Tim Jones likes to celebrate failure – as long as it's small and manageable and the people involved learn from it. He's also a huge fan of open source and mobile-focused development for Moneysupermarket.
Group CIO Moneysupermarket.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other executive boards do you sit on?
Group executive management board.
Does your organisation have a CDO?
What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
I'm head of product for mobile apps, building out the customer proposition, business cases, user experience, P&L, and execution of the portfolio of customer-facing consumer apps on iOS and Android for our more than 20 million registered users.
I'm also responsible for group transformation, leading the agenda in terms of ways of working for all employees across the group. Focus on innovation, speed to market and customer-centricity throughout all touch points with the customer.
How many employees does your organisation have?
How many users does your department supply services to?
26 million. With consumer-facing digital business, all systems have to scale to tens of millions of customers. We have 50+ complex financial services products from 1,000+ suppliers and partners.
How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
On an operational level, we have in the last 12 months established a new platform and BI capability to understand the key metrics on which the business trades daily. My team now has self-service insight on product trading and customer engagement and activity in near real time. Our decisions on a weekly basis are based on that insight. As a digital company the majority of our performance and hypothesis can be tested through very granular data.
On a business proposition level, I meet with the MDs of the group companies and fellow members of the group executive monthly to review their challenges and opportunities. This is reflected in a set of plans that cover the year, but reach only as far out as a quarter in firmed up deliverables, to enable the team to pivot on their initiatives. This is backed up by product and market performance insight and our own analytics on how customers engage with our brands, products, services and user experiences. We supplement that by lots of MVT experiments and lab environments for qualitative testing of our current and proposed future products and services.
On a strategic level I work very closely with our head of strategy, chief product officer, MDs and board to maintain an aligned three-year business, product, data and technology strategy. This is through regular product and opportunity reviews, quarterly strategy reviews and annual strategic planning.
In addition to that I and my direct reports spend time each couple of weeks in our call centre listening to how people find working with our products and services.
I also meet with my peers in our panel of providers. So the CIOs of our key bank, insurance and energy companies are on my regular meeting list. This is used to help identify what I can do to help them grow their business by improving tech and capabilities within our group of companies – for example, by reducing fraud.
Moneysupermarket technology strategy and agenda
Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
I led the conceptualisation and launch of Autotrader.co.uk. This is cited by a number of business schools as the most successful migration from print to online of any publisher globally. The launch was deliberately set up to compete directly with its print cousin, cannibalising its traditional revenues and establishing one of the most profitable online businesses in the UK. This transformation took various stages:
1. The launch of the website and its sales force and technology capability. I personally led that project.
2. The switch to reverse publishing, by driving the content of the print publications from the online content acquisition tools on desktop and mobile app to improve customer service and reduce the costs of the print product. This initiative won the MCA Gold award in 2011 for saving over £40m annualised through technology in 12 weeks. I personally led that programme.
3. Finally the closure of the magazine business in 2013 and the completion of the journey to create a UK online business worth £2bn and an EBITDA of over £150m on a turnover of £200m. I led the reengineering of all the customer- facing tools and technology to facilitate that final step before I joined Moneysupermarket.
I have the final magazine on my wall at home.
What major transformation project has been recently completed, or is underway at your organisation?
In 2014 we have been replatforming all of the core systems within both Moneysupermarket and Travelsupermarket; that is over 200 systems being migrated to new cloud-based solutions in 24 months.
What I am the most impressed with is our M Cloud. This is a set of code and technologies that allows Moneysupermarket to become the first UK FCA-regulated business to be wholly hosted in the public cloud.
What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
The M Cloud is IaaS-agnostic, allowing us to launch services on any number of cloud platforms. Every non-production server is destroyed every night (we call them phoenix servers) and rebuilt through our version-controlled docker containers every morning. We can also do this with production, although that isn't a great idea with a 24/7 website! We are starting to implement auto-scaling to launch new web, service and database nodes.
Over the last 12 months we have doubled our development capability through nearshore partners to over 300 development staff. To maximise the investment, we needed to ensure that building whole environments of tens or hundreds of servers would take minutes not weeks/months.
In talking to a number of large cloud vendors we are confident that this is transformative given the combinations of technologies employed and how they have been put together. It's a world-class capability and will transform all the brands in our group. An early example was a zero-day exploit of a component of various variants of Linux. Amazon informed us we would have to rebuild all our servers on a new patched version of the operating system, but the services had to be rebooted to move them onto Amazon hosts that also had been patched. We migrated all 1,000+ servers in just over an hour, including production and databases.
In addition to the capability benefits, there are hard cost benefits of over £2m a year in reduced operating costs.
How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
I always seek to encourage my teams to make brave decisions and seek to do things that others deem impossible. There were many challenges here, technical, compliance, legal, security.
The initiative was proven through running internal hackathons with the infrastructure teams to prove the different technologies we should back. This has been entirely led by the teams themselves, with support and encouragement from myself and my management team. They felt comfortable that we encourage experimentation and allow people to fail with a safety net. Failure is actively encouraged providing we fail fast and often (so that the failures are small and manageable) and we all learn from the experience.
What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
Public and hybrid cloud technologies, but most importantly the new breed of use cases with very high levels of automation driven through establishing CD/CI and devops at the core of the engineering function (Rightscale, Jenkins, GitHub). These form the base, with a variety of open source tech – Kafka, Solr, RabbitMQ, MongoDB, etc. This is an entire migration to open source and cloud from a strongly enterprise stack of .net, SQL Server, Abinitio, Windows Server, etc.
If you look beyond the obvious things like big data and cloud, the next few years will really see APIs come to the fore. This will allow capabilities from various parts of your own organisation to be mashed together with data and services served by APIs from your suppliers, partners and the open internet. It will give the ability to create whole new customer propositions and services quickly, easily and securely. In the last year we have taken one particular API (hosted in the cloud, powered by big data) and used it across web, mobile, app and integration into our partner websites, giving real-time indicative motor quotes for millions of consumers.
This position on APIs will build further when we consider the APIs that will be provided by the vendors of IoT devices – for example, using your Nest thermostat to understand your energy usage, or how often you are at home to provide risk data points for home insurance.
Are you increasing the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
When I joined the company 18 months ago, there were over 500 different databases and data marts. It was incredibly difficult to understand who were our customers, how they interact with our business and what products they engage with and ultimately buy. By the end of 2015 we will complete our 18-month programme to create a single big data solution with one single view of every customer, their data and every interaction with our business in near real time. This will be based on various proprietary web services and message queues capturing data and using it to hydrate a data mart for analysis, insight, R&D, etc. But there will also be an operational datastore that will drive product and content personalisation. This solution not only needs to handle large amounts of detailed structured data but also ingest it in real time and handle large query complexity and volumes in seconds.
We are using Vertica as a database technology and combining that with auto-scale cloud platforms (M Cloud) that will allow for burst capacities where needed on demand. This is supported by commercial licensing that supports increases in compute power with no cost implications to the organisation.
How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
Mobile is key to our engagement with customers as more and more consumers are using mobile as part of their buying cycle. Formerly they used mobile mainly for information gathering, but more and more they use it to transact. Clearly online retail, social media and entertainment are the areas that are changing consumers' attitude to use of mobile, but these lead verticals are starting to influence financial services, with many fintech initiatives being mobile-orientated in 2014.
We very much see mobile as how we will keep people informed about how they can get organised about their finances, keep on top of things they need to do, and how much money they have in their budget and in their accounts. The need to save and grow money are boring tasks that are great to sort during dead time on a commute, rather than during the valuable time you have with friends and family. Our biggest challenges with mobile today are that once we introduce a customer to another financial services organisation, they are not equipped to transact with that customer over mobile, providing a poor experience for our customers. We work very closely with our providers to help them on this journey.
Social media is a revolution but less impactful in personal finance. Many people are not as keen to share their financial circumstances as their travel, say. We see a great opportunity with social to help people to discuss and plan their holidays with members of their family and social circles.
For operations we engage with customers directly across Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
I have a pretty clear view on shadow IT. In the main I think it only really becomes an issue if the technology team are not engaging meaningfully and frequently with the non-IT teams across the business ensuring that they are there to work alongside their colleagues to meet the needs of the business's customers. If you position IT as not a service to the business but as a key stakeholder in driving business success in partnership with other disciplines, then in my experience the board become very happy to trust all IT spend to the CIO rather than support services procured outside the IT department. This means embracing the sorts of services and capabilities that can make up shadow IT portfolios. Welcome them in as part of a controlled and governed process, rather than by the back door.
Having only around 500 employees makes the challenge materially lower than it is for other organisations. However, we now focus on providing very secure, locked-down devices for those few with access to customers' PII and very confidential information. This segmentation allows us to open up the wider enterprise with more freedom, negating the need for many drivers of BYOD in the organisation. There are guest networks for all BYOD landings on site, including the many third parties. A core aim is to get someone working in minutes with their own kit, bureaucracy being a blocker to productivity.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
We are very much an open source-centric organisation, so a lot of our strategic technologies are not provided by vendors. However in the past 12 months we have doubled our development capacity by engaging with specific technology development shops. EPAM in Eastern Europe for Java and front-end web and app development, Virtusa in US and India for big data and BI capabilities, and smaller tech-specific shops on some leading-edge technologies around cloud and automation. Similarly we have a large strategic relationship with AWS.
We very much focus on capabilities and services that partners can bring to our business rather than commercial products to buy. We have got some key commercial products that are truly market-leading such as Vertica and Adobe, but equally 90% of our new technology stack is open source, with budget going to exploiting these technologies rather than licensing and hardware.
This is a strategy that has been very successful this year with us migrating away from 95% of our legacy by the end of 2015 and over 60% already completed.
Open source tends to allow you to focus on narrow best-in-class solutions rather than broad and expensive commercial propositions.
Who are your main suppliers?
EPAM, Virtusa, AWS, HP, Apigee, Rackspace, Rightscale, Loggly, Apple, Talend.
Moneysupermarket IT security and budget
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
What is the IT budget?
£20m capital and £17m opex.
How much is the IT operational spend compared to the revenue as a percentage?
What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
To provide the technology and business capability that provides the platform to make a step-change in our growth as a business. To do this through single platforms and combinations of web services that can power multiple verticals in existing and new markets, quickly, easily and cost-effectively, with material amounts of reuse. This is an entire replatforming of all systems within the group within two years.
This shedding of legacy will remove the glass ceiling currently inhibiting expansion through new product launches and M&A.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Are you looking for recruits in the EU to fill the skills shortage you have?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Moneysupermarket technology department
How would you describe your leadership style?
Firm but fair! Innovation is the core tenet I base my team's culture on. I am very tolerant of those who try to do the impossible, less so with those who take the easy option.
I seek to have very flat organisation structures, with autonomous teams that can innovate on their own within the framework they sign up to. I actively support their development as technologists through training, experience and support, encouraging people to try new things and being comfortable with failure, but equally not carrying any passengers. Talented people love to work with other talented people, but giving them an environment in which to thrive really can define a company. I seek to put tech at the heart of the business, not on the fringe as a service.
Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
By giving them support and direction when they need it, but also the autonomy and confidence to do things their own way. I make sure they know that nobody is entitled to all the good ideas and that the team they are in and those they lead are the most important things, more than the individual.
I think recruitment and development has to be totally aligned to the values and culture you seek to embed in your organisation.
I encourage them to spend time with other leading organisations in adjacent businesses, looking to bring relevant insight into ways of working back into our group.
I encourage them to attend lots of leading conferences, particularly for start-ups rather than large corporates so they can learn to think like a start-up, so we can disrupt ourselves rather than be disrupted.
Above all I encourage failure and celebrate it – providing people don't keep making the same mistakes time again!
How many employees are in your IT team?
300 (including 160 third-party offshore).
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?