Accelerating digital transformation


Digital can be seen as both an opportunity and a threat. In this whitepaper, Searchlight Consulting provides a practical framework for organisations to transform at pace by drawing on extensive digital transformation experience, real client scenarios and industry themes. Successful digital transformation requires more than credible technical delivery capability – senior executive alignment and an innovation delivery model, will be the key to achieving digital transformation at pace.

Following our successful webinar on Driving Digital Transformation, Steve Sharp, Jay Parmar and Andrew Lapham have put together some thoughts on digital transformation, delivering innovation and developing a successful integration strategy.

Download the white paper – Integrating the Customer Journey to look at the opportunity that the digital revolution offers businesses to place customers at the heart of their business if they invest in transformation.  Examine some of the constraints that are blocking organisations from changing the way they interact with their customers. And, find out the key building blocks to accelerating digital transformation and how to select the right approach for your business.

Download the paper here

IT’s A Balancing Act

Credit: Magisphoto

Being a CIO today involves balance. The need to balance “keeping the lights on” while introducing new technologies.  Integrating those new technologies to allow data to flow seamlessly without anything falling over.   Embracing opportunity while reducing risk.  And balancing budgets as the IT department shifts from Cap-Ex to Op-Ex, steering the transition from IT as a cost centre, to IT as a value centre.



In this blog, I’ll take a look at the challenges facing CIOs, and possible responses to those challenges. Some of these were clearly articulated by our guests at March’s Future of the IT Department in the age of Cloud and Digital Transformation discussion. We were joined by ex Britvic CIO and visiting professor at Birmingham City University, Rob Pritchard, Nick Skelsey, IT Director Europe, Harding Retail and Liberty Global/Virgin Media’s Director of Performance and Metrics, Nick Good. Nick, Rob and Nick described a number of challenges faced or were anticipating, including internal reorganisation, dealing with legacy systems, leading innovation, integration, and disruptive competition.

It’s clear the role of IT in business is changing – to a great extent driven by ever increasing demands from customers, who expect a seamless interaction with business through many different channels. Introducing those channels and linking them together, along with any legacy systems in place, is a major undertaking, and the CIO is under pressure not only to do it right but do it quickly as well. This can be done, of course. Recently, we worked with Costa on a major digital transformation programme. We helped them introduce a Cloud based integration platform to enable different channels and technologies come together to provide a consistent business process. Costa introduced 106 APIs in just three months, which would usually have taken significantly longer, so it’s clear integration can be done at pace and done well too.

The challenge from disruptors is one that can’t be ignored. Millions of words have been written about the impact of Amazon, Uber, Spotify and the like, and thousands of other challenger companies are having similar effects across all areas of business. Even higher education isn’t immune: Rob Prichard mentioned the new Higher Education and Research Bill which will allow the set up of new universities. As with any start up, they’ll have the advantage of establishing their business model from scratch, using the latest technologies to build their offering, without any encumbrance from legacy technology or culture.

Other challenges, such as internal reorganisation or a merger or acquisition may also occur. Nick Good, for example, explained how Liberty Global’s nine separate regionally based European IT functions are being reorganised into one new IT department. Initially, this involved organisational change but ultimately, this will also be from a technical platform perspective as well. And of course, this change must be effected while continuing to balance the ongoing support of business growth. Mergers and Acquisitions also need careful attention: there is much to consider. For example, when major online tri-sports retailer Wiggle merged with Chain Reaction, Searchlight’s CEO, Steve Sharp, and Enterprise Architect, David Gray, used our own unique detailed methodology to analyse the companies’ tech landscape, conduct a rigorous risk assessment, evaluate human resources, budget the IT aspect of the merger and advise on how the two businesses could best work together in the future.

All these challenges call for the need for the IT department to play a greater role in business strategy as a whole. The CIO needs to understand how IT can make the business organisation faster, smarter and more responsive, and that means being able to scan and plan on three different levels.

  1. The Horizon Scan – Thinking ahead of current strategy, look at markets (and not just your own) innovations, disruptors, even social trends to get a wide ranging, clear picture of what the next few years might bring.
  2. Business Capability Planning – a more medium term view of your business capabilities and how to upgrade them – that means looking at how processes, people, information and technology need to work together .
  3. Immediate responses – using agile techniques and DevOps principles to deliver rapid change of current environments – both in terms of changes themselves, but also having your organisation and governance processes set up to deliver incrementally and rapidly.

In order to make such long, medium and short term responses, the CIO needs to enhance or develop a skill set that embraces business leadership as well as tech know-how. We’ll take a look at leadership skills for the CIO in our next blog.

In the meantime, if you’d like to explore more of our discussion with Nick, Nick and Rob on the Impact of Cloud and Digital on the Future of the IT Organisation, please click here for the webinar recording.

Future of the IT Organisation Pt 1

We’re constantly told the world of IT is changing, but when hasn’t that been the case? Cloud, Digital Transformation, AI, IoT and Big Data are simply the latest in a series of revolutions that have been the lifeblood of Information Technology since the industry began.

However, some issues appear to have been around for a while. Ten years ago, CIO Insight published a list of trends to watch in 2007.  Among them were forecasts that “The division between IT and business will diminish,” and “CIOs strive to be strategic.”

Last month, on the Cloud Industry Forum’s BrightTalk channel, Searchlight Consulting hosted a discussion on the future of the IT department in the age of Cloud and Digital. We were joined by ex Britvic CIO and visiting professor at Birmingham City University, Rob Pritchard, Nick Skelsey, IT Director Europe, Harding Retail and Liberty Global/Virgin Media’s Director of Performance and Metrics, Nick Good.  And some of the strongest messages to emerge from the event were the need for IT and business strategies to align, and for the potential for business-savvy IT leaders to take an even greater role in shaping the future of their companies.

So, if the IT industry recognised this need in 2007, what’s new? And is it any more achievable today than it was a decade ago?

I think the key word here is “potential.” Ten years ago, the iPhone had just been launched and the impact that mobile technology and connectivity would bring to the world, particularly to the way business and customers would interact together, were yet to be realised. Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud had been available less than a year, Microsoft’s Azure was still to come.  Big Data and the IoT were still in their infancy, and traditional office culture, with its siloed inflexibility, was only just starting to shift.

Today, all these technologies have reached maturity and digital transformation has become a keystone of growth, encompassing the whole of a business from back-end to customer-facing. We’ve worked with companies like Costa Coffee and leading online sports retailer Wiggle on major transformative programmes which have added value to the way they work in a multitude of different ways. The opportunities business technology offers can shape and enhance every aspect of business. And it is this that makes the future of the IT function so exciting.

CIOs now have the opportunity to step out of their traditional silo and make their mark on the whole organisation. To provide a strategic view of the entire business, proactively lead change and make the IT department a beacon for innovation throughout the company. And in doing so, they will shift the IT function from being a cost centre to a value centre. Harding Retail’s Nick Skelsey described the CIO of today as a curator, and I think it’s a pertinent one. The contribution a tech-and-business savvy board member can make in bringing a whole range of cross-functional factors together to add value is increasingly important. It’s a step change from the old concept of CIO as a broker, whose function was merely transactional, implementing specific changes as and when needed.

Of course, there are challenges. And there are responses to those challenges. There are new skills to be mastered, new alliances to make and new ways of approaching the role of CIO. We’ll be examining the challenges, their implications, and possible responses in my next blog. And then, we’ll look at the role of CIO as leader and how that’s set to change in future.

Our webinar Accelerating Retail Transformation tomorrow April 26 from 12.00 to 1pm BST will focus on innovation, acceleration and integration. Mark Dermody, CIO of Costa Coffee will join Searchlight Chief Technology & Digital Officer Jay Parmar and Andrew Lapham, our Chief Innovation Officer for an online discussion of these major issues facing today’s retailers.  You can register for what promises to be a fascinating event here:  Retail Webinar Registration.

And finally, if you’d like to explore more of our discussion with Nick, Nick and Rob on the Impact of Cloud and Digital on the Future of the IT Organisation, please visit: Cloud Industry Forum Future of IT Webinar

accelerating retail digital transformation

Creating a seamlessly integrated way of interacting with your customers, which enables you to evolve your proposition at pace –  is a must have for all customer centric businesses today.

Costa Coffee, one of the worlds leading consumer drinks organisations has evolved their digital proposition by integrating each of their customer channels and creating a platform to align their business, IT and digital strategy.

Join us April 26th 12:00-13:00 BST to discuss:

  • How to rapidly realise the benefits of an integration strategy and how to set out a roadmap to deliver at pace, market test and iterate your digital thinking
  • How to combine innovation, while evolving the customer experience and ensuring seamless integration with transactional solutions
  • How to create a delivery framework that covers innovative thinking, agile evolution of customer experience combined with the challenges of evolving finance, CRM, loyalty, EPOS and analytical capabilities

Our guests for this retail-centric knowledge share are Mark Dermody, Costa CIO joined by Jay Parmar, Searchlight Chief Technology & Digital Officer and Andrew Lapham, Searchlight Chief Innovation Officer.

Mark is a senior IT Professional with experience in medium-sized and large enterprises, he has headed up eCommerce at Sainsbury’s and helped Costa Coffee unify their digital infrastructure. He is joined by Jay and Andrew from Searchlight Consulting who have helped shape successful digital integration for a global portfolio of companies

Register here – Driving Retail Digital Transformation

What is the Future of the IT Organisation?

Searchlight’s panel of business technology leaders discuss

Cloud impactA global audience gathered together on Wednesday 8th March for our panel discussion on the impact of Cloud and Digital on the Future of the IT organisation, hosted on the Cloud Industry Forum’s BrightTalk channel. Tech leaders from every continent (apart from Antarctica) joined us to explore some of the most pressing issues faced by CIOs today.

Our expert panel – ex Britvic CIO and visiting professor at Birmingham City University Rob Pritchard, Nick Skelsey, IT Director Europe, Harding Retail and Liberty Global/Virgin Media’s Director of Performance and Metrics Nick Good, considered a range of questions and shared their experiences, thoughts and opinions in what proved a fascinating discussion.

It’s clear that the function of the IT department and the role of the CIO is changing with the possibilities offered by new technologies. But whereas some have predicted the demise of the IT department as the shift to “everything as a service” takes many traditional functions out of house, our panel saw a more complex future.

One of the most exciting possibilities was the potential to shift IT from being a cost centre to a value centre. By championing cross-functional change and innovation, leading the debate and aligning IT and business strategy, CIOs can play an increasingly essential role. As Rob Pritchard said: “This is a time when CIOs need to see themselves as business leaders with accountability for tech, not as tech leaders who have been asked to take a seat at the big table.”

I was particularly taken with Nick Skelsey’s description of the future CIO as a “curator” as it seems to me that the contribution a tech-savvy board member can make in bringing a whole range of cross functional factors together to add value to the business, is increasingly important.

The panel discussed a wide range of topics from current and future challenges, to outsourcing, soft skills and the merits of, or organisational preference for, funding investment through Op-ex and Cap-ex.  Our experts were able to give different perspectives on each, as representatives from medium and large businesses, and consulting.

I’d like to thank Rob, Nick and Nick for their thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions. They’ve provided a valuable contribution to the debate on the Future of IT and were an absolute pleasure to work with on this project, as was Breda Beyer, Director of Membership at the Cloud Industry Forum, who I’d like to thank very much for hosting this exciting webinar.

You can hear the discussion in full at

Is Cloud the End?

Cloud PhotoWhat Does Cloud and Digital Mean for the Future of the IT Organisation?

IT is evolving; the shift to cloud and the concept of “everything a service” has sparked a revolution in the way it operates; traditional roles have been called into question or redefined, new skill sets demanded, and the function of the IT department itself is beginning to transform into something entirely new.

CIOs are navigating in uncharted seas at the moment, dealing with rapidly evolving technologies that offer enormous opportunities and massive challenges in equal measure.

Charles Darwin, whose epic five year voyage on HMS Beagle inspired the theory of evolution, wrote: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

As trusted advisors, Searchlight is working with companies seeking to unlock the potential offered by rapidly evolving technologies. We’ve seen the opportunities, challenges and pitfalls change poses for business across a wide range of sectors. We’ve also seen how the IT organisations in these companies have responded to the demands placed upon them, and the simple truth is, in order to adapt successfully to change, we must first understand it, and then embrace it.

With this in mind, Searchlight Consulting is bringing some of the brightest IT brains in the country together on March 8th at 4pm (GMT) to discuss what the future holds for the IT organisation on the Cloud Industry Forum’s Bright TALK webinar channel.

We’ll be asking three critical questions:

  • What does the increased adoption of cloud-based, anything-as-a-service offerings mean for the future of IT functions?
  • Looking forwards, what part does IT have to play in the definition and execution of business strategies?
  • Does the future IT function rely more or less on outsourcing and, if so, in which areas? What aspects should be retained in-house?

Our panel will comprise:

Birmingham City University Visiting Professor Rob Pritchard, who has led major change programmes and strategic planning at Allied Domecq, Philip Morris, Japan Tobacco, Britvic and Gillette. His experience as a senior leader in a plc corporate environment coupled with his ‘Big 4’ consulting background enables him to bridge the gap between technologists and business leaders.

Nick Good, Director of Performance and Metrics at international cable TV and internet services provider Liberty Global, ranked one of Forbes’ 100 most innovative companies. Nick is responsible for delivering a performance measurement and governance framework for IT, as well as a continuous and consistent resource capacity view across the IT function.

Nick Skelsey, IT Director for Harding Retail, is currently developing and delivering the technology agenda for this leading cruise retail concessionaire’s next phase of growth. He has 20 years’ IT experience within end-user organisations as a generalist IT and change leader, starting with Diageo and Allied Domecq and progressing to IT Director roles at Unite Students and The Bradfords Group before joining Harding Retail in 2016.

Mark Dermody, IT Director, Costa Coffee, who has focused the last 20 years of his career on supporting a wide variety of ‘bricks and clicks’ retailers in senior IT roles and has a passion for transformational change and how technology can accelerate customer experience improvements in a digital environment.

Join us to hear facts and opinions from the coal face of change – and to ask your own questions too.

The way forward is complex, and every organisation has its own opportunities and challenges. By sharing knowledge and experience, we can, perhaps, make the path easier for all of us. Because, and this one may or may not been have said by Charles Darwin but it’s a good quote anyway: “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

Register for the event at  Brighttalk registration link

Migrating Business Applications to the Cloud – White Paper

The world of IT has come a long way since the birth of modern computer technology in the 1940s.

Back in the days of punched tapes, Williams tubes and magnetic drums, no-one had any idea where the technology would take us – hence the oft-quoted comment from IBM’s then president, Thomas Watson in 1943, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

We can smile at his words with the benefit of hindsight, but they are also a graphic illustration of the incredible pace of change in our industry. Who would have thought in 2006, for example, when Amazon launched its Elastic Compute Cloud, that within ten years, Cloud Computing would have become such a powerful force in the IT industry? So much so, that we are now seeing non-Cloud system upgrades referred to as “traditional,” which for such a young industry, is an extraordinary concept in itself.

At Searchlight, we are firm believers that the alignment of business and IT strategies, and the consequent enhancement of IT capabilities must be driven by business, rather than technological imperatives. In other words, the solution you chose should be the one that’s right for your unique circumstance, whatever platform that may entail. Having said that, many of our clients are expressing a desire to move at least part of their IT capability to the Cloud, and it’s with this in mind that we have authored a new White Paper; Migrating to the Cloud, The Transition to Cloud-based Business Applications.

In it, we take a look at the factors involved in the decision to move to a commercial off the shelf (COTS) platform and cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, and changes such a move will bring to business users. We also examine the different commercial considerations that need to be taken into account when selecting a cloud-based solution as opposed to a more traditional solution, and look at ways in which the process can be smoothed and safeguarded.

Much of this revolves around the paradigm shift of moving from internal to external responsibility for application support and management of infrastructure. The nature of SaaS means that vendors automatically have more responsibility, accountability and control in the application management process, as well as the management of technical support services. When you select your product vendor, you also select the organisation that will provide a significant part of your ongoing service management capability. It’s important, therefore, to ensure your vendor has both the capabilities to implement and manage your chosen solution.

Clear lines of responsibility need to be drawn. And attention needs to be given to issues of redress, recovery and, in the last resort, exit.

As with any emerging sector, it’s important to promote industry standards and best practice adoption of services and technologies. The Cloud Industry Forum has developed a Code of Practice for Cloud service providers which covers a broad range of areas and disciplines, focusing on transparency, capability and accountability, and we are delighted to have recently become a member.

One of the key benefits for us is being able to collaborate with leading Cloud industry providers and to be able to contribute to the promotion of best practice adoption approaches and industry standards. It also provides a platform for us to share our experience and that of our clients, both businesses and individuals, as well as giving us access to the latest research and information.

We’re looking forward to working with them in the coming months and years to contribute to this new and emerging industry, offering different perspectives and points of view. Our White Paper, we hope, is only the start.

To download the White Paper please complete the following information and click “Submit”.

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Are your IT systems helping or hindering growth?

The challenge of IT for start-ups & high growth businesses

So you’ve come up with your great idea for starting a business. Through hard work and personal investment, you’re starting to get the business off the ground. The vision that you’re painting and plans for growth are attracting outside interest and investment.

To start with, you could run the business on spread sheets, in your spare time, but as you grow you quickly appreciate that this could take up more and more of your time. Taking you away from where the real value is, your customers, your proposition, your product, your employees, your “whatever”. You’re aspirations tell you “we’re going to need a bigger”… office, warehouse, software development team, IT systems.

‘IT “systems”? We develop applications/make widgets/distribute whirligigs. We don’t do “IT”!’ Where do you start?

The range of options for implementing IT systems to support your business is overwhelming. So many choices. So many vendors after a slice of your hard-earned finances. How do you know which is the right one? Well there probably isn’t a “right” one. There are certainly “good” choices and “bad” choices, but one absolutely “right” IT system? Probably not.

Before you get too stressed, take a step back and consider a few things that history, academic research and practical application have taught us about the effective use of IT and the delivery of business benefit.

IT systems must serve the business

If you’re going to invest in IT, it needs to support your business and improve business performance, not add unnecessary cost, inefficiency or detract from “performing” business. So, the first step is to understand how your business delivers value to your customers; the capabilities that requires; how your employees do their work to provide that capability to deliver that value. Once you understand the value-capability-organisation linkage, the next step is mapping IT enablers to this “value stream” representation of your business.

IT should be used only where it delivers benefit

Technology is not the “silver bullet” that many vendors would have us believe. Sometimes, it seems like they’ve got a solution looking for a problem. Other times, introducing or over reliance on systems, actually destroys the business benefit by adding unnecessary complexity; removing important personal interaction; neglecting a critical business flow or compounding the integration of information.

Take a step back. Don’t jump into providing “point solutions” that end up as disembodied limbs or organs within your business, which work perfectly in isolation but do nothing to service the greater good of delivering business value. Look at the whole business system; the flow of information and product; the customer-employee-supplier interactions, and identify the options to deliver both functionality to a particular business area or process, and the overall integration and flow of the business.

Developing a business case, a rationale for the investment is widely regarded as essential, if you’re to remind your employees and yourself as to why you are implementing a change. Clearly state the benefits in cost avoidance; enhanced customer service; ability to be more responsive or ability to exploit an opportunity, whatever the purpose is to support your business operations and growth. And if the IT solution(s) doesn’t help you achieve those benefits, deliver against that purpose, then don’t do it or at least re-evaluate your approach to maintain focus on the benefits, outcomes and purpose that originally motivated your decisions.

Involve everyone

Well perhaps not “everyone”, after all this is a “benign dictatorship and not a democracy”! Seriously though, the effective design, selection and implementation of new IT enablers for your business is dependent upon them being “fit for purpose”. That means satisfying both “what“ the system does and “how usable” it is. That means understanding how the systems will be used, how they will fit into the organisation, and encouraging participation throughout the life-cycle of requirements-definition-selection-implementation. You’re probably not going to be the one that primarily uses the new IT systems, so it’s important to engage those that will. That includes engaging customers and suppliers as well, if the processes and systems are likely to touch them in any way.

Now you’re likely to be a smaller organisation, closely knit and bonded as a team. You hopefully don’t suffer from one of the major challenges that larger organisations face when they are defining or implementing new processes: middle management. Research has shown that the support, cooperation of middle managers (or not) is key to the success of the implementation of business change be that organisation, process or technology or all three. If you have got a “middle management”, or even if you haven’t, engage key senior stakeholders from the outset. If there is any resistance, or persuasion required, then address it. Address it head-on and address it quickly. If managers, supervisors or team leaders are not “with the programme” then it will only make things harder.

It’s all about the individual

A common problem with the implementation of IT systems is that there is often a mismatch between the wider business needs and expectations, and the requirements, desires or behaviours of the employees who will be expected to use the systems. Now it’s generally not possible to offer individually tailored systems for each employee, but it is essential that systems effectively serve the needs of the user community. Actually, it’s probably not just about the individuals alone, you need to consider the team, the integrated organisation, the hand-offs and flow of information and work between individuals. The effectiveness of the overall business is as dependent upon interactions between individuals and components of a business, as it is about the performance of an individual aspect. This in turn leads us on to “ways of working” and individual or collective behaviours, as much as the technical execution of processes and operation of IT systems. Which leads us on to…

Planned change

It is not sufficient to simply define the business process and requirements for IT systems and plough ahead with the implementation, without considering the impact on and changes required by the organisation. New processes, new IT systems will undoubtedly affect your organisation not just because it’s a new set of tools or procedures to be learned, but potentially new responsibilities, new skills and new behaviours as well.

Too often organisational change is considered as a bolt-on to process and systems implementation. Too often its tackled in an ad hoc manner. Identifying and tackling these changes requires a proactive, planned programme, integral to the business and technical activities of any project. A structured programme that is however flexible and can be tailored to changing organisational requirements. After all, your business is dynamic, and isn’t going to stand still, even for a few weeks and certainly not months.

Your employees have got to be willing to use the systems.
One of the key outcomes of this structured and proactive change programme, is preparation of the organisation and employees for the introduction of new ways of working, new processes and new tools for them to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. This means that any IT products that you implement need to help them with their daily activities; help them do “meaningful” things to service your customers, to deliver your products, to run your business efficiently and effectively. The employees need to be able and willing to use them. Not by-pass them; have to devise a cunning work-around; print things out and retype them into a different system, or blame the system for poor performance.

This means, not only understanding what employees do to deliver value to your customers, and involving them in the definition, selection, design, but also, training them in the use of the systems. Whatever applications you implement, or cloud service that you buy, don’t squander that outlay by scrimping on education and training.

Finally, evolution and growth

No process, system or service is going to be perfect on Day One. It’s also highly unlikely that what you implement now is going to remain unchanged indefinitely. You’re business will continue to grow; continue to adapt and mould itself around new opportunities; respond to market intelligence and feedback from customers. These changes, potential future requirements, the need for additional capacity, capability or functionality need to be anticipated and progressively planned. Actually they need to be identified upfront, before you select or implement anything. You need to make sure that you have an evolutionary path, and are not going down a cul-de-sac with your initial investments.

As importantly, you need to anticipate the problems that will occur post-implementation. There need to be mechanisms for capturing and responding to issues and suggestions from employees, with the ability to fix things that aren’t working and make rapid changes to ways of working and/or systems. You will need indicators that processes, systems and people are working, as you would expect; that customers are getting the value that you need. If something isn’t working, or needs a little tweak, then change it. Don’t become a slave to the “as-designed”, “as implemented”, “must make it work” mentality. If you’ve done your groundwork in the initial stages of the design and selection, then the issues shouldn’t be fundamental. Fixing them quickly, responding to feedback and making improvements, will ultimately enable you to get the benefits and business value from your new systems and processes that you had originally envisaged.

Investing in IT systems for any business is a significant activity and event. Too often the selection of good solutions is compromised and the implementation fraught with difficulties. By adopting the principles described above, which originated from Socio-Technical research and practical application over the last 20-30 years, organisations no matter what size or stage in their life-cycle can improve the likelihood that those investments will deliver the benefits and value required by you as a business owner or senior manager and that expected by your customers.