Interview: Mike Sackman, CIO of pub and restaurant operator Mitchells & Butlers...
...Facebook fan bases for Toby Carvery and Harvester in the country and we're using that a lot for customer feedback, and that drives the thinking on future range development and so on," he says. "Facebook being used for online marketing and online direct offers to customers is quite big for us."
Ensuring the business' mobile workforce has access to the data they need was the driver for mobilising email, analytical tools and other alerts by deploying Windows Mobile-based smartphones to relevant staff. Sackman says the company has rolled out HTC handsets to some 300 employees who spend a lot of time away from their desks travelling between sites.
"We've got a huge mobile workforce of operations people, property people, marketing people, [to whom] we started to deliver reportage that can help them make decisions and effect change in the organisation while they're on site as opposed to when they're back at the office," he says. "It's really important that they've got information to hand so the use of smartphones to act as the platform for the delivery of that information has meant a massive increase in effectiveness - both for us as a business but also efficiency for people.
"They don't need to spend all weekend, necessarily, managing email inboxes any longer - they can do that while on the move."
Another people-friendly tech-enabled change on M&B's menu is to move from having a "relatively static" information-only staff portal that is currently used to deliver training to a more dynamic social-networking-style intranet that will include interactive apps such as staff rostering, says Sackman.
"At the moment, we'll produce a staff roster in every pub - or the manager will - every day and pin it on the notice board. We'd like to get to the point where that's online, can be seen anywhere by anybody who's working in the pub or the restaurant and they can request shift swaps and the rest of it," he says. "So we'll move beyond pure information and access to training... and start to use it much, much more for interacting directly with individual people across the country."
People management is a key theme for Sackman. Such so-called 'soft skills' are more and more important to the CIO role, he says. Being able to nose out talent and communicate with colleagues across the business are the key skills an IT leader needs - much more important than "deep technology knowledge".
"Communication skills are fundamental. The ability to translate both ways - from what we are trying to deliver strategically as a business, all the way down to the technology guys that are actually deploying that technology requires quite broad communications skills and knowledge, and less and less in-depth technical skills," he says.
"There's still an expectation that myself and my leadership team understand the capability of our existing technology, the technology on the marketplace and also where technology is going so we can bring that to the party - but there's a much greater expectation and desire for that to be in play in the strategic discussions."