Leadership investigate

How Specsavers is setting its sights on global IT

Specsavers' European IT director Karl de Bruijn on Google Apps, open source and mobile working

Overseeing the technology infrastructure of a company operating in one country is challenging enough but when that organisation begins to expand around the world, the task becomes much more complex.

Specsavers is one company that has undergone that kind of expansion. With its optician branches a common sight on Britain's high streets, the company has also become a multinational concern during the past decade, and it is that legacy that European IT director Karl de Bruijn is currently dealing with.

"I think [the main challenge is] taking that transition from being a multi-domestic-type organisation to having this global footprint and ensuring we maintain a level of service to our customers and retail partners while we grow through this transition," de Bruijn told silicon.com.

Established in 1984 by Doug and Mary Perkins in Guernsey, the Specsavers business model is about providing customers with the level of service they would expect from a local independent business while taking advantage of the buying power of a large company to offer value-for-money products and services.

To achieve that balance, the company employs a joint-venture model in which branches are operated by local opticians and Specsavers.

Specsavers has 750 branches in the UK but with a similar number across Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the chain is looking to create a global IT footprint

Specsavers has 750 branches in the UK but with a similar number across Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the chain is looking to create a global IT footprint
(Photo credit: Specsavers)

The company now has 1,500 stores and 26,000 staff around the world. In addition to its 750 UK stores, the company has branches across Europe in Denmark, Finland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden as well as in Australia and New Zealand.

As a result of its growth outside the UK, Specsavers' technology set-up has developed into a regional structure in which different back-office and corporate systems are used for the same processes.

To tackle the issue of regional IT, Specsavers is undergoing a major technology refresh programme aimed at putting a global technology footprint in place so the same technology platforms are used across the entire group.

"Specsavers over the past few years has become quite large globally and it's growing our IT capability on a global basis where we had a very regional IT structure previously. We're currently going through a technology refresh to put us on a more global footing from a technology perspective," de Bruijn said.

De Bruijn joined the organisation 15 months ago as interim director of applications to help with the company's technology refresh. He soon realised there were...

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