Jaguar has just reentered the compact luxury saloon market with its XE model and you can now buy the F-Type sports car, while sister company Land Rover continues to sell off-road inspired vehicles with great success. As a result of its growing product range Jaguar Land Rover has become a truly global brand since it split from former owner Ford. CIO Jeremy Vincent joined the Indian-owned British manufacturer when that split occurred and remains at the wheel of the IT strategy.

"It's been hectic," he says with all the energy of the Coventry-based manufacturer's products when asked to sum up the past year.

The XE will be made at a brand-new £2 billion factory in Solihull, incorporating the latest Jaguar Land Rover engine, named Ingenium, which is made in a new £500 million facility in Wolverhampton that has created 1,400 jobs. The company is said to have invested £3.5 billion in its production facilities.

"Jaguar Land Rover is delivering solid financial results and has good sales momentum globally," CEO Ralph Speth has said. "Our manufacturing plants around the world and product launch programmes are on track."

In 2013, Jaguar Land Rover sold more than 425,000 vehicles, an increase of 19%. It is the UK's largest exporter, with the Land Rover arm winning the bulk of the sales. But with the new XE model Jaguar will be hoping to win over small saloon drivers from the traditional choices of Audi and BMW.

"We also have our joint venture in China," Vincent says of the busy time he is had connecting all the new factories.

Since joining Jaguar Land Rover, Vincent has been driving four major transformation programmes at a time that the company has grown significantly. It has been helpful that under new owner Tata capex has been made available for the CIO and the wider organisation.

Jaguar programmes

"The iPLM project aims to automate much of our vehicle design and engineering activity around a single data backbone, allowing seamless integration of vehicle data across the engineering teams. And the OEM operations are being streamlined around a common set of business processes and business data definitions by Turbo, an SAP-enabled programme," Vincent says of two of the biggest programmes in operation.

"We are adding value to the organisation by optimising and reusing our technology platforms, which means we as a department are helping foster standardisation, not just of the factories but also the business operations. Our global sales operation down to our dealerships is being streamlined similarly by a common global business template also enabled by SAP. There is also Guanxi, a customer relationship management programme."

Vincent says that together these transformational programmes will give the company the scale it needs to continue growing globally.

"The iPLM programme began in 2010 and we are halfway through it. It is a long journey as it is also tied in with the new vehicles as legacy models end their production lives," he says of models such as the venerable XK sports tourer and the indestructible Defender and Freelander.

"The Turbo programme integrates islands of data technology and thus drives business data harmonisation and enables the real-time movement of business information across our business. Coupled with SAP business intelligence and our business analytics platform [Project Bollywood], we are putting valuable insight into the hands of our business decision-makers. This allows our technologies to support a much higher volume of business and gives us the global real-time scalability we need.

"It is also driving a much lower IT operating cost as we continuously reduce the number of different applications running on different technologies. All our IT key performance indicators – IT cost per vehicle and IT cost per employee – are improving.

"We have had 17 functionality drops for the new range of vehicles and their warranty processes," he says.

One of Vincent's early strategic moves as part of Jaguar Land Rover's split from its previous owner Ford was to opt for Google email and collaboration tools. This gave him the reputation in some circles as a maverick and pioneer of cloud computing.

"I took our business to Google because it was a great opportunity," he explains. "That move is relatively low-risk, and come December of this year it will have been five years without a hitch. We no longer have discussions about storage, licences, mailboxes and patches. That is a set of problems that has been totally taken away.

"We'll never have everything in the cloud. I have a global private cloud on IBM architecture in its data centre and it has changed the way we deliver IT as a solution. The IT function is like a department of independent developers. All the company can go to an app store and download the applications they need, which are architected and reliable. There is no customisation. You can make suggestions for customisation, though."

Vincent is direct and honest about the scale of change still needed. He readily admits that the six years of change has not always been welcome throughout the organisation. "We are still on the journey of changing perceptions of IT and there will always be supporters and detractors," he says. "Some of my stakeholders say 'I just want a system'. But a system is technology, people and process. We are still mopping up some of the shadow IT, and shadow IT is still being created." Vincent is strong on the need for standardisation.

Notoriously complex

The car sector has been notorious over the years, especially with its products, for failing to exploit the potential for standardisation in the business, which then goes on to create complexity and cost. Anyone who has owned a Jaguar Land Rover product from its pre-Tata era will know the complexities that exist between its models. That same failure to standardise business processes and technology has also existed at Jaguar Land Rover and it's something Vincent says he has had to be strong on in his Coventry career.

"When you make cars all over the world, you are going to have serious complexity. So I have worked on 'invest once and be scalable'. There are people who have not been convinced by that. So I say to them in 10 years from now, if everyone has different systems you will ask the CIO why the business is so complex. It will be because you have a different operating model in every part of the business with different forms of data."

Most advertisements for mobile devices today bear a striking resemblance to the way cars have been marketed for years, while digital technology is increasingly a disruptive force for the car industry as new generations show decreasing interest in cars.

"Who buys a car for its specification? They are bought as a fashion accessory, so we have to be sure about how we compete. We are embracing a lot of social technology in our vehicle launches and learning a lot from the retail and financial services sectors," Vincent says.

The marketing arm of Land Rover in particular has used online video as a powerful way to reinforce the perception of the Land Rover brand as being associated with the outdoors and adventure, either through videos or social campaigns that celebrate the British weather and terrain, which back in a postwar world shaped the first Land Rovers.

"We have two programmes for API and app development that will allow us to drive web services into both our organisation and into the outside world.

"We also plan to develop additional customer services from the telematics technology we are installing into the cars.

"It is a world market with competitors from all parts of the world and it is going to be a fierce competition," he says of the next stage of transformations.

Star of India

Since joining Jaguar Land Rover in 2008 Vincent has also been president of India operations, a job title smiled on by his peers. But it is a serious role and one that again shows the cross-pollination of skills that CIOs offer to organisations and executive teams that appreciate and invest in the CIO role.

"I have been doing the India role for two years, setting up the India operation and pulling together all the pieces for putting us on the path needed when the India market grows," he says of the sales operation and "small manufacturing entity" he has set up in India. Vincent says that in 2012 and 2013 the India role took up a quarter of his time, but is now at the handover stage.

"We have established a good team out there," he says.

Vincent and his department are also involved in building a next-generation team for Jaguar Land Rover with a graduate apprenticeship scheme to help the organisation get over the talent issue it is finding it suffers from. Vincent has been working with the BCS and Brunel University to set up an IT academy.

Jaguar Land Rover CIO Jeremy Vincent