Julie Pierce has raised the profile and interest in data, digital and tech with her fellow executives. Her introduction of mobile and collaboration tools for staff is significantly increasing engagement with the opportunities on offer from modern tech. She has also established a much improved customer delivery focus in the IT service team, and is leading the FSA’s innovation push in the way food data from across the whole of the system can be used instead of simple physical inspection.
Director of openness, data and digital
Food Standards Agency
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
The FSA’s primary customers are the food consumers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – the whole population. We also work closely with the food industry, a large and global set of businesses.
We are progressively providing new and improved digital transactions for consumers – eg ‘Report a Food Problem’ – and businesses. We provide an early monitoring system for norovirus outbreaks based on analysis on people’s Twitter data. We are on target to publish 95% of the FSA’s data in accordance with open data standards by March 2017, allowing anyone to make use of our data. We are driving up the use of social media to engage with consumers.
As well as changing the services the FSA provides, I personally have a key role in understanding and influencing the food industry in their use of tech (eg sensors), data (eg identifying food crime) and digital (eg on-the-ground monitoring of food businesses).
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
I have driven up the FSA staff engagement with consumers, with well over 15% becoming active advocates (on social media or personal physical presence) for the FSA, and what it stands for in relation to food safety, authenticity and sustainability.
I have reduced cost in the current IT service provision by HH.
I have delivered new data collection systems for abattoir inspection, allowing greater insight into the performance of the meat industry and delivery to animal welfare standards.
I have been instrumental in driving the food industry to be more open and transparent with the public with the publication of campylobacter data and meat condition data.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
The FSA is looking to transform how the food system is regulated in the UK. I am leading on the innovation in the way data available from across the whole of the system can be used instead of simple physical inspection.
I have led a number of projects looking at the application of IoT in the food system, and the use of imagery of food to better understand consumers’ relation to food and how they receive messages – eg safety.
I play a lead role on a joint project with BSI, the food industry and other government departments in the development of standards for the communication of allergen information through the supply chain. I am also working on projects to move information currently displayed on paper – eg labels, notices in shops – to online.
I am a Cambridge University policy fellow, exploring how data and digital can be used to transform the food industry and consumers’ relationship with it, exploring the difference between consumer and citizen.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
I have been in post for 16 months. Since then, I have raised the profile and interest in data, digital and tech with my fellow executives. Similarly the new projects to replace the FSA website and intranet, as well as mobile and collaboration tools for staff, are significantly increasing engagement with and appreciation of the opportunities on offer from modern services and tools.
I have established a much improved customer delivery focus in the IT service team. But I have also created an IT management board, instilling cross-agency governance for the first time.
I have personally driven a programme of education on agile.
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?
Communication has been in the form of delivery of presentations, establishment of an active agency-wide Yammer group, encouraging staff to engage externally at conferences, shadowing, etc, raising the profile of people through social media, and then delivering working solutions.
I am directly involved with the personal development of my own leadership team. As well as driving their education in modern tech, I am developing their confidence and networks, which will be important as we take control for our IT services back in-house.
I speak at food industry conferences on the opportunities from digital, data and tech to regulation, the industry, and the consumer. I have close relationships with organisations such as ODI and Godan.
For the FSA, success is not so much what the FSA does, but how it can get industry, academia and in fact consumers themselves to do it themselves. The role is one of external understanding and advocacy, as much as internal delivery.
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 have transformed the relationship with Capita, the incumbent managed service provider. We now have a more open and engaged approach to the delivery of the service and management of the final year of the contract (I extended the contract by one year to better manage the offboarding).
I and my team have worked to gain an understanding of, and then generate interest in, our business needs, and how tech service providers could meet those needs.
After many years of taking all services from Capita, we are already using multiple SMEs to define and then deliver new services. Some aspects of our data work are very innovative, and we work with academia (eg Turing Institute) as well as specialist small and large companies.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Half my team are women. Once you get to that level, being a woman in tech feels normal! I think that a woman in a senior role, ie me, is an important role model.
I embrace the FSA approach to home working, so our recruitment policy is very flexible as to home base and ways of working.
I recruit internally, providing opportunities to develop for people from different backgrounds – eg finance, meat inspection – as well as externally bringing in expertise and challenge. We often find it difficult to recruit scarce skills (eg digital, data science), but that provides the opportunity for us to offer secondments to the agency, again bringing in different types of people who challenge us.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
The IT team has been organised primarily to manage the Capita service and contract. Over the recent years the focus on service levels and cost reduction has delivered.
We are now building up the in-house team to take back control. We are progressively developing the capability in tech arch, multiple cloud service providers, new project delivery and commercial skills. We will look to buy (as far as possible) commoditised SaaS. We are also continuing to develop the team to work with the business on future user needs, engagement, and service deployment and embedding.
There is a separate team responsible for information management and data exploitation, which is also delivering new services, and building up a specialist expertise in data publishing (eg governance, ethics, metadata).
Finally the digital team has been established and is already building new services, but is currently focused on the replacement of the website and intranet, with a more service-driven approach that meet the requirements of us as a regulator through to us as an organisation to inform (working with partners) consumers in their relation to food.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
Capita is the incumbent.
A number of legacy application services are being terminated as, after challenge, we find we do not actually need the service.
We have been working with suppliers such as Rainmaker, SfW, Wunder.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
- To move services off the Capita contract by January 2018 with a target like-for-like saving of 15%.
- To provide new website and intranet services.
- To provide the new business and collaboration tools for staff, including implementation of O365.
- To provide data and digital services to deliver the new regulatory regime.
- To support the development of the new surveillance model, which provides global monitoring of emerging food safety risks (eg emerging science insights, crop failure, animal or plant disease, human malpractice).
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
This is a huge question. We have mobilised a team to look at this, but at the moment we have no firm models for future operation.
The vast majority of food law is based on EU food law. Therefore there could be a major impact. We are engaging closely with industry and other government departments such as Defra. The impact on the FSA could be immense. Provision of data and evidence underpins our approach.
Then, the IT strategy I published in May, says we look to deploy standard commoditised services, which will enable us to deliver the FSA business, irrespective of scale or role. Resilience, agility and futureproofing is key. There may be the requirement for new applications, particularly in the area of imports. But we will continue to ensure the food industry carries the greatest burden, rather than the taxpayer.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Directly to the FSA CEO
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
No. The board of directors’ membership is made up of non-exec directors. I am invited, with other exec colleagues, to sit on the board.
What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
I have three leaders: IT, data and digital (includes innovation), along with my director of communications.
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?
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
70% on ops, 30% on innovation.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Analyst houses
- Industry bodies
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. Reports to me. I am the SIRO.
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?
IT, data and digital – 40 staff
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
- machine learning/artificial intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- 3D printing of food
- sensors in manufacturing and distribution.
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)
- 3D printing.
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
IoT (including sensors), AI (eg Watson for surveillance monitoring for risk), AI to better understand the micro behaviour of food businesses and risk, Uberisation of the food system, VR for training, combining tech and IoT for microbiome monitoring in plants, image processing, increased use of social media data.
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?