CIO Profile: Domino’s Colin Rees on the franchise business model
CIO Profile: Domino’s Pizza’s Colin Rees on utility computing
Rees’s own career began at retailer Argos, when it was becoming a strong competitor on the high street in the mid-1980s. Like many IT leaders of his age, Rees went to work after leaving school and studied for a degree part-time while on the job.
Rees has been based in Milton Keynes for most of his working life, and his decision to join Argos was helped by the head office moving to the city. The IT environment at Argos was varied and Rees got the opportunity to become familiar with a variety of systems.
Rees’s career went along a traditional route from programmer to analyst, to business analyst, to team leader and Argos supported the whole process. At the same time, he gained a degree with the open University in maths and statistics. He stayed at the retailer for a decade, indicating the level of engagement he had with it.
In 1997 he moved to a local start up, Car Land as systems manager. It was a boom time for UK entrepreneurs and there was plenty of venture capital available for new start-ups, especially if the business model had some sort of technology at the back-bone.
Car Land was an innovation on the second-hand car dealership that was started up to provide an alternative to the back-street Arthur Daley operation which involved a lot of haggling on price.
The business was a greenfield site with no legacy IT at all. Rees introduced all of the systems across the board, from finance systems to systems in the stores.
Rees recalls: “The idea was that it was a no-hassle car supermarket. So, you drive in and someone would can scan your car registration and the system would automatically value your car so by the time you came in and selected a car you already had a car valuation on the system ready to go.”
Unfortunately the model failed to capture the imagination of the car-buying public and after 18 month, the company was bought out by a competitor. Rees found that car-buyers actually liked to haggle.
This was followed by a brief stint at News International, publisher of The Times and The Sun, which was also experimenting with online business creation.
Rees was technology director for an online recruitment site called Revolver.com, again a new idea at the time that is commonplace now.
Unfortunately the commute to Wapping in east London wasn’t compatible with his lifestyle and so he looked for an alternative employer closer to home.
That became Easyjetwhere, as senior programme manager, he built an in-house reservation system.
Easyjet’s existing off-the-shelf platform was coming to the end of its contractual life and the airline needed something it had more control over so that it could pioneer some of the innovations in pricing and booking flights it has become famous for.
Rees says: “We wanted to change a lot of the processes around the checking in and boarding. Then we wanted to put people online and none of the big packages would support that, so the only option for us was to build our own system.”
Rees spent three years developing the reservations system, before moving over to become business systems manager for operational systems. This is a back-end function that controls the aeroplanes and crews. Here reliability was vital as the management of an airline is strictly regulated by the CAA.
If the main flight operation system went down for more than four hours then all Easyjet flights would be grounded. This, Rees thinks would have probably killed the airline.
From there Rees went on to be head of development for the company’s web operations, which entailed integrating the Easyjet website with the pricing and reservation systems he had helped to build.
Finally, in 2010 Rees left Easyjet to become IT director of online lingerie retailer Figleaves.com for six months before it was acquired by N Brown.
As a relative newcomer to the role of head of department, the pleasures of power should seem fairly novel to him, but Rees disagrees. He feels there is little difference to his day-to-day role with previous positions of responsibility. If anything, the elevated position has meant less freedom to pursue pet projects. As CIO he has to put the needs of the business before his own interests when fighting for budget that could be better used elsewhere in the business. It was simpler in the early days to push for specific projects and not have to worry so much about the bigger picture.
He is glad of the experience he has had though and thinks that time spent in the hectic atmosphere in retail and the airline industry has set him up well for what is in store for Domino’s in the future.
He says: “I guess the biggest thing I learned, especially from easyJet, is about change, Being comfortable with a high degree of change and I think that’s hitting more and more businesses these days. More IT departments are having to deal with constant change.”