CIO100 2017 #26: Tristin King, JUCY Group
Faced with significant growth through scale, acquisitions and geographic expansion, JUCY needed to align its aging reservation system with the corporate vision "to give traveler's the green light to have the time of their lives".
Tristin King, head of technology of JUCY, says this provided the impetus for the tourism company to replace its core system with one that is customer-centric, could be delivered globally, and allow them to develop mobile user interfaces.
This was done in conjunction with the move to cloud services, a focus on analytics, and development of a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.
“Challenging what the typical operating environment looks like allows us to maintain operational excellence whilst reducing costs,” explains King. “This then frees resources and staff to work on innovative projects.”
“We have invested heavily in cloud solutions so that use are less reliant on device and infrastructure,” he cites.
“This allows us to be more innovative in our device choices. We operate a ‘branch-in-a-box’ model that is constantly being challenged and this year plan to release a branch-in-a-box build purely on wireless technology and 4g connectivity.
“This is an innovation that will also reduce operating costs, aid global expansion and allow cost effective deployment of smaller pop-up sites.
King says the company had learned lessons from two “false starts” during project delivery.
After struggling with bespoke solutions, they opted to utilise out of the box features of Microsoft Dynamics 365 (cloud based ERP and CRM).
“Delivering a solution using mainly out of the box functionality allowed us to support the application using mainly business focused individuals and also make changes rapidly,” he says.
It was really really important that we had a strong business buy-in, after two failed delivery attempts, he says. So some of the ways they achieved this was recruiting a project manager with specialist skills in change management, as the product owner. “This allowed features and requirements to be managed more objectively to ensure a timely delivery," he says.
We resourced and backfilled a team of business champions to work on the project. These champions worked hand in hand with our vendors co-locating for 20 hours per week. This was a significant change for our organisation and demonstrated a change in business maturity, on previous projects we would rely on vendors to deliver rather than owning the success ourselves, he states.
They delivered the project using Agile methodologies. This was challenging as they had a fixed deadline. “However, it allowed us to be transparent with the business on our progress and also feel involved in every step through sprint demos.
“We also set ourselves a challenging timeline, to deliver a like for like replacement of our current system (used by 80 per cent of the business) within 8 months. We also planned to deliver into our busiest market first and in the month of December. We succeeded in all of the above.”
He says innovation comes in many forms and for JUCY, innovation centres around their products. “How do we offer unique products that offer our customer and experience unlike any other and then how do we support that experience through technology?”
An example of technology and design innovation working hand in hand was their JUCY Snooze that was launched in Christchurch. Snooze incorporates self service check-in, mobile room keys and a "pod hotel" concept to provide a unique experience for guests.
Customers can book, check-in and open their room using their mobile device. This allows us to operate with a lean team, and also means the team can focus on customer service rather than customer data entry, he says.
A high speed wifi mesh allows customers to stream content using their device or internet enabled television. Connectivity is king for our core market of 18 to 35 year old backpackers so our wifi is highly available and ultra quick, he states.
Innovation is driven throughout the business through ideas portals where ideas are scored and prioritised for implementation, he says.
Behind the scenes, the team delivers applications online exclusively through Office 365. “This allows us to focus on application and process improvement rather than placing our emphasis on traditional networking.
“We are currently exploring moving our customer facing workforce to operating exclusively on mobile phones, a device they are familiar with, in order to reduce costs and get our teams out from behind desks,” says King.
Collaboration starts with our corporate strategy "The JUCE", he says.
“Our senior leadership team evaluates and realigns our strategy twice a year and this is the starting point for our IT strategy. In most cases technology underpins every part of our strategy collaboration is key.
“Every technology initiative or feature is linked to a corporate goal and these linked are visible and transparent. As a leader in technology I spend more time each week with other teams than my own. Since the success of the technology team is measured by the success of those whom we support, detailed understanding of each business units drive our joint success.”
King explains technology at JUCY is governed through a “tight group” composed of the CEO, COO, CFO and head of technology that meets weekly.
Rather than investing in heavyweight business cases we drive decisions through one page business cases and a "what if we don't do it" approach, he explains. “This allow us to make faster decisions with a managed risk in order to be more competitive that our peers.”
Collaboration on the ground
King says the team engages with the rest of the organisation by simply being present within the business units.
This is our primary method of engaging with the business, he says. All members of the technology team spend at least one week every year working within a front line business unit to better understand how they operate.
The members work with business users daily rather than use intermediary resources such as business analysts. We develop those skills within our team members.
“We like to think of our whole team as technically skilled business analysts rather than business focused systems and support engineers,” he says.
From our CEO across the entire business, there is an understanding the technology team at JUCY are present to facilitate business outcomes through technology rather than dictate technologies that drive business outcomes.
“We know this is successful when teams come to us with ideas and innovations rather than simply looking to IT for a solution,” he says.
Team development and succession planning is a critical part of our success, says King, who has seen his team grow from three to 10 people in the past two years.
“We recruit for people with the right personality and competencies but don't focus on skill set,” he says. This allowed them to identify individuals with entrepreneurial and business focused attitudes that translate into better outcomes for JUCY.
The new team members are then paired with external experts and attend group and online training. This approach develops a team that puts the needs of the business and users first, he states.
Having a strong understanding of business process means they can better identify improvement and transformation opportunities, he says.
Along with operational KPIs, team members have KPIs around building the appropriate skill set to move into more senior role within the team. Managers are also measured on their ability to develop people into their own role.
King says two individuals have been identified to move into his role when it becomes available.
“In order to achieve this, we maintain transparency across all IT decisions, enable successors to make their own decisions and own the outcomes. I think it is important to not back decisions that successors will inherit unless they are involved in that decision.”