It’s all about product innovation for John Saffrett – and on a global scale. His focus on sharing best practices across the group has led to the creation of five centres of excellence in countries where particular maturity has been developed – including in telematics (UK) and a digital used car sales platform (Denmark). His other notable successes from 2016 include refining and rolling out a new client portal and mobile app in the 41 countries where the group operates, a revamp of the online reporting solution to implement data quality controls and mobile, and the creation of a new common agile methodology that moves the business towards a two-week cycle of releases into production on global platforms.

Job title
Global chief administration officer

Company name
ALD Automotive

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
As a member of the executive committee at ALD, it is my role to ensure that the IT function has a strong alignment with the customer-facing functions within the group. We have a very clear mission to support the business in delivering new products, services and customer experiences, and it is my main responsibility to ensure I have the right people supporting the business in achieving their goals.

I am a key member of committees relating to strategic projects, innovation and customer experience, and ensure that the business is always looking to become more agile and adapt much faster to the enormous changes in our industry at this time.

I am the executive responsible for our global innovation activity across the group, and focus on sharing best practices in product innovation across the group. This includes the creation of centres of excellence in countries where particular maturity has been developed (telematics, digital user experience, car sharing, etc) and where these countries act as global providers for the group.

This move has meant we have become a truly global group, and our innovation and product capability has multiplied because we no longer operate a centralised approach to product development.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
There has been a number of important deliveries in the last 12 months by the IT team across the group.

  • The refinement and roll-out of a new client portal (MyALD) and mobile app in every country (41 countries) where there is now a minimum user experience for every one of our clients which is consistent wherever you interact with ALD. The platform also allows local services to be added to this minimum experience to allow countries to adapt and react quickly to local market and customer requirements.
  • The creation of five centres of excellence in the group where countries that have developed a strong capability in a particular area of strategic importance for the group now act as our lab and our provider of these services to other countries. These include connected car and telematics (UK), car sharing (Italy), multimodal and flexible lease (Benelux), digital user experience (France) and digital used car sales platform (Denmark).
  • The support and delivery of a number of solutions to secure our core client market (international key accounts where the client has a relationship with us in more than one country), including a revamp of our online reporting solution to implement data quality controls, mobile application and the ability for clients to define their own reports.
  • The roll-out of a portal for our partner channel which provides a consolidated experience for each of our partners to quote, deliver, report and renew clients and contracts within a white label branded experience.
  • The refresh of our car sales platform for traders (sales in 2016 in excess of 120,000 vehicles) where we have created a more personalised experience for our traders using big data techniques to develop more focused marketing and offers.
  • The creation of a new common agile methodology (ChopChop), which has been adopted across three global development teams and moves us towards a two-week cycle of releases into production on global platforms being used by more than 30 countries.
  • A leadership and management training programme based on insights models, where employees are encouraged to become more self-aware and take more responsibility for job performance and interaction with colleagues.
  • Delivery of an innovation programme, which included a global hackathon for employees and students (995 participants) that has resulted in a number of products being tested with clients. We also created seven internal startups linked to a talent programme last year where emerging talents were given a business idea to explore and then two months to work together and develop the idea.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
For product innovation as outlined above I have played a key role in defining the key strategic product objectives for the group and developing the most effective delivery capability (centres of excellence, ChopChop, internal startup) to deliver these products.

For business model innovation the centres of excellence have been a major transition, but we have also defined in 2016 a 100% digital offer and brand (Qigo), which is now being deployed and rolled out.

For technology innovation we have evolved our architecture practice to become much more practical and to support the business on its exploration of areas such as big data, cloud solutions, IoT.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
A comprehensive leadership and management programme has been applied within the IT group for two years. In 2016 this programme has been adopted on a wider scale by the leadership teams in our countries. More than 200 of our leaders and managers and talents have been on the programme, which focuses on developing leadership and management behaviour.

The main behavioural changes we have seen this year have been in the area of innovation processes with the creation of our centres of excellences and labs across the group, and the adoption of the new agile methodology (ChopChop), which helps bring a much stronger alignment between the business and IT and the achievement of our strategic goals.

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?
As a member of the comex (executive committee) I work with the CEO and my colleagues to evangelise across the organisation about the digital challenges we face and how the whole organisation needs to adapt and change. We are right in the middle of the connected car space, with the services we offer drivers becoming more digital and more linked to the use of data coming from the car; our whole customer service ethos has to be adapted to meet this challenge. The creation of an innovation committee and subsequently the growth and emergence of an innovation community within the organisation has helped to reinforce the digital focus in a more organic and persistent nature.

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?
We have spent a lot of time in 2016 developing our innovation ecosystem and identifying the right combination of large IT companies, specialist providers and startups to work with. Our aim is to develop long-term partnerships with some key players in the connected car and digital space, and we have had an extensive engagement programme in 2016 to look at partners, share our vision and strategies, and see where we have the strongest alignment.

Our partners range from huge multinationals such as Microsoft to more focused partners who support our innovation and digital processes at a more local level. We are constantly scanning the landscape for other partners, particularly startups, and plan a range of hackathons in 2017 where we hope to build on our startup ecosystem.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
I monitor a number of diversity dimensions within my team.

The first and most obvious is the male/female ratio, and there have been a number of promotions to management roles for females in 2016, not only because they have been the outstanding candidates to progress but also because we create an environment where there are equal opportunities to thrive and gain recognition and exposure at the most senior levels of the organisation.

The second dimension is where we consider the mix of established managers and emerging young talents and ensure that young talents are encouraged to take on more challenging roles and get visibility of how they can progress through the organisation.

The third dimension is where we look at ensuring there are equal career progression opportunities for employees who are interested in technical or management progression. We try to ensure that technical ability is valued and nurtured in the right way, and is not hindered by unnecessary moves into management roles where this is not part of the career ambition of the individual.

The fourth dimension is cultural diversity. With 41 locations we encourage employees at every opportunity to travel, interact and work on projects in other countries. One of the best most practical examples of this in 2016 was the opening of our new office in Peru, which was supported by an IT team consisting of members based in India, Spain, France and Brazil.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Our IT organisation is completely aligned in terms of structure with how the business operates.

Our business has some global functions based in our head office which facilitate strategic alignment across the group, and then the countries operate either autonomously (where mature) or based around operating hubs (where emerging).

Our IT organisation has global teams aligned with these global functions. Each of the mature countries has their own CIO and full IT and innovation autonomy. Each of our operating hubs has a dedicated CIO and use of the shared IT service centres within the group.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
We have made significant progress this years in the area of digital UX and connected car.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?

  • To continue to develop our innovation capability.
  • To accelerate the roll-out of our strategic digital products through the centres of excellence.
  • To develop and support a global startup mentality.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
We are not anticipating any major impact on our organisation linked to Brexit due to our global business model.


When did you start your current role?
February 2015

What is your reporting line?
Into global 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?
Chief data officer reports into me (as CAO not CIO, as we regard data as a business asset).

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?
IT spend is approximately 20% of total operating expenses.

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
60% on change and 40% on run.


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

  1. CIO peers
  2. Industry bodies
  3. Consultants
  4. Media
  5. 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 a global CISO reports into me directly.


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?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • IoT
  • security
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social.

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

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • IoT
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
IoT will have the biggest impact linked to connected car and the rapid emergence of mobility services linked to this.


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?