An interview should take place face to face and in the place of work or operations that the CIO is responsible for. Conducting and writing CIO interviews has been the mainstay of my editorial input for the last seven years and remains one of the most pleasant aspects of my role as Editor in Chief. 2014 was as rich in fascinating insights into the business realities, leadership challenges and technology opportunities as any previous year.
Jan, Feb and March
Surrounded by 3D printed models and artist's impressions for the future of the built environment, Barry Smith heads IT for Lord Norman Foster's famed architectural house Foster and Partners. The design company is responsible for the Millau Viaduct in southern France as well as City Hall and a host of stunning buildings and projects. Smith was a fascinating interview, a clear and concise communicator, he opted for Microsoft Office 365 as in a company that is fast paced, project oriented, retaining the user experience the majority of staff are used to is a subtle and more effective transformation that large scale change. Again Smith's clarity was evident in his approach to Shadow IT: "What is shadow IT? It is people, using technology to try to get their job done, and who am I to stand in their way?" Smith's experience of leading in the arctic circle may have something to do this.
Gideon Kay was one of many CIOs we interviewed that during 2014 went on to secure new roles in a year that would see unprecedented levels of movement in CIO recruitment. Kay began the year at scientific organisation LGC where he put the I into the CIO role, integrating every device within laboratories to create a single chain of information, vital in an organisation responsible for forensic evidence. This understanding of connecting and analysing information has seen Kay join the Dentsu Aegis Network global advertising and media organisation that increasingly provides data services to its clients.
This title argues that the CIO should be central to the organisation and its leadership as technology disrupts almost any market sector you care to consider. Manufacturing, particularly car makers, rarely keep pace with change, yet decreasing car usage, social changes to car ownership and more immediately a whole scale move to online retailing are having as much an impact on the motor trade as they are to the supermarkets. Nissan Europe demonstrated to me and the CIO 100 judging panel it clearly understands the need to embrace change, which it demonstrates from its products such as the all electric Nissan Leaf through to the prominent and collaborative role CIO Stephen Kneebone has. Englishman Kneebone sits on the brand leadership team of Nissan.
One of the fascinating aspects of interviewing is to look under the bonnet of the UK's most important car plants or gain a real insight into just how important the animal science sector is to the UK. Keith Hopkinson, CIO of Genus, is a calm, quiet thoughtful CIO, but that calmness has more than a hint of excitement about it when it comes to the potential technology has to offer organisations. Hopkinson is at the forefront of improving the operations and services Genus offers the agricultural world with mobile applications and devices. Having begun working with Microsoft and its unloved Windows 8 operating system, Hopkinson told CIO UK how he and his team started afresh with the Google Android platform.
As high street brand banks continued to suffer embarrassing outages and media fall out in 2014, Matthew Oakeley, CIO of the asset bank Schroders told CIO UK how a major plan in 2005 to completely replace its asset management platform through a major technology investment put the bank good shape to face the credit crisis that has followed.
"With our back office in good shape, IT became all about supporting the growth of our investment business through scalable data systems and platforms," he said in an April interview.
Also in financial services and also stabilising platforms so his team could focus on unique business value in 2014 was James Fairhurst, CIO of growing insurance firm Hastings. Fairhurst took part in the management buy out of Hastings when the previous Australian owners failed to understand the demands of the UK car and home insurance market. He and the wider management team broke down silos and got the business in good shape again, to the point where Goldman Sachs made an impressive investment recently. Fairhurst was instrumental in setting up a Broker Anti-Fraud team that uses real time analytics to credit check customers as they seek an insurance quote, the result, a saving of £70 million.
April, May and June
2014 has, overall been a good year for retailer John Lewis, despite an outage during Black Friday. While the retail sector has struggled with the digital revolution, John Lewis has thrived and as IT Director Paul Coby revealed in our interview, it was the organisation's focus on the needs of online and the systems that support it such as warehouse and order fulfilment that have enabled it to ride the digital wave. Coby is now beginning the process of replacing the ERP used at John Lewis.
The power of information to improve an organisation or its processes is something I and this title are passionate about. Richard Corbridge and his team at the Clinical Research Network is an information process hub for the NHS and the UK medical research economy.Corbridge and his team, which featured later in the year have created an information and data analytics platform using the latest tools to create a bridge that researchers can use to access a wide range of information sets.
Like Corbridge, fellow public sector CIO Sander Kristel at Staffordshire County Council has used the difficulties of the down turn and budget cuts to simplify and mobilise processes for the midlands county he leads business technology for. Kristel has always been strong at having a customer focused view of the CIO role. A series of mobile Apps have enabled
Staffordshire to retain the number of services it offers its community and increase the amount of time the front line workforce is actually out in that community.
Martin Britton has been charting a similar path at Natural Resources Wales, a new single organisation for forestry, fishing, floods, agriculture and the sheer mountains of beauty and power Wales has in its natural environment. Britton, like Kristel is pushing the mobile agenda to enable his workforce to do more in the environment. Microsoft’s 365 tools were chosen due to the easier adoption path it offered a series of organisations going through a merger.
Whichever sector I visited, mobility and what it could offer to improve business processes was a key priority for CIOs. In construction Richard Gifford at Carillion was again devising strategies and partnerships that would enable innovation and mobile access to business processes.
The opportunities of mobility were put into context by the CIO of Nottingham City Council Mark Gannon, who told me not that long ago public sector CIOs were concerned increasing digitisation would cut some parts of the community off, although not an eradicated concern, smartphones and affordable data packages were creating a new demand on CIOs to ensure their mobile strategies met the expectations of today’s citizen and customer.
July, September and October
Over the years of CIO interviewing one thing has become very clear to me, transformation is a group project and the CIO must be a key part of the leadership team. That was abundantly clear at Halfords the outdoor, cycling and motoring retailer. CIO Anna Barsby is clearly a part of a leadership team that sees and is seizing the opportunity to turn Halfords around and certainly recent results demonstrate their plans are working. Halfords, in my opinion, was on the slippery slope Woolworths and Blockbuster found themselves in a few years back. Today, the company is competitive both on the high street and online, where it faces considerable disruption from pure online players like Wiggle.
Barsby has a track record of being a key part of change management teams when organisations most need them and went to Halfords following great successes at Sainsbury’s and Whitbread. Throughout the interview it was clear she has very strong people management and motivations skills and balances securing deals with big secure vendors for standards technology and is now able to begin looking at the opportunities niche vendors can offer.
The Internet of Things will I believe become a major force for change in organisations and therefore strategically important for CIOs. One reason for this is that to a degree it uses existing technology in the form of mobile connectivity and networks. The opportunity for CIOs and their organisations is understand what business outcomes an organisation can deliver from the slew of new information available to it.
Interviewing David Cooper of British Gas was one of those interviews where the knock-on impact to customers, suppliers, policy and business are mind blowing. British Gas is already an internet of things pioneer with its Hive home energy system. But it was talking to Cooper about how an organisation like his could manage the use of appliances and energy so much more efficiently, which in turn could enable the national grid to be better and more cost effectively maintained.
Cooper is also impressive in how he has challenged and changed perceptions of the IT in use and how to be used at British Gas. The adoption of Hadoop and cloud is improving agility across the once state owned business.
It’s one of the pleasures Great Britain is famous for, its glorious gardens, so to interview the CIO responsible for transforming one of the largest collections of gardens, stately homes and grand landscapes on a summer’s day in Gloucestershire was definitely a “good day in the office”
Sarah Flannigan has a challenge on her hands, the National Trust has to preserve the nation’s history, it manages this with a huge volunteer workforce. Despite some good times, the trust and its CIO realise the need to use technology to be more efficient and to engage the next generation of member and volunteer. Flannigan has a youth and energy as well as a sense of fun that is exactly what the organisation needs. She is the instigator of a major transformation plan that is both transformational and respectful of the community it will serve.
November and December
Former number one in the CIO 100 Trevor Didcock updated me on the continued acceleration of transformation at easyJet. Didcock remains a model for the CIO as a broker of the wide range of relationships, needs and suppliers an organisation needs and continues to impress me as a model for what a CIO should be. With easyJet now offering its flights and their dynamic pricing model on the GDS systems that corporate travel agencies use the Luton based airline is in a position to seize an important part of the corporate travel market it previously couldn’t access.
Over the course of 2014 CIO featured three women business technology leaders on the cover. Not because of their gender, but because all three are at the helm of major technology transformations in organisations when they most need a transformative vision and leader. Anna Barsby for Halfords, Sarah Flannigan for the National Trust and Maggie Van’T Hoff for our December profile is head of IT for the retail arm of oil firm Shell. As a retailer Shell is facing all the same challenges as organisations like McDonalds, Tesco or Sainsbury’s, while also looking at a huge opportunity as a convenience retailer, which is on the rise from online grocery shopping. Van’T Hoff, like her leading peers in the pure-retail sector is immersing herself, team and technology in the customer experience.
Thank you to all the CIOs that give up their time to be interviewed and share some great insights with title. I look forward to 2015’s interviews.