Giles Baxter goes a step beyond agile by addressing the physical environment in which delivery takes place, with pop-up innovation labs. His approach is about collaborating with strategic technology partners to create prototypes, bringing customers in when there's something to show them, iterating fast, doing it offsite in a lab environment – and then celebrating at the end of the day.
Name and job title
Giles Baxter, international CIO, Arthur J Gallagher.
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I am part of the executive team that define our strategy, which sets the direction for our customer offerings. I then have responsibility for the IT strategy and change programme, which delivers the products, services and customer experience which delivers that strategy.
How as CIO have you driven cultural change and behaviour in your organisation and to what extent?
Arthur J Gallagher prides itself on being a socially responsible company. A desire to deliver with a social responsibility is something I look for in the hiring process. As a result the new team members I have brought on are delivering projects with universities, giving students work experience opportunities, exploring apprenticeship opportunities and investing time in charitable endeavours. I and my team are intensely proud that we can deliver so much back to the community while at the same time reinforcing and strengthening our corporate culture.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Arthur J Gallagher has been highly acquisitive over recent years. Over the last 12 months I have integrated the IT organisation and reset our operating model to create an effective, well-governed function with clear integration plans and a track record of delivery. We are making steady progress delivering the products and services our customers are looking for, realising the integration synergies we promised to our shareholders and embedding the strength of governance our regulator expects.
Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
As an organisation we are constantly looking to strengthen the products and services we seek to offer our customers. Understanding our customers is vital to this, and that understanding comes from our data, both internal and external. Analytics applied to the data give us the insight to spot both customer and supplier trends. Spotting themes and trends allows us to work with insurers (our suppliers) to co-create customised products tailored to our customers' specific needs. Hence value is created for all involved by delivering tailored customer offerings at scale through insight.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I organise my team as a number of IT business partners who line up to our major business units supported by a set of IT shared delivery leaders (architecture, systems delivery, service delivery, risk and compliance, etc). The business partners ensure the business strategy and operational demands are understood and translated through the delivery towers. The delivery leaders are then all expert at ensuring service is delivered efficiently at scale and to high quality.
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
Over the last two years I created and incubated the digital strategy from within the IT function. This strategy has succeeded in opening up new revenue streams – in e-traded cyber and terrorism products, for example. Building on that success, we have recently created a technical advisory board, which brings an external adviser and international COO into this year’s digital strategy refresh. The external view has been fundamental in bringing wider industry context to challenge our ambition, and the addition of our COO is increasing business engagement with the digital agenda.
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
Agile methods are proving the most effective in engaging our business and customers in the redesign of processes; hence more of our customer-facing deliveries use this methodology. Then we take a step beyond agile by addressing the physical environment in which delivery takes place, resulting in the creation of pop-up innovation labs. We collaborate with our strategic technology partners to create prototypes, bring customers in when we’ve got something to show them, iterate fast, do it offsite in a lab environment, and celebrate at the end of the day.
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?
I am still a firm believer that getting out in person to spend time with my team is the best form of engagement; so site visits to deliver town hall meetings, team meetings and one-to-ones are a time-consuming but vital part of my schedule. However, with a geographically dispersed organisation I supplement this with additional structured communications using a full range of channels. Quarterly full-team conference calls and monthly leadership meetings are delivered by video and phone conferences, targeted written communications around key delivery dates are delivered via intranet email and desk drops, and for business critical rapid communications like urgent service communications we use our text messaging platform.
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
I keep a constant watch across multiple social networks to see what’s trending. Checking my social feeds is now a part of my early morning routine alongside checking my emails and calendar. The online debate and points of view are now a vital point of reference in shaping and validating my thinking.
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 look for events which can act as catalysts for IT and the business to work hand-in-hand. This may be an acquisition, a key change initiative or a service challenge. I take an active sponsoring role in the shaping of these activities, ensuring a strong team is assembled, appropriate business and technology solutions are agreed, and that delivery mobilises effectively. Strong programme management, IT business partnering and governance processes then take over.
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
Looking forward is a vital part of creating a vibrant, engaged and relevant function. I stay current through a combination of giving my discretionary time (eg breakfast meetings with peers and strategic partners, CIO roundtables, advisory boards) and more formal events (presenting at industry relevant or technology conferences – for example, I recently presented on innovation in insurance at a London Market conference). Maintaining a healthy informal network across the CIO community is also a vital and enjoyable part of what I do.
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
I work hard to foster a broad range of diversity throughout my organisation, but recognise that we have more to do in this area, particularly in technology as an industry. I want the best talent in my organisation and bringing talent in is always done with a high awareness of also building diversity into the recruitment and retention process.
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
I am an active member in the regular executive meetings and decision-making forums (eg weekly catch-ups, monthly boards) but more important are the frequent one-to-ones and group discussions with executive colleagues to discuss and agree solutions to the tactical and strategic issues of the day. It is these conversations that shape the recommendations we take to the executive committee boards for approval.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills
Wanting to develop and progress, taking accountability for developing, and understanding how you want to lead are the first steps, and I have found coaching invaluable in helping me elaborate that. I then believe in learning through doing, supplemented by ongoing coaching, which can be through friends and family as well as specific coaching and mentoring. I also find that a wider perspective on wellness is important, and sport keeps me fit and mentally attuned to keep pushing my boundaries.
What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
One of our core applications is built on a NoSQL database, and we often experiment with new technologies and frameworks. Others we have actively discounted – for example, 3D printing is not particularly relevant to us as insurance brokers. We remain curious and watchful around emerging technologies. More and more are experimenting with blockchain in financial services, for example, and we remain watchful until the time is right for us to join as a fast follower.
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
I prefer to buy before building so we can focus on launching offerings to market quickly via configuration rather than spending time on heavy-duty software engineering. I do ensure, though, that in every instance we perform detailed technical assessment of technologies we might adopt to ensure they are secure, robust and resilient as well as offering the functionality and agility our business requires.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
Yes. I actively look out into the ecosystem for vendors who are creating new and innovative solutions. We have trialled new solutions which fit with our technical route map, solve real business problems and can deliver value quickly and cheaply. Analytics tools and Salesforce.com add-ons would be examples of this.
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
I have established a multisourcing IT strategy, building a patchwork of best-in-breed suppliers, from scale/multipurpose to specialist/niche. We play suppliers to their strengths and award on merit. This gives high-quality delivery while enabling me to flex our supplier base in line with changing business needs.
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
As Arthur J Gallagher has acquired businesses, the technology innovations have focused on delivering value from integration. We have created new software assets that support rapid platform consolidation, for example. These innovations are facilitating our move towards a stable, compliant, cost-effective technology platform onto which newer technologies are being layered to deliver fresh customer insight and propositions with greater pace.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
We look for strategic partnerships which create value for our customers, for us and our partners. We are finding more partnerships which fit these criteria, but are careful in doing so to ensure the balance remains healthy.
Rate how important your sources of innovative technology suppliers are
- Always referred to: CIO peers.
- Often use: industry body.
- Occasionally use: analyst houses, consultants.
- Of little importance: media.
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
Cyber security is a board-level priority and I have presented and led debate at multiple committees including executive, audit and risk. As a key pillar of the IT strategy, this topic is frequently discussed, and ringfenced funding has been secured. An ongoing programme of education and briefing has been established for the leadership and board, and I can only see cyber security continuing to be an increasing focus of my time.
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?
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
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?
Being developed for 2016/17.
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?
30% in-house, 70% outsourced.