Dominic Howson was heavily involved in the delivery of cloud HR across the business, implementing functionality, which in the case of one module was a global first, and providing a single hub of information for all staff as well as delivering a high degree of organisational transparency. Another significant delivery has been his replacement of a trade promotions platform that had been giving the business no insight or satisfactory control over a £50m annual spend. He personally selected the new tool and successfully integrated it into the core ERP platform. It allows 12 months of promotional planning to be completed in a couple of hours rather than weeks.

Job title
IS director

Company name
Hovis Limited

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Our goal as a business is to make and distribute the best product in the market in both bread and flour. My goal for IT is to ensure that all our business processes and systems are as simple and straightforward as possible using innovative technology to let our bakers and millers concentrate on quality and let the underlying business work smoothly and effectively.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
HR transformation was a key business focus in 2016. I have been heavily involved in the delivery of a cloud HR solution across the business. We have implemented functionality which in the case of one module was a global first, and in relation to another module one of the first in EMEA. We have taken solutions from providers and added innovation which has enabled a single hub of information for all our staff as well as delivering a high degree of organisational transparency. Alongside the impact on our employees we have delivered cloud HR solutions that have boosted our employer brand to the outside world, and developed our own careers portal, which has seen a talent community of over 1,200 candidates in the first three months.

Another significant delivery in the last 12 months has seen the replacement of our trade promotions platform. We spend upwards of £50m on trade promotions each year and the toolset we inherited from previous ownership was giving our business no insight or satisfactory control of this area of spend. Working with our financial and commercial colleagues, I personally selected a replacement tool and successfully integrated it into our core ERP platform.

We implemented this solution with no outside assistance from our ERP SI, and that workload has significantly upskilled the capabilities of my internal staff and given us a platform to build on. The new solution has been a breath of fresh air for our commercial teams, with 12 months of promotional planning being completed in a couple of hours rather than weeks. The press release for our implementation can be found on the Upclear website.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?

Product innovation: I haven’t been directly involved with product innovation but always volunteer for product testing! Our new recipe for soft white was voted Product of the Year for the bakery category announced on 19 January.

Business model innovation: Having taken ownership for our supply chain admin in 2016 as well as a number of the logistics heads, we have changed the shape of our supply chain operation. Removing logistics as an entity and merging functions has ensured all site operation is handled by the sites and all central operations are managed from head office. In addition and away from IT, I was heavily involved in preparing the long-range plan for submission to our board and shareholders which set out our business strategy for the next three years. This was approved by the board in July 2016 and laid out key changes of direction in commercial, manufacturing and logistics.

Technology innovation: In terms of platform innovation, we have been trialling our desktop in AWS Workspace which will transform our end-user computing strategy in 2017, hopefully removing historical thin-client solutions and modernising our employees’ IT experience.

Introducing cloud HR has been fairly seismic for our employees. 57% of the workforce do not use an IT solution that is personal to them on a day-to-day basis. Therefore we have had to be considerate with building kiosks and secured tablets to let all our factory workers have access to the new HR solutions. Additionally, we are about to implement the use of the HR solutions on our driver tabs that we implemented in 2015, giving this solution to another 700 employees (although not to be used when driving!).

One of the key aims for 2017 is to introduce RPA into the organisation. I have in the last five months working with partners in this area to understand the technology’s capability, and I am excited at the possibilities within our organisation.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
In Hovis, I have been encouraging our department to get a lot closer to the business in terms of onsite IT support, 24x7 access to IT, site service managers, round-the-clock incident managers, UK-based support model and generating a real sense that this department is part of the business and not seen as an outsourced partner. In the broader organisation I feel I do drive programmes of change across the business in various functions, with cloud HR and the trade promotions solution evidence of that. I am involved in programmes outside IT with my knowledge of business processes and the end-to-end view of the business as a key enabler for any change programme or initiative.

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?
This is one area where further work is required. Our primary business focus is on the quality of our products, and that is where the majority of attention is given. However, in the last 12 months we have upped our game in terms of our digital footprint. We have widened our social media reach (Instagram, Linkedin, etc), developed our new corporate and brand website, delivered a revamped careers website (utilising the Successfactors widgets) and outsourced our consumer care service (which includes a first-class social media interaction service). In terms of what IT does for the business and how we improve digital literacy, I have improved our monthly reporting and dashboarding to promote the work of the department, and held drop-in sessions in our head office and sites to improve the use of the tools they have available and how to use them effectively.

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?
In terms of working with technology, we have made great strides with the developments in both Azure and Google cloud, giving us a development environment we have never had before. We have developed a spectrum of applications that look modern and are functionally effective. In Azure, for example, we have the new sales order capture platform, major incident recording and alerting, vendor performance management, project and activity tracking, and master data workflow. And in Google we have developed our own marketing gate approval solution, credits application for milling and a new vendor workflow solution. We have delivered this predominantly with internal resources.

Where we have leveraged our supplier base we have delivered our cloud HR transformation project, trade promotions and commercial planning project, and consolidated and managed EDI. At a smaller scale we have used our vendors to solve long-standing weaknesses such as voice capture for proof of delivery.

We utilise a blend of vendors and they vary in size from CDW and Vodafone at the larger end of the scale, to Edenhouse and Logicalis, which cover the mid-market, down to one-man companies assisting us with items such as Google development or SAP integration. The key to managing all of these vendor relationships is to treat them as part of the team and work at your relationships with them. It’s like a marriage: it will never be plain sailing all of the time, but it’s how you work together to overcome the tougher moments.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
We have a good level of gender diversity within the department. 43% of the team are female and all are in different roles in infrastructure, operations, app support, development, business analysis and financial/commercial. We have recruited only one permanent resource in the last three years. However, our contract resource within the last 12 months has always been from ethnic communities. As an employer on a national scale we embrace diversity and it is part of our employer brand.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
My organisation is made up of four functions:

Service and infrastructure: This team operates and coordinates all day-to-day support, commercials/contracts, outsourced service management, infrastructure architecture and support. In 2016 we added to this function by incorporating site service managers who previously worked in supply chain to provide the onsite face of IT and not only bolster our incident management capability but also drive onsite problem management. One of the key achievements in 2016 in this area is a 50% reduction in high-priority tickets in 2015 and a further 37% reduction in 2016. During the last 12 months we have resolved all long-standing site issues and created a step-change in terms of how we engage with the operation of the business.

Business process: This function is dedicated to assisting the different user groups in adhering to business process. This is a key function of IT which is more than business partnering – it is providing the day-to-day bridge between systems and end-users. We have had significant success in this area, assisting our finance team to simplify its audit process and smoothly transition to a new banking arrangement.

Development: This team is focused on developing our .NET delivery platform, business objects universe and Azure platform, and overseeing our Google cloud developments. In addition they provide the skills and capability for SQL and development, and fixes on our legacy systems. We have replatformed our business intelligence to SQL and developed a new commercial/finance business warehouse on the back of the new trade promotion solution. There is a steady pipeline of activity in this area, and just this week we have developed our own sales order capture front end for our telesales and order processing partner – built entirely in-house using Azure and serverless technology.

Demand management: This function is predominantly focused on business partnering with the various business functions at a manufacturing, sales, marketing, logistics, finance and HR level. The function also holds responsibility for master data and business analysis. It also controls all project activity in the department. This function incorporated the supply chain admin team whose scope was extended to cover IT operations.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
Our main partners are CDW (service desk, field support, Windows private cloud, Citrix desktop and iSeries cloud hosting), Vodafone (WAN, mobile and fixed line), Edenhouse (SAP support), SAP (including Successfactors), TrueCommerce (managed EDI), Google (mail and cloud), Microsoft (Azure) and Logicalis (SAP AIX cloud).

The new deals I have concluded in the last 12 months:

  • three-year extension to our order capture service (Sitel), including the implementation of a new sales order capture solution in Azure that replaced its legacy solution
  • three-year deal with Vodafone to remove the last piece of significant legacy infrastructure, which is fixed voice; all our fixed voice will move to its cloud Vone platform in H1 2017
  • a new master service agreement with Upclear for the provision of the cloud-based trade promotion platform (BluePlanner).

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
2017 marks the end of the first three years as a standalone business. The majority of our significant hosting and support contracts expire. Therefore my strategic aims are to further expand our journey into public cloud services with the movement of our end-user computing and Windows architecture from private to public and giving our users a positive, leading-edge computing experience, which is truly mobile and device-independent. As a build to this, we will replace the end-user devices in the bakeries and mills to enhance the user experience, replacing traditional Windows devices with Google kit.

Other strategic aims are to transform our communications platform with the delivery of Vone, increase our commercial insights by developing the analytics from the trade promotion platform, and realising the potential of our existing systems to assist the finance function.

Finally we aim to use internal and external capability to improve our milling commercial and financial reporting systems, and dramatically improve the forecasting and planning functionality in our baking business.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
As a business we are very UK-focused, with only a small percentage (2%) of our turnover being generated outside the UK, so Brexit will not have the potential impact that it may have on other organisations. We will be monitoring the negotiations very closely, particularly around the free movement of people as this will impact us if non-UK residents have limitations applied to their residency.

The fluctuations in the currency markets will impact us in terms of wheat procurement, but in most cases we can offset with price increases where applicable, and the quality of the UK harvest in the coming years will have an impact as to the volume of wheat we need to procure from overseas.

In terms of IT, when we started as a new business in 2014, I purposely made the decision to build a UK-only support model; therefore all of our outsourcing is provided within the UK. I am reviewing our contract base with our legal team around possible Brexit implications and changes in law. The year ahead will see us make the necessary policy and data protection changes to support the GDPR legislation changes in 2018; therefore our close relationship with legal will assist us as Brexit comes closer in 2019.

YOUR ROLE

When did you start your current role?
2014

What is your reporting line?
Chief operating officer with a dotted line to the CEO.

Are you a member of the executive leadership?
No

Are you a member of the board of directors?
No

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
We have no requirement for the emerging roles. All of the responsibilities for digital, data and technical innovation are part of my role.

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Weekly

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
3,500

BUDGETS

What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
£5m opex, £0.5m capex.

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
90% keeping the lights on, with 10% spent on development.

CIO INFLUENCES

Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. Industry bodies
  2. CIO peers
  3. Consultants
  4. Media
  5. Analyst houses

IT SECURITY

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

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
No

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
We don’t have a dedicated CISO, but our senior infrastructure architect has that as part of his role.

RECRUITMENT

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
No

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
No

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
No

How many employees are there in your IT team?
28 permanent and interims where required.

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
No

TECHNOLOGY

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • ERP
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • devices (desktop)
  • networking/communications.

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • ERP
  • IoT
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • devices (desktop)
  • networking/communications.

THE EU

Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
No

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
No

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?
No