Andy Haywood's diversity challenge as the Co-op Group CIO

One year ago Andy Haywood moved from being IT director at Boots the Chemist to begin a new role as the first group CIO of the Co-operative Group. Both for the man himself and for his diverse organisation, it has been a busy first year.

“The good news is that there have been no surprises! The big challenge is to reposition IT within the Co-operative business,” he says. “Because of the organisation’s diversity and uniqueness IT has evolved over many years. The size and scale has evolved and it’s doubled in size and performance in the last five years,” he explains of the mutual business that benefits its customers and employees rather than any shareholders

“The scale of the business is the surprise. At Boots it’s a single business with a very clear and simple business model, at the Co-operative it is a very divergent business and they are in different business cycles.

“This divergence has resulted in not only the desired diverse Co-operative business, but also a diverse IT environment.

“Now we are trying to bring that together and use the size and scale in the markets we serve. The other challenge is how much is going on in the Co?operative. The ambition is astounding. We are the fifth biggest food business in the UK and we would be in the top 25 of the FTSE if listed. So there is not a lot of time to hang about.”

Project Unity is Haywood’s plan to end the federated IT environment at the Co-operative and he explains that it was CEO Peter Marks that saw the opportunity for simplification and sought out the former Boots CIO to create the unifying technology strategy.

“Peter needed someone to advise him and take a holistic view across IT, and that’s where I come in. The group is of a size and scale that warrants this approach. As with any business, it cannot do what it wants to do without IT.

The Co-operative’s financial arm dramatically increased in scale during 2012 when the Verde deal between Lloyds Banking Group and the Co-operative Bank saw 632 branches from the Lloyds TSB and Cheltenham & Gloucester businesses transfer to the Co-operative business, giving the Co-operative a seven per cent share of the current account market in the UK.

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“I spent a third of my time on the Verde deal, that has been a big part of my time,” Haywood says, “It is one of the largest deals in financial services IT.”

Not only is the Co-operative expanding as a financial services provider, it also has ambitions to become a key part of the UK’s legal landscape as the current government deregulates parts of the legal process to make certain aspects of the law and legal provision easier for consumers and business.

Haywood explains the Co-operative already has several hundred legal employees and leaders in what it believes will be an industry worth around £8bn to the UK economy.

“With our brand we think it is a brilliant opportunity in areas like mortgages, wills and divorces,” says Haywood. “From a technology point of view we have some exciting ideas of how we can geographically join up services, make legal provision menu-driven and offer services online or by phone. Unless it is a complex case it can be systemised.”

As banking deals are brokered, the Co-operative’s home in Manchester is being totally redeveloped in what is more than just an office move but a complete community regeneration. The new ecologically friendly office began to be populated by “colleagues” as Haywood describes them, in October 2012 and the North Manchester Regeneration Programme – a partnership between the Co-operative and the local authority – is one of the largest regeneration programmes in the UK, creating residential, retail and commercial spaces around the Co-operative HQ. Haywood describes it as “hugely important and exciting for Manchester”.

It says a lot about the history of the Co-operative that as it sets out on its own business modernisation strategy, it takes its local community with it.

“We are modernising the Co-operative and making it more relevant for its members and customers without losing the heritage, trust and brand. It’s been Peter’s strategy and a very successful one over the last five years and is one of the key reasons why I took the job. I was very very happy at Boots. And with this modernisation agenda, Peter and I are very much of the view that technology will play a major role,” says Haywood.

“We are very commercial as an organisation. We do have to be profitable to invest in the future of the business. It is a very commercial business and the benefit of that is that we can do even more. The Co-operative is full of talented and very nice people doing business the right way and that is refreshing,” he says.