digital ambition of Motor Oil Group.”

To transform its current operations and help create new business models, Giannakakis said it was his role as CIO to introduce some new terminology and methodology.

“You need the CIO to be able to get the strategy, interpret to actionable items, and introduce for the first time in our group terms like ‘agility’ and ‘design thinking’, ”he says. “And at the end of the day to be able to impose on the organisation – this very successful organisation – a digital DNA.”

Giannakakis has been in the role for six months as group CIO at Motor Oil, and describes the combination of Covid-19 and the oil price war, which has seen a steep fall in prices, as a “double jeopardy” of challenging events facing the organisation and the industry.

The response has been to accelerate digital working initiatives, which has seen a significant increase in adoption across its head office, manufacturing and retail environments, with the Motor Oil Group board chaired by billionaire oil and shipping magnate Vardis Vardinogiannis meeting remotely for the first time.

“I think it is in our nature to be able to adapt,” Giannakakis says. “I have seen people that in the beginning were never used to digital technologies not only be able to perform well, but also to thrive.”

In the retail space, Giannakakis says that despite the crisis Motor Oil did not halt its capital expenditure investments. Instead it was forced to prioritise.

For the CIO, this involved the customer experience and programmes that focus on a return on their technology investments.

“Because we are in convenience retail, we have to fight for the time of the customer – the time they arrive in the petrol station and the minutes they spend there,” Giannakakis says, adding that the advent of plug-in electric vehicles will completely transform the traditional petrol station.

Renewables and digital twins

“I hate to use that motto that a crisis is not just a challenge but also an opportunity, but in our case we have seen some very interesting movement,” Giannakakis says, noting that while pure gas sales have reduced there has been a significant increase in non-fuel retail and its e-commerce platform, to the extent Motor Oil has begun a relationship with three courier partners to handle the overall volume of transactions.

“Independent of the Covid situation or the oil price war, our business today is facing a significant transformation curve,” Giannakakis says. “CO2 reduction and electrical vehicles will transform the overall petrol station experience.

“It will force us to focus on personalisation, frictionless experience, and other opportunities like blockchain or other platforms.”

Giannakakis says that energy companies need to follow the innovation curve and focus on investing in renewables, while also looking at improving the current manufacturing and oil refinery process.

“We have to follow that curve,” he says. “We are focusing on what we call the digital refinery; we have our North Star, which for us is the digital twin.”

Giannakakis cites Norwegian energy giant Equinor and its CIO Åshild Hanna Larsen, recognised as Europe’s leading CIO in a 2019 initiative, as industry leaders.

“Equinor for us is one of the North Stars – if you see how they develop their digital twin, it is amazing,” Giannakakis says. “I was quite happy to see this kind of movement from a traditional organisation.

“At the same time we are heavily investing in renewables, and we have to see how we can apply technology to the renewable industry.”

Edge computing and prescriptive analytics

Giannakakis worked at BAT for seven years, Swiss luxury manufacturer and retailer Richemont for three years, and Coca-Cola for six years.

Now at energy conglomerate Motor Oil, he notes edge computing and prescriptive analytics as some of the emerging technology set to have a big impact on the sector, and beyond.

“Being part of an organisation with very heavy manufacturing, I am starting to be impressed by edge computing,” he says. “I think edge computing is going to transform heavy industry organisations; it is definitely a game changer for all the big heavy industries.

“I am also seeing that prescriptive analytics is a really a game changer. I have seen more companies take the last step from predictive to prescriptive,” he said of being able to go beyond anticipating what is likely to happen, to deploying the technologies now suggesting the best courses of action to take.

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