How tech safeguards Co-op ideals for the 21st century

Co-operative Group IS director Ian Dyson discusses the tech driving the 150-year-old organisation

Not many IT bosses can say they've spent their whole career at the same business but Co-operative Trading Group IS director Ian Dyson's enthusiasm for the values his employer represents has kept him motivated for 30 years.

"I'm actually passionate about the business, particularly the co-operative business. That's why I've been around it for 30 years because I just love the style. I love what it stands for. It's not empty words - what you do see and read about it is factual, it's true. And it is a great place to work," Dyson told

The co-operative movement started with the foundation of the Rochdale Pioneers Society in 1844, operating with the principles of sharing profits with members according to their purchases at affiliated shops.

Co-operative societies formed in food, medicine, insurance and banking throughout the following decades and the movement even extended into politics with the foundation of the Co-operative Party in 1917.

The movement coalesced into the Co-operative Group in 2000, when the Co-operative Wholesale Society and Co-operative Retail Services merged to create the largest consumer co-operative in the world, generating £6.9bn in revenues in 2010.

The Co-operative Group is consolidating its technology infrastructure as it prepares to move to a new head office in 2012

The Co-operative Group is consolidating its technology infrastructure as it prepares to move to a new head office in 2012
(Image credit: The Co-operative Group)

Clearly, the Co-operative Group's ethical trading values are close to Dyson's heart. His convictions carry over into the way he goes about his job, where he feels the ability to work with other organisations for mutual benefit is key.

Dyson said his role requires the ability to achieve operational efficiencies and boost revenue while also controlling costs: "And I think a lot of that really will be driven through innovation without a doubt and also, to a certain extent, collaboration - so collaboration with partners and key suppliers. More of a co-operative model really."

The Co-operative Group's tech challenges

Like the Co-operative Group, which is now headquartered in Manchester, Dyson hails from the North West of England and is a keen Manchester United fan.

And in some ways his job is similar to that of Red Devils manager Alex Ferguson, in that Dyson has to address the ambitions of the entire organisation while also catering to the needs of individuals. In Ferguson's case, these individuals are players, while for Dyson, they're the Co-operative Group's various businesses.

With 120,000 employees and numerous businesses - including asset management, banking, financial services, food, insurance, investments, legal services, pharmacy, smile online bank and travel - the Co-operative Group is a complex organisation providing unusual challenges for the IT department. Dyson has...