Stories from the digital pioneers

Stories from the digital pioneers

What does a global charity have in common with a chain of optician stores, a telecom provider and a pharmaceutical giant? They’re all pushing hard to reap the benefits that digital technologies can bring.

Earlier this summer, I chaired a CIO event that ran as part of a new UK Festival for Business in Liverpool. The agenda featured quite a disparate set of C-level speakers with varied stories to tell, but every speaker was focused on tackling the changing opportunities and challenges brought by new technologies and the market changes they catalyse. Here are some of the key highlights I took away from this set of digital pioneers.

Andy Williams, Global CIO, Save the Children

Save the Children is a complex global organisation: it comprises 30 delivery and fundraising organisations operating across 7 global regions. This makes for a great many stakeholders and significant complexity. The charity sees that digital technology is empowering many people, but also sees that it threatens old legacy charity organisations.

Save the Children needed to create an IT function that was fit for purpose in the modern era, and aligned with the charity’s current global mission – enabling it to increase its impact, drive greater funding, improve insights available from data, increase efficiency, and so on. Digital technologies provide a great opportunity for the charity to create global feedback loops between beneficiaries and donors that have never really existed before (unless donors invested additional time and money in physically travelling to beneficiary locations). Williams is clear that his success as CIO in such an environment will principally be down to his ability to collaborate and influence others around the world – with the aim of creating an integrated, common set of global information services within a highly federated, complicated global operating model.

David Guest, CTO, Specsavers

Specsavers is the world’s largest private optical / audiology group. The company runs a networked partnership model (rather like a franchise model): each of the 1,750 Specsavers stores is actually a joint venture between the parent company and independent store owners. Right now, the group – and the industry – is facing significant disruption from new (digital) optical technologies and services. The group specifically has also had to find ways to effectively deal with peaks in store footfall traffic that have threatened to impact customer service.

Its response has been to embrace new digital technologies, and to do so enthusiastically. Not only is it making the shift in order to encourage more and more online customer self-service (and reduce physical store traffic); it’s also remodelling stores themselves, bringing consumer-grade digital technologies and experiences to staff in the stores, and freeing up store space. Crucially, the renewal of Specsavers’ customer interaction environments is underpinned by a major investment in data management and quality. Guest knows that without high-quality, consistent data, delivering great multi-channel experiences will be incredibly difficult.

Brendan O’Rourke, CIO, Telefónica UK

O’Rourke shared the story of The Lab – a digital innovation outfit within O2 (the commercial brand of telecoms giant Telefónica in the UK), created in 2010, which he has responsibility for.

For O2 and other established providers, the competitive landscape stretches far beyond the traditional network owners; it also encompasses digital-only ‘over the top’ (OTT) players – not only for messaging, but also voice and video. So established players need to find ways to enter new markets, and new ways to make money. The Lab is one of the key levers O2 has, and O’Rourke is clear that it’s prepared to introduce product and service concepts that may disrupt the company’s core business.

The Lab has been responsible for some great innovations: including O2Drive (a telematics-based car insurance offering). Innovations don’t always fly; but crucially using The Lab’s processes, the company typically finds out that things don’t work quickly, and without spending too much money.

O’Rourke comes across innovation challenges every day. But the hardest one is industrialisation – the process of taking lab prototypes and hardening them to deliver commercially-ready, scalable services.

Chris Day, VP IT Transformation, AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca was in a difficult place in 2013. Benchmarking its IT spend showed it was significantly underperforming the pharmaceutical sector average in terms of efficiency, with a heavily-outsourced operation and most internal staff focused on supplier management. IT was seen as a ‘pseudo-supplier’ to the business. A new CEO wanted AstraZeneca to have a world-class IT capability, though, and was willing to invest to make it happen.

The path that AstraZeneca has taken in the past three years has been truly transformative (you can read about just one part of its journey in our recent case study report focused on its integration technology investments). It’s made a strategic move to SaaS platforms: investing in and delivering global rollouts of Office365, ServiceNow, Workday, Concur and Salesforce application services. At the same time it’s rebuilt in-house technical support and software development capabilities and insourced on a huge scale. By the end of this year, Day estimates that the clear majority of the company’s IT workforce will be insourced; along the way, business satisfaction in IT delivery has improved hugely (I have figures, but I’m not sure that I’m cleared to share them here). IT operating expenditure has also fallen precipitously.

Your story?

If you have a story you’d like to share, I’d be delighted to hear about the journey you’re on. We’re running an occasional series of interviews with leaders, and would love to publish more interviews. Let me know!

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