Of one thing Fatima Zada is very sure: once technology becomes an obstacle, you risk losing your customer for good. She insists that retail must not be complicated and that technology is seen as an enabler to encourage customer conversion, acquisition and loyalty. No surprise then that she has been eminently pragmatic in deliverables: rolling out a resilient infrastructure in the store, implementing mobile and fixed POS including contactless and Apple Pay functionality, integrating the store systems with Harvey Nichols’ rewards app and website. Other wins include delivering dashboard BI reporting to the business and allowing brands to upload their inventory directly onto the website. All deliverables resulted in greater incremental revenue and cost reduction as well as process optimisation benefits.
Group Technology and Innovation Director
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Customer-facing technology needs to be seamless, fast and functional, offering the customer options that will suit their convenience. It is for this reason that the three key areas of delivery that I have ensured are executed within quality standards are around our Harvey Nichols rewards app, our mobile and fixed point of sale and our e-commerce site. I work closely with the business stakeholders and sponsors to ensure we have a clear vision and set of priorities, and are providing the right experience to our customers.
I stand by my principles that retail should not be complicated and technology should be seen as an enabler to encourage customer conversion, acquisition and loyalty. Once technology becomes an obstacle, you may have lost the customer for good, so assurance is required that any customer-facing products require regular maintenance and operational governance.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Without giving too much away for confidentiality reasons, the past year has been focused on the refurbishment of our menswear, beauty, perfumery and accessories departments in our flagship store in Knightsbridge. From a technical standpoint, this required optimised and resilient infrastructure in the store, mobile and fixed POS including functionality such as contactless, Apple Pay, integration to our rewards app for a seamless experience, and integration to our website for additional product range offerings.
Other programmes of work were around the ongoing optimisation of our ERP solution, delivering dashboard BI reporting to our business, additional functionality on the website (including payment methods such as Paypal), rolling out our international store to over 220 countries, and extending our platform to a marketplace allowing for brands to upload their inventory directly onto our website.
All deliverables had a positive impact on our business performance in terms of incremental revenue, cost reduction and process optimisation benefits.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
Two key areas for product innovation as mentioned above were the delivery of the rewards app (which is the first digital loyalty card in the luxury market) as well as the extension of our website to a marketplace allowing for new and key brands to explode their inventory on our website to complement our edit.
Business model innovation is currently taking the shape of optimising current legacy processes and change management, which is needed as a foundation to build and grow a business from the bottom up.
Technology innovation has taken the shape of using handheld devices in stores for real-time picking and stock information. This is currently proof of concept and has not been rolled out yet.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
As a CIO I always believe you need to get your own house in order before tackling the wider environment.
I therefore started off by ensuring my own team were aligned, communicated to regularly, delivering in collaboration, and are all individual change agents allowed to provide stakeholder management across all levels.
I defined an IT strategy based on the business strategy that never previously existed. I define IT principles that we all adhere to, and ensure all decisions and execution are based on them. I lead the team to define a unified project methodology of Prince II framework and agile delivery to ensure alignment and consistency in the ways projects are being delivered. I redefine our ways of working with a target operating model taking some of the dev/ops principles that were applicable to us and allow us to provide a more accountable service to our business.
All of these are using best practices from different methodologies and frameworks but which are applicable to our business and not what is stated by industry standards. This approach empowers the team to adopt new ways of working that apply to them, making it relatable to our everyday roles, as opposed to enforcing a methodology whose reasons for adoption they do not necessarily understand.
Having unified ways of working has provided a consistency to our execution, communication and stakeholder management. Making each member of the team a change agent allows the business to be as informed as possible about upcoming impacts that technology, functionality and releases may have on it. The team work closely with the procedure and training teams to ensure successful user adoption across the board.
In parallel the business did not have a concept of PMO or project governance prior to my appointment. I educated them on the role of sponsor, product owner, programme manager, project manager, business analysts, project milestones and how to run a portfolio roadmap.
Furthermore my role is to ensure I am communicating any risks or impacts to our business as well as the status updates I provide in the management board to my peers or via steering committees to the sponsors and product owners. This peer-to-peer handholding and top-down and bottom-up communication ensure that all levels of the business are informed, consulted and participate in the decision-making to ensure successful adoption of change.
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?
I am a management board member, so I have access to the rest of the directors and our CEO.
My role is to provide insight into digital trends, innovation and business growth opportunities. We are now quite a digitally-savvy company, and this approach is now embedded into all departments of the business.
I have to constantly provide input on digital and technology in terms of education as this is not a one-time approach but a constant discussion point that needs to be assessed strategically and tactically, especially as the business changes.
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?
I am great believer in collaborating with vendors as an extension to my own team, as well as identifying key strategic partners who would be part of delivering our roadmap.
With existing suppliers we constantly have to ensure they are growing their product and services to be aligned with our strategy. For new partners we ensure we go via an RFI/RFP process, allowing us to assess their vision and flexibility around client growth.
One of the principles of collaboration is that we are stronger together, so I have no problem with getting all my suppliers together and allowing us all to brainstorm on how to improve on an integrated platform, making all of our processes and roadmap deliveries more aligned.
I am also very fond of engaging with startups to come up with innovative ideas based on their nimble and risk-taking culture.
With bigger organisations it is always harder to make headway or influence their roadmap as they usually have so many clients across different industries. However, this should not be an obstacle to getting them on board with our vision, our strategy and opportunities by which we can help each other out via proofs of concept, innovative ideas and functionality that would also help other clients. A lot of our partners also have their own R&D teams, which we leverage to grow our partnership.
I believe that communication is the key to breaking most obstacles or challenges, and that by engaging with partners one will succeed a lot better and quicker than alone.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
One of my first tasks upon appointment was to observe my team, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and come up with an organisational change that would allow each member to:
- be empowered
- be responsible for their area end to end (coding, release, support, operations, maintenance, innovation, etc)
- be a change agent for the business
- transition knowledge for better collaboration
- manage up/down/across
- step in for management when not available
- be proactive rather than reactive when possible
- understand urgency and impact to the business.
The team used to work in silos and in a variety of ways, so projects and changes were not executed optimally and with alignment to other teams, especially given such an integrated environment. They now know who to work with and how to collaborate to ensure all consultations and information is provided well in advance in a collaborative approach. This provides knowledge and skill transition to provide more diversity within the teams and reduce single points of risk.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
My role is to balance the four technology pillars I have identified as part of our IT strategy:
- Deliver the portfolio (made up of strategic projects, technology-driven projects and business as usual).
- Support and operate the business in day-to-day activities and bug-fixes, as well as provide governance, security, disaster recovery and business continuity measures.
- Stabilise and scale our systems from an environment, platform, service and application perspective to allow flexibility for our peak periods and future-proof business growth.
- Allow all members of our business to bring new and great ideas into play for consideration of delivery.
All these pillars are underpinned by the 4Cs (Collaborate, Connect, embrace Change and Communicate), which allow my team to deliver consistently and to the best of our quality standards.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
I report to our CEO, Stacey Cartwright.
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other emerging roles does your organisation and what is their relationship to you?
Our leadership is made up of eight directors reporting to the CEO, who in turn reports to the chairman and owner of Harvey Nichols Group. The directors are across marketing, commercial, buying, property, trade, HR, finance and technology.
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?
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- Industry bodies
- CIO peers
- Analyst houses
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?
Yes. We have an ISO who reports to one of my senior managers.
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?
- Data analytics/business intelligence
- Enterprise applications
- Devices (mobile)
- Devices (desktop)
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
- Devices (mobile)
- Devices (desktop)
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
BI and predictive analytics.
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?