Having successfully transitioned from a burning platform, Adam Gerrard is now focusing on growth and service improvement. Already he has given the business a single version of the truth through better control of data and reporting, improved employee engagement by leveraging social tools, and offered more competitive products (including delivery time slots) through the innovative use of technology.
Name and job title
Adam Gerrard, Chief Information Officer, Yodel.
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
On three fronts. Primarily in the simplification of what we have today in order to maximise our capabilities and ease of doing business, whether in the context of an employee or colleague, or from the external perspective as a client or customer. We also aim to use this simplification to re-invent our basic business infrastructure to enable much faster time to market with new ideas. Second, we are driving multiple streams of innovation to create efficiencies and improve productivity across the organisation while also looking at how to provide better transparency to clients and customers. Third, we are investigating emerging technologies and application of technology in other business verticals that could add value to our business and potentially disrupt the market.
In all three instances we are acting as a catalyst to facilitate the debate and to trial solutions (through PoCs) in a highly collaborate manner that engages the key parts of the business.
How as CIO have you driven cultural and behaviour change in your organisation, and to what extent?
The whole executive team have been engaged in leading a cultural change at Yodel for the past few years. We were on a burning platform, so the mindset had to be changed to a combination of survival and turnaround. With the turnaround phase almost completed, we are now focusing on driving growth and service improvement; therefore, we need to continue the cultural change agenda to move us through the next phase of our transformation.
Specifically in IT, that has been a move through a stability and rationalisation phase, which is now being reshaped towards embracing the opportunities of digital, driving change at pace, accepting that some things will fail rather than having a fear of failure, and having a more customer-centric focus.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's performance
- Better control of data and reporting, enhancing the ability of the business to manage based on fact, and a single version of the truth.
- Greater employee engagement, leveraging social tools to enable community-based communications and interactions.
- Improved overall organisation engagement scores significantly vs the prior 12 months.
- Enhanced proposition through innovative uses of technology to offer more competitive products including delivery time slots.
- Capability to bill and surcharge appropriately from a single source to improve and protect revenues (prevent billing leakage).
- Further optimisation of IT costs to aid the turnaround of the business at the bottom line.
Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
We are in year two of a three-year programme to maximise the value of our data through better use of technology and optimising how we collect, retain, utilise and mine it. Deliverables to date include client reporting tools as well as operational, client, customer and financial dashboards. Data insights are being used more rigorously as part of our strategic planning process.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
We don't quite fit into a traditional plan, build and run model but we are not too far off. The innovation, architecture and planning function is solidly aligned to the overall strategic direction of the business. IT service and operations also very clearly align with the overall operations of the business, although it is still transitioning to a new operating model to ensure that the business gets the best-value services now, during and after the business undergoes its transformation activity.
The change delivery function, which incorporates business change and application development/deployment is still undergoing its own transformation. One thing that has been necessary is the splitting of the delivery channels into several speeds or modes (bimodal and a bit more). We have a pace for legacy change, a pace for strategic change/transformation, and a more rapid agile pace for both modern systems development (such as MI) and also for rapid benefits delivery across multiple platforms or systems including legacy.
The key theme behind each mode is value delivery. This aligns with the business strategy that embraces the need for long-term programmes to deliver on the strategic aims of the business as well as to adapt tactically to market trends, opportunities and customer or client behaviours in an ever more rapidly changing world.
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
A facilitator, an enabler, a champion, a thought leader, a delivery channel.
Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
Technology does not necessarily drive the redesign. It can be an enabler and it can also sometimes be the blocker. The key here is to drive some thought leadership and to educate the wider business as to the art of the possible. If you have a clear, shared articulation of your vision, your strategy and your preferred organisational culture, then you have the building blocks to ensure that technology can be embraced to provide the right services, automate the correct processes and fully support a customer-centric operating model and organisational structure. Without a customer-centric vision and culture, the technology is irrelevant.
How do you engage regularly with your organisation about your team and the role of technology in the organisation, and what impact is this having?
Yammer, presenting, conference calls, in-house conferences, out on the road… We do have some ideas to use an internal communications app to provide podcasts from different leaders across the organisation. With so many shift patterns in play across the organisation, a pull-based communication tool would certainly be more useful than the more common broadcast methods that are often used. This is potentially why Yammer has been so successful to date.
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
I'm social networked out. One of the downsides of my role is that the pace of change is meteoric and there are only so many hours in the day. I dedicate time to internal social media engagement through Yammer.
I use Twitter less directly than previously, although I have found paper! It is incredibly useful to have a summarised weekly insight into the posts that people I follow have made on Twitter. Unfortunately, the rise of vendor interruptions into Twitter conversations has made it a less interesting platform for me to openly converse on.
LinkedIn is pretty much dead for me. I get thousands of cold-call connection requests and am bombarded by vendors now, so I only use it as a mineable research tool.
Periscope has taken a lot of my free social time of late as I really like the concept. Pinterest is still working well for me too in terms of a blend of personal and professional interests and the visual way in which it works.
I've retrenched somewhat in the old school way of networking and spend a lot more time in conversation with my network rather than having public social correspondence with them.
How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
We engage at multiple points across the IT team. Everyone is an ambassador for IT and each contact has the opportunity to delight their customer or engage them in how we can improve our service, our applications, our interactions, or anything else. I am a believer that people come to work to do a good job and it's my role to give them the framework to be as successful as they can be. An empowered, high-performing team will always want to talk about the positives that we can bring to the business. Also, as more business people come to realise that you cannot do very much without technology these days, the desire to engage with IT is getting much stronger. Our biggest issue is not engagement, but more expectation management, as we have more ideas and opportunities presented than we can possibly hope to deliver.
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
Horizon scanning has always been a key skill for me. That's not necessarily being able to keep pace with everything that is emerging in the technology world today, as that's impossible for any one individual, but being able to spot trends and future opportunities while still in the distance buys time. That time is needed to educate the business (and the technology team) as to the art of the possible while developing the right balance of skill and flexibility within the technology team to exploit those future opportunities.
Ongoing development in the management and leadership field is a similar challenge but thankfully one that operates at a slower rate of change. That said, it is still important to have your finger on the pulse and stay connected to the right networks, whether technology, leadership or industry-focused.
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
Amazingly, we had no women in the senior IT leadership team when I joined, but that has now changed. I do not believe in a policy of positive discrimination, but I do commit to a fully inclusive policy where there should be no form of discrimination, whether on the grounds of gender, race, religion, disability or any other form of bias. To get the highest-performing team you need as much variety as you can to avoid groupthink. I pride myself on building high-performing teams, and that comes from recruiting the best and brightest individual on the market for every open role we have.
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
I have three primary roles as an executive in Yodel. I am the representative of IT and change on the board; I am the representative of the executive within IT and change; but, crucially, I am an executive director of the business irrespective of my functional responsibilities, which means I must take an active interest in the successful running of the business. To be successful in any of those roles it is important I am able to influence the organisation and the leadership team. I have to acknowledge the difference between these roles and know which hat to wear when.
At an executive level, a very low percentage of my time is spent on tasks and actions, but a great deal is spent on relationships, communication and education. While I may not always agree with my executive peers, I need the right relationship to be able to challenge or disagree with their opinions, and the empathy to understand their perspective. However, once a decision is made, we all stand by it, regardless of whether the decision has gone your way or not.
Thankfully we have a small, close-knit executive with a common set of objectives and a desire to drive the transformation of Yodel for the benefit of our clients, customers, employees, colleagues and third-party partners. As in all good businesses looking to leverage technology, IT in Yodel cannot be seen to be "doing" things to the business – the business has to embrace the opportunities that can be enabled by technology.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills
As I'm now in my third decade of leading IT teams, experience has played a big part in my development, but so has the use of coaches, mentors, executive education and peer networking. Learning from your mistakes can be the most powerful of lessons; however, learning from those of your peers can be nearly as effective and a lot less stressful. I've also found personal coaching to be very beneficial at specific points throughout my career.
What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
Machine learning/artificial intelligence, data analytics, wearable technology, enterprise apps, internet of things, automation and robotics, 3D printing, the sharing economy and VR/AR as well as some very interesting combinations of these technologies applied in non-conventional ways.
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
Everything depends on the value that can be returned. If we can spin up a vanilla SaaS package in days and be live adding value, then it's a no-brainer. If there is nothing on the market that meets our needs and we feel strongly enough that our needs will drive value or create IP, then we will consider the bespoke route. No one size fits all and industry maturity can play a big part in the tools that can be bought either off the shelf or as a service. As mentioned above, we have progressed well in our bimodal (or even trimodal) delivery model, so we are able to release value quickly on new in-house builds.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
I would link this to the horizon scanning outlined above, which is something I actively do myself and encourage my senior team to do too. We have six or seven new technology-driven innovations in the lab at the moment, which have come about through the team's own ideas or findings in the market. We hope they will lead to at least one or two significant product/service releases in 2016 that will be brand-new concepts in the delivery industry.
Our innovation lab also allows people the opportunity to see new products, engage with vendors on new ideas, and bring forward their own thoughts on opportunities that could help us achieve our strategic ambitions. There should be no boundaries imposed with regards to mainstream vendors or startups. Established providers can innovate too!
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
Our strategy is to enter into partnerships with a few key vendors that will allow us to accelerate our ambitious plans to transform the business and assist in the drive to embrace digital opportunities.
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
The most visible to customers is a delivery service based on a two-hour time window. Dynamic driver routing has been introduced internally in the last 12 months and piloted with a small number of clients in the knowledge that such a solution requires significant in-flight experience and tuning to mature the product ready for the mass market. We hope to be able to take this to market in the coming months.
Our client reporting solution is considered the best in the industry and has broken new ground in detail and transparency. Many of the deliverables in the last 12 months have been internally focused around either cost efficiency or enhanced productivity. We have several highly innovative propositions that have undergone significant development and investment in the last six to 12 months, a few of which should be ready for mainstream launch later this year, leveraging IoT, geolocation and other aspects of digital enablement in combinations that have not yet been seen in this industry. Due to competitive pressures, we are not able to talk in too much detail about these solutions prior to launch.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
We are in the process of final vendor selection for our new compute platform, which we will disclose once the deals are completed. This is fundamental to our modernisation programme and enables our internal solutions to be offered as cloud services that can be combined with third-party public or private cloud offerings as part of our hybrid approach to cloud adoption. We work with some of the most recognisable global technology vendors, but we are also partnering with several smaller organisations that offer great products and/or services.
Rate how important your sources of innovative technology suppliers are
- Often use: analyst houses, CIO peers
- Occasionally use: consultants, industry body, media.
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
It's one of several risks that are tracked and managed as appropriate by the executive team. I have a dedicated direct report who is in the middle of building a team to ensure we deal with cyber security effectively.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What is the annual IT budget?
£23m before considering investment opportunities.
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
55% revenue, 45% capital.
What is your budget's operational/development split?
How many users does your department supply services to?
During our busiest times of year we are serving 16,000 members of staff, drivers and couriers. We provide systems that are used by multiple members of staff in more than 1,000 clients. We are able to deliver to every person in every household in the UK, which means we are able to offer web tracking services to upwards of 40 million 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?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?