When John Court joined the company, it was not historically synonymous with innovative or advanced technologies. It has taken him less than two years to make technology an intrinsic element of and enabler for the company’s development, allowing it to evolve and differentiate propositions and services. His initiatives have included everything from advanced analytics for customer performance insights to the leveraging of mobile and telemetry solutions for insight into fleet performance.
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Technology has been an intrinsic element of and enabler for the company’s development by allowing us to evolve and differentiate our propositions and services, particularly to our new sectors. This has been in a number of ways, ranging from advanced analytics for customer performance insights, leveraging advanced, market-leading mobile and telemetry solutions for granular insight into fleet performance, and a flagship investment in advanced optimisation technology that will fundamentally change our operating model.
We have also invested in technologies that help us streamline and simplify several areas of our support functions, including our financial processing and reporting, customer relationship management, and management of our fleet of vehicles and other assets. The majority of these are designed to be mobile-enabled and integrate us with our trading partners, suppliers and customers alike.
Similarly, an ever increasing range of systems, devices and equipment are now connected, allowing the capture and processing of information as diverse as vehicle diagnostics, driving styles, fork-lift truck utilisation, employee feedback and preferences, site security images and warehouse temperatures.
So during the course of our day-to-day operations, Eddie Stobart create and capture huge volumes of data, which helps us to manage the detailed dynamics of our 24x7x365 operation. Advanced data analytics tools allow us to access and analyse this information across areas as diverse as operations, finance, warehousing, customer services and sales, using state-of the-art tools and techniques.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Technology has been at the heart of the company’s evolution as it has delivered new propositions to the market and we have successfully used innovative solutions to challenge and redefine how hitherto traditionally operated supply chains are managed. Technology has been cited as one of the key reasons for us securing hard-fought-for new business.
This has been through provision of more detailed and informed insight into operations, providing customers with a granular insight into operations (for example, exactly when a delivery is scheduled to arrive, exactly what service performance we deliver to their customers, or likely impacts of congestion on service).
We also deliver mobile solutions to communicate more effectively with our drivers, our customers, transport and engineering partners.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
Supply chain is a hugely technology-driven industry in which good use of technology together with selective innovation differentiates. We have devised specific processes and technologies that help to differentiate us in each of our key sectors of activity. These range from customer ‘ETA’ boards and mobile portals, downloadable subcontractor apps that allow us to extend our customer insights across trading partners to deliver complete visibility, and use of advanced analytics accessible by customers through the download of an analytics app to allow them to track and monitor our performance and trends.
Business model innovation
As we have evolved our sector-based organisation, the technology has facilitated the evolution. It has also raised the bar for our competitors such that it will become a de facto standard over time.
We have been pioneering use of many advanced tools and processes which we believe keep us at the forefront of the industry. We are also participating in a bid to the Department for Transport and Highways England relating to the connected vehicle as part of a consortium of world-leading engineering and technology organisations. The confidential nature of this bid prevents further detailed disclosure, but suffice to say this will be a breakthrough initiative for the UK’s motor transport sector with potential to fundamentally change how vehicles are managed.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
The Eddie Stobart brand had not historically been synonymous with innovative or advanced technologies. One of the objectives I set when I joined the company was to ensure that technology was intrinsically embedded in all activities. The IT team had focused predominantly on infrastructure and support, and pockets of systems capability, much of it quite capable, was embedded in business functions.
I quickly formed a single, coherent team, which was augmented with a small number of external recruits to establish a lean but highly capable group focusing on key core competencies of excellent infrastructure design, delivery and service management, highly capable solution design and integration, together with excellent project and programme management resources.
Each function has been encouraged and challenged to take a view on best practice, opportunities for streamlining and simplification, supported and facilitated by the systems and technology group. Understandably this initially moved at a moderate pace, but gained momentum as senior managers saw the value and need to change, and gained confidence that their ideas would be embraced and supported by the board. Every key function now has a vision for its group and is clear as to how technology will underpin its development.
From being a comparatively passive, neutral attitude to technology, functions have almost unilaterally embraced it as a key weapon to drive profitable growth.
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 sit on both the executive board and the main shareholder board and feel able to initiate and respond to technology opportunities and discussions. Systems and technology is on the agenda for each meeting, and this will typically include discussions on key projects, cybersecurity, new opportunities and service improvements. Supplier briefings on new and emergent technologies are also held for the executive team.
We have a clearly and formally communicated strategy which describes our key priorities and the change initiatives that underpin these. We also communicate regularly to staff at all levels on both pipeline and current initiatives. This extends to our drivers and warehouse staff, who are kept advised primarily via briefing forums during which feedback will also be obtained.
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?
Partnerships with key technology organisations to deliver leading solutions are a fundamental pillar of the systems and technology strategy. Eddie Stobart’s technology partners fall into one of two groups: broad and deep capability across domains (including a small number of major integrators); and excellent, often niche, supply chain and back office solutions and expertise delivered generally by small and medium-sized organisations.
We foster win-win partnerships in a number of ways. First, the Eddie Stobart brand is generally sought after as a reference by suppliers, and we share a significant amount of ‘behind the scenes’ insight (eg tours of our academy and museum), which seems to attract great interest and appreciation. We also hold join workshops with suppliers to identify emergent tools and techniques.
We have leveraged exiting partnerships to move our processing and storage to a virtual cloud platform and migrated several services to the cloud to drive more efficient capital utilisation, scalability and reduced unit costs.
Finally we are often prepared to pioneer totally new technologies that are comparatively untried in return for the shared supplier product investment and the benefit of being an innovative first-mover.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
The team was originally built from disparate groups within the organisation, which in itself immediately created a group with a diverse range of backgrounds, ideas, experiences and perspectives. While this was initially a challenge, the group became more of a team through realisation of common goals, shared understandings and the necessity to collaborate.
We have also actively recruited individuals from outside the supply chain sector to broaden the ‘idea capital’ and we regularly take on student interns to add further diversity of perspective and thought, in particular embracing Generation Y.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
We have organised ourselves as a lean team as compared to our industry counterparts, focusing on a small number of core competencies and augmented with strong and deep supplier partnerships. The onus is therefore on very high capability in a few functions, namely infrastructure design, service management, solution design and integration, and project and programme management. The lifeblood of the latter teams is their deep understanding of the company’s operations together with a strong ability to identify and deliver improvement. This is essential to establish credibility, add value and build a virtuous cycle of improvement. They are therefore closely aligned to the key functional operational teams.
Occasionally I will take the opportunity to remind individuals that may refer to ‘the business’ that we (the systems and technology group) are actually every bit as much ‘the business’ as any other team in the company!
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
We signed five primary technology deals last year covering the areas of infrastructure services (SCC Group), data and voice networks (BT and EE), advanced analytics (IBM), in-vehicle technologies (Microlise) and advanced optimisation (Quintiq). Most of these are quite financially and strategically significant to us.
These form the core of our technology partners but, as you might expect, we also have strong partnerships in the areas of warehouse management systems (CSA) and transport (Enterprise Software Systems). Other partners include DocuWare, Focus Group, Civica and Microsoft.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
Our primary goal is to continue delivering strategic change, particularly in the areas of analytics, optimisation of operations, growth enablement and back-office simplification. We have further major investments that will have quite immediate impacts on the efficiency of some key functions in the company.
We also have key initiatives which will add further resilience to our infrastructure and reduce year on year processing and storage costs while scaling up capacity.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
There are several areas in which Brexit may have a negative impact on our industry. They range from the availability of skills and labour to availability of capital.
However, we believe we are well equipped to face into any possible challenges and able to address them as well as most. We continue to monitor events and scenarios carefully.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Report directly to the group CEO.
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?
I have overall responsibility for our digital capability and technology. I work closely with our communications director on online digital presence.
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Every few days.
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?
Around 1.8% of revenues.
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
40% operational, 60% developments.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Industry bodies
- 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, an indirect direct report to myself.
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
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Robotics and automation.
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?