Morrisons Chief Technology Director Anna Barsby discusses new role at retailer and plans for the future
By Thomas Macaulay
Supermarket giant Morrisons had a busy 2016. The Bradford-based supermarket chain bounced back into profit in January and signed a distribution deal with Amazon to deliver fresh and frozen foods for the platform on its way to four consecutive quarters of sales growth.
The year ahead could prove even more eventful for new Chief Technology Director Anna Barsby, who was hired in August 2016 after a four-year stint at Halfords. Barsby had earned a reputation for strong change leadership at the retail giant, after steering a digital transformation that included the company’s first move from a physical server into the cloud to improve performance during peak retail periods.
Her foremost priority for her new role is hiring talented staff to support an ambitious improvement plan.
“I think the key for me in the technology area is encouraging the talent up into this area to help me with the massive improvement programmes that we are going to be undertaking,” says Barsby, who topped the CIO 100 in 2015.
“There are so many opportunities to enable business growth and turnaround for us and I really need some very strong leaders, managers and doers as part of my team to help that journey. Among our key priorities are to simplify and speed up the business while putting customers first.”
Hiring new talent
Barsby believes that the future success of technology at Morrisons will be driven by adding new talent to the existing knowledge and skills of the current team, and has a host of job openings available at the company.
“We’ve got some fantastic opportunities in the technology team across the board from security to analysis to design to architecture to leaders – we want talent to come up and join this team at this critical time,” she says.
“We won’t achieve what we want to achieve without some new talent to complement the knowledge of Morrisons that we’ve got and the two together will really help us succeed.”
Barsby joined Morrisons in part because of the company’s challenging but supportive culture.
“I wanted to be somewhere that had a really big focus and improvement target,” she says. “But I also wanted to be somewhere where I knew I would be supported through that journey.”
As part of an induction plan she describes as the best she’s ever done, Barsby spent an entire week in a Morrisons store.
“I’ve done every job in that store, met all the colleagues and had a fantastic time. I’ve also been out to the distribution centres and some of the manufacturing plants so that the breadth and the care and attention that have gone into the induction for me and for joining Morrisons have been tremendous.”
Technology continues to transform personal lives as well as professional ones, and Barsby says one of the biggest challenges of her role is the impact of improving consumer tech to increase expectations of workplace technology.
“Consumers and therefore our customers and our colleagues know what they want from the front end,” she says. “They know what they want out of that technology or out of that data. It’s our job now in technology to make that back end work for the front end.”
Barsby also views developing diversity and bringing more women in particular into technology as one of the key priorities for technology leaders.
“We have a good number of women in our technology team at Morrisons which is lovely to see, however we have to keep role-modelling, keep nurturing, keep encouraging and keep succession-planning because there aren’t enough women coming through”
Part of her plan to achieve this involves challenging the misconception of tech roles as solely the preserve of hardcore developers programming in dark basements.
“There are so many roles in technology and in IT that will appeal to women like business analysis, project management, solution designing,” she says.
“There are masses of different roles and I think we need to make sure that that’s really apparent and that we can encourage more and more women and diversity in general – from the grass roots encouraging people in schools all the way to getting people from the doing roles to the management roles to the leadership roles.”