Nick Hales, Head of Strategic Transformation and Emmanouela Vlachantoni, Strategy & Transformation Senior Manager, on the journey to reinvent business processes that are reimagining bp

This month’s cover story reveals how bp’s Strategic Transformation leaders are on a journey to reinvent business processes that are reimagining the energy giant.

Welcome to the latest issue of Interface magazine!

Our final issue of Interface for 2022 covers some of this year’s hot tech topics: digital transformation, cybersecurity, data & analytics, customer-centricity and more…

Read the latest issue here!

bp: a strategic reinvention

“We are investing in digital to drive process efficiency and improve insights; but also to develop our people with the skills we need for now, and the future. This means we are playing to win while caring for our people through investing in their personal development,” says Nick Hales.

“After setting the right foundations through various remediation and compliance initiatives, we embarked on our digital transformation journey,” adds Emmanouela Vlachantoni. “There was a clear opportunity to standardise and streamline our controls environment to reduce complexity and increase insight.”

Fairfax County: winning the IT war with cybersecurity

Meanwhile, across the pond, we learn how Fairfax County in the State of Virginia is reaping the rewards of a cybersecurity program enabling government services and keeping citizens safe. “My role is to educate our leadership to ensure they understand the business value of cybersecurity as it relates to government services. Being accountable for the security of their systems and data is a key factor in developing a successful cyber program,” explains CISO Michael Dent.

Piedmont Healthcare: data & analytics at the heart of growth

The power of data cannot be under-estimated… At Piedmont Healthcare Mark Jackson, Executive Director of Business Intelligence is building a data strategy driving speed to insight at scale. “Tool selection has played an important role in our ability to scale the BI program and deliver rapid insights in a dynamic environment.”

Also in this issue, CalArts CTO Allan Chen explains how an IT strategy based on coordination and collaboration is supporting six schools; Information Tech VP Fausto Sosa de la Fuente reveals the people-centric transformative IT process at construction industry giant CEMEX; and we take a look at the latest insights from McKinsey highlighting the lessons CEOs can learn from successful digital transformations.

Enjoy the issue!

Dan Brightmore, Editor

Today, every company is an IT company. It’s a cliché but it’s true. There cannot be a single business today…

Today, every company is an IT company. It’s a cliché but it’s true. There cannot be a single business today that has not changed and developed as information technology has come into play; even the smallest one-person micro-business makes use of smartphones.

At the higher end, though, enterprise-grade ERP and CRM systems have revolutionised how business is done, and the cloud is busy changing how people interact with not only software but storage, processing and even professional services.

If there is one thing that can be said for sure about IT, it is that it delivers change.

Cultural shifts

There are other IT clichés, too, though. Less kind ones. Think Channel Four’s The IT Crowd: recalcitrant, conservative and unenthusiastic, the laggards of corporate culture rather than its leaders.

Unfortunately, there is some truth in this cliché also, although not because of mythic systems administrators who cannot or will not communicate. One issue is that IT is often a pain point in an organisation: as with the primary care health services, people only contact the helpdesk when there is a problem. When you add to this the impossible demands made by users whose daily use of Microsoft Word or Facebook makes them think that their tech skills are stronger than they actually are, you have a recipe for trouble.

Despite this, as IT has a central role in business, it can also be used to improve the business itself. And this move from IT being seen as the people who are fitting print cartridges to something that can change the culture of an organisation has been made easier by the presence of IT at board level.

Communication is key

David Dunn, principal development engineer at a leading graphics company in Cambridge, says that IT has a central role in how modern organisations work, primarily around communication.

“We rely on information radiators and information flows to keep employees informed about key business indicators,” he says.

Dunn’s company uses a range of technologies and services to ensure that communication goes as smoothly as possible.

“It’s critical to our business that engineers can communicate directly and simply with each other across multiple development sites in a transparent and visible way.

“We rely heavily on video conferencing technology, such as LifeSize, information flow systems such as Microsoft Teams or Slack and Flowdock, and information radiators which are highly visible around the office,” he explains.

Social communication software such as Slack, for instance, can replace incomprehensible e-mail chains and keep projects moving along. After all, there is no need to stop everything just to get a point of information.

History of change

Of course, IT has always changed the culture of organisations. The 1980s saw the first tentative moves from paper-based filing to electronic storage, radically changing how administrative tasks were performed—and who they were performed by.

Today, full-blown digital transformations are underway, with an emphasis on web-first and online self-service for customers. In addition, entirely new business operations have been developed, including analytics and widespread mobility.

“I think IT can make all the difference in a business,” says Dr Bill Mitchell, director of public affairs at BCS, the UK’s Chartered Institute for IT.

Mitchell warns that businesses that rely too much on subcontracting and other external relationships put themselves at risk.

“Where is the IP? Where is the intelligence? A lot of it is embedded in your IT systems [and] if your systems are woeful then your IP is locked-up or you may have set it up in someone else’s platform,” he says.

Mitchell has a clear idea of what good IT should look like when it comes to business.

He says: “Where it has been made so that it is modular usable and extendible, your organisational culture will be much more agile and much more able to embrace change.”

Taking advantage of new technologies requires cultural change, though. Deploying new software and services does not mean that they will be utilised properly. And yet, IT is rising to the challenge with practices founded in IT moving out into the wider culture of a business.

Agile solutions

For example, agility is something that has dominated IT debates in recent years with the deployment of devOps becoming almost standard. This increased flexibility is a business need, but it is one that is being delivered by IT departments.

What matters is that the change process has buy-in at both board and staff levels, rather than simply being a case of forcing the latest shiny technology on unwilling or confused workers.

Once the right IT systems are deployed for the right reasons then change will follow, naturally and progressively.

Risks remain, however. As Bill Mitchell puts it, IT’s central role in business operations today means that it is not simply a case of seeking to effect positive change. Rather, it is a case of get it wrong and there will be trouble.

“If you have bad IT you will create silos and inhibit communication across an organisation.”

Every business needs to remain on top of its supplier relationships but, of course, there is more to procurement than…

Every business needs to remain on top of its supplier relationships but, of course, there is more to procurement than making a few back-of-the-envelope calculations about which materials and services are needed. All manner of concerns can come into play: cost – but also regulator compliance, forward planning and more.

Clearly this is an area where IT systems can play a role, smoothing out what can be a notoriously laborious process. And yet business-to-business purchasing as a whole lags well behind business-to-consumer when it comes to volume. Only 13 percent of business-to-business sales are being conducted online.

So, is procurement a cold house for IT? Or is it that further investment is required? Or are some kinds of suppliers simply easier to deal with face-to-face? After all, buying professional services is quite different from buying a thousand ballpoint pens.

Being digital

Peter Wetherill, senior technology manager at procurement specialists Efficio Consulting, says that as companies go digital it is natural that processes such as procurement come under scrutiny.

“We published a study recently, looking at the future of procurement; looking at whether or not digitalisation is the future. Everyone is [being] pushed to have a digital strategy these days, so we try to turn it into something actionable.”

The objective should be to make things more efficient, he says.

“If you look at things like strategic sourcing, spend analysis and running a sourcing event—those are very ‘processised’ things. We’ve run that as a structure thing for 18 years ourselves [and] we’re building technology now that adds automation to it. It’s repeatable.”

Where the real value is added, though, is not merely in the technology, says Wetherill. Instead, it is in intelligence.

“There are a number of assets you create during the process that are useful the next time. Instead of reinventing the wheel, you use the same things, albeit modified. Technology really lends itself to the strategic part of procurement. Time and time again I’ve sat with clients who have brand new installations, but it has nothing in it and [so] they’re only using ten to fifteen percent of its capability. They’re not getting the business use case out of it.”

In effect, then the question becomes no longer one of either procurement or IT per se, but about how to implement a process that makes use of the intelligence in a business.

“Are various KPIs being hit? Am I paying the right price? It’s part people, part machine, but we’ve built something that rather than trying to map invoices to the project, has a workflow that does all these things properly; it has the rate card in it, it has all the data [and] you can run a large programme through this and show the [for example] five percent where there is non-compliance.

“The technology is not there to remove the human element, it’s there to help make more data-driven decisions,” he says.

Computer says no

Allyson Stewart-Allen, chief executive of International Marketing Partners, says that she has doubts about deepening the intrusion of IT into procurement—at least when it comes to some types of purchasing.

“I think it’s affecting the bidders significantly because they aren’t always clear what the criteria are. They may be bidding for the provision of professional services and, traditionally, those require a relationship of some kind: interaction with the client and the buyers,” she says.

Stewart-Allen says that the challenge of e-bidding is that you do not get to easily convey the values of your business.

“It’s even more difficult with professional services, as you’re buying the people, buying their judgement, and not a product.

“My frustration and challenge is that I don’t get to readily communicate, other than in print, what my sources of differentiation are. They can read my background on the website, but that’s not the same as putting trust in the person’s judgement and the ability to contextualise,” she says.

Nonetheless, IT systems are here to stay, including machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) that reduces administration and opportunity for human error.

Procuring IT

One area where it is natural for IT systems to take a lead in procurement is in the procurement of IT itself. This has changed radically as the culture of IT departments has changed—not least as IT now typically has increased board-level representation and it is expected to make a strategic contribution to business objectives.

“It’s an interesting time,” says Charles Blair, a senior management consultant for technology at Efficio.

CIO agendas have changed. They used to be about building IT; pulling all the widgets together and keeping the lights on. Nowadays, with the maturity and commodification of all of these services, you can buy then all in in the form of managed services. CIOs [now] have a much more greater focus on cost,” he says.

However, IT departments, historically, have not has the skillsets needed for procurement, he says.

“IT teams don’t typically have negotiation skills. Procurement as well, they’re not technology guys.

“There was [previously] a bit of a ‘project culture’, and procurement wasn’t involved until the end of the process. Procurement ended up with a really bad name. Likewise, some people in procurement don’t understand IT and challenged on the wrong things, [while], on the other side, IT would be approaching suppliers in the wrong way and eroding any levers procurement might have,” he says.

Nonetheless, despite the trend toward cloud computing and external service provision, there is greater need for procurement in IT rather than less. True, fewer servers and switches are being bought, but those were always easier to buy than services.

“Cost in technology is on the increase as software is invested in instead of people, and also with the trend for using suppliers,” says Blair.

“There’s no reason for most companies to have their own service desk. It’s much cheaper and more efficient to get a service provider who does it all the time to run it. [But] Services like that need to be obtained in accordance with service level agreements (SLAs) and (key performance indicators (KPIs),” he says.

So, in fact, the stakes are higher than ever—and they are also not on-off.

“Procurement is not only about sourcing the solution, but also about managing it,” says Blair.

Whether for IT services or any other kind one contractor relationship, procurement teams must, says Allyson Stewart-Allen, make it clear to the business that any IT used should be there to support the decision-making process, not replace it.

“The issue that the procurement folks have that they don’t push back. There’s a difference between buying professional services versus buying pens,” she says.

In the end, for Stewart-Allen, humans may be aided by machines, but letting the machines replace them is a false economy.

“They’re seeking efficiency, but end-up making bad decisions,” she says.

“Maybe they could make better decisions if they applied different processes to services vs goods. I think that the challenge is the one-size-fits-all mentality. There is often bind faith put in technology and what it’s going to do for you, versus the reality. It’s not a great idea when you’re buying people,” she says.