With a business all about efficient supply chain, manufacturing and high-quality/super-reliable order management, Ferenc Vezer ensures that IS makes it all happen technologically. He has automated processes by deploying tablet-based quality, traceability and auditing capabilities, and streamlined the on-boarding of new customers. IoT capabilities have been introduced, and data capture will be extended. Much of the work has had to be done without affecting operations and at breakneck speed.

Job title
Group CIO

Company name
2 Sisters Food Group

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
2Sisters Food Group is a multibillion food manufacturing business with multiple sites in the UK, the Netherlands, Poland and Ireland, and provides huge daily volumes of poultry, ready-meat, fresh and frozen products and ready-meals to the retail sector. Our business is all about efficient supply chain, manufacturing and order management at high quality and reliability. My job and my role is about making that happen technologically and to constantly improve business performance outcomes alongside the COO and business unit directors.

Along with customer experience, a key measure for us is the staff experience and enabling them to perform. The knock-on effect here is delighted and confident customers who see 2 Sisters Food Group (2SFG) as easy to do business with. I believe I am the fulcrum and my realigned IT strategy is a key lever for this to happen. This is recognised by the board in endorsing my strategy and initiatives built around product quality, customer satisfaction, continued service improvement, relationship strengthening and customer retention.

It focuses primarily on three key tenets of success: 1) manufacturing optimization, 2) improving financial management, and 3) BI and IoT innovation for sustained competitiveness.

Good recent examples are that we have led the decision-making on:

  • improving manufacturing efficiency by introducing new technology to support process automation, deploying new, wireless tablet-based quality, traceability and auditing capabilities, also the first wave of internet of things (IoT)
  • streamlining the onboarding of new customers and currently collaborating with one of our major customers on supply chain improvements, including the tracking and visibility of stock
  • building an interactive executive dashboard on a new digital platform to enhance the monitoring of the KPIs of the business, which puts better information, faster, into the hands of our decision-makers.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Following a recent acquisition, we have implemented a new factory system that has increased capacity and enabled completely new product channels. This happened from notification to operation within two months of the deal being signed.

In one of our ready-meals factories we have extended existing systems to support a factory expansion and major factory capacity upgrade. In addition to extending technology capabilities, we used this project as an opportunity to review and standardise factory processes and introduce IoT capabilities. Data capture will be further extended through a continuous improvement programme using internet-ready devices. While this may appear business as usual we had to do the work without impacting operations and at breakneck speed. The project is delivering significant financial benefits to the business that no-one expected could be done in time.

We have provided a system to enable a fry-line capacity expansion in our added value division. This required a brand-new technology capability for 2SFG. What makes this special is the integration we will be able to achieve with our KPI reporting system, which is part of our new digital platform.

Another initiative has extended systems capacity and automation to take on new, multimillion-pound business from an existing customer. This work included the introduction of EDI into a legacy ERP system and completion within very tight timescales. Looking ahead, these systems will be incorporated into our wider ERP strategy roll-out.

We have provided new technology for a major factory redevelopment to increase capacity and introduce cutting-edge automation. The automation enables auto unloading, reducing labour requirements and greatly improving bird welfare. The technology continues through the factory into the cutting and automated packing lines, and provides data outputs at each touch-point. The data is channelled into a single data warehouse and displayed across nine TV screens in a control room.

As part of the 2SFG digital platform, we have developed in-house a new e-suite of web and mobile applications to support live bird intake, health and safety, compliance and complaints. I think this is innovation within the industry as it now allows an almost real-time view of performance data from key business operations.  

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

Last year, we finally completed the migration of all our websites onto a common, group-wide digital platform. The standardised technology allows us to quickly respond to marketing campaigns – eg for Fox’s Biscuits, Goodfella’s Pizza, Matthew Walker’s Christmas Pudding, Holland’s Pies and Green Isle Foods. This innovative combination of platforms allowed us to fully integrate with social channels, email marketing, branded websites and online promotions, linking products and product packaging into campaigns.

Business model innovation

We are in the final phase of parallel-running the group’s new statutory reporting and financial consolidation system. The platform enabled the business to standardise financial processes such as weekly and monthly consolidation, reporting, budgeting and forecasting. We used this opportunity to create a single chart of accounts across the group. Data is extracted from multiple ERP systems into a common format. This has been a transformational first step towards a single ERP.

Technology innovation

We have been working closely with one of our manufacturing operational teams to better understand ‘pain points’ within our factories, and where technology could offer a ‘soothing’ advantage.

One area identified was the plethora of documentation generated across our shop floors to capture information from site, personal and machine H&S, through to food quality, compliance and safety, etc. These areas generate an enormous amount of paperwork, which needs to be kept for traceability. The food industry as a whole is under increasing pressure from customers to provide compliance evidence for auditing within two hours. Several hundred audit variants are required at each of our sites.

We have built a mobile platform and are building a suite of apps utilising Microsoft Xamarin technology that allows users to self-serve configure and maintain their own audit requirements and capture data both online and offline. We have partnered with an exciting new company to build out the solution as a collaboration between our teams. The platform will not only remove the need for recording and storing huge amounts of paperwork, but will also provide a strong reporting platform which can trend results and utilise workflows to trigger alerts on any major issues at point of recording.

Also, we have extended our intranet to provide self-service IT tools to users. The result is a reduction in overall service desk calls by 6,000 a year and self-service resolution of 4,000 a year. More importantly, more than 50% of IT calls are now self-service, and business perception of IT service has significantly improved!

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO, within the IT department, and/or more broadly across the organisation?
2SFG remains a privately held company despite huge growth and continues to be managed by the people who founded the company. Educating, integrating, improving, investing and enabling the growth of the business through more and more sophisticated technology has been a constant challenge. 

During my three-and-a-half-year tenure I have managed to consolidate multiple, and at times, opposing IT organisations with cultural differences into the single IT organisation that we are today. The evolution of the IT team is apparent and we now have a clear 2SFG IT team identity. 

In my role as CIO I have an opportunity to be a change agent across the enterprise. I also feel I have an obligation to support the HR department to drive cultural change. To this end we have implemented a cross-division and executive-level IT governance board. This makes IT more transparent and encourages joint decision-making on technology and resulting outcomes.

Promoting and developing business ownership of systems and information, continual education – eg. IT security awareness – collaboration, standardisation, updated productivity tools with mainstream and familiar products all form a part of my strategy to improve technology literacy across the organisation. It is something that is now bearing fruit in proactive adoption of new ways of working and adherence to process standards.

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?
The business executive played a key part in contributing to the five-year IT strategy. The strategy was developed in three standalone documents. The first document is written in simple business language, targeting a non-technical audience, and explains the starting point, technology risks and business capability constraints. The second document clearly defines the vision for how technology will enable the business to achieve its goals in the future. This has ‘hard’ financial benefits linked to it and improved future business capabilities, with a mindfulness of our relationship with social, cultural and digital evolution. The third document is our digital roadmap, describing the what, when and how and, importantly, the how much.

These three documents were supplemented by a presentation pack and showcased by the IT leadership team across the organisation during a six-month period. The digital vision and what it really means to us was also showcased at our annual conference.

To grow our technology intellect across the wider business we are working on setting up our very own digital academy at one of our manufacturing sites. The aim is to have a fully functioning end-to-end training facility using all of our in-house technologies, including factory systems. This will enable us to train, educate and on-board colleagues. We are also in the early testing phase of our in-house TV channel. Content is delivered via the Office365, built-in video channel and Sharepoint intranet. We plan to deliver short educational videos to colleagues from how to use our encrypted USB sticks to connecting to the VPN, how to use video conferencing in Skype for Business and a structured SAP training programme for end-users.

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 line with our technology strategy, in Q4 2016 we concluded our negotiations on three different SAP platforms. The committed value, the planned efforts, and the impact on the organisation are significant. These are the technology enablers for the 2SFG transformation. Negotiation was lengthy, difficult at times, but beneficial to all parties.

We have signed contracts on SAP Hana, which will be the single ERP/financial platform for 2SFG. SAP Success Factors will be our future people system. The HR project formally starts on 16 January 2017. We have also purchased SAP Concur, which will be our expenses system. All three technologies are, or will be cloud-based. Hana is the latest in-memory technology. Two of the systems are SaaS-based delivery models.

Collaborating with Ricoh, we have completed a PC hardware refresh, OS upgrades, mobile phone refresh, legacy AD domain migrations and a full roll-out of Office365. This has a significant organisational benefit, not just in productivity and collaboration, but also the standard look and feel of technology across the business, which helps cultural evolution and our corporate identity.

Additionally we have closed strategic deals including an Atos-managed service deal, new Node4 hosted datacentre, and Hellenic MES. Smaller deals have been negotiated with local SMEs, including Rarely Impossible for mobile apps, and DIS for network and CCTV.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
As part of the mobilisation we have changed the internal capability of the IT team quite significantly last year, although we already had a fairly diverse set of skills to support legacy environments coming together from different businesses.

We have spent a lot of time, effort and money building the team to support future technologies introduced during the transformation. I have expanded the senior leadership team with a new business system director, a head of SAP, and a head of manufacturing and development. We have also recruited a manufacturing delivery manager to build and lead a new manufacturing centre of excellence. The recent senior IT management appointments are fully supported and welcomed by the business.

I am passionate about fostering talent and wherever possible we do promote internally, upwards or across teams. This year alone we had 17 internal moves into new areas, supported by technical and soft skills training. Our organisation has a very strong leadership and management training programme. Most of our middle and senior IT colleagues have been through our corporate academy.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
IT has a strong cross-divisional and cross-functional governing board – the IT executive (ITX). The ITX owns the strategy, provides governance and basically sets the tone of IT within 2SFG. The IT strategy is fully aligned to the business strategy, and designed to deliver the required technology capabilities necessary to achieve the business goals. The strategic programme of work and/or conflict resolution is also owned by the ITX.

Below the ITX is the ITX subcommittee. The group consists of senior IT, cross-divisional operational and finance colleagues. The programme of work is managed here, only escalating to the ITX when necessary.

The IT organisation is broadly split into two areas: operations (infrastructure, system support – ie ‘lights on’ – and service) and, with the increased focus on strategy, a larger group of new capability and delivery.

In both areas, IT operations and delivery, we have aligned to the organisation, which operates in multiple divisions. Financial consolidation and a single view are important for multiple technologies in a diverse manufacturing environment with thousands of food products.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?

  • Cloud SAP Hana licensing deal
  • Cloud SAP Success Factors for group HR systems
  • Cloud SAP Concur expenses system
  • ATOS datacentre hosting contract
  • ATOS as SAP systems integrator for ERP and managed services support
  • Hellenic MES for our protein processing businesses
  • Ricoh managed print service deal
  • Rarely Impossible; a small niche technology partner utilising Microsoft Xamarin to assist with mobile applications, paperless audit and workflow
  • Gartner EX programme
  • main suppliers: SAP, Microsoft, Hellenic, ATOS, Ricoh, TalkTalk, Virgin, O2, Dell, IBM, Software House International, Kronos and OpalWave.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
During the last few years we have worked hard to realise a stable and modern technology base from which it is now possible to build further. During the same period the business has also changed and matured, necessitating the re-alignment of the IT strategy to better reflect the business focus and aspirations going forward.

The new, realigned 2016, five-year, business case-led, technology roadmap is based around identified business case benefits centred on a three-stage upgrade and improvement programme that places a ‘standardisation wherever possible’ agenda at its core.

The IT strategy is designed to drive the 2SFG IT environment to a mature, fully controlled and optimised state where IT becomes a true business enabler.

Each stage of the journey is designed to deliver specific and progressive business benefits to the organisation in line with strategic business goals.

My vision is to deliver group-wide business integration by means of a simplified, stable, integrated and efficient IT environment that is capable of scaling to fully support 2 Sisters’ required near-term business capabilities. It will also form a robust and flexible platform to meet longer-term market changes and opportunities.

In addition, the target technology platform includes higher levels of manufacturing automation (IoT) that take advantage of innovative digital and mobile technologies to maintain and improve 2SFG’s market leadership position.

Work planned, or in progress to go live with in 2017:

  • cloud-based group HR system
  • complete the group’s new statutory reporting and financial consolidation system
  • Hana, in-memory business reporting tools and KPI system
  • web/mobile suite for factory floor, audit, maintenance, H&S, traceability and supplier compliance
  • start the SAP Hana mobilisation programme
  • implement Hellenic MES across a number of sites
  • Preactor capacity scheduling system
  • increase focus on IT and information security.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Food manufacturing and agriculture have already been affected by the drop in the value of the pound. Ingredients from overseas are now more expensive, but the extent of the impact for the future is not known yet and it is difficult to predict.

The UK’s economic prospect has always been strong. However, the process of detaching from the EU has added uncertainty around how long it will take, its impact or what the final outcome will be.

Within IT our ambition is to provide a higher degree of automation, robotics and streamlined operations. Although these are not necessarily Brexit-driven, they will help 2SFG to remain a market leader even if conditions change as a result of Brexit.

Both Apple and Microsoft have indicated 22–25% price increases. Some technology vendors may pull out of the UK. However, I am confident a new, partner network would be built in the UK.

At the moment I don’t envisage immediate skills shortage impact to our Yorkshire-based IT services centre.

YOUR ROLE

When did you start your current role?
2013

What is your reporting line?
CFO

Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Yes

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?
n/a

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

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
25,000

BUDGETS

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
Out of the IT operating budget, 80% is spent on keeping the lights on, and 20% on new developments. Capital investment is managed separately on a case-by-case basis. This is also a significant investment during the current transformation.

CIO INFLUENCES

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

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

IT SECURITY

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Yes

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Yes

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
The responsibility for information security sits within IT. We don’t have a dedicated CISO – senior infrastructure managers share the security responsibilities. We also partner with ECSC, who provide us with expert advice and assistance to develop security improvement plans, perform regular independent audits and supplement our in-house skills. We are continuing to grow our own internal security expertise with Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) training for the team.

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?
Yes

How many employees are there in your IT team?
90 internal FTEs and some outsourced services to various providers.

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

TECHNOLOGY

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

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • IoT
  • security
  • enterprise applications
  • devices (mobile).

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

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • IoT
  • security
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile).

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?

  • IoT, manufacturing robotics MEYN and Marrel
  • Zensar financial process automation robotics
  • data warehouse and KPI analytics
  • moving ISA-95 to Industry 4.0, ISA-95+ ability for system to make decisions at plc and SCADA layer – ie sensor data.

THE EU

Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Yes

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Yes

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