Driving efficiencies and lower costs and delivering technology projects are the day to day part of Lance Fisher’s role. But he’s also got his eyes firmly fixed on the more distant horizon, and is busy making preparations to cope with two external factors he identifies as having the potential to profoundly affect the business. The first is the protection of data assets from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats, and the imminent data protection regulation changes – SThree has masses of candidate CV data that needs to be protected and compliant. The second is the sector’s digital disruption entrants, enabled via new technology and innovation.

Job title
CIO

Company name
SThree

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I think we can all see that the role of the CIO is changing and therefore so is its influence. For me it is being involved in and being seen to be the technologist ‘go to’ consultant/guru of choice for any technology we use. Shadow IT is the killer of CIOs, so making sure that you influence that and are the conduit all technology is a key part of the role.

The expected part of the job is ‘business as usual’, so that is always driving efficiencies, lower cost and being more efficient, alongside delivering technology projects. Where the change is happening is more external factors – in particular two dominant ones that I have become increasingly involved in over the last year, as both will have a profound future impact on our organisation.

The first is the protection of our data assets from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats, and the data protection changes being brought about by imminent new data protection laws. We have masses of candidate CV data we need to protect and ensure we are compliant.

The second is the increasing digital disruption entrants into our sector via new technology and innovation.

So to do my role I have to be involved in all of these influencers which will affect our services, people and our clients, which is core focus for our organisation.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Our IT strategy continues of SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud). Technology-wise we have implemented a new recruitment system on Salesforce (which increases productivity of our consultants). We have implemented with finance a commission system in Xactly (which affects how we reward our workforce), and worked with our HR teams to implement Fairsale for talent acquisition and performance management, which directly affects how we hire staff and their productivity. These technology refreshes are all part of our technology strategy, and everything we do is rooted in ROI to ensure we see positive benefits that we can realise to the bottom line.

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

We provide specialist recruitment services, and our services are always growing and changing. We have actively looked at new technology and how we apply that to our client offerings. This ranges from implementing new technology stacks (such as Salesforce) to new and exciting products such as video interviewing.

Business model innovation

Out of the three you highlighted, this is a big thought process for us. How will OUR business be disrupted? And what can we do to invest in new ideas and technology to complement and disrupt ourselves in what we do? I am heavily involved in those initiatives. As they are highly sensitive, I cannot document them at the moment.

Technology innovation

Technology innovation is constant, so I am heavily involved and leading our platform changes (ie Salesforce), and working closely on initiatives aimed at our people and process change. As an example, I am sponsor of one change initiative, which is our order management programme, which affects our middle office and order-to-cash processes

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
Yes, the introduction of new technology brings both cultural and behavioural change. Fundamentally we are moving from on premise to a cloud delivery set of products, so we have to lead on how this change is brought about. Across the organisation we are changing the way people work – ie from being desk-bound because of the technology to being a mobile workforce, so this has a big impact on behavioural ways of working. All of the systems/projects we have and are implementing have had an effect on our clients’ behaviour to some degree.

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?
Yes, we see that there is a potential for digital disruption of our industry, so there are initiatives looking at this which I am actively involved with and which is being driven by our CEO. Additionally there is a strong focus on ensuring what we do is efficient and as automated as possible.

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 can only do what we do with strong partners. Our vendors are very important to our growth strategy. As CIO it is key in my role that we build strong relationships with our technology partners. New additions have been Salesforce, Fairsale, Xactly, as we changed to those technologies in 2016. This year will bring further relationships with Financial Force and SpringCM, as we have just committed to further cloud projects with them.

Building relationships specifically for me involves investing a lot of personal time. Each vendor works differently, so as a flavour I have been involved in CIO councils, speaking at client events, presenting at vendor conferences, meeting key individuals, being a reference site, etc, etc.

The relationship is two-way, so in return I gain knowledge from these events as well as being party to their strategies and having a chance to input or influence them. That results I firmly believe in mutual success for both of our organisations.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
At SThree, promoting inclusion and diversity is at the heart of everything we do. We are committed to recognising and developing our talent and supporting our clients, candidate and community to do the same. Key to our focus on diversity is our identity programme, which was set up in 2011 to support the development and progression of women within our organisation. Our diversity efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. SThree has been awarded the 2016 APSCo award for excellence in diversity and inclusion, and is the only staffing organisation to be awarded a place in the Times Top 50 employers of women in two consecutive years, 2014 and 2015.

Specifically in our team, we understand that IT is traditionally a male-dominated industry, and we have been trying to challenge this. We monitor our female representation at all levels, and have set aspirational gender targets in order to ensure we develop and progress our female talent.

We currently have a 22% representation of females, and are aiming for 23% in 2017. This is from a base of 16% a few years ago, so we are moving in the right direction and making good progress. We have an aspirational target of 30% female representation within the team by 2021, which we feel is a stretching yet realistic target. By evaluating the data we have as recruiters within the IT industry, we are able to establish the female representation average is currently around 17%. We are therefore able to show that we are leading the way in the industry.

IT staff have access to our global mentoring programme to assist their development, and we utilise our new performance management system to ensure that areas of development are identified and personal development plans are put in place.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
My strategy is simple. I split IT into two: ‘run the business’ and ‘grow the business’. You have to learn and understand the business and its competitive advantage, understand how your competitors run their businesses, and then look to deliver competitive advantage. I firmly believe as a CIO you are the glue – you need to connect IT to the business, vendors and your clients. By doing that it has freed me to concentrate on innovation and data, and this year GDPR and the challenges that brings. These two areas will see potentially dramatic changes within the next few years.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
In 2015 we made a strategic commitment to Salesforce. Last year we did a further deal with Salesforce, which is our chosen front office platform, we have implemented Fairsail and Xactly, and we have recently signed deals with Financial Force and Spring CM. We also have strong relationship with our other strong partners – ie Microsoft.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
SThree is committed to our clients and we have corporate client-focused objectives that as an exec board we have signed up to. Our business model is to create a virtuous circle between our customers, services and our people. Our technology strategy flows from this. Additionally we see a lot of external influencers, which means we need to manage threats and risks. So we also see we will have a strong focus on cybersecurity and the GDPR this year, a continued focus on a more efficient back and middle office and, of course, innovation. There is a lot going on!

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
We are a global company, so are watching Brexit carefully as it could have a big impact on UK businesses. Our UK operations will obviously be affected, but we take a long-term global view, and are not heavily exposed to just the UK.

Brexit is topical but a more interesting question from a technology view is the recent US election. It is interesting to note that our main IT partners are all US-based (Salesforce, Microsoft, etc). It looks like a new US president and the likelihood of more efficient trade between US and UK could open up some interesting possibilities or more US technology partnering for us.

YOUR ROLE

When did you start your current role?
End of 2010

What is your reporting line?
To the CEO

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?
I am in effect covering the chief data officer as part of my CIO role, and this has expanded to cover GDPR and cybersecurity. Digital and disruption and innovation are key activities I am working closely with our CMO, and are key strategies for our CEO.

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Formally once a month, but lots of ad hoc.

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
SThree has 39 offices in 15 countries, with 2,600+ employees and 9,000+ contractors.

BUDGETS

What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
Total IT spend as a proportion of revenue is around 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)?
It’s roughly a third on people, a third on operational and a third on projects.

CIO INFLUENCES

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

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

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?
Direct report

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+

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
No

TECHNOLOGY

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

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • CRM
  • security
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • networking/communications.

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
  • security
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop).

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Some top-secret machine learning stuff.

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