FTSE 250 CIO David Cooper is using AI, the cloud and the Internet of Things to move facilities management from a low margin commodity business to a data led valued partner. In part one of his interview with the Horizon CIO Podcast Cooper revealed how he is able to jump to a set of new technologies to create new value services. But the CIO is also modifying the operations of Mitie as part of major internal transformation programme.
Mitie CEO Philip Bentley, like Cooper a former Centrica business leader, announced in June 2017 a £35 million modernisation programme. In March 2018 Mitie was able to report a “modest growth in sales” and that operating profit was in line with expectations.
Project Helix, as the transformation programme is dubbed, aims to reduce operating costs, increase productivity, drive simplification and therefore efficiencies and increase the amount of automation in the business. Project Helix will conclude in 2020 and generate a saving of £50 million.
Part of the business simplification is Cooper’s remit as the CIO tackles technology and information silos across the organisation and reduces and standardises the technology estate used by the various operations of Mitie.
Cooper’s role is two fold and similar to that of Andrew Jordan, CTO for corporate travel giants Carlson Wagonlit. They both have a focus on how technology can be used to change the business offering to customers, but remain responsible for the technology that operates the organisation. Cooper reveals Mitie is rationalising finance systems, infrastructure and applications, all of which he says is core to Project Helix “as it goes straight onto the bottom line”.
Cooper joined British Gas as CIO in 2011 as the organisation was at a junction, it had a streak of innovation in the Hive home monitoring and automation tool, but also some major problems with its contact centres and general operations. In 2016 Cooper added the Centrica holding company brief to his CIO portfolio.
“By the time I left I used to joke it was pipe and slippers time as they were not having to pick up the system every day. The call centre used to go down every day, when I arrived.
“But it was seeing people grow that was the biggest pleasure and why people came to us,” he says of his career at the Windsor headquartered energy and utilities company. Cooper was one of a select group of CIOs who always highlighted and promoted their second in commands to me in a previous editorial role. The CIO smiles when asked if members of his former organisation are keen to join Mitie, especially with an operating centre in Bracknell is not far from Windsor.
When British Gas hired Cooper as CIO it was the energy firm admitting it needed leadership and experience from outside of the energy sector, it had largely recruited senior technology leaders from within its vertical market before. Cooper entered British Gas with a career of leadership in telecoms. He had been CIO for Talk Talk between 2009 and 2011 and joined the telecoms firm from Three, the first 3G mobile operator in the UK. At Three Cooper moved from IT Director to CTO in a career from 2002 to 2009, some of the most exciting and aggressive in terms of growth years of the telecoms sector. Before Three Cooper had been with fixed line giant BT as Head of Networks and System Design.
Centrica is one of the most significant companies in the FTSE 100, so why did Cooper chose to o to a FTSE 250 in a market known for small margins and not known for its love and adoption of technology?
“It’s about enjoyment. If you are not enjoying it life is too short. Here we are able to be so much more innovative and to have creative freedom,” Cooper says.
“I did a PHD in physics and used to work in optical fibre and semiconductor laser research. The fun is in making things work. At Three when all the other telecoms held back from the 3G network adoption and stayed with GSM we went for it and we had to troubleshoot many of the problems and pioneer new services.”
That same challenge is clearly what attracted Cooper to Mitie. Arguably Mitie and its rivals could continue with the existing business model, chase wage arbitrage and engage in the bloody fight for each and every contract from local authorities, airports and government departments. But Mitie is being bold. Its CEO is across the specialist and key business press explaining how important technology will be to the sector and how important technology is to the transformation programme. Interestingly, though the CEO and CFO get press coverage for this, the very person leading that technology change has, as yet, not gained that same recognition.
Away from the Mitie major change programme Cooper remains a keen cyclist and makes time every year to tackle one of the major European climbing areas, cycling over the Alps or the Pyrenees.