Alan Crawford has managed the unusual feat of stand-out achievements at two organisations in 2016, having changed employer midway through the year. In his first role, at Action for Children, he brought in £1m in discounts, grants and donations for a digital enablement project, enabled flexible and mobile working, and secured funding for a major project. In his new role, at City and Guilds Group, he has already provided the digital vision, and captured discounts on cloud services amounting to £775,000.
Chief information officer
City and Guilds Group
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
The last 12 months has been a year of transition for me, moving from Action for Children to City and Guilds Group in July.
In Action for Children I completed the execution of my ‘digitally enabling Action for Children’ (DEA) strategy, with services to vulnerable children transformed by one of the largest tablet roll-outs in the UK last year, increased investment in fundraising enabled by a robust data analytics model demonstrating ROI and a better customer experience for internet visitors, along with a more engaging and mobile responsive website.
In City and Guilds Group my ‘realising our digital potential’ (RDP) strategy has provided a vision for the digital future of the group, which is growing by acquisition, operating in over 100 countries and needing agile, flexible and scalable technology to keep pace. Flowing from the strategy are three key steps: a digital cloud platform, hybrid sourcing and an operating model that supports collaboration and improved productivity for all group companies.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
At Action for Children:
- I was personally instrumental in creating £1m of value by obtaining discounts, grants and donations for the DEA project.
- My enabling of flexible and mobile working, coupled with an enhanced and intuitive system to record outcomes for children, provided the charity with granular data on the difference made in the lives of disadvantaged children.
- I secured the funding for the next major project, including a further £750,000 of grants, gifts in kind and discounts.
At City and Guilds Group:
- My RDP strategy has provided leadership and direction – for example, on the organisation’s ERP strategy for the next five to 10 years.
- I have achieved discounts on cloud services of £775,000, compared with pricing obtained immediately prior to my arrival.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
The DEA transformation at Action for Children won innovation awards with Citrix (global) and Digital Leaders 100 (UK).
I introduced tech-enabled business model innovation – eg where previous contract bids would have included costs/liabilities for office bases for staff, the new models were based around working out of client (local authorities) offices and reducing dedicated administration staff to a minimum.
Staff also used tablets in unintended and innovative ways – eg, picture collages of a baby for a refugee mother who had no camera/phone and no money to send pictures home.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
In Action for Children, a 12-month ‘digital working’ project was rolled out to effect culture change and embed the digital transformation. This involved recruiting champions, workshops, use of social media, blogs, online forums, etc. In short, the DEA strategy and project transformed Action for Children from a children’s charity that saw tech as an admin. tool to one that saw how working digitally could help children, raise more funds and work more effectively.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
In Action for Children, the CEO was an exemplary champion, who learned to use Twitter and was a role model in using a tablet and working flexibly, whether hotdesking in the office and/or working from home. To ensure the tech supported the CEO, I arranged training and any tweaks needed – eg a Wi-Fi booster at home. This helped those on the senior team that are in favour of digital change to take the lead, and I supported by presenting as a joint platform.
City and Guilds Group is an education business, so it recognises the digital opportunities (and threats) and has been responding since 2010. The conversation with the senior team has been around it’s not either agile or waterfall, dev/ops or ITIL. Both are necessary for a group with an enterprise-scale, high-volume qualifications business and small/medium e-learning, coaching business units and innovative new ventures (eg digital badges).
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
Joining the London board of Byte Night (the IT industry charitable sleep-out) was great development for me and introduced me to an amazing network of senior IT and business contacts –spin off benefits for an event that raises over £1m each year to prevent youth homelessness. These contacts were invaluable for the DEA project at Action for Children.
At City and Guilds Group, partly, I think, due to the great workplace skills brand of the organisation, I have been able to arrange for a board-level member of Microsoft to meet our CEO, as well as getting senior-level engagement with other key partners.
I was on the customer advisory boards of medium-tech companies last year (eg Claranet), and I’m now focusing more on advising startups (eg Innovation Box) and charities.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
I think because of the social care nature of Action for Children, the team was pretty diverse and inclusive, and I mainly focused on helping vulnerable young people – eg by taking on apprentices and providing work experience for vulnerable young people.
At City and Guilds Group, improving our inclusiveness is a corporate priority – for example, our application forms do not ask about criminal records. We already have apprentices in IT and I have signed up to use recruitment agencies that specialise in retraining ex-forces personnel and career-break mums for IT careers. As an IT team we are also providing work experience for people with disabilities, and as a management team we are focusing on ensuring women in the IT team are developed for team leader/manager roles.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Action for Children was primarily a service delivery charity, with 5,000 staff operating from over 350 sites around the whole of the UK, from Stornaway to Guernsey. As such, on the service delivery level, I set up and was responsible for a shared services helpdesk, covering finance, HR, fleet and property as well as IT. For business change, the organisation-wide portfolio management function and PMO reported to me. Portfolio management was done by working very closely with finance colleagues, and the PMO provided agile and waterfall, perm/temp/contractor PMs, business and UX analysts.
In City and Guilds Group we have grown to six companies by acquisition, with a model of being loosely coupled to allow innovation to thrive. In my RDP strategy I have gained support for an operating model that is not bespoke, or one size fits all; rather, there are different options for different business units – full fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
For Action for Children, it is on public record that our partners included Citrix, Kelway (now CDW), Microsoft, Fujitsu and Dell.
For City and Guilds Group, it is sensitive, as we currently undertaking major procurement exercises. However, the following are currently key partners: Microsoft, Amazon, SAP, Cognizant and Claranet.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
- Digital cloud platform: Implementing our multi-cloud strategy. (See http://www.computerweekly.com/feature/CIO-interview-Alan-Crawford-City-Guilds-Group.)
- Hybrid sourcing: As a group we currently use a range of arrangements, especially for software development and support, including offshoring. I am currently looking at if we have the right mix, with the right partners, to deliver our business strategy.
- Collaboration and productivity, including the IT operating model: This will mainly be a culture change and skills improvement project, rather than a tech-led initiative. In essence, our core proposition is to enable people and organisations to develop their skills for personal and economic growth – internally we do this very well, but with an ever growing numbers of acquisitions we need to refresh our own digital and collaboration skills (and measure the productivity benefits).
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Currently our stance remains a watching brief. The immediate impacts are being felt by currency fluctuations as a result of the vote.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
We have recently confirmed a CTO role, reporting to our new ventures MD, currently leading on digital products in our e-learning business.
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
60% operational, 40% development.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- Analyst houses
- CIO peers
- Industry bodies
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Our architecture manager takes the lead on security.
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 or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- enterprise applications.
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- machine learning/artificial intelligence.
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
I see an opportunity by using a combination of AI and APIs, coupled with the large data sets we hold. Initially I’ll look to do some skunk works and, if successful, a potential area for investment in future years.
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?