By Mark Chillingworth
On the face of it selling luxury cars from manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes and the charitable work of the UK charity the British Council are world’s apart, but as the CIOs from these two sectors describe, technology is changing the shape of the both areas in unique and identical ways.
Laura Dawson and Attiq Qureshi lead technology at the British Council charity and Lookers a retailer in the automotive sector respectively. The business technology leaders were speaking at a Horizon Business Innovation micro-summit that included a workshop on disruptive technologies by our partners Red Badger. The London event featured CIOs from a wide range of vertical markets, including banking, insurance, professional services, manufacturing, engineering, charity and media gather.
“It isn’t the bins,” Dawson joked telling the CIO community about the British Council. “It is an international non-government organisation (NGO), that is in 115 countries and its role is to build friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and the rest of the world for prosperity and security.
“What that means is we all get to know each other better. Which is a good thing and we do that by using the commodity of the English language. We teach English in 70 countries and we also run and administer the UK visa and immigration exams and university entrances as well. We have an interesting culture in that we are both a charity, public sector and a private sector. That triumvirate of cultures mixed together is not always easy to navigate,” Dawson says of the London headquartered NGO.
“It is best explained by something like Autotrader, if you look at the turn of the last century Autotrader had 4000 employees and one percent of them in technology, they now have 1000 employees and 40% are in technology so it has completely turned their business,”
Dawson’s technology leadership role has the complexity and diversity you’d expect of a CIO role and of the organisation.
“I run a global IT function that in 2009 had the largest single instance of Microsoft Exchange in the world and we are the largest UK charity with a billion pound turnover, so we are pretty big and my role is to run this global team for the group and some of the customer facing services.”
“We retail cars and we are the second or largest car retailer in the UK. Unlike some of our competitors we don’t tend to promote our own brand, so some of our largest and most prestigious dealerships are Land Rover Battersea, Land Rover Gatwick, Glasgow Audi,” Qureshi says of the Manchester based Lookers automotive retail business. Lookers is a listed plc with a £5bn turnover and with 8000 employees. Qureshi says it focused on premium brands as well as “volume brands like Vauxhall and Ford.”
Changing customer behaviour
“One of the most obvious ways is in the fund raising space,” Dawson tells her peers about the change in customer behaviour. “Seeing the way that people give either using Justgiving or Virgin Money Giving has changed the model and one of the things we have seen is a shift from face-to-face and door-to-door to a much more digital way of giving. What you have also seen is the use of data on the beneficiary side. So it is not just about funding, it is changing the delivery side of the organisation and therefore changing the shape of charity.”
Qureshi of Lookers adds: “I think when it comes to retail, there is no industry that has had to have a violent shift in technology and complexity and that is not because the consumer has changed, it is because the industry dragged its feet.
“It is best explained by something like Autotrader, if you look at the turn of the last century Autotrader had 4000 employees and one percent of them in technology, they now have 1000 employees and 40% are in technology so it has completely turned their business,” Qureshi says of how a magazine has become a digital service and the same is happening across the automotive retail sector.
“So when it came to automotive retailing it was predominantly about the showroom, the salesman and the product. Now it is all about online research, 90% of customers do research online, and it is about campaign management, it is about engagement with the customer, it is about compliance and financial products and configuration and it is one of the most complex retail propositions. When you buy a car from us you buy a unique car that you configure and the chances are we buy your car off you, so it is very different from a shopping basket from Tesco, so it has been a violent change.”
“One of the things that is really disrupting my sector is the move from the teaching of face-to-face teaching of English which for decades we have done,” Dawson says of how behaviour is changing. English teaching is a major part of the British Council organisation and digitisation has led to a need to re-appraise the way the British Council delivers these services. Dawson says pedagogical ideas have had to change and the British Council has had to become aware that language students are as time poor as consumers of cars, financial services or grocery and that they expect access to a service instantly.
“I think our business is completely ripe for disruption and most of the disruption comes from accessibility products, so products that translate for you, they are really going to drive a lot of the English teaching and language teaching,” Dawson says.
“I came from mobile retailing so organisations that are great with customers, they didn’t always succeed, but they always tried. Our ambition at Lookers is to be the John Lewis of the automotive retail space, there isn’t anyone in that space so if we don’t adopt that space then someone like Amazon will, so we have been through a lot of cultural change,” Qureshi says of the potential for threats from technology led organisations.
“We are at the beginning of our journey. We have 100 million people looking at our broadcast material and getting hold of that information has been a challenge for us, so it is more about building the capabilities that we need to get our hands around the data before we build data warehousing and analytics,”
Whether a charity or a retailer, the need for data to drive accurate decision making is essential to guide organisations undergoing significant change.
“It is important to make sure that you are running well and it ensures you are making the right decisions and not running on anecdote and opinion,” Qureshi says. “We did a lot of work with customers self booking-in for a service and it just wasn’t very successful and we had a lot of drop-out and lots of customers not clicking through and our natural response in our industry is to add more to it, and the customers said take stuff away, I don’t care that you have been in existence for 103 years and I don’t want to see a picture of the general manager, just send me a message that your service is ready.
“We have a lot of data and it is spread across lots and lots of systems and with things like GDPR and general good practice the future is about targeted marketing, predictive analysis of behaviour, better campaigns and personalised campaigns,” Qureshi says.
“We are at the beginning of our journey. We have 100 million people looking at our broadcast material and getting hold of that information has been a challenge for us, so it is more about building the capabilities that we need to get our hands around the data before we build data warehousing and analytics,” Dawson says of the British Council.”The central IT function is becoming a facilitator to that and then getting the data out into the business functions to make use of that data. So making data an asset with value, we have been showcasing good stories about data, so there is a lot about showing where data led to a decision.
“In terms of data on the teams and performance we have done a lot on joint KPIs, so we put two people together and you are both going to be measured on it and that drives that change in behaviour,” Dawson says of how measurement and culture change are being combined in the organisation.
“We have still not caught up with the customer expectation,” Qureshi of Lookers says of the automotive retail sector. “People still arrive at a dealership and think it is going to be a combative experience,” he says of the old image of the sector. Qureshi and his organisation are looking to digitise the car buying experience, especially in areas of a car purchase that, we yet, are still old fashioned processes. The CTO says finance options and greater configuration will become the digital norm. At present the car manufacturers have configuration on their websites, but that there is opportunities for greater integration between the car makers and those in the retail sector.
“There will be more challenges on services and after sales. The traditional model is we make customers arrive at 8am and make them leave their car and then we tell them at 4pm what has been done. But some interim services can be done in 25 minutes so we should be offering our customers 25,30 minute and one hour slots, so there will be a big push in that,” he says of another key business line that will be digitised. “Electric vehicles will be a big change, again in how we service and how we stock parts. The one that is really really near-term is the connected car and the manufacturers are gathering lots of data, some of it is about the car, but they have kind of got nowhere to send it. You should be driving down a street and the brake lights come on and it should offer you three bookings, we are a way from that, not technologically but from a political and integration point of view,” Qureshi says of the integration challenges facing CIOs in the automotive and its associated retail sector.
“I think it is all about convenience. If you decide to buy a car today on finance, you could be asked to apply 23 signatures, I recently took a mortgage and signed two things electronically, so it is just not comparable. So there is a lot more to do,” he adds.
For Dawson integration and customer understanding is also an issue, though perhaps with less complexity than with automobiles.
“The biggest change in the people that give money is they are wanting to see the outcome that they are giving money to and to see that the donation was tangible,” she says. “One of the things that is becoming much more prevalent is telling the stories back and making sure that people can see where their money is going and that we accountable. So the biggest threat is the assumption that ‘we are in charity and we are nice and why do we have to do this’ and they are doing good things and they are fabulous and we need to be selling that story,” she says of changing the attitudes of a sector to meet the needs of new digital customer base. Dawson is not only CIO for the British Council, but also runs a CIO community for the charity sector.