With Orridge and Vennersys being in the IT business, Simon Kniveton has an unusually powerful role as a CIO in that he directs their product development strategy. And he does it with aplomb. Last year he replaced a server-based infrastructure and product set that was expensive to sell, implement, support and maintain with agile, cloud-based integrated solutions. And he moved the business model from high customer investment, high implementation cost and long lead times to affordable pay as you go, ROI within a year, and short sales lead times and implementation times.

Job title
CIO/information systems director

Company name
Orridge and Vennersys

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
By being the industry leading innovator, by spending on average two days a week with customers, and by expecting my senior team to also spend considerable time with our customers and future prospects. This results in unfiltered feedback from customers. I then personally direct the product development strategy.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
In our tourism and leisure business, which now leads the way in visitor attraction management systems, online ticketing systems and Epos systems, I have digitally disrupted the industry by leading the way with a shift to cloud-based integrated solutions optimised for mobile and multichannel while taking advantage of RFID, IOT, payments and mobile emerging technologies. This has resulted in considerable year-on-year revenue growth, more reliable solutions and improving margins in a competitive market.

In our retail service business we have delivered our in-house-developed next-generation ERP system, leading to operational efficiencies as well as pioneering our development of voice-led wearable technology for our field workforce to enable workforce productivity gains. In addition, our substantial investment in data mining and analytics has led to new ways of rewarding and motivating our workforce.

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: Delivering digital transformation in the industry sector by reinventing a traditional server-based infrastructure and product set that was expensive to sell, implement, support and maintain, replacing it with class-leading, agile, cloud-based integrated solutions.
  • Business model: Taking a business model from high investment by customer, high implementation costs and long lead times to affordable pay as you go, rapid ROI with typically payback within a year, short sales lead times and short implementation times.
  • Technology innovation: Wearable technologies, IOT, RFID, payment profiling (by implementing next-generation token-based payment systems that can track online purchases and onsite purchases and join together in single view).

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
We are very culturally diverse across IT and the whole organisation already. However, having encouraged a multicultural team, my role is now to protect them from business politics and allow them to integrate well, innovate and flourish.

I have encouraged behavioural change by leading by example – eg spending significant time each week working with customers and prospects.

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?

  • in addition to a seat on the board, having regular one-to-one meetings with key board members to help educate and more importantly assist in formulating strategy that takes advantage of the opportunities that digital and technology can create
  • by playing a key strategic leadership role in the business
  • by also providing the tools and opportunities for the highest levels of the organisation to collaborate.

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?
By keeping the number of vendors we partner with to a manageable number, we are able to build enduring trust-based relationships that make it worthwhile for both parties making investments in exploring new technologies for medium to long-term gains.

My senior team are encouraged to explore technology vendors through their own efforts and that of consultants to ensure that we are leveraging the best solutions out there on behalf of our customers and organisation.

I have an open door policy to vendors to ensure we keep abreast of the latest developments. I always make time to meet with senior vendor contacts as well as regularly attend the leading industry events and bodies to learn and network.

I also identify SME and startup vendors where innovation and agility is needed and where appropriate join them with consultants or larger technology vendors to help deliver a complete agile solution.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Successful diversity starts with the leader and is demonstrated by the diverse team I have in place. Some of my best hires have been through taking advantage of diversity.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I have separated out a team to focus purely on client-driven development. Without the usual internal distractions, they are able to be responsive and innovative for our clients, working extremely closely with our various international and UK sales teams, account management teams and operations. We then have separate internal groups focusing on back office operations. This enables us to be agile and responsive to customer needs and operational enhancements.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?

  • In our retail service business: Wearable voice technology by piecing together numerous strategic components with in-house customer development. Investing in our next-generation in-house-developed ERP system. Delivering our next-generation client analytics and data mining platform through Datoniq.
  • In our tourism and leisure business: Digitally disrupting the industry by leading the way with a shift to cloud-based integrated solutions optimised for mobile and multichannel whilst taking advantage of RFID, IOT, wearable and mobile emerging technologies all built on the AWS cloud.

Main suppliers and partners are: Dell, Amazon Web Services, Datoniq, Blue Sky and Telerik.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?

  • security
  • rapid growth through continued rapid innovation (utilising our own in-house innovation centre)
  • localisation of our technology for a global platform
  • move business from recognised best technology to recognised best global brand in our industry sector
  • continue to hire great talent.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
All of our cloud based hosting has now moved to AWS, which now has a London datacentre. We are now preparing for GDPR introduction in May 2018. At the same time, we are launching a north American operation to reduce dependency on EU revenues, and introducing data segmentation and classification for different territories.

YOUR ROLE

When did you start your current role?
2004

What is your reporting line?
CEO/managing director

Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Yes

Are you a member of the board of directors?
Yes

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
None. My role encompasses each of these with a strong focus on innovation.

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

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
5,000+

BUDGETS

What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
4%

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
55% operational/45% innovation.

CIO INFLUENCES

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

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

IT SECURITY

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
No

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?
Yes, a member of my team.

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?
Yes

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes

How many employees are there in your IT team?
32

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
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • wearables
  • 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
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • 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?
Voice, IOT, wearable, AR, artificial intelligence.

THE EU

Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Yes

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
No

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?
No