CIO100 2017 #31-100: Simon Gould-Thorpe of Turners Limited
Turners Limited CIO Simon Gould-Thorpe says ICT is at the forefront of the company’s business transformation programme.
He explains the company’s strategy transformation is based on four principles, nicknamed the “snowballs of success” as they feed each other like a rolling snowball:
· the shift of cars sales from dealers to end users (wholesale to retail)
· sourcing more stock, fueled by better retail prices attracting more vendors
· writing more finance and insurance, aided by intimate sales process with end users
· cemented together with ever improving operational efficiencies enabled by technology.
Implementing these involves close collaboration between IT and marketing, which he heads, with the other business units.
The IT team supports the Turners (previously Turners Auctions), as well as Turners Limited (Parent Company), Dorchester Finance, Oxford Finance, Southern Finance, DPL Insurance, Autosure, and Buy Right Cars.
He says examples of their innovation programme include use of flexible, web based platforms that provide both rapid prototyping of operational processes and the flexibility to explore alternative ways of doing things.
He says Turners also redeveloped its website which now includes virtual catalogues to enable nationwide events/sales, along with the addition of discounting and promotion, all automated from the core system.
A new internal mobile app called SNaP that prompts for and takes photos of cars using an iPhone, and uploads to the company’s image library.
They have also started a new sales venture Cartopia.co.nz that is being run as a startup. This is an online only channel for cars, which arose from within IT and is being managed and developed by small unit that has derived from the IT Team.
“Measures of project success are varied, but include, adoption rate by users/customers, return on investment (savings and/or revenue), alignment and advancement of company strategy,’’ he says.
‘’Operational, structural and cultural impacts include a change in business focus, which can result in needing a different resource mix (change in roles/positions).
“Seeing investment in and results from this strategy, creates positive staff motivation and morale,” says Gould-Thorpe.
His team and external companies are encouraged to approach him with new ideas and technologies that may be of benefit.
As an example, Gould-Thorpe points to the move to engage with a partner to trial/evaluate Microsoft’s new machine learning algorithm.
“The time spent on research and innovation is not fixed, and varies depending on number of good ideas and workload. My team are well read and keep an eye open for ideas to bring to the table, knowing they will be given the opportunity to air them and given consideration.’’
He says operational excellence is always at the forefront of decisions by the IT and Marketing teams and he actively encourages collaborative and customer-centric behaviours
“My recruitment can often be more focused on this and enthusiasm than on skill set. I see innovation and operational excellence going hand in hand, focusing on customer expectation and new and improved ways of delivering this should be complimentary.”
He stresses to his team to ensure every interaction they have with the rest of the organisation is positive.
“A lot also comes down to providing evidence of addressing not only large company projects, but also everyday niggles,” he says.
“Another key initiative is to ensure that members of my department visit sites as often as possible, spending a whole day understanding any challenges in process and technology and carrying out remedial spot work as possible.”
Working with the board
He says the board is open to innovation, Cartopia being a good example, but generally projects are aligned with strategy so do not need to be specifically justified to the board.
“I do have regular meetings at various levels of staff within the organisation,” he says.
One of the key benefits of my role, is that as well as being at a senior management level, is being a member of the Turners Limited Executive Team. I am also very active at all levels, including daily interaction with members of the IT & Marketing Team, sales consultants, admin staff, as well as branch and office managers.
“I am looking for both innovation and improvement, as well as pain points and changes in perception and attitude. I liken it to a doctor’s consultation, you ask for symptoms, but you also take their pulse and look at how they appear.’’
The value of IT is understood and respected within the organisation, assisted by a great IT team that hold a high customer service ethic, he points out.
“I consider myself a good salesperson and I cannot recall one instance in my current position, where I have been denied funding for a proposal I have put forward. But, this is as result of only putting forward well thought out and worthwhile proposals. While not all have been successful, the success rate is very good.”
The best way to influence other business leaders is a clear and impassioned business case, he says, explaining what the expected outcome is, why we are doing it and what they will get out of it and most importantly, [that] you believe in it.
Turners also has a leadership conference twice a year, where both IT and marketing leaders share plans and progress. This conference is attended by company’s key line managers as senior managers, and they use this as an opportunity to engage with the heads of business units.
‘’With regards to culture, the primary focus is on collaboration, but I also work hard to ensure new technologies are brought in and shared. Individual team members are encouraged to explore and bring ideas to the table,” says Gould-Thorpe.
“With each new project, we explore what current/emerging technologies are available.
“If we don’t feel confident adopting [it] ourselves, we look for a partner that does and ask them to work onsite on the proof of concept/trial initiative, with the emphasis on skills transfer to my team. This has proven to work very well.”