Dentsu Aegis CIO Gideon Kay is trying to remove the friction points at the Japanese-owned media and digital marketing communications company to help enable innovation, which the business technology executive believes is crucial to better serving the organisation’s customers and stay ahead of the competition in an industry seeing massive change.
The former CIO at scientific services organisation LGC, Kay joined Dentsu Aegis Network at its inception in January 2014 after Japanese advertising giant Dentsu completed the acquisition of FTSE 100-listed Aegis, and set about trying to free up the organisation’s people to add value to the company.
“I think we have to innovate very quickly to stay competitive, to stay relevant,” Kay told CIO UK. “We have an increasing level of competition from new sources.
“It’s a business climate that is extremely challenging, extremely fast-moving and quite demanding. One of the things I started with was by asking ‘how do I take as much friction out of the systems as possible? How do we enable self-service more and more? How do I maintain and deliver solutions to what is quite an entrepreneurial business, but do that in a way that continues to be compliant and responsible?'”
With its headquarters in London and comprising of the Aegis business and parent company Dentsu’s operations outside of Japan, CIO for Dentsu Aegis in EMEA, Kay said that using cloud services had been a key tenet of his strategy due to the nature of the industry, the organisation’s client base, and its history of acquisitions – which has comprised well over 100 since 2015.
“My specific pivot around a strategy based on cloud is really about understanding how we take friction and tension out of the system,” he said. “We’re very cognizant and coherent of the fact that what we need is something that’s much more flexible and agile, much more scalable, and much more responsive.
“We acquired 45 businesses in 2016 and 31 in 2017. My challenge and our challenge as a technology function is to integrate those businesses as quickly as possible.
“It may seem a little bit cliched in many respects, but what I’m looking to do with our transition to cloud is to repurpose and refocus our people on more of the value-add and less on managing the commodity and the engine room.”
At Dentsu Aegis Network Kay is pursuing a multi-cloud strategy. Microsoft is a customer as well as a provider, and the CIO notes that the organisation is heavily integrated with Google and has a significant and growing investment in Amazon Web Services.
The former IT and Business Transformation Director at construction company Balfour Beatty for much of the 2000s, Kay said that the debate around cloud services had moved on significantly during his career. While cloud security considerations among CIOs has largely shifted from a concern to a benefit, pricing has been trumped by other factors for Kay.
“I think people have been slightly jaded by or burnt by the cost argument,” he said. “I think the scale-up, scale-down excitement is still there, but I also think CIOs have been burnt by realising that unless they are monitoring costs very carefully they really can spiral out of control.
“Cost is still a consideration, but for us it’s much more about agility and flexibility.”
The agility Kay feels cloud services provide to Dentsu Aegis enables the organisation to integrate new acquisitions into its network and realise value much sooner, and the cloud also enables the company to expand and scale its businesses in newer territories like Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East in ways it could not do previously.
Dentsu Aegis Network is fully Office 365, while another benefit for Kay is being part of the innovation curves of the big tech companies, with increasing opportunities to take advantage of the improving capabilities in Big Data and machine learning the large cloud providers are offering to their customers.
Multiple CIO 100 member Kay notes the “increasingly mobile, incredibly millennial, diverse workforce” at Dentsu Aegis Network, and the challenges of providing as many services as possible across multiple devices and locations in a secure and compliant environment.
“I think for a CIO and a technology function, the really hard thing is to try and find that middle ground,” he said.
Kay wants to “continue to be on the right line of responsible”, and one success has been to create a cross-pollination between the IT department and other units. He said that his team was “relatively porous to the rest of the business and back again”, and he had had successes encouraging people to join the technology team from other parts of the business, and to get people from his own team to embed themselves in other functions.
The multinational has grown from being an organisation of 15,000 people outside of its Japan business after the Aegis buyout in 2013 to one of around 45,000 in 120 countries, and at the intersection of enablement and security is the identity management tool Kay and his team rolled out globally. Not only has this created a new level of security in a sector with relatively high staff turnover, but has also improved the onboarding process, how the organisation deals with people once they have left, which Kay says has been a crucial part of unlocking new tools and platforms and is a big enabler for Dentsu Aegis across all its regions.
Data and security
A ubiquitous stream of high-profile data breaches in recent years means information security concerns remain a priority for Kay and Dentsu Aegis Network, which has swathes of Blue Chip, high-profile clients on its books like General Motors, Microsoft and Mondelez.
This is inside-out as well as outside-in, Kay explained. With the parent company Dentsu Inc listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange there is a clear and comprehensive set of audit procedures, with robust mechanisms in place – while the company’s clients are increasingly more demanding about how their data is managed, organised, stored and protected, according to Kay.
“But we know that we have to continue to up our game,” he said. “We know that as an agency we thrive on our reputation and having the trust – and continuing to keep the trust of – those global clients.”
Kay said that the organisation was more confident than concerned, but certainly not complacent, about the incoming enforcement of the EU’s GDPR regulations, and has been leading on the company’s approach with the Chief Data Officer for EMEA as well as the legal counsel.
CISO and Chief Data Officer
Sitting on the executive leadership and reporting to the CEO for Dentsu Aegis EMEA, Kay performed the Group CIO role for the global Dentsu Aegis Network on an interim basis for most of 2017.
The organisation has a Global Chief Information Security Officer who is a peer to the CIO role, and a regional CISO who is part of Kay’s EMEA technology function.
Kay believes in the idea of a healthy tension between the CISO and CIO, and also a security leader “able to focus on clear pragmatic solutions that meet the business need”, a good communicator of risks to boards and senior executives, and someone able to build the right levels of trust and respect who does not get drawn into the pitfalls of escalating everything to the highest levels and fall foul of the ‘crying wolf’ parable.
Dentsu Aegis has a Global Chief Data Officer and a network of country-based CDOs working with the regional IT directors in Kay’s team for an organisation that is becoming increasingly data-driven.
“What we’re trying to do, hand in hand, is have the IT directors and the technology community focusing on the data engineering, and the Chief Data Officers focusing on the strategy, client needs, product, and how we drive the strategy in that direction,” Kay said.
“And that’s quite a healthy sort of working relationship and what we’re trying to build.
“We’re increasingly data-centric; a data intensive business. And so we see the Chief Data Officer role also as being evangelists for that. Educate and enlist people, take all our employees on this journey.”
Doing more than espousing the importance of data and making a few choice hires, Dentsu Aegis Network has set up a Data Innovation Centre in Singapore which has been co-funded with the country’s government.
At launch in September 2016, Dentsu Aegis said that the purpose of the unit was to “develop and produce innovative applications and serve as a hub for data scientists and technology talent for the entire network globally”.
Kay described it as “an innovation lab specifically around data and machine learning” and came about as a meeting of minds with the Singaporean government, which has expressed a significant interest in building data skills in the country and becoming a world leader in the space – and which will fundamentally be a boon to Dentsu Aegis globally.
“It’s trying to seed some of those capabilities and turbocharge them,” Kay said.
Kay recalls a research presentation from a few years back by one of the large consulting firms which placed advertising and media right at the very top of its charts of industries most likely to be impacted by digital disruption.
It’s in this context that Kay goes back to removing friction, outlining examples of how Dentsu Aegis Network is fostering innovation internally, using startups and acquisitions for new ideas, and facilitating client-side innovation in areas like AR, VR and voice recognition. Underpinning this is the cloud, the data capabilities of their strategic partners and freeing up people to add value.
“It goes back to my cloud point,” he said. “Like many CIOs I want to be in a position where I have fewer people managing boxes, wires and monitoring screens, and moving to a position where people are building value-added applications.
“We see the cloud opportunity, and we are accelerating very rapidly into cloud as being an opportunity to reduce the tension and friction in the system. And also, we see it as an opportunity to take advantage of some of those data analytics capabilities that those cloud providers are providing as standard.
“Our clients want more and more. They want it quickly, they want it presented beautifully – quite rightly – and consistently.”