Hywel Sloman’s five-year CRM programme to shape the vision and operating model culminated last year. The rationalisation of the application landscape has left the club in a position where it can truly understand its global fanbase, and tailor its marketing and messaging accordingly. The club can now communicate to its fans about what they are interested in, in the language they want, and in the social/digital channel they prefer.

Job title
IT director

Company name
Arsenal Football Club

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Our investment in CRM is the culmination of a five-year programme I initiated when I joined the club. This involved shaping our vision and operating model, as well as more traditional approaches such as vendor selection and implementation.

This huge investment in CRM and rationalisation of our application landscape means we are now in a position where we can truly understand our global fanbase, and tailor our messaging accordingly. If you’re a 15-year-old Arsenal fan in Bangalore, Beijing or Busan, you no longer get emails from us saying that tickets for West Brom go on sale on Wednesday. We can now communicate to our fans about the things they are interested in, in the language they want, and in the social/digital channel they prefer. We can also talk to our fans about the products they want to talk about, and we are learning hugely from the data this gives us back.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Our commercial revenue growth was over 30% last year, which allowed the club to invest a record amount in football – through signings and training ground infrastructure.

This revenue growth was facilitated by technology. To name one specific example, our e-commerce growth on ‘black Friday’ saw a 104% increase in sales week-on-week, including 195% uplift in Australia and 280% uplift in the US. This was due to the e-commerce transformation I led, allowing us to provide a significantly better product and service, based on a new technology platform.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
I am privileged to work for an organisation that has ‘Always Move Forward’ as one its key values. Innovation is part of our DNA, and there was complete support for the need for technology-based change from the day I joined.

In the last 12 months alone, the club transformed our e-commerce offering, based on new technology driven from my function, allowing us to truly reach our global fanbase. We have also introduced a new point of sales solution for food and beverage in the stadium. This is enabling standard needs, such as contactless, but also the creation of bespoke services and offerings in the stadium, such as in-box ordering, allowing our executive box holders to use the full range of our services on one device in their suite.

Finally, I have been driving the experimentation with IoT and virtual reality as a way to improve the quality of coaching we provide to our players. I have identified a number of new vendors who we are now using, and we are now seeing evidence that the quality and quantity of data available to analysts and players is significantly improving our coaching and post-game analysis.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
Since joining the club in 2011, I have tried to instil and foster a culture where IT is a customer service function. We need to deliver what our customers (internal and external) want and need. We also need to be quicker, better value for money, and more pleasant to work with than other providers of technology.

The next stage, which has really taken hold in the last 18 months, is to be a shaper of business change. As we now have the underlying technology, a lot of the role for me and my function is to provide ideas on how best to optimise it to improve customer experience and drive revenue growth. For example, on the back of our IPTV implementation in the stadium in summer 2017, one of my team is now leading a programme to fully exploit the technology across all users of the stadium, such as improving the stadium tour experience through better content on the tour route.

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?
Digital strategy isn’t distinct at Arsenal – it is embedded in every aspect of the club. My role is to translate our commercial and operational strategy into digital and technology deliverables that can drive this change. The influencing tends to come from individual relationships. I spend a significant amount of my working week in one-to-ones with our C-suite and heads of department. This allows me to understand their needs/issues and to shape solutions to drive change.

One specific example would be the efforts to drive greater understanding of data protection and the impact of the club. This has involved work at every level, from my agreeing with my CEO the level of priority we should accord to this, down to my team training every single user as to the impacts of the DPA, and what it means for day-to-day behaviour.

In areas where there is a lower appreciation of technology, this requires more time and closer relationships. It also is essential that when we have delivered projects they work successfully and that the change management efforts are ramped up accordingly.

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?
As a smaller organisation, we tend not to work with the bigger IT vendors, where we don’t have the need for the size and scale they provide, or the budgets to draw their attention. I like to work with smaller, more nimble vendors who can work at the pace we need, and can bring innovation and new ideas to us. I am also very clear that innovation tends not to come from our industry, so I work hard to build relationships and get ideas from organisations outside football.

We have huge advantages in that our vision for technology and growth, combined with the size of our brand, means lots of people want to work with us. My job is to find the best vendors in this space, and limit the number we work with, so they can truly understand and influence what we are trying to achieve. 

Although there are limits to what we can say without naming organisations, there are two particular vendors (one niche in integration, one very mainstream in CRM) who I have been able to shape their roadmaps, and get C-level relationships with, due to our leading-edge use of their technology, and their understanding of the transformational programme we are using their products to deliver.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Being based in north London, we are blessed with a culturally diverse population from which to recruit, and our organisation has always reflected this diversity.

I have always worked hard to create a tolerant, open environment, which means everyone feels comfortable and keen to work here. This should also be an activity which permeates everything, rather than being part of any formal, short-term initiative – for example, by creating social activities which are welcoming to people who don’t drink or have personal commitments outside working hours. The success of this was reflected in our internal employee surveys, where IT saw a 20% growth in questions around being treated with respect and having a positive environment to work in.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Being a smaller organisation, it is easier to be close to business strategy and operations. I have two direct reports, a solution delivery manager who manages PMs, developers and BAs, each of whom is aligned to specific business functions. My other direct report manages infrastructure and operations and service desk. Within my service desk, each member has a specific function they are business relationship manager for.

I chair the IT approval group, which approves all IT initiatives at idea and scoping stages, meaning we only work on activities which are aligned to business strategy and goals. The ITAG consists of me, our chief commercial officer, chief operating officer, group financial controller, and my two direct reports. We use this forum to ensure resource is prioritised effectively against these goals, meaning we collectively agree these decisions, rather than IT or the business doing this independently.

We also provide, through kanban and agile, absolute visibility of what we are working on, and our progress against plan. Our developers publish sprint backlogs to all relevant business stakeholders, which means, if we are late or non-performing, it is there for the club to see.  

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
We differentiate between partners, who have the right to be associated with, and use, our brand, and the main suppliers we form a great relationship with.

While we cannot name suppliers externally, I have been working with our key vendors to drive truly innovative work in the last 12 months in access control and accreditation for the thousands of people who work on a matchday to provide a secure process to get people in and out of the stadium safely. Working with these vendors I have been able to use the fact that our stadium processes are truly leading edge to drive world-class technology solutions.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
The key aims are to continue on the path we have been taking for the last six years: to use technology to support our growth programmes, and deliver a world-class customer experience for our fans globally, and in the Emirates Stadium.

Specifically, we want to use technology to make the Emirates Stadium the best in the world. We have a number of programmes driving this, including innovative payment methods and the use of IoT to manage people around the stadium and in the external environments, and world-class high-touch technology in executive boxes, including VR and AR.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Obviously, at this point, there is no clear understanding on what will happen, so the main approach is to keep waiting for clear steers. In many ways, our challenge is easier as we operate in the UK, and our workforce is almost entirely based here. However, we have a truly global fanbase, and an increasing proportion of our revenue comes from this global fanbase, so we have already been impacted by the currency variations.  We are starting to model the impact of permanent currency variations. I am also conscious that we have a number of EU citizens in our team, who feel the impact of the Brexit vote personally, and have been providing counselling and advice to those people impacted by it.

The other key area we are investigating is in the changes to data protection and GDPR, which is especially important for a brand as powerful as ours.

YOUR ROLE

When did you start your current role?
February 2011

What is your reporting line?
To chief operating officer

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?
None of the ones listed

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

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
1,000.

BUDGETS

What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
£5m/1.5%

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
50% on keeping the lights on/50% on growth & innovation.

CIO INFLUENCES

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

  1. Analyst houses
  2. CIO peers
  3. Consultants
  4. Media
  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?
No – this fits into my remit

RECRUITMENT

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Yes

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
No

How many employees are there in your IT team?
21

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
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)

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

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • wearables
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
I expect IoT and AR/VR to have a significant effect on the coaching methods employed, and also in how football is watched by consumers.

THE EU

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

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