Head of innovation strategy at utility EDF, this forty-something AI specialist is working to bridge the gap between business goals and technological solutions. This cooperative role requires a healthy dose of agility from Aude, a former French team-acrobatic gymnastics champion.
Exploring innovative services for heavy equipment like construction plant and trucks, or opening up new possibilities in agriculture, for example by supporting a start-up like agronomic modelling and artificial intelligence specialist ITK, are just some of the ways in which Aude Vinzerich is working to accelerate the development of net-zero solutions. Appointed in July 2021, the new EDF group innovation strategy director has a jam-packed roadmap to implement.
Outlined in January 2022, the utility’s innovation strategy follows 14 different topics based on 6 priorities, which have not yet been made public. “The EDF innovation team includes 50 people. We chose to work with a reduced number of topics so that we could commit fully to them,” explains Aude.
“Our social foresight capabilities help us to spot emerging issues that might be in keeping with the Group’s key areas of focus and priorities.”
Every three months, the Group’s innovation executive board meets to decide if a particular topic should be pursued or a particular new project supported. “To do this, we draw on our social foresight capabilities which help us to spot emerging issues that might be in keeping with the Group’s key areas of focus and priorities,” she points out.
Marrying up technologies and use cases
The role of Aude Vinzerich and her team is twofold: to identify promising topics for the Group in the medium to long term, and to play a coordination role in engaging the growth business lines linked to the topics selected by the Group and in mobilising the right innovation resources for each project. Several such resources have been deployed in the field of agriculture for example: EDF Pulse Design is involved in ecosystem modelling and opening up opportunities for business lines; the innovation strategy team brings a strategic innovation-oriented vision on various segments of the agricultural sector; and of course EDF Pulse Ventures flagged the ITK start-up for investment.
The principle underpinning all of these projects, whose deployment can vary from three to ten years, is that technologies and use cases must go hand in hand. This blend of science and behaviour is at the very heart of Aude Vinzerich’s engagement and training. “During my studies, I had a really hard time choosing between my interest in mathematics and my liking for human sciences, so I opted for a double degree based around linguistics, logic and computer science,” she explains. “I enjoy the in-depth reflection on humans that you get with language and cognitive sciences, but I also need a framework in which to test real-world applications using mathematics, logic and computer science.” This choice steered her towards a PhD in artificial intelligence and natural language processing.
Aude, who would not describe herself as a geek, sees technology only as “a means to serve humans.” On completion of her studies, with two paths to choose from – public research or business – she took the second option, determined to tackle the real world.
“I started off working in an IT consultancy called Telys so that I could carry out a variety of tasks in different industries and get an idea of what I wanted to do.” Her various assignments, including one for EDF, led her to discover the energy sector. “It inspires me as it’s not just connected to the environment and humans, due to its essential value, but also to resource management. The main stake in this respect is to know how to pursue electrification while at the same time decarbonising. Finally, EDF’s human values match my own.”
Having joined EDF in late 2010 to deal with the works council’s leave management system, Aude Vinzerich progresses quickly within the Group, moving from IT consultant to manager of the artificial intelligence for IT operations team then AI programme director. In her new role as innovation strategy director, she is working on an area that is particularly close to her heart: bridging the gap between business goals, client aspirations and technology.
The cooperative nature of this work requires a great deal of agility and skills like risk taking, openness to other cultures, ability to step outside of one’s comfort zone and quick decision-making. These are all talents that the former French team-acrobatic gymnastics champion has been developing throughout her career and that she will continue to cultivate through her commitment to the Innovation Makers Alliance (IMA), the ActuIA journal and the Bureau as JFD ambassador for the Margaret Awards which recognise “women in digital technology”.
And let’s not forget the year-long round-the-world trip with her family, involving more than 1,500km of trekking alongside her two children of 5 and 7, which taught her to adapt and to “put things into perspective.” Aude Vinzerich is not one to be fazed by challenges; indeed her next exploit will be learning to play the piano.