Having personally saved City & Guild's IT function from being outsourced as a mere non-core utility, Ian Turfrey has subsequently demonstrated to the company how IT can not only cut costs but deliver strategic advantage too. He has leveraged cloud, integration and SAP streamlining to unburden the business to do bigger and better things.
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?
I regularly discuss business strategy with the CEO, attending the following meetings on an ongoing basis: monthly one to ones, quarterly board meetings and weekly board lunch meetings.
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other executive boards do you sit on?
Does your organisation have a CDO?
What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
Each year City & Guilds helps two million students acquire qualifications, which are delivered through 8,500 training partners in over 80 countries. It offers 500 different qualifications in more than 20 sectors. I am responsible for undertaking due diligence whenever City & Guilds considers acquiring a business. My role involves making key decisions as to whether or not an acquisition aligns to the company’s business strategy and vision, before then considering IT-specific questions such as how an acquisition can be integrated into existing IT systems.
Most recently I undertook due diligence on the acquisition of Kineo, an e-learning company.
How many employees does your organisation have?
Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?
How many users does your department supply services to?
Around 41,500 users. 1,500 are City & Guilds employees, the remainder work at the 8,500 approved training centres.
How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
The world of qualifications is changing rapidly as we increasingly learn, are assessed, and receive qualifications digitally. We at City & Guilds could either lead this transformation or get left behind.
I share a view with my colleagues on the board of directors that IT is not just a support function. As the technology experts within the business, the function should lead this change in what we offer and how we do business.
This view might seem obvious, but it was not always the case. Back in 2012, the IT function was regarded as so non-core that the business believed the only way to transform it was to outsource it.
I was the head of architecture back then, and my CIO was a contractor who was championing the outsourcing. I went to the board and asked them to allow the existing in-house team to pitch for the contract in a level playing field against the external providers. They agreed.
So how does an internal function, which the business has already almost written off, win head to head against leading IT outsourcing service providers, including the incumbent CIO?
Our competitive advantage was vision, backed up by a superior understanding of the needs of our customers and business. Our external competitors could talk technology, process efficiency, technology trends; we talked about what the business needed, what our customers needed, and the dynamics in the marketplace.
Our final pitch lay in treating IT as a strategically vital function at the centre of business transformation, not simply a business process that can be outsourced, like payroll or facilities management.
We won and kept our jobs, and I took over the role of IT director. The process made me, the team and the business as a whole take a good hard look at how IT could add value, and we have never looked back.
The research we had undertaken to win back our job security, and win over the business, was not a one-off. We maintain an excellent understanding of our business and how our customers use our products and services through the following mechanisms:
• City & Guilds has a research department, and I regularly meet with its director to glean business insights which I then apply to our IT strategy. For example, when the department spotted a gap in the market for sharing content between teachers/thought leaders, I led on the development of a digital solution in the form of an online content exchange.
• I regularly meet with the heads of our four business units to discuss strategy and understand what they are trying to do, how we can help them deliver and how we can respond to a wider marketplace.
• I regularly attend (and on occasion speak at) IT directors' events. This form of thought leadership helps me stay up to date with the latest IT trends.
Before the 2012 change, it was fair to say the IT function wasn’t supportive of the marketing department’s move towards technology-based marketing. We have since taken a very different approach, embracing the push towards marketing automation. Together we have overhauled the City & Guilds website, supported its new email platform implementation, helped define, select and implement a CRM system, and formed part of the core team on the customer experience programme (spearheading the delivery of simpler administration processes for customers through integrated web-based services).
Since my pitch to the board in 2012, I have gone on to meet or exceed all the promises made, delivered a host of other projects, and generally changed perceptions of the IT team into a critical value-adding function that’s the envy of our competition.
City & Guilds 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
If, during a job interview, you were asked to prove you had the qualifications you listed on your CV, how would you do so? You'd probably dig out the paper certificates (if you could find them), and the interviewer would scan them in or photocopy them.
Our clients (education centres) were having to spend about 45 minutes per candidate manually scanning and physically sorting duplicate certificates, while candidates had to wait on average 20 days for a certificate. And all this because City & Guilds certificates were available only in paper format.
It was far from ideal, but was actually the sector norm. However, it offered us an opportunity to steal a march on the competition. My team and I pioneered the introduction of e-certificates – a role more akin to an R&D function than IT. This innovation was made possible thanks to the introduction of Microsoft Azure Cloud, a major project led by me personally. Now, an average of 2,000 certificates are processed a year at each centre and turnover time has reduced from 20 days to 24 hours.
What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
Prior to our SAP integration, we had five separate SAP systems, supporting functions such as processing customer payments online (worth £120m a year) and various contact-centre applications. This created problems like regular system slowdown and reduced resilience, frustrating agents and customers alike. We successfully migrated the five systems to a single, new provider – a notoriously tricky task.
What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
From a technological perspective, SAP rehosting has:
• eliminated system downtime.
• reduced strategic risk through a new and extremely robust disaster recovery plan
• increased business performance without the glitches – for example, the organisation processed more than 90,000 exam results within a two-week peak period, with no system performance issues
• future-proofed the business, allowing for three years’ increased capacity
From a customer perspective, with 95% of our total sales each year being transacted online, then if SAP is not available our customers (training centres) are left red-faced because it is they who deal directly with the end customer.
What's more, supporting five SAP systems was a substantial drain on my team’s time. The new system no longer takes up anywhere near as much of their time. Team members now have more time to grow the rest of the IT estate, develop other products and services, and do forward planning and capacity planning. Most importantly, this allows them to be more proactive.
Given the improved reliability and resilience, the online transactions processed and fulfilled through SAP have protected a vital revenue stream. There is now substantially improved contingency planning, made possible by moving business-critical IT to the care of a company called Attenda, and all its safeguards. The new system has enabled a host of other transformations, such as online assessment, implementing a new LCMS (learning and content management system) and offering more efficient managed solutions to clients.
How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project
In general, my leadership style has always been to trust that my team can deliver, and empower them to get it right first time. This meant:
• I attended meetings with the project team every two weeks, and monthly steering group meetings, during the eight-month project – enough to contribute, but infrequently enough so that they felt in charge on a day-to-day basis.
• I was not too ‘hands-on’ – I was there for exceptions, operating an open-door policy should the team wish to discuss any critical issues that might arise and which couldn’t wait until our formal discussions.
• The project manager (an external expert in SAP migrations that we brought in specially) was given autonomy. He had proven project delivery skills and so I did not undermine these.
Further principles I instilled in the 25-strong project team were as follows:
• Thorough stakeholder engagement throughout.
• Thorough planning. For example, at the beginning of the eight-month project, the team created a project plan, which was then referred to (and updated as needed) throughout the process, to ensure we were in a position to make the migration at a crucial time.
• A great deal of design to be undertaken up front.
• Numerous dress rehearsals.
• Building in contingency.
Despite intense time pressure (go-live by Christmas), the eight-month project concluded on time, on budget, and on quality.
What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
The cloud is probably the most important key technology I have put in place, as it has transformed the way City & Guilds does business.
My vision is that the IT department should not be the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the organisation, but the service provider that uses technology to unburden the business to do bigger and better things. With this in mind, in 2014 I achieved my strategic goal of removing all of our communications systems and servers from our physical sites by establishing a new cloud communications service. By outsourcing all our telecoms to a single, cloud-based managed service that can be scaled to the business's needs, my team and I can now focus on the bigger picture.
I implement the cloud solution (Microsoft Azure) wherever it makes business sense, so today 25% of City & Guilds’ IT infrastructure is hosted in the cloud (from zero, previously).
The cloud strategy has made possible the introduction of e-certificates – an OfQual-approved, sector-leading innovation that only City & Guilds issues. It has streamlined our grading and marking, as it can be used by any application, any time, anywhere. This is of particular importance as awarding grades can be a very complex process due to frequent changes in regulations and has a major impact on our reputation.
Cloud has also enhanced the process for marking oral exams, reducing time taken by 70%. Historically, oral exams would be recorded onto CD and posted to the examiner. Now the recording is uploaded directly to the cloud and a link is sent straight to the examiner, cutting marking times from 25 days to eight.
Integration – by which I mean the capability to create standard services – is another key technology. For example, our grading (ie exam marking) service can be plugged in to create a new value proposition anywhere. For example, to launch our new TechBac qualification, we have simply redeployed the grading service without re-creating it, saving time and money.
I have encouraged the use of SaaS internally and externally. Internally, it has underpinned a self-service helpdesk for employees for basic issues such as password resets. Externally, it has accelerated the onboarding of clients, replacing a slow paper-based process with a far faster, cheaper and more transparent solution.
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?
We already analyse basic data, which has driven operational changes in business process. For example, analysis of the time taken for employees to receive certificates was a factor in driving the introduction of our e-certificate solution.
My vision for data analysis is much bigger than this, though, and a current two-year project will consolidate all of our data (everything from exam pass and fail rates to trends in where people choose to study certain courses) in one place, accessible any time and anywhere.
The intention is to use this much larger pool of data to understand such things as learner behaviour, gleaning the necessary insight that will help City & Guilds identify business opportunities and improve decision-making.
How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
City & Guilds has gone from lagging behind to having one of the most advanced systems in the education sector. For example, we have introduced a social networking (media) site that lets teachers and thought leaders interact with learners, including the sharing of materials that learners can buy, thus also introducing a new revenue stream for tutors and City & Guilds (which takes a percentage of sales revenue).
We also use Microsoft SharePoint internally, which has enabled improved collaboration between employees.
Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
My vision for shadow IT is twofold. First I want employees and divisions within City & Guilds to feel they have the autonomy to propose the introduction of new IT solutions; my department’s first response is always “how can we help?”, not “no you can’t”.
To make such an open position viable, however, it is essential that:
• New ideas are passed through the architecture governance board, which I chair as CIO, reporting to the group board.
• IT is seen as the first port of call rather than the last when introducing new IT solutions.
• As a member of the digital transformation board, we have agreed and ratified our technology governance so that we ensure common alignment of all our technology globally.
My vision for BYOD is to adopt a hybrid approach, allowing employees to use just company-owned devices, exclusively BYOD or a combination, depending on their needs and what our systems can accommodate (some personal devices won’t work with all our applications, for example).
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
In 2014 we struck a deal with Xyleme, which enabled us to introduce a cloud-based learning content management system for the first time, and we partnered with Redweb for a complete overhaul of the City & Guilds’ website.
Who are your main suppliers?
• Azzurri provides us with a fully managed service, incorporating City & Guilds’ IP telephony, contact centre and unified communications services.
• Attenda provides our business-critical IT-hosting services.
• Microsoft provides us with Office 365, Lync and Azure Cloud.
• SAP (see earlier).
• Risual provides our desktop infrastructure.
• Calarenet provides our WAN and desktop hosting.
• Redweb is a development partner.
City & Guilds 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?
Both our capex and opex have increased year on year, a reflection of the fact that attitudes to IT are changing within the business, as it’s seen more and more as a business enabler. Opex is £9m, capex is £4-8m.
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?
Back in 2012 my ultimate objective was to help City & Guilds grow its surplus for re-investment in education – something I’ve succeeded in doing.
In 2015, my aim is for IT to continue to help drive surplus growth by acting as a business enabler through:
• Focusing on creating new value propositions using digital services.
• Continuous service improvement to improve desktop and mobile productivity.
• Consolidating our data to make it easier to analyse.
• Continuing to develop and strengthen strategic partner relationships and developing our people.
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?
City & Guilds technology department
How would you describe your leadership style?
To trust that my team can deliver, and empower them to get it right first time. To achieve this:
• I keep my involvement in projects at arm’s length, as opposed to hands-on.
• I share my faith in my team. I demonstrated my faith in my team when I originally pitched against external outsourcers. I continue to be their strongest advocates internally. They know this, and they know I sing their praises rather than take credit for their work.
• I am a mentor: My team are experts, but if a project or new responsibility is stretching them, I like to play the role of mentor. However, I only do this as long as is necessary, before I can step back and give them the all-important autonomy.
• I have a very strong team ethic: We work hard as a team, so we win and fail as a team, not as individuals. For example, we share work we’re doing in our Friday sessions, and if things don’t work out on project we do not try and blame individuals – experimentation and invention is encouraged, and is not feared.
• I encourage modern collaboration and knowledge sharing, including video desktop, mobile sharing docs and remote working.
• I am open to suggestions and ideas. I do not claim to have all the answers, or know the best approach. My team know they can share their ideas and discoveries with me, and they will be given careful consideration and application wherever suitable.
Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
This team had been through a lot, though. Three years ago they thought they were being let go and their positions outsourced, then had to direct their energy to helping me win a fiercely fought tendering process. Then they have to get back to work and deliver a substantial transformation – unprecedented in its scale.
Here are a few of the methods I employed to help support and develop them in supporting the promises we made to the business (and subsequently delivered successfully):
• With their help I developed and shared a detailed three-year refresh plan consisting of initiatives: legacy systems would soon be history.
• I needed to replace six IT contractors with permanent employees. I therefore recruited all six roles internally to ensure they could hit the ground running, while a co-source agreement with each departing contractor ensured a smooth transition and allowed for training opportunities.
• I mentored some of the senior leaders within my team directly.
• In addition, I successfully convinced non-IT directors to mentor members of my team. This really helped hone soft skills, an area where my SL team tended to be weaker.
My leadership team really rose to the challenge. Since I was appointed IT director in September 2012, we have successfully delivered 30 initiatives, all of which have contributed to City & Guilds becoming a sector leader in innovation, and ensured all the promises I made to the board have been met.
How many employees are in your IT team?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?