The flak doesn't come from so many directions so quickly as in the fashion industry. MandM's Graham Benson has been giving the business the IT tools to get the jump on its disruptive rivals with a faster more agile website that has lower maintenance time and costs, conferring an ability to deploy changes harder, faster and cheaper.
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?
Yes, every Monday at 3.30.
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
Business change, so in reality I am the business change director as well as technology director. For two years I also held the HR portfolio, giving me full responsibility for the three elements of a change programme – people, process and systems.
How many employees does your organisation have?
Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?
What number of users does your department supply services to?
How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
Within the junior ranks of IT there are champions for each of the other departments – the champions spend time at an operational level with peers from their nominated dept so they really understand how that department works and can relate to them when there are issues.
In addition (and at a management level) a weekly service review takes place between the head of service delivery and each department (separately not collectively), where issues and SLA performance are discussed, so we are accessible and measurable weekly.
MandM 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
We developed a set of own-brand products to take on the super-cheap fast fashion businesses that were taking market share from us. MandM sells only branded products and they come at a premium price, so New look, Primark, etc, hurt us with their cheap non-branded product. We wanted to retain the heritage of MandM as a brand seller, but needed low-cost brands to compete, so by a combination of self-build and acquisition we built a low-cost brand portfolio to address the competitive threat.
What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
1. Web re-architecture (app, middleware and IaaS), including the introduction of Mongo DB into a dotnet architecture to serve as product data DB, which in my opinion is a quite radical and innovative use of NoSQL technology).
2. Data re-architecture. We introduced a new data model including new CMS and PIM.
What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
A faster more agile website with lower maintenance time/costs, leading to the ability to deploy changes harder, faster, cheaper.
How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
I see myself as the facilitator and coach, not the leader per se. The conductor of the orchestra not a virtuoso musician.
My team have better technical skills than me and I trust them to make the better technical decisions within the area of their subject matter expertise. However, in my role I have a holistic view and need to facilitate a meshing of these different expert views into a joined-up strategy/solution. I only have to make a decision if the group doesn't reach one itself. When making these decisions, I trust my instinct as the key driver; after all, intuition is a lifetime of experience and expertise running in the subconscious.
What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
Everything as a service – we implement as much aaS as we can. Most of our website components are delivered as a service, as are some key business applications and most of our datacentre and network capabilities.
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?
This year we have delivered the strategic vision by implementing real-time analytics of all key business data (eg, web traffic, warehouse productivity, systems performance, etc) that drive real-time dashboards with proactive alerts if preset thresholds are breached – both negative and positive as an abnormal sales increase can indicate a wrongly priced item!
How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
Mobile is more than 50% of traffic and so is key. It's why we re-architected the site in 2014 to be fully responsive with acceleration technology. It was re-architected again in 2015 to improve again, with a new MVC architecture, improved responsive features and the beta implementation of the latest AquaIon acceleration tech from CDN supplier Akamai (we are their global development partner for this product set).
Our innovative approach to m-commerce was recognised by our winning the Retail Week Mobile Technology of the Year award in June 2014. The business was acquired in July 2014 by Bestseller Group, which said that a key driver in its acquisition was 'our recognised expertise in mobile e-commerce'.
Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
In my opinion, if shadow IT exists it is because the IT director cannot service the needs of the organisation. I do not own IT; I am the custodian of the business tech estate. I need to support my colleagues by ensuring they get the tech they need, not what I want to give them. They should not feel the need nor desire to source it themselves out of frustration because they can't get it from me.
So at MandM other departments research and choose their own software and we implement it, but this works only because we have mutual trust and rules of engagement, as follows:
1. At certain stages of a process, relevant members of IT participate (not lead) to ensure security, performance, etc, of the proposed solution.
2. The solution must be aaS to ensure it is not a high-effort 'deploy, configure, build, maintain scenario' associated with onsite software, but a 'light-touch data integration.
With regards to BYOD it is actively encouraged! We have appropriate security and vetting controls in place to minimise security risks, and we encourage and even reward people to test our new website versions with their own devices. This gives me a far broader test programme in terms of number of testers (and devices tested) than I could ever achieve if I had to employ and pay a test team that size!
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
• PIM – InRiver
• Akamai – web acceleration technologies
• Magnetic North – cloud-based PCI DSS-compliant telephony system
Who are your main suppliers?
• Manhattan – WMS
• Sanderson – OMS
• Microsoft – web and DB architecture (except Mongo DB, of course)
MandM 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?
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?
Stability, security, flexibility (more IaaS).
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?
MandM technology department
How would you describe your leadership style?
Consultative, collaborative, strong, passionate, decisive.
Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
I am a qualified coach (NLP practitioner) and I coach my direct reports once a week in a one to one, which is not task-oriented!
We have agreed development areas and career goals individually for each of them, and work together to try and secure the necessary acquisition of knowledge/experience for these ambitions to be realised. This can sometimes lead to the assignment of duties/responsibilities which would be outside of the norm for an org structure yet is required for them to round their experience and develop towards their goals. For example, my head of technical services, an infrastructure guy through and through, was given responsibility for software QA for a year as he had no development experience; I don't think this would happen in a 'normal' structure, but it grew him hugely in an area which traditionally would have been off-limits to someone with his skills and experience.
How many employees are in your IT team?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
58 perms, seven contractors.
Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?