Whether he's assigned the character of Obi-Wan-Kenobi, Yoda or indeed Darth Vader in the department's unique post-project analysis process, Francesco de Marchis can be sure of one thing: his organisation is feeling his force. His is not some head of IT support position, but a full-on digital transformation role that he is executing with aplomb. His success is hitting all the business's buttons.

Name and job title
Francesco de Marchis, CTO, Low Cost Travel Group.

How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Before I took on the CIO position at Low Cost Travel Group (LCTG) in March 2015, the organisation's IT department was a small, siloed function employing 25 people with limited focus on customer needs and a huge reliance on third-party suppliers. Since joining, my main focus has been to drive the IT function toward a more strategic role throughout the company, leading an enterprise digital transformation and embedding the 'customer is king' mantra into everything we do.

Today, LCTG's IT function includes 80 members. The cross-functional product teams are accountable, data-driven, effectively skilled, high-performing and customer-centric.

They share a clear focus, are empowered and responsible for the long-term success of products among target customers. Analytics gives them a better, deeper understanding of user behaviours, while customer research and user testing inform roadmaps and priorities, which are driven across all business units.

They have the skills required to reduce dependencies on third-party professionals and enable better collaboration among people throughout the organisation. Their deep engineering capabilities allow us to deploy changes quickly, meet the rising expectations of our external customers, and contribute to a positive overall experience with LCTG. And our dedicated customer service representative team looks to improve customer experience feedback and rapidly review and respond to all customer service requests.

In under 12 months, we already have directly and positively effected significant improvements. Revenue-driving product innovation comes in the form of IT-driven innovation across all customer offerings that matches consumer search and market buying patterns, generating greater revenues. We have greatly improved the general usability of our products. Our customer satisfaction ratio has risen from 72% when I joined the company to 88% – and we are well on our way to achieving our strategic goal of a 90%+ level.

I also initiated a We Are Listening To You! communications channel through which customers involved in A/B tests on our website can leave immediate, live feedback that we use to improve the overall customer experience.

How as CIO have driven cultural and behaviour change in your organisation, and to what extent?
The most significant cultural change that I have effected at LCTG has been to inspire both IT personnel and the greater organisation to perceive information technology and the people who enable it as essential, enterprise-wide strengths.

Since LCTG's inception as a digital startup almost 10 years ago, it has grown to a £600m revenue business, which in turn has led to extremely rapid employee growth –from 80 to 600 employees. Like any organisation that scales at such a rapid pace, LCTG found it difficult to hold onto some of its startup characteristics and had taken a step backwards towards waterfall processes instead of agile ways of working. Without a clearly defined agile process, visibility or alignment across functions, decisions were being made in a top-down, reactive manner.

My aim since joining LCTG has been to change this in two ways: first, to transform technology from an operational, reactive function to one that leads and drives productive change; and second, to challenge the rest of the business to disrupt old siloed ways of working and remove barriers to effective collaboration.

Historically, LCTG thought of its technology leaders as mere technologists. I came on board as a business and commercial partner "specialised in technology". The difference has been striking. I created a vision and a roadmap that takes advantage of what technology can offer, becomes a business enabler, creates business opportunities, and proactively promotes business ideas and solutions.

I firmly believe that people are a company's most important asset, particularly in times of transformation (ie digital, agile, development operations, technology). Creating a culture and environment that attracts and retains the right people is critically important to creating effective change. I have sought to enable a culture that challenges our existing talent, encourages growth, inspires a sense of fun and attracts top external talent.

This year, I have introduced and begun training people on a scaled agile structure and processes. This has created a defined structure and clear accountabilities across technology, with transparency and engagement across the wider organisation. I have initiated some of the most ambitious and challenging big data projects this company (and many others) have ever seen, and inspired team members to rise to new levels of excellence.

I have injected more life and a personal touch into our office space – from product team ownership of daily ice breaker/energiser games to Friday beer fridge and other social activities – and created a place where people are excited to come to work each day. I have identified and promoted existing untapped talent who demonstrated a willingness to grow and excel. This has provided opportunities for individuals to step up to more senior and challenging roles.

These steps have helped to inspire an overall culture of improvement and achievement. Teams are now aligned to common objectives and have a get up and go attitude. What's more, we all have fun doing it as a community.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's performance
It's been a year of big change, during which I accomplished much. I have led a digital transformation, growing the technology function from approximately 25 to 80 people. I have introduced an 'agile studio' team within the new product organisation to embed and own scaled agile ways of working, processes and tools. The product teams have a clear view and control over their backlogs, the associated costs and ROI as well as having consistently good engagement from key business stakeholders outside of technology.

I have driven the design and development of the new LCTG travel platform. On track to be fully completed and launched by March 2017, the platform has already delivered: a front-end platform that improves time to market in delivering new B2C brands; a super-fast XML gateway to improve the business performance of LowcostBed; the launch of the Bed Bank XML platform, which has increased response time by 52% while reducing hardware footprint costs by 30%; and increased team sprint velocity by 25% while achieving higher quality releases with 15% fewer bugs than the year before.

In 2015, we also introduced our new B2C brand Hoteling, a hotel-only meta site. Revenues from the site began strong and have continued to grow at an impressive rate, with January 2016 as the biggest month in sales to date with £11.5m in TTV. The site has already delivered a 30% increase in LCTG's annual revenue.

Feedback from the board, executive team and other management levels has been very positive.

"We are definitely ground-breaking with the pace at which we are deploying. Well done! Impressive!" said Paul Evans, the CEO.

"My staff and I were amazed at the pace at which the website was designed and built. Within a few short months, the project went from being an idea to a reality at a pace people weren't used to seeing at Lowcost," said Alex Gisbert, COO.

"Being able to release in two-week cycles has given the business the ability to start delivering value sooner. By prioritising the most important and valuable functionality, we can build and deploy quickly, and start generating revenue immediately. This is a huge step forward from days where we would have had to plan many months in advance even to make a minor change to the websites," said David Jones, product director.

Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
My credo is that the more we listen to stakeholders internally and externally, the more profitable our business becomes and the more we delight our users. With this view in mind, we have sought insights from the following:

Our diverse team
We value the opinions of every one of our employees. We have a diverse range of nationalities within the business and we draw on this organisational competency when we take new products to market. I rely on our employees to help us differentiate our content, translations, payment methods and tone of voice on our websites to deliver experiences that are sensitive to the needs of our users in different markets. This has resulted in significant improvements in conversion from local market testing.

Our customers
We take nothing to market without speaking to users, and we exhaustively test and discuss every new proposition in as close to real-world conditions as we can before we take it to market. We use Whatusersdo.com and Usertesting.com to get real users to test-drive our sites and we conduct face-to-face usability reviews. Sometimes the findings we get from testing surprise us. But it always benefits us.

Third-party tools
We draw on a range of tools to help us to deliver better services to customers. These include our multi-variant testing provider Qubit (which statistically helps us measure incremental improvements in sales performance resulting from usability improvements) and providers who help us to gain insight directly from users about the service we provide to them (Tripadvisor, Trustpilot, etc).

Consulting expertise
We engaged North Highland to support our digital transformation and bring insights from work they have done with M&S, Sainsbury's, the Government Digital Service and many more. I'm a big believer in learning from experience and not re-inventing the wheel. The agile studio concept we implemented is not new, it is built on experience across a number of their clients. North Highland's knowledge has helped us understand potential issues, avoid possible pitfalls and get the transformation right the first time.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I have restructured our technology function and introduced a matrix management structure with cross-functional (and where possible co-located) product teams (eg PO, Scrum, UX, engineering, testing and development operations).

I have established an -level product steering committee (attended by the CEO, COO, CFO and other key stakeholders) and working groups to ensure that people understand our key priorities and focus areas, and to ensure that these are completely aligned with the business strategy.

Our work objectives – which cascade down to all employees – include: aligning each product to one or more key business objectives; adopting a clear approach for calculating and tracking cost and ROI and success measures, and putting metrics in place; challenging any initiative that does not have a positive ROI during the discovery phase; challenging and shutting down any initiative that does not match the forecast ROI if it is not contributing to the overall business strategy. This methodology has since been embraced by the entire LCTG organisation.

Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
Being a CIO in the digital era means that I must bridge the gap between business and technology in a way that helps the business take a leap forward. I define myself as one of the new generation of CIOs that combine the roles of CDO and CIO. I am the evangelist of what technology can bring to the table to enhance and expand the company roadmap and get closer to our customers' needs.

With this in mind, I have been the executive sponsor, pacesetter and inspirational leader of digital change at LCTG. In this role, I have recognised the need for a digital strategy and subsequent transformation to push the company to the higher level of efficiency and performance required to meet its £1bn revenue target. I have led the case for change by getting alignment across the executive team (CEO, COO, CFO and CTO) and business and technology team; in my career, I've seen the impact change has on people and the need to support and encourage them through it.

I have prepared and managed a transformation plan, demonstrating the pros and cons of implementing the change, the ROI and the benefits case. I have increased board confidence and ensured active engagement with senior management with small, early wins. The key to a digital strategy and transformation programme is breaking the changes down into small chunks, focusing on driving rapid change, and demonstrating value and benefit early on. I knew that some of the basics were broken, so I focused on these areas first whilst continuing to plan and implement the medium and longer-term improvements.

I have established and continue to direct a digital transformation committee to drive changes and maintain communication at all levels. This is particularly effective when presenting milestones and new initiatives within a project.

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
The steps we took towards digital transformation were difficult for an organisation that was largely working on a waterfall model. The teams needed a lot of visual help and constant on-the-job training to remind them of the new model, methodology and ways of working.

Technology was a key enabler throughout our transformation. We have adopted tools like Jira and Confluence to improve team collaboration and ensured that Jira was the single source of truth both for documentation and process workflow. We also conduct monthly reviews of our process methodology via webinar to ensure that we remain true to the published workflow and process in Jira.

Moving from a waterfall to an agile approach in the digitalisation process required a massive shift in technology to support continuous delivery and continuous deployment. From a development and release point of view, we implemented Bamboo to strengthen the continuous integration and delivery tool, and tie to the automated builds, tests and releases together in a single workflow. Automation has been a key principle, both in terms of product development (eg testing, release) as well as deployment and supporting delivery processes (eg financials, dashboards and reporting). To support this approach we shifted the focus from manual testing to full automation, implementing Selenium Grid, which allows us to run our tests on different machines against different browsers in parallel. Practically speaking, we have implemented distributed test execution. We are currently in the continuous integration phase, trying to move towards continuous delivery.

But none of these phases could have been achieved without the implementation of cloud delivery in our hosting infrastructure. We are using Rackspace as hosting manager partner. Leveraging its expertise, we have implemented a hybrid solution with a baseline of fixed infrastructure bursting on the cloud on demand. But the cloud is now an integral part of the development and testing life cycle, providing environment on request and managed by the delivery process.

We have moved away from creating lots of offline documentation that isn't read to online materials, wikis, training and tutorials. A repeatable bi-weekly show and tell meeting guarantees vision alignment between business and technology, and enables the organisation to embrace technology that drives productivity.

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?
The gap between technology and the business has historically been a problem in LCTG, which is why I made it a key focus area for change.

At a functional level, I have introduced a monthly 'town hall', which is an opportunity for the technology team to present key initiatives and challenges and to celebrate successes to the wider company audience. Everyone has the opportunity to present at this meeting, not just the senior management team within technology. Since we started eight months ago, we have achieved 95% participation from IT and 62% from the rest of the functional areas. The Q&A is now an average of 20-30 questions per meeting.

The town hall meeting is supported by a monthly newsletter and a tech blog where we present all the initiatives that can bring new ideas to the business or provide new unique selling points.

At a product level we have introduced steering committees, working groups and regular show and tell sessions that are open to business stakeholders. The show and tell sessions have been especially successful, achieving 85% business participation.

We have also focused on day-to-day transparency by implementing what we call the digital project management office. Practically, it functions as a digital watchdog over budget vs actual spend, which is usually the biggest problem in any technology organisation like LCTG. As a result, the business can now review spending and see how we perform on any project.

We also went further, integrating the ROI forecast for all business initiatives connected with IT spending to measure their ROI performance versus the forecast number delivered at the initiation phase. With daily dashboards on each project, business, technology and finance can now monitor the full performance of a project in real time without waiting for the monthly report – building trust and better team working across the functions.

We sent another positive message to the full organisation by making good use of our physical working environment (collaborative workspaces, white walls that you can draw on and lots of visuals). It's a sign of good agile delivery in progress! Walking within the IT office space you get a positive vibe of new, trendy and agile.

How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
I use a number of different social networking tools to build awareness, interest and spark discussions. LinkedIn forums have been a great tool for generating discussions on specialist topics (eg big data). We used their forum to identify key players in the industry of big data suggested by real customers.

Tools such as Brandwatch have helped me to identify key players in the industry who are discussing emerging challenges.

I created co-funded collaborative forums and discussion wikis with market leaders. For example, during the selection process of the big data platform I created a forum inviting key players (identified via LinkedIn forum) to respond to five questions on the efficiency of their software and why we should use them. As a result we were able to identify our selected partner with whom we did a successful proof of concept and later the entire project.

I use social networks to create real and virtual meet-ups of like-minded individuals. For example, I created one to engage with local technology companies sharing the same challenges of recruiting in difficult places like Gatwick.

But I don't stick just to technology when it comes to social networks. I attend key conferences and events such as the World Travel Market and have recently presented at a global Microsoft event. I share the findings from these events with the IT function and wider organisation either within the town hall or the architect committee. In addition, I encourage my direct reports and teams to attend meet-ups, to be up to date on LinkedIn, and be active on other social channels.

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?
I am the technology evangelist within LCTG. The business is expecting me to present not just technology but how technology can be an enabler of new ideas or a solution to an existing problem. However, I make sure not to limit us with a one-way communication channel. I don't want the business to think that we're playing a game of Monopoly and that they cannot offer any help or ideas to us. I engage with the business to get their views on competition and how we can work together, and use technology to help achieve our business objectives.

The new idea process flow implemented by the agile studio is where business and technology can respond rapidly to change and new ideas. All Ideas go into a backlog and are then assessed. The monthly product steering committee (product, business, exec leadership team and tech) decides the priority based on criteria such as speed to market and ROI. Changes then go into a feasibility analysis stage. Finally the approval is reflected in the new roadmap. All ideas follow the same process. Any member can sponsor an idea and ask for a proof of concept, an RFP for new product selection, or new business projects.

I have also implemented several cross-functional groups. Built on the Spotify model, I have created subject matter expert (SME) groups, chapters and guilds, and communities of interest. We currently have three SME groups (hotel, flights and packages) and seven guilds, mainly around software technology areas.

Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
As a business CIO/CTO I need to be sure that I keep my skills up to date in technology, management and the business vertical. In doing so, I have developed not only strong IT management knowledge but also strong business knowledge, particularly in the travel and e-commerce industry. I have found that peer-to-peer roundtables and workshops are the most successful ways to learn from people in my role, who address the same problems I'm facing day by day. Their experience is vital for me, just as my experience is for them.

I am a member of several communities of senior technology executives, where we all take turns running meetings and roundtable discussions, as well as observing and asking lots of questions. The CIO Plus programme, for example, enables CIOs to help each other in a very engaging way, providing guidance and help from experienced digital and technology leaders and coaches.

I'm also a working with CIO Development, an organisation devoted to mentoring and supporting the CIO community. They organise events centred around all the disciplines of the CIO realm, including both technical and business concerns.

LCTG also sponsors members of the technology team to attend technology workshops, conferences and vendor summits, including technology and travel shows across the globe. Members of the development team and I have taken part in a number of hackathons. And we are planning to run our own hackathon in May 2016, which will be open to our competitors and a number of university students.

Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
Diversity is an issue that is close to my heart. I have taken a number of steps to create a truly diverse and multicultural office. I have proactively hired women to perform traditional tech roles (BAs, scrum, and development and PMO). I have pursued an outsourcing model that includes development teams in four different countries.

I have a truly multiracial team with members from Russia, Poland, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Swaziland, India, Italy, Spain, Pakistan, Albania, Germany and the UK. In terms of cultural changes, there has been a notable shift this year from being a place where people come to work to earn a salary to being a place where people come to push their abilities, progress their career and also have fun!

Building scrum methodologies into the way we do things has been an important step. We encourage people to share their knowledge and experience, with an end-of-week session where someone presents a topic from their area that benefits other members of the team (eg showing usability videos). We have also improved the office space significantly, with the goal of enhancing collaboration and knocking down silos. We have a new layout, with team collaboration areas and co-location of shared resources. And, we recently introduced employee-voted team member of the week and month awards to make sure achievements are recognised.

From an innovation perspective we are always trialling new technologies and creating environments where our people can experiment and learn outside of their day job. Our first hackathon event in May 2016 will enable engineers to come together offsite to share and collaborate on new ideas. In my previous position at Play.com, this proved to be a great opportunity to develop new skills and work with new technologies and platforms, letting developers do what they do best – develop code! These events also bring together business and other technology representatives to augment teams and help pick winning ideas.

Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
The leadership team and board members were a key factor in my decision to join LCTG. From the beginning we shared an environment of mutual respect and trust, enabling all members to give their best effort. I saw collaboration and no hidden agendas among the team. During this time we signed up 25 new business and seven technology partnerships. I brought in some of the businesses and other members of the leadership team brought in some of the technology partners – truly a cross-functional effort. The CEO empowers us to achieve our best performance.

This sense of trust and collaboration is the company's best asset. Together, we achieve a lot and we know that we can take on any challenge together. From the beginning it was clear to me that the leadership team and the board were looking for a technology business partner, not an IT support senior member. To ensure buy-in from the business, I knew I had to earn their trust and that meant getting the basics right.

I knew we could not claim to offer a new business technology platform if our infrastructure was not up 99.95% of the time, and a reliable support team that could gain confidence across all functions. Engaging the Rackspace team, I worked with the infrastructure team to stabilise the environments. We increased uptime from 85% to 90% in three months, to 95% in six months and now, after almost a year, we are running steady at 99.95% up-time.

I also knew that the IT budget was a big topic for our finance team. We had to get it under control to avoid nasty surprises at the end of the financial year. I took the budget plan very seriously from the beginning. I wrote a new version after just a month showing the delta from the approved one to the new one. This approach helped me earn the CFO's trust immediately. The CFO was able to start accruing the gap that the approved budget was planning to generate at the end of the year if we were not making proper adjustments suggested by my new version.

The COO and I worked in full collaboration from the beginning, sharing contacts, meetings and objectives. We won several big new clients and chose the new CRM platform together, not as an exclusive IT selection process. With the entire leadership team, I insisted on clear long-term planning, no secrets and no surprises. We now have a 12-month roadmap showing resource, cost and commitments, so everyone is clear about the direction and intent.

I also have made a concerted effort to drive business engagement and alignment. I don't like to leave it to chance that a stakeholder will engage and keep abreast of the products. I have established weekly steercos and show and tells, and introduced a number of offline communication methods to the lower management team. I have used an outsource model to overcome short-term capacity challenges so we have flexible capacity to manage project surges and enable us to respond quickly to market changes while not impacting the overall budget allocated for the year.

Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
I am a firm believer in reflection and personal learning, and encourage 360-degree feedback from peers and colleagues during my direct one-to-one meetings, post-mortem project sessions, and during activities where we analyse our management performance.

We do this in a fun way to avoid personal comments that can hurt individuals. For instance, we created comic-book style characters based on different movies and assigned the roles to each team member based on the outcome of the project. For our last big project, we had roles based on the Star Wars characters: Obi-Wan-Kenobi = The Wise; Yoda = The Magic Wizard; Darth Vader = The Really Tough Guy; Han Solo = The Hero 1; Princess Leia = The Hero 2; Chewbacca = The Loyal. We assigned each of these roles to individuals by vote and explained why. So descriptors like "good" and "bad" are camouflaged by the fact that we're having fun. And we change roles, depending on the project.

On top of this, I benefit from one-to-one coaching and mentoring support through CIO Development, a body set up to provide CIOs with a network of like-minded mentors. This personal time helps me to review my strengths and weaknesses with a person outside the company, enabling me to analyse issues and situations with a clear mind and objective, external perspective. I also mentor a number of junior CTOs and CIOs (previous colleagues), supporting them in working through their challenges as they grow into their roles.

As the team is the key of success in any organisation, I have set up a dedicated time for my leadership team to improve our communication and interaction through monthly coaching experience outside of work and off-site team building events. We have had one event with 100% participation and 100% positive feedback. Our motto is, "We are MICE: Motivated, Innovative, Challenged, Empowered." And now, we are looking forward to a second event, designed to add a more collaborative approach within the team.

What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
As soon as I joined LCTG. I began to push for the business to make decisions based on data rather than intuition. As a result of these efforts, data analytics is now widely used by the product teams to define and prioritise changes and we are using NoSQL as part of this effort. Likewise, Google Analytics provides critical decision support for final prioritisation of all backlogs. Margins are now modified according to real-time booking feedback on quantity and price, yielding an increase in margin by 7% average (so far) on the average booking value.

We are also investing in machine learning to support the in-house yield management tool. And we are investing heavily in big data with our new travel platform, not only on the MI division but also in real-time price calculation. This is a major step for the organisation on the way to achieving its five-year vision.

How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
We use ROI as the key metric for technology investment, with priority going to higher ROI. This can be either in more revenue, cost saving or greater efficiency. The ROI calculation is based on multiple factors:

Generating higher revenue
For example, one project we considered was to implementing flight search capabilities using normal relational database technology. We learned that it would generate a response within 10-15 seconds, translating into a conversion ratio of 0.3 in the booking funnel. We also looked at a project that would employ the same design using big data with Cassandra and Kafka Technology. This technology would generates a search response time of 0.3 seconds, with a conversion ratio of 0.78, suggesting that it would be a better investment.

Total cost of ownership
It is important to keep in mind not only the costs involved in implementing and maintaining the selected technology from a development perspective, but also the infrastructure costs associated with running and supporting it over time.

Risk and complexity
I'm a firm believer in investing in technology that is not too new and which has been properly tested. We tend not to use bleeding-edge technology, opting instead for cutting-edge technology where we can find tested platforms and skills on the market. We draw the line between by assigning a risk factor between 1 and 10, with higher numbers indicating a riskier technology implementation.

Efficiency
We compare the degree to which we can reduce potential costs using one technology implementation versus another.

Our Hoteling offering and big data travel platform were both evaluated and selected for investment using these four metrics.

Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
We have established a tech forum that is run by the architect team. They use this to present back on the trends they are seeing as well as any new vendors and platforms they discover.

I'm a great believer in the value of personal development and the benefit of this both for my employees and the business. I have a budget for each member to increase education in any discipline that is tech-related and of interest to their personal and professional life. People are encouraged to spend at least one day a month on learning and development.

We sent several of our people to MVC framework courses and the SDD conference this year. This has had an immediate return within the team from multiple perspectives. First, they came back enthusiastic and eager to show and share their new learning. Second, this stimulated the trial of new technology, methods and ideas, which ultimately increased the quality of the web platform the team is building.

Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
My strategy has always been never to be single-vendor-dependent. If I were dependent on a single vendor, I would lose negotiation power as well as the multiple perspectives that come with multiple solutions and ideas. That said, having multiple suppliers does not stop me from having unique relationships with each of them.

I like to think of vendors as partners more than as simple order takers and suppliers; we get much better engagement and results when we build long-term relationships that are financially sustainable for both parties. I feel it's important to have a strategic supplier that understands our vision and direction, and can support our teams, bringing external insight, challenge and credibility to discussions.

At this moment I have two suppliers in the development team, both with similar skills but specialised in different sections of my enterprise architecture. This lets us achieve the benefits of a deep one-to-one relationship, as well as negotiation power and multiple perspectives.

Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the past year and what they have enabled
The major technology innovation we introduced is a new way of using big data technology, not for BI or MI, but for a real-time transaction engine. This technology enables the business to massively improve the performance of the LCTG platform and has significantly reduced total cost of ownership of the HW and SW footprint.

For our flight search engine, the Cassandra/Kafka/Spark technology stack I introduced at LCTG generated an immediate technology advantage, producing a super-fast response time of 0.3 seconds (down from 10-15 seconds). This development alone generated more than a 50% increase in conversion.

The same innovation also enabled two new product offerings: Inspire Me (an overview of the cost of destinations within a range of six months to one year so a customer can plan any vacation based on available budget) and Real-Time Dynamic Packaging (based on the destinations and configurations a customer desires, we return all possible package offers over a wide range of times and destinations in less than one second).

We are currently exploring another technology innovation, experimenting with Apache Foundation's GraphX to enable multilocation mapping across multiple regions. This is going to enable a new set of features that will allow customers to search one set of metadata over multiple properties in an area before committing to any price and availability combination.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
We have made a number of deals that drive our key agenda this year. From our customer is king perspective, we implemented Salesforce. This gives us an integrated view of our customer portfolio and allows us to step up our customer service and retention through a tailored, high-quality service.

Our ambitious projects to create new services and our own big data travel technology platform both demand robust and high-performing infrastructure. I chose Rackspace for a high-quality managed hosting infrastructure and 24/7 support from a highly skilled team of system administrators and development operators. I also selected Datastax to provide us with the ultimate platform for the new generation of big data enterprise

Finally, with the demands of a large digital transformation, I engaged North Highland to provide strategic and operational consulting. They have been a critical partner throughout the year, bringing ideas from a number of clients and industries and helping me to drive real change.

Rate how important your sources of innovative technology suppliers are
Always referred to: peers, industry body.

Often use: analyst houses, consultants, media.

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

How is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
LCTG has been lucky. Till now we have not been exposed by any cyber-attack. But this positive moment can change very quickly. When I joined LCTG I made cyber security a top agenda topic at the senior exec meeting as well as at the architecture committee. I established a monthly penetration test executed by a third-party specialist; all feedback coming from the test is implemented as a top priority in the sprint backlog of all products.

I periodically make the entire company aware of any news and new trends in the cyber security arena using the IT blog and newsletter, while the exec board receive a detailed monthly report on any vulnerability and risk that the penetration tests highlight. It is vital that the entire company is aware of any risk and have a plan on how to handle specific events. We work in conjunction with the cyber team of Rackspace to strength our infrastructure, taking advantage of any new ideas from the cyber community where Rackspace is participating.

When did you start your current role?
March 2015.

What is your reporting line?
CEO.

Are you a member of the board of directors?
Yes.

What is the annual IT budget?
£15m.

How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
60% capital and 40% revenue.

What is your budget's operational/development split?
40%/60%.

How many users does your department supply services to?
600.

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Yes.

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

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes.

How many employees are there in your IT team?
80.

Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Yes.

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
80 in-house and 20 outsourced.