Leadership investigate

Sainsbury's IT chief: Why communication is key to IT success

'If you talk about servers and datacentres, you'll lose your audience'

...must ensure that the rest of the business understands how to derive the most from technology resources.

The Sainsbury's executive is keen to explore new ways to highlight the potential business benefits of technical innovation. Such methods need to help the IT department move beyond the confines of back-end systems and processes. One such method is through the use of internal communications specialists.

Like an increasing number of his CIO peers, Fraser says such specialists can really help prove the value of IT to the rest of the business. Fraser has someone in the IT team that is responsible for internal and external communications, and he encourages other business executives who are eager to prove the value of their business contribution to make a similar appointment.

"You need to communicate outside the department," says Fraser. "IT can be hard for other divisions to understand. We need to help people get under the skin of technology and getting people from outside the IT function to help drive the message of strategic change is key."

Drawing on the skills of specialists is not the only interactive initiative being undertaken by the retailer. Fraser says Sainsbury's is very communications-centric and he has been involved in a number of programmes to help demonstrate the benefits of IT.

Such projects include the Monday Huddle, where the IT team gets together with key line-of-business executives to talk about what the organisation's objectives mean for the technology department.

"You have to communicate relentlessly," he says, referring back to the collection of people-based initiatives begin undertaken at the firm.

"If you talk about servers and datacentres, you'll lose your audience. We have a vibrant IT team, with a flexible technology system that helps support real-time organisational activities. The business must understand why IT matters and how the potential benefits really are believable."

Stamping technology's mark on the business

Not that Fraser is in any doubt about the value of technology to the retail giant: "IT is the critical nervous system of the organisation," he says, before suggesting that technology professionals working in the modern, digital era have a great opportunity to stamp their mark on the business.

"People going into the IT industry now have joined at just the right time," says Fraser. "Technology at Sainsbury's, for example, is now woven into the front end of business processes, and is providing real efficiency gains in the supply chain and in operations. Our business truly is IT-enabled."

Fraser recognises the move towards the cloud means organisations can now think about using IT on-demand. As in the case of outsourcing, which Sainsbury's has used as a central part of its IT strategy in the past, buying such on-demand capability can be right for the business. However, he is clear that creating more reliance on a core internal IT team is right for Sainsbury's.

"Bringing our IT capability back inhouse was definitely the right decision. The longevity allowed by such a decision means you know you can always look to connect IT to the mainstream thinking of the business. And that's where our IT department continues to have a huge role to play," says Fraser.

"Stretching towards new areas of business IT means you need to look for efficiencies. Modern organisations are powered by IT and retail is becoming more and more reliant on technology. Creating seamless integration of new IT projects is absolutely crucial for the business."

About

Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.

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