The LateRooms Group encompasses multiple global brands that provide an accommodation only online travel agency (OTA) service direct to consumers or indirectly through partners. In Europe and Australia they lean heavily on the Laterooms.com brand whereas in Asia they are more focused around AsiaRooms.com. They operate in more than 13 countries and 11 languages with a view to expanding our global reach rapidly over the next five years.
The bulk of their custom comes from domestic travellers within each country in which they operate. From a UK perspective, that could be people taking short breaks or maybe having to travel out of their region for a meeting and they just need to spend one night in a hotel while away from home.
Gerrard's ability to learn from his customer base at the TUI-owned organisation impressed the CIO100 panel and it was remarked that he and the organisation foster a collaborative culture, which is to be applauded.
IT leader: Adam Gerrard, Group CTO.
In role since: May 2011.
Reporting line: Direct to the CEO.
How often does the CIO meet with the CEO: We have scheduled 1:1 meetings weekly and monthly board meetings, but we tend to meet ad-hoc nearly every day.
Board level seat: Yes, along with the CEO, CFO, CMO, COO and HRD.
IT budget: The budgeted IT staff & operational costs equate to 2.3%.
Our IT staff and operational expenditure is circa £12 million with additional capital expenditure circa £15 million in 2012. Whilst the cash costs are looking flat over the next few years, we are seeing a shift from capex to opex primarily driven by shorter technology life spans but also the pace of change needed in development which is leading to short lifecycles for elements of our in house developed applications.
IT estate and or number of log on accounts under the control of the IT leader: We have 700 internal login accounts for employees, 60,000 login accounts for hoteliers and a growing number of unique customer logins measure in millions and growing daily.
Level of the workforce that relies on technology to carry out their tasks: 100% of the workforce.
IT staff currently employed: We have 180FTE in the UK and a small team of 8FTE in Singapore.
Split between in-house/outsourced staff: Up to 50FTE are made available through third parties & service providers, a number which will continue to grow as we move commodity work to large scale providers who can do that work more efficiently, thereby allowing us to focus our internal team on value added work that is specific to both our business and the travel/leisure industry.
IT management team and reporting structure: Given the lean structure of the organisation we have a streamlined IT leadership team based around 3 areas, Plan, Build and Run. In Plan I have a Director of Business Change and Corporate Strategy who is responsible for facilitating the overall corporate strategy, enterprise architecture, portfolio management and programme delivery. In the build side of things I have a Director of Development, primarily focused on maixmising the efficiency of our agile development teams. In the run team, I have a Director of Service and IT Infrastructure who is responsible for our service offered to employees, customers and hoteliers on the supply side. This position is also responsible for the management and development of our underlying technology infrastructure as well as our corporate procurement team. This leadership team manages 13 “Head of” positions that make up the overall IT Management Team for TLRG.
Primary technology platforms at the organisation: Core technologies include Tibco Enterprise Service Bus as a integration platform and basis for a service oriented architecture plus Hybris and Oracle RightNow, coupled with significant in-house developed bespoke code.
Primary technology suppliers: Dell, Cisco, Microsoft, Tibco, Hybris & Oracle RightNow.
Significant strategic technology deals struck in the last 12 months: We have made some significant purchases this year as part of the transformation programme. We have built partnerships with some key software vendors including Tibco, Oracle RightNow & Hybris and with Xerox/ACS as a data centre partner.
Percentage of your applications/infrastructure run from the cloud: Currently 5% of our applications are cloud based and that is down to just one application which is the Oracle RightNow SAAS application. Our ICT strategy, however, is to move more of our platform to a private cloud model with integration points to public Cloud applications and services where we deem it to be appropriate.
Major technology or transformation project recently completed and how did it transform operations, customer experience or the organisation: We are in the latter stages of a significant technology led business transformation programme. A fundamental cornerstone of the overall transformation of the underlying ICT platform to a private cloud model with our partner Xerox/ACS is nearing completion.
We have also made significant progress adding Oracle RightNow to our brand websites and supplier extranet earlier this year which has generated savings from call deflection and better online conversion/self-service through the new online chat functionality. It has also increased our customer contact opportunity in that we can better support customers in real-time and improve their experience of booking a hotel.
We hope to have our new consumer search live in the next 3-4 months which is four times faster than our current offering whilst also being more functionally rich, all of which has been made possible through the application of SOA based developments on the Tibco ESB.
Possibly the biggest win this year has been a small IT transformation project to break down the 35 million lines of code that make up our core code base into smaller more manageable units. This has transformed the delivery capability of the development teams. Rather than a release every 30 days, we can now deliver through continuous integration whereby 10 development teams can each release code independently every other day. We had managed to deliver 10 releases in the six months prior to this project, however, the five months following it have seen over 400 releases put live with an average cycle time from idea elaboration to implementation of three days. This has fundamentally changed our time to market and our ability to generate real value at a pace that not many other businesses could hope to realise.
Did the above project reach its cost, timing and transformation objective: The programme remains on track, despite pressure to reduce spend on a couple of the work-streams given the tough global economic trading conditions in our industry. Strong project management and clear expectation management have helped ensure that the programme progresses to plan, budget and scope.
Business transformation programme – beyond technology – that the CIO owns or is a major contributor to: The development of the corporate strategy is now under my remit. The application of traditional strategic planning coupled with the fundamental principles of Enterprise Architecture is driving a new way of thinking about how we shape the business for the future. Having produced a headline strategic direction, we have now shaped a new Target Operating Model (TOM) for the business based on our current Business Capability Model and the gaps in capability we believe need to be filled to transform the business towards the new TOM. This is now being used to drive our process models and the growth or acquisition of specific skills sets and competences to support the capabilities we require to fulfil our strategic aims.
Owning the business change and PMO functions means that not only does the IT leadership team play a fundamental part in shaping the business strategy, but we are also accountable for delivering the change. I think of this as IT & Business convergence, acknowledging that IT is fundamental to the business and that the business is IT. I see as a major step forward from the old goal of the late 1990s and early 21st century when nirvana was to try to align IT with the business.
Strategic aim of the CIO and IT operation for the next financial year: My aims are more business driven than technology driven. I need to ensure we are constantly improving our digital product offering to both consumers and hoteliers, this is probably the highest priority on my list. Secondly, I need to focus on helping to grow top line revenue for the business, mainly through improving our customer proposition in existing markets, but also through targeting new market entries via rapid organic start up leveraging our new technology platform as a key enabler or through M&A activity that can deliver synergies of scale, which again is achieved through the leveraging of our new technology platform.
Strategy in the use by employees of their own technology, use of mobiles and how social networking is impacting operations, customer experiences or the organisation: We have allowed BYOD within the organisation for some time and have a basic policy in place that allows limited “safe” access to specific tools in the workplace. As the device market matures we will have to adapt and respond to the opportunities it presents and find ways to extract value without compromising any aspect of our business. I see the new Microsoft Surface as being a game changer for the enterprise and believe it will allow us to realise significantly more benefits than our existing BYOD policy on the assumption it will come with much more enterprise ready tooling and the ability to run most of our mature .Net & C# applications that run on the NT kernel.
Strategy for dealing with shadow IT and BYOD including influence and engagement with executives, to place the right controls around employee choice: Social networks are also well utilised within the business and our social strategy at the consumer level has been gaining momentum for the past 12 months. The move to a mobile first strategy coupled with some of our new apps and social tools we are looking to deploy in Q4 this year will help enhance both out consumers, and our hoteliers, digital experience and interactions with our brands. If the business case is realised we should see both the mobile and social elements of our channel strategy steadily increase in the overall share of our revenues.
The real learning from our BYOD policy is that we have gained a better understanding of how a consumer or hotelier may want to interact with us on a mobile or tablet device. This helps shape our thinking when we consider the consumerisation of IT devices in the market place and what people expect to do, or would just like to do, on a mobile device. Not to mention that we have suddenly acquired a significant number of free user acceptance testers using a variety of devices to give us feedback on changes we make to the websites!
The fundamental means of addressing these potential issues is communication, both in terms of advising what is possible but also in terms of listening to what is being asked for. Its fundamental that I work hard to understand agendas, personal drivers, political motivations and make time to share information with the other executives to ensure they understand what we are doing, why we are doing it and how it will help them achieve their goals. Shadow IT only comes about by not addressing the needs of the business as a whole. For example, BYOD is happening everywhere, if it’s not embraced and shaped by my team, then it would just happen around us and could not then be influenced or controlled. Proactive engagement is the best means of defence. From my own experience, I have to admit, it’s also possible that you may learn something new yourself and you could even discover some fantastic innovation and/or technical capability that you would have otherwise have missed!
Technologies being considered to enable transformation: Beyond the technologies I have already outlined, we are looking at SAP, mainly as a FI/CO solution but once an ERP platform is selected, it would make good sense to leverage that platform to do service other teams and processes, such as HR and Business Intelligence, thereby keep the overall IT estate as simple as possible.
Transformational inspiration sources: I seek inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Peers, global thought leaders, consumer trends, twitter conversations, blogs, periodicals, work colleagues and friends. The world is a fast moving ever-changing place that is evolving at a phenomenal pace thanks to advancements in technology and innovative applications of technologies. A key part of any leadership role is scanning the horizon for whatever is coming next, be that an opportunity to do something different building on the current business model or a disruptive force that could kill your business outright (think digital cameras and Kodak), which must be embraced and understood if it is to be proactively countered, copied or beaten.