There is no Silver Bullet – How Autovista Group’s CIO Rik Richman manages the change in an international digital media enterprise

by Annecilla Sampt

Autovista Group provides pricing and specification intelligence for Europe’s automotive decision-makers. While in the early days the product was a printed book, Autovista Group started an impressive change process, handling massive amounts of data and providing multiple APIs and Data services for its customers. We are looking forward to welcome Rik Richman, the CIO of Autovista Group, in Vienna at the 11. Confare CIO SUMMIT, the largest IT-Management event in Austria with more than 500 delegates from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Planning his speech we asked Rik how the change effected IT and what it takes to be a successful CIO in times of digital business transformation.

How does Digital impact Autovista Group’s business model?

Autovista Group’s Digital Transformation initiative represented stark change in methods of delivering information and content to its customers. Traditionally, these were in printed book form or electronic versions output on to CD, both of which were regularly sent to customers via postal service, whereas now they can be accessed online via smartphones, tablets and computers.

To help with this transition, tough decisions were made on shutting down and removing non/low profit products and services, many of which were legacy products that had already been superseded, but which despite this had remained active at the client’s request, often because of a single feature that may not have been available in the newer versions. In such cases, customers were encouraged to switch to newer products and services that delivered all or most of their requirements, often offering additional features that the customers had previously not considered or had not been aware of. Ultimately, the business is now able to consistently produce more frequent output at a reduced cost and we expect that to increase as subsequent digital transformation initiatives unfold throughout 2018.

As a parallel exercise to the focus on customer products, there was an opportunity to introduce tools and processes that were consistent, scalable and cost effective. We implemented single digital solutions for our back office, establishing single systems for Finance (budgets and forecasts, local and Group accounts, MI & reporting), HR (personnel records, processing & payroll), and Marketing (Marketing, CRM, Billing & Payment collection), which had traditionally existed as single solutions in each of Autovista Group’s international offices across the UK, Europe and Australia. Each solution executed with the goal of creating Global support capabilities that are effective and efficient in satisfying business decision support and legislative requirements. And as the new back office systems were implemented, the IT organisation was able to build capacity and capability that is right for today and scalable for the future.

This established a connected way of working across Autovista Group and supported self-service across the workforce. This has been very important to us, as we are also transitioning to a flexible way of working, where we no longer expect staff to work from a dedicated office, giving them the freedom to work remotely through the tools we have deployed.

What are the effects on IT organisation and infrastructure?

The digital transformation initiative within Autovista Group has made a major positive contribution to a reduction in legacy systems, which comprised elements of the customer product portfolio. In the case of the back office systems, we also introduced new technologies and solutions. Essentially, this was an opportunity for the IT organisation to reduce its legacy platforms and rationalise the instances of HR, Finance and Marketing systems into a single suite of standard products, eliminating the many varied, sometimes duplicated and often manual systems that existed on the network. It also enabled improved access management, security and the delivery of consistent IT support across the infrastructure, managed through a single central team, enabling the business to realise operating efficiencies throughout the business.

Did the role of the CIO change within Autovista Group?

The role of the ‘CIO’ did not really change within Autovista Group. Certainly my focus as the IT Director remained ensuring that the technology systems and procedures, produced outcomes in line with business goals and further aligning IT strategies to support business growth objectives. Transitioning to a digital only business calls upon the already developed skills of successful CIO’s, requiring him or her to exercise flexibility in the pursuit of success.

What makes a successful CIO in your opinion?

The CIO must embrace and be adaptable to change. It is important to understand the current state and requirements of the organisation and have a vision to support the attainment of those goals. But it is not wholly dependent on giving the business what they think they want. It is about identifying opportunities that could help the business do things differently and working with them, selling ideas to them, so that they buy in to the longer term benefits of innovative concepts and new solutions. Presenting the vision is as much about winning over hearts and minds, as it is about aligning to the corporate strategy, so the human side of the role is very important when dealing with company executives. This extends to the IT team too, so the CIO needs to be capable of inspiring his/her team to achieve that vision. It is important to value your people – you’re only as good as your team, right? So make sure you hire the right staff, with the right skills, experience and capacity to learn, then allow them the freedom to explore solutions to the IT challenges the organisation faces; there’s no point in hiring experts only to tell them how you want them to do it! So empowering staff to achieve results is key, as is collaborating with others, both within the team, across teams and with supporting third parties.

Good CIO’s will normally benefit from the ‘battle scars’ of experience and so are able to make valued judgments and decisions based on the previous outcomes of the past, whether successful or otherwise. So self-awareness is also a very important characteristic for CIO’s.

I have seen CIO’s join organisations and put a lot of effort into delivering the next ‘big thing’, aligning to media hype in the hope that they will be able to quickly produce the ‘silver bullet’ that will bring fortune on the organisation and ‘god like’ recognition for themselves, believing that the focus & implementation of current IT trends will reaffirm the decision to hire them. However, without taking time to understand the current business challenges, or the capabilities of the IT department and organisation as a whole, this is likely to be a short lived strategy. The CIO must be prepared to go back to basics to validate the current state, making improvements where necessary. Getting the fundamentals right will help ensure a solid foundation on which to further develop the IT services to support the business and may help establish a more robust platform, on which to exploit new and emerging technologies.

In turn, as these develop and are optimised, the IT department becomes more capable; the IT organisation and the business as a whole becomes more cost effective and more agile, thus providing greater scope for innovation and exploitation of new and emerging technologies, which in turn will support the expansion plans of the company.

Of what importance is a Digital ecosystem for the modern CIO? How do you handle the cooperation with the players of this ecosystem?

A digital ecosystem (an often overused term) is very important for the CIO; it summarises the contributing components that establishes the desired output or outputs. It is in essence the ‘network’ of systems, suppliers and agents (internal and external) that play a role in the delivery of the solution or service. It is the very essence of people (e.g. managers, internal/operational staff, customers, vendors, hosts etc.), process (e.g. user identity and access management, data processing/ ETL routines etc.), and technology (software, tools, applications, data, data network, server/storage infrastructures and integrated systems and services etc.), each playing a key role in the delivery of the proposition.

These intelligent autonomous and adaptive agents are wide and varied, and so gaining co-operation of the internal players is a challenge, therefore where possible, appointing owners responsible for the key elements of the ecosystem will help to manage the end to end value chain. But there is no magic way of handling or managing the co-operation with the players that comprise the ecosystem. Each scenario is different and each player is different. Some can be managed easily, whereas others play by their own rules. Instead, I would describe handling each as management on demand, dealing with each individual player as the need arises; adapting to the requirements of the situation and managing the individual agents to ensure they each meet the agreed deliverables within their scope. In my experience, this requires an open mind, flexibility and diplomacy on the part of the CIO, within the boundaries of what is expected of each of the player’s respective roles. This requires the creation and development of healthy network of relationships and interfaces, fostering regular collaborative communication and sharing plans with all contributing stakeholders.

Want to know who the Austrian #TopCIOs 2017 are? Meet Rik Richman and 500 more high level IT executives the 11th Confare CIO SUMMIT on April 11th and 12th in Vienna at www.ciosummit.at


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