The Internet of Things (IoT) has put firms like Tesla and British Gas’ IT at the core of the business. But with investments in technology and staff comes a fear that employees may leave with trade secrets.

Tesla’s IT is entirely in-house, an easier feat for a relatively new company, but when CIO Jay Vijayan took to the helm two years ago it had to be ramped up fast.

Vijayan replaced Tesla’s SAP ERP with a bespoke model and the infrastructure to produce one the best-selling and most connected electric cars on the luxury market within four months.

Tesla now has over 200 IT staff who develop all internal and customer-facing applications to drive efficiency on the factory floor, right down to releasing through-the-air updates to software installed in customer’s cars.

While speaking at the Gartner Symposium in Barcelona last week, Vijayan was quizzed on retaining the talent Tesla invests heavily in.

“We are doing some pretty interesting things to mitigate the risk”, he said.

Tesla rotate development leads every six months to a year, for each module to boost quality and learning.

“If a development lead says OK, no-one can work on the module as I’m the only one who knows the IT, then they fail…anybody should be able to work with a fundamental understanding of C# on the module”

“It keeps them interested, he added.”

British Gas may be in an entirely different industry, but it too is releasing innovative products developed within the IT team.

The 200-year-old gas company’s smart-metre Hive is sold in Apple stores, competing with venture capital-backed West Coast startups.

Hive allows customers to analyse, control and reduce their energy usage in the home. It is still outselling its competitor and Google’s latest purchase, Nest, Cooper said during the conference.

Since CIO David Cooper took over the UK utility three years ago, IT has reduced its capital investment by 45 percent but “delivers digitally more value to our business”, Cooper said.

Since taking up his role Cooper has been steering the company through a ‘digital transformation’, including telephony, migrating to new CRM systems and pooling the legacy data in a useable format.

Allowing IT staff to be creative was key to future-proofing and creating sustainable architecture, Cooper said.

“One of the biggest challenges I have faced is empowering people. All human beings come to work to do a great job.”

Development teams were given Raspberry Pis and told to “see how creative you can be”, Cooper said.

One team created a Hadoop distributed file system, which swiftly became the prototype to solve British Gas’ data problem. It has now been scaled into datacentres.

“It just shows you what you can do when you set people free” he added.

The firm is cutting back on software purchases and breaking free from vendors has not only cut costs but boosted morale amongst staff.

“A lot of our innovation has come from challenging people and setting them free. We use much more open source software than ever before with open source material and operating systems and Hadoop.

“Therefore you are building on the shoulders of the innovation done globally."

British Gas is following the footsteps of leaner startup companies.

“We consciously look to see what social media companies do. The technology they are using can definitely deal with my volumes of data – and they can get me there at a much lower cost.”

This has been a popular decision amongst IT employees.

People love working for us, suddenly they feel empowered and they feel they are listened to.”

As the trend to re-internalise apps pans out, companies will have to think of novel ways to engage their staff.

Tesla’s Vijayan adds “There is a little bit of exaggerated fear among people because we developed in house, what happens if it leaves. You just have to keep them interested - so far we have had no problems.” 

Image credit: Adam Przewoski