A year ago the newly appointed Andy Haywood assessed the fledgling change programme he inherited. His conclusion? The technology-led programme was beset conflicting priorities, and its ambition in terms of scope, scale and complexity wasn't matched by any capability to make it happen. Good intentions, in other words, but significant structural problems and no chance of it ever being successfully delivered. Through the painstaking work of getting back in control, putting the right team in place and producing a plan that the team could believe in and stick to, he turned the change programme on its head, with his approach of putting people and process change before technology delivering inspiring results.

Name and job title
Andy Haywood, Group CIO, N Brown.

How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
As well as being group CIO, I am accountable for the leadership and delivery of N Brown's business transformation programme. This is a genuinely strategic transformation programme to move N Brown to an online, innovative, digital-first business; by the time we are finished we will have replatformed the whole business in less than 30 months.

The way I have gone about delivering this change is by placing the customer at the heart of our business. This strategy has already delivered significant benefits to N Brown and has recently resulted in my remit being further widened to include board-level accountability for our relationship with customers. This means accountability for the customer across the whole business, including our retail fashion business, our credit and financial services businesses and our customer contact centre, which is the source of 20% of our annual revenue.

This combination of driving technology change, business transformation, digital innovation and improvements to the customer relationship gives me a unique and powerful platform to influence the products, experience and services we offer our customers. I am also accountable for leadership of our creative services team, which is responsible for the creation and production of all digital and non-digital output for our customers.

With this power comes great responsibility to get it right: to make the right decisions and the right priority calls. As such, last year I secured board agreement to add the delivery of a single customer view to the scope of our business transformation programme. For the first time ever, our business is starting to achieve a single view of the customer across all of our channels and all of our brands. Whilst other businesses are talking about transformational change, we are doing it!

We are already seeing significant positive benefit in this decision for our customers, colleagues and our business performance. By understanding and listening to our customers and giving them what they what, when they want it and on their own terms, we have entered a profound period of business change and customer insight beyond the scope of the most transformational activity.

The outcomes are significant: improved customer satisfaction, better-quality relationships with N Brown and, of course, improved revenues and sales. However, the impact and influence of what we are doing extends far beyond these key business metrics. It gives N Brown confidence in our future position in what we know will be the radically different retail world of tomorrow. Focusing on what is best for our customers means we are focusing on what really matters.

How as CIO have you driven cultural and behaviour change in your organisation, and to what extent?
I disagree with the conventional wisdom that cultural change has to take a lot of time to effect or that behavioural change is the last part of any change cycle. As CIO I believe you can drive swift behavioural change by winning colleagues' hearts and minds and that, by doing this, their determination and attitude will follow.

The best way to succeed with colleagues is by successfully delivering on commitments and building a reputation for delivery excellence. In IT, success results in teams being recognised and respected by business colleagues. There is no better feeling for an IT team than making a promise and keeping it!

When embarking on cultural change, my approach is to look out for cultural leaders – the bellwethers of an organisation – and pick one or two who can become converts. These aren't always the obvious choices and they are never the senior people in my team: at N Brown they have included a PA and a junior project manager. Once these people become converts they become advocates for change. Once your cultural leaders become your advocates, then you drive and deliver that most elusive goal: cultural change. The extent and the power of this change cannot be overstated because once you deliver cultural change then you become unstoppable, with everything that means for your business, your customers and your bottom line.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's company performance
If anyone out there doubts the profound importance of the technology and business change under way at N Brown then I urge you to read N Brown's last trading update to the City. My business transformation programme, known internally as Fit For The Future, is referenced throughout the report. Put simply, it IS our business strategy and it is a strategy which is now well on the way to being delivered.

However, things were not so positive 12 months ago as I assessed the fledgling change programme I inherited. I saw a business transformation programme with good intentions but significant structural problems and with no chance of ever being successfully delivered. I said at my first N Brown board meeting as CIO that we had a huge opportunity to transform our business but that this would be a difficult journey. There was no single lever I could pull to solve the challenges we faced. Just the painstaking work of getting in control, getting the right team in place and producing a plan we could believe in and stick to. This was the course of action that I set out when I joined and it is the course of action we follow now.

What I found was a technology-led change programme, conflicting priorities, and an ambition in terms of scope, scale and complexity that wasn't quite matched by our capability. We had the right destination but were on the wrong journey. I turned this technology-led change programme on its head, and put people and process change first, then technology.

The programme had a four-year time horizon, with 21 highly interdependent releases, and benefits were end-loaded. I introduced a more pragmatic approach of a two-year programme with four largely independent releases all delivering benefits in their own right and with these benefits front-loaded. We had long, risky and complex transition states and had outsourced critical accountability for system integration. We now have shorter transition states, with N Brown leading and managing all partners.

We are now reaping the rewards of this review as evidenced by the delivery of our first two major releases. The first, a complete overhaul of our foundational financial and reporting systems, came in under budget and on time to the exact day we said we would land it, nine months previously. The second used the principles of minimum viable product (MVP) to spin up a brand-new fully transactional ecommerce platform designed from scratch, implemented, fully integrated into existing systems and now live in less than 10 months.

I also take a great deal of pride in my leadership and creation of N Brown's new innovation centre. I observed a business with some talented, creative people but without an outlet to see their ideas come to fruition. I provided some sponsorship which led to the creation of an innovation centre – a combination of a virtual team, a physical space and also new ways of working, which enables people from across IT and the business to work together to turn their ideas into reality. This has become a flagship programme for the business and, in time, I believe N Brown will become famous across retail for our innovation programme and our innovative customer solutions.

Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
I do find value studying what is happening in the wider world, at third parties and at our competitors and then applying this information and insight to N Brown. However, N Brown is firmly at the forefront of digital retailing, so my team is making the news, not reporting it!

One area I do find useful is looking at the market leaders in many industries today – companies such as Amazon, Uber, Facebook, Airbnb – and the disruption they have caused to their respective markets. What is fascinating is that these aren't businesses that have changed and transformed themselves. They are new, usually just a few years old, and formed by entrepreneurs working with a digital-first mindset.

My insight is that in this digital revolution, the pace of change is not gentle. It can and will be violent and destructive to long-cherished business models and established ways of working. I believe all CIOs face a choice right now whether we are aware of it or not. We can choose to follow the path some businesses are taking – a cautious 'wait and see] approach, hedging our bets and hoping that, against all the evidence, somehow we will be immune to the inexorable forces of modernisation and progress. My belief is this approach will result in disaster.

I believe we are about to see the world separate into winners and losers, and the differentiator between success and defeat will be speed: speed of delivery and speed of realisation. In the future if a business can't deliver and innovate at pace, then it will not be able to compete.

At IT and technology events, the talk is often about the pace of change: how quickly everything changes these days, how fleeting the status quo has become, and how quickly it becomes obsolete. Well, I have some bad news: change will never be this slow again! It is this insight that drives me and motivates me, and determines the pace and the scale of the change under way at N Brown.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
When I took over as CIO my mantra was to make our technology offer and our transformation programme "better for the customer, faster and simpler". I wanted to create a better journey for N Brown customers, colleagues and stakeholders with less risk and greater certainty of outcome. I did this by:

  • Shortening the previous four-year programme delivery window to two years (faster).
  • Resequencing our delivery plans and portfolio so that delivery with the biggest benefit, particularly in terms of customer impact, was prioritised (better for the customer).
  • Derisking IT and simplifying our technology landscape (simpler).

Other examples of what we did include:

  • All programme releases are now largely independent and deliver benefit in their own right.
  • We have adopted a programme approach which enables the business to make informed options and choices along the journey.
  • N Brown takes leadership and manages all partners, including our system integrator – we cannot and will not delegate accountability for programme delivery.

Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
As CIO I have a key role to play in the development and delivery of our digital strategy. My job is to make sure N Brown is not outcompeted, outworked and outsmarted in the global race by anyone out there more ambitious for success than us. We do this by adapting, innovating and delivering.

Charles Darwin said "It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change." Successful businesses have always been those which are the most responsive to change – the most fleet of foot, the fastest and the most agile. It is this mindset which I try and build into our digital strategy.

There is no magic formula or silver bullet to delivering a successful digital strategy and modernising a business. But there are some ways you can get it badly wrong and what makes this really dangerous for the CIO community is that a lot of the old ways of doing things – 'best practice' or 'following the textbook' – are exactly the wrong way to do things.

Digital has changed everything and we are now beyond the tipping point of a pre-digital world and into a post-digital way of doing things. The inconvenient truth is that the skills which have served us all so well in the past as CIOs and senior IT leaders are becoming obsolete. The old job is becoming commoditised. New skills, new ways of working and a new mindset is required. You can't avoid innovation, you must back it. You can't slow the pace of change, you must increase it. You can't shy away from new ways of working, you must embrace them.

You can't waste your time fighting the old battles of the past. Digital is not a turf war between IT and marketing, it's collaboration. The enemy is out there, not inside your organisation, and this is the attitude and approach I bring to developing and delivering my digital strategy

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
I have recently made a major investment in Hybris, which gives us a new digital platform and will transform our online customer channel. The look and feel of our websites will delight our customers and drive significant internal efficiencies in how we build, support and develop our online business. And the impact of this is huge. Before long almost our entire customer revenue will come via this channel. The only exception is revenue received through our small stores estate and even then we will have a Hybris kiosk in each store.

The driver behind this isn't technology for technology's sake; it's all about agility and pace. Our previous digital offerings were OK, but they were not as fast as some of our competitors. I don't mean web speed, I mean ability to change and adapt, because in the digital world we want to be making changes literally every hour of every day. This is the difference between winning and losing in the digital space: the agility and speed that is needed to react to the market and to customers.

At the back-end, we've gone with Oracle Retail Suite, which will be our core trading platform. This will allow us to improve our promotions, flexibility and overall customer offer. In our credit business we are replacing all the credit decisioning tools. So every aspect of the business is undergoing a comprehensive change based on improving our customer offer. At the back-end, it's all about controls, stability and availability. My strategy is to deliver a back-end that's solid, secure, reliable and less complex than today's world.

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?
Effective communication and engagement are very important to the success of what we are doing at N Brown. As such, I have my own IT communications teams team, who support me by planning, preparing and delivering frequent, high-quality communications materials to the IT team and the business. This team uses a variety of tools and techniques from large, set-piece quarterly face-to-face town gall meetings through to weekly newsletters and blogs, to impromptu, ad-hoc events – which might be one of my leadership team standing on a table talking and engaging with our people.

For me the secret of successful communications is to bring a creative, fun approach to engaging people and, above all, to be authentic with the messages. My IT communications team isn't there to be a propaganda machine: they tell it like it is, and we acknowledge when something has gone well and when something hasn't. They also listen to feedback and provide valuable radar to me about how IT is seen across the business. The impact of this is that colleagues feel listened to and that they can trust the information and updates being provided by me and my team.

How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
Personally I am not an avid user of social networks as a source of industry insight. However, I am more interested and engaged in how social media can transform a business's relationship with customers and drive changes to a brand in a ways which were inconceivable only a few years ago. This is also true of the effect of social media with internal communications. We have deployed an internal social media solution to replace our traditional corporate intranet. The colleague impact has been dramatic as people use this solution to support collaborative, flexible working across functions. I also find this is a rich source of feedback and ideas, which I use to make adjustments to the way we drive the business forward.

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?
One of the advantages of working at N Brown is that nobody here underestimates the pivotal role that technology will play in building our future. Our previous business model was as a catalogue retailer and we are well on the way to being a true multi-channel retailer, which is underpinned by major technology investment.

My IT team and the wider business all take huge pride in what we have delivered over the past 12 months, and this means the business wants to be involved and engaged in what we are doing in the future. My approach is to embrace this enthusiasm and support with open arms.

I try and blur the lines between IT and the business. For example, I have senior business colleagues working as part of my leadership team, and a number of other business colleagues are seconded into my area to work on the design and delivery of our change programme. This collaboration and alignment is further cemented into our organisational DNA by my broader set of accountabilities. As well as the traditional role of a CIO, I have board-level accountability for our business transformation programme and our customer strategy, all of which locks IT and the business together with shared goals and incentivised to achieve the same outcomes.

Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
I challenge myself and my team to look to the outside world for inspiration and new ways of thinking which we can introduce to N Brown. This could be identifying and applying the latest industry trends, understanding what our competition is doing, or listening to what thought-leaders and key industry experts are advocating.

My team never stands still. In particular, my CTO has specific accountability for the development and maintenance of a three-year strategic roadmap to make sure we benefit from latest developments. His goal is to drive cost and risk out of the business and to delight and surprise our customers through new technology innovation

Personally, I find my challenge isn't so much getting information on new developments, it is filtering the enormous volume of information available to gain true insight into what can add value and make a difference. For this I often rely on a few, carefully chosen contacts and sources of information who I select based on their expertise and delivery track records. These are my trusted advisers.

Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
Building a strong, diverse and impactful team is a top priority at any business. My vision is to have the number one team in IT fashion retail, so it is essential that my leadership team are role models to the wider department, and this includes demonstrating diversity. I must have one of the most gender-diverse IT leadership teams in the industry as two-thirds of my permanent direct reports are women.

Another area which is important to me is diversity of thought and of thinking. I have changed the traditional mentality and attitude of my IT team by making a number of secondments from the business into my team. This accelerates understanding and insight into business challenges and ensures the needs of the business and the needs of customers are designed into our products and solutions from the ground up.

Lastly, in a business with aspirations to think digital first, I have taken steps to give greater opportunities to younger people. I believe that talented young people are the future of IT. Through training, mentoring and employment my team and I are working to create the next generation of young IT professionals. I do this because I firmly believe it is the right thing to, do but also because training and mentoring these dynamic young people within an environment like N Brown doesn't just benefit them, it also benefits the future bottom line.

Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
My philosophy here can be summed up as I believe the world is changed by your example and not by your opinion! I am a member of the JD Williams executive board and I use my position to ensure that every meeting we spend time talking about IT and technology, the business transformation programme and the improvements I am driving in our customer strategy.

I also attend every meeting of the N Brown PLC board to engage, consult and interact with these key leadership stakeholders. Keeping my agenda on the table is an essential activity, as there has to be a strong collective desire and responsibility for change from the board.

My approach is to be clear about what we are doing and to link this explicitly to our business goals. I never take their support for granted and I always challenge myself to properly articulate and demonstrate why these leadership teams should buy into and support my vision and strategy. In my experience explaining why we are doing what we do to these groups is more important than explaining what we are doing. People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

I challenge these stakeholders and myself by asking some of the big, important questions. Why should they invest in the future of the IT team? Why should they care about our transformation programme? If these are profound and challenging questions, then that's because I believe the answers are equally important. In my opinion, as CIO I must either transform IT to meet the future needs of my business and the expectations and demands of my customers – or we will die. Change MUST make the business better, faster or simpler for customers and colleagues. If it doesn't, we are doing the wrong thing. Ultimately I believe that people, whether they are the leadership of your business or the most junior member of staff, are influenced by success and successful delivery. Nothing builds momentum and credibility better than a successful track record.

Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
My 15 years' experience as a CIO within some of the UK's largest businesses, including Asda, HBOS, Alliance Boots and the Co-operative Group, has given me a deep professional and personal understanding of what matters to customers and how technology can enable and anticipate our customers' needs. However, it has also taught me never to stop learning and that if you close your mind to new insights or new ways of working then you swiftly begin to fall behind the world, which accelerates and changes whether you want it to or not!

I attend selected industry events, I mentor and coach a number of CIOs at the start of their careers as technology leaders, and I make a point of looking for ideas and inspiration from other sectors outside of retail. However, I still believe the richest and most valuable source of learning and development is the time I spend listening to and understanding our customers. There is no substitute for undiluted, unfiltered customer feedback to let you know what is important, what is working and what needs to be fixed. It challenges and refines my approach and is a rich source of personal and professional development

What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
Our innovation centre and business transformation programme continually explore many areas of technology. Some examples include:

  • Wearable technology: we have introduced wireless headsets into our warehouses to direct pickers and improve efficiency via 'pick to voice' systems.
  • Data analytics: using SAS modelling we build customer models – eg 'propensity to buy' and 'targeted segmentation of one', which has significantly improved our ability to offer the best deal at the best time to our customers and improve the targeting and relevance of our marketing.
  • Internet of things: we have MVP'd wireless tagging to track products and clothing to improve the efficiency and traceability in our supply chain.
  • The sharing economy: our new Hybris ecommerce implementation gives us a platform to integrate globally with marketplaces such as Amazon and AliBaba.

We prioritise research, analysis and implementation into those technologies with the clearest link to our core business model of digital retailing and our customer credit proposition. However, we also recognise that, by definition, if we aspire to be truly innovative and creative, then we need to look beyond the obvious and seek to gain competitive advantage by thinking differently, being creative and being radical with our future technology roadmap.

How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
I believe that for all the change in the technology world, the core fundamentals of success remain unchanged. In fact, they are more important than ever. So my starting point for deciding on any new technology challenge is to understand and be able to articulate 'what business problem am I trying to solve?'

I avoid being lured into thinking that systems are the answer. These are enablers. As such, the technological approach I take is often arrived at organically via the process of partnering with the business to solve a problem or realise an opportunity. This means we focus on what is important and keep certain principles at the heart of everything we do: the solution must represent value for money, we must think and act with an entrepreneurial digital-first mindset, and the solution must be secure and protect our systems and data.

Personally, it matters less to me if we select a cloud solution versus an on-premise solution as long as I have confidence that we will be rigorous and disciplined in our delivery approach and won't get distracted by novelty. Once I am clear about this, then the next step is to get on with it!

Too often I see technology change stall because of analysis paralysis or a fear of taking the first step. One of my favourite quotes is from Samuel Johnson, who said: "Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome."

Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
Yes, it is very important to me that my team and I have a good overview of all prospective technology partners. Every month I take my IT leadership team meeting on the road and we spend the day with some of our smaller vendors or prospective vendors.

One of our core sourcing principles is tier matching – ie that we partner with vendors who are the right size for N Brown to ensure we gain the desired attention and right commercial outcomes. This is particularly true for our digital centre of excellence, where I would go so far as to say that the large, multinational established providers are at a significant competitive and cultural disadvantage to the small, niche partners out there. The more time I spend with these smaller partners, the more I find their ways of working – their agile, lean, entrepreneurial, innovative approach – are much closer to how N Brown does business and how I want to do business in the future.

Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
My sourcing strategy is to achieve the right blend of internal colleagues and trusted value-for-money external partners. The central objective is to move as quickly as possible to achieve and realise our overall vision: to be a fast, agile, responsive digital business with IT at the heart of everything we do, delivered from a digital centre of excellence. We want to spend less time and money running our systems and more on changing our systems.

Over the last 12 months this has required me to make some difficult but necessary decisions to radically change our IT sourcing model. Using some of the principles of bi-modal IT, I have structured the department into two different models. Our shopfront remains (and always will remain) internal N Brown colleagues working in a digital centre of excellence, and customer-facing.

Our USP and point of differentiation:

  • Delivering innovation.
  • Agile: quick and cheap to change with technology which looks different year-to-year.
  • Small/niche partners – limited use of third parties – dealing with true digital experts.

The 'back of the shop' has been outsourced to Sopra Steria as a trusted third party partner.

  • It is invisible to customers.
  • It achieves consistency with industry norms.
  • It delivers predicable outcomes.
  • It's slow and stable: robust and predictable with technology that doesn't change much.

We use big/'safe pair of hands' partners, leveraging economies of scale to deliver value for money. As well as Sopra Steria we have key strategic relationships with TCS as the system integrator for our change programme. UST is our strategic test partner and Rethink is our supplier of contract and interim staff.

Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
Our innovation centre is a flagship programme for the business. Our approach is to review lots of ideas from colleagues in the business and IT, and we also encourage our technology partners and new suppliers to pitch to us. Every week we assess these ideas to see which we should move forward into a minimum viable product (MVP). Our aim is to be able to get those we progress from the idea stage to a live MVP in two weeks.

We are already seeing tangible outcomes from this programme. It has had a big impact with our people and I see huge uplift in colleague engagement as we provide an outlet to their creativity, energy and ideas. As importantly, we are delivering meaningful change to our business and customers.

A great example of us driving true innovation is with a service called Namogoo. Working with an Israel tech startup we explored its product, which filters out malware and unwanted adverts (often installed by toolbars, or viruses) on our customers' browser. This malware impacts customers when they are on our websites and reduces our conversion rates and therefore sales. Some of the worst malware we discovered actually directs potential customers from our website to alternative products and sites! Within a few weeks we had an MVP running and deployed live on our website for a sample of our customers, which identified that up to 30% were affected. Using Namogoo alongside our leading web journey monitoring and data analytics tools, we were able to protect our customers so that their journey was improved, and we achieved a win-win as it delivered improved conversion and sales for N Brown.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
As well as our major, multimillion-pound outsourcing deal with Sopra Steria, we have signed a number of key strategic technology deals in support of the business transformation programme. This includes deals with Oracle, IBM, TCS and UST.

All our deals seek to supplement our existing internal capability and deliver flexibility and value for money across IT. We work with trusted partners in their core area of expertise. They are required to improve quality of service to our colleagues and customers and there is a big imperative to drive and accelerate innovation across the business.

One example of the approach is a major deal we signed last year in support of our credit transformation project. A significant proportion of our customers buy our products via our proprietary credit offering. This is a profitable part of our business, but I identified a big opportunity to make it much more prominent in our strategic thinking. Rather than a series of tactical interventions, I recognised we needed to bring all of our planned credit work together under the framework of a release in our business transformation programme and get these improvements delivered by a strategic partner.

This means that we are able to get ahead of the regulatory curve and deliver some significant customer benefits, including having a credit decision system operating at the customer level rather than the account level. This will enable us to truly understand our customers and deliver much better tailored products and solutions, which is a win-win for the customer experience and our business performance.

Rate how important your sources of innovative technology suppliers are

  • Often use: media.
  • Occasionally use: analyst houses, consultants, CIO peers, industry body.

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?

How is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
Over the past 12 months I have taken a number of steps to strengthen our cyber security capability and give greater leadership and management focus to this important area. One important event was my appointment of a new CISO at N Brown, reporting directly to me as part of my IT leadership team. They have spent time working at board level to engage, educate and inform on the subject of cyber security. We have achieved approval of significant investment in a risk reduction programme to ensure our cyber security capability remains fit for purpose far into future and meets the increasing data privacy expectations of our customers.

When did you start your current role?
I was appointed group CIO and business transformation director in August 2014. My role was expanded to include board accountability for the customer and creative services in Q4 2015.

What is your reporting line?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

What is the annual IT budget?

How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
Overall range is £90m-£100m per annum.

What is your budget's operational/development split?

How many users does your department supply services to?

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?
50:50, with in-house colleagues working on our flagship digital centre of excellence, and outsourced partners delivering significant parts of our services including infrastructure, application, end user computing and testing.