At Symphony Housing, Neil Beckingham has liberated staff from the shackles of the office by initiating and delivering the ability to work in the field rather than at desks with a complex set of digital solutions for specific roles plus mobilised back-office capabilities such as booking holidays, submitting and approving expenses. The resulting performance increases of more than 30% have enhanced the customer experience and improved revenues.

When did you start your current role?
April 2014.

What is your reporting line?
Deputy group chief executive.

Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Every month with CEO, every week with deputy.

Are you a member of the board of directors?
No.

What other executive boards do you sit on?
Digital accessibility centre.

Does your organisation have a CDO?
No.

What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
Business strategy, business planning, business transformation, business process improvement.

How many employees does your organisation have?
1,200.

Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?
No.

How many users does your department supply services to?
950.

How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
Regular meetings with group CEO and MDs of the 10 group companies, attendance at group companies' SMT meetings, lead or member of all business project steering groups, some floor walking/job shadowing.

Symphony Housing technology strategy and agenda

Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
Yes.

Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Yes.

Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
Initiate and deliver the mobilisation of 750 staff to work in the field rather than be desk-based, delivering performance increases of more than 30% while enhancing customer experience and improving revenues.

Under the campaign 'Work is Something You Do, Not a Place You Go To', this has involved a complex matrix of digital solutions designed for specific roles while also delivering back-office capabilities like booking holidays, submitting and approving expenses, etc, to keep staff out in the field.

This is enabling a reduction in office space requirements, with one large group member moving to smaller offices utilising hotdesking.

What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
A review of the partnership agreement which defined the scope and working of group member companies as they joined.

I am playing a leading role in this, having started with the rationalisation of six contact centres to become a shared service. It's not as simple as it sounds as each business has its own processes, procedures, etc, which are negotiated into a single entity.

Other aspects will, for example, include giving consideration as to whether finance should become a shared service.

What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
It will deliver improved service to a common standard for the first time as well as financial savings that can be directly converted into building 45 extra houses a year.

How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
I am consultative, transparent, overtly energetic, a good listener and strong communicator, able to create and consistently implant memorable pictures in the minds of stakeholders that illustrate my points. I am a good business all-rounder who constantly updates and demonstrates a knowledge of the business while consistently being the advocate of the future state.

What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
One is the modern mobile device integrating speech, sound, photo/video, GPS, etc, through role-based apps integrated to a core management system. This is being used to drive high-performing mobility into the business.

Another is big data and predictive analytics. They are enabling a close understanding of our customers, their requirements and how we plan our stock to meet them. This is also being developed to better understand our stock and the investments we make  ie when is the optimum time to replace kitchens in properties as opposed to the presumed and universally applied 11 years.

And a third is BI to the front line. This will enable mobile staff to make quick and well-informed decisions in the field rather than acting on gut feel or delaying, which misses opportunities.

Are you increasing the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
No.

What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
Data is being structured into the four data towers that form the business  customers, stock (properties for rent or purchase), staff and finance – which is then accessed in the data warehouse through desktop and mobile tools that will slice and dice across them.

For example we are gaining an understanding of the performance of certain stock types by implementing an active asset management programme. This can highlight that a certain stock type in a certain geographic area performs badly, thus triggering decisions on investment or disposal. However, by cutting this with customer segmentation information, it could show that this stock performs badly only when rented to a particular customer segment. Further, the accuracy of cost can be enhanced by understanding the amount of staff time used, etc.

How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
Mobile is impacting operations by enabling a greater than 30% improvement in performance as outlined above.

Yammer has been deployed and quickly taken up across the business for rapid communications. At a group level this has been integrated to a new SharePoint platform, which is delivering new intranets and collaboration tools, extranets that facilitate partner collaboration, and a structured dynamic content managed web presence ranging from neighbourhood sites to the enterprise-wide corporate site.

Twitter and Facebook have been integrated into the customer service platform.

Facebook dark pages have been very successfully used in prospecting for new tenants bringing in a cost per qualified enquiry of 43p.

Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
Shadow IT had been prevalent prior to my arrival. I have pretty much killed off the problem through ensuring strong personal engagement with business leaders and driving strong user engagement through my IT team with a brief to drive behind strange requests and create sensible working solutions.

There are many areas of significant change being pushed into the business and BYOD would at this time be one too far, especially as there is little or no demand. Interestingly although I offered it to all SMT members across the group even the few who took it up have all come back and asked to change to a supplied device.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
A deal with Gamma to provide a new MPLS WAN with SIP that will eventually encompass 43 locations across all group businesses. This forms the platform, which will enable an end game of telephony and contact centre services from the cloud through single device and single number for both on and off net communications.

A deal to provide a suite of HTML5-delivered role-based apps out of the box with the toolset to enhance them and develop additional ones in an agile way. As standard, this enables offline working where a signal cannot be found with high security and availability built-in.

Who are your main suppliers?
Gamma, Orchard (housing management system), Microsoft (Exchange, SharePoint, Windows Mobiles), Dell.

Symphony Housing IT security and budget

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
No.

Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Yes.

Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Yes.

Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
Yes.

What is the IT budget?
£6.2m.

How much is the IT operational spend compared to the revenue as a percentage?
2%.

What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
To drive the transformation of the business to become a knowledge-based, mobilised and highly customer-focused organisation that realises efficiencies and performance through shared services wherever possible.

And to complete the transformation of the IT function into a customer-focused enabler delivering to high service levels built on internationally accepted good practice.

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
No.

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes.

Are you looking for recruits in the EU to fill the skills shortage you have?
No.

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes.

Symphony Housing technology department

How would you describe your leadership style?
I evangelise the commercially viable art of the possible to the business. I evangelise the IT service to the business. I evangelise the business to the IT teams. In all cases I develop and consistently deliver a clear vision of where we are going and how we are getting there, making a key play on consistently repeating strong word pictures that support these messages. I also ensure that my language is always appropriate to an audience by both their level and their area of expertise  no tech descriptions to non-tech audiences.

I display high energy with a level of extroversion and demonstrate clear understanding of business and technology issues. However, I give my senior management team their head in their specialist areas and support their engagement with the business.

Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
I have conceived, developed and delivered a short series of workshops that have led the team to buy into the new vision and to identify the areas of development they each need. Included in this has been acceptance of a restructure plan which has brought in four new strategic hires and a reduction in the breadth of responsibility for each of the original team members.

How many employees are in your IT team?
28.

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
All of the above are in-house. Technical management of wide and local area networks is outsourced.

Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?
No.