I wanted to be more than just the IT guy. I wanted to be involved in the running of the business and at a senior executive level.\u201dGrant Taylor, Acland Holdings\u201cWe are pure cloud, absolutely, not hybrid cloud, we don\u2019t have any servers. All businesses will be run this way in the future.\u201dGrant Taylor, chief operating officer at Acland Holdings, has overseen a massive business transformation in the past year at international design company and New Zealand brand, Citta Design.While the company has been in business for 20 years, and has grown to more than 180 staff, it did not have a chief operating officer prior to Taylor being appointed.The owners wanted someone who had skills in systems and warehousing who could look after the day to day running of the business, as well as provide oversight for human resources, finance, and marketing and sales, explains Taylor.\u201cIn this business, I run everything, except design and buying,\u201d he says. The latter is run by our founder, Margot Acland, who runs the product team.\u201cWe are a creative company, design is critical,\u201d Taylor says. \u201cWhat I brought to the table was commercial thinking and how we actually take it to market, how we operate behind the scenes to make it efficient and make the customer experience really great.\u201dHe also brought with him business technology nous, honed from his ICT executive roles within government and the private sector.Before moving to Citta in May last year, Grant was CIO at Kathmandu, the outdoor clothing and equipment supplier.The retail chain was a \u201cfast-paced environment,\u201d says Taylor, who had previously been at the Southern District Health Board where he was CIO for nearly three-and-a-half years.He was at Kathmandu for nearly five years and during that time the retail chain transformed its systems. He and his team completed a move to Microsoft Dynamics AX, part of an overhaul of the core business systems.When he moved to Citta, the first thing he tackled was warehousing. \u201cWe made a lot of changes in our warehouse and we now do daily deliveries to all our stores.\u201dCitta Design stores are located in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Christchurch; and in Sydney, Australia. Overseas, specialist retailers and department stores stock their products in Korea, Japan Hong Kong, Singapore, UK and Canada.The company also became the first retailer worldwide, to go live with the Azure(cloud)-based ERP Dynamics AX from Microsoft.Photo by Divina ParedesWe are pure cloud, we don\u2019t have any servers. All businesses will be run this way in the future.Grant Taylor, Acland Holdings\u2018All in the cloud\u2019He firmly believes Citta is providing the template for what businesses will be doing in the future.\u201cEveryone is going to be running their ERP as \u2018software as a service\u2019. They are not going to host their own 'tin',\u201d he states.\u201cWhat we are doing here is we are running a single Active Directory environment with file imprint replication, with BI, SharePoint, Office 365 all in the cloud.\u201cEverything works with simple sign on and our network is UFB with 4G backup,'' he explains. \u201cThat means all we need to run our systems is an internet connection.\u201dTaylor says the cloud-based platform provided a single source of data for real-time analytics on stock, sales and customer behaviour. As well, it provided the foundation to run more innovative technologies across different channels.\u201cJust basically having a full understanding and knowing where the stock is in your network, is important to create an omnichannel experience,\u201d he says.This means knowing where your stock is when someone comes into the store, in the branch or online.\u201cThus the customer can buy an item online and have it delivered to their home, or reserve the stock through click and collect and pick it up in one of the stores.\u201dTaylor says Citta is currently implementing CRM for AX, which will provide a platform for the company's loyalty programme.\u201cThat is the next cab off the rank.\u201d he says. \u201cIt's how we brand ourselves,how we work with customers and what opportunities we can put in place around this.\u201dHe says the previous model was built around Infrastructure as a Service, which proved to be costly and had performance issues.\u201cWe would go through multiple screens to place a purchase order; it was poorly configured. Now we can do this with considerably fewer steps.\u201cWe now have more functionality and better performance, and it is cheaper operationally.\u201dHe was also able to restructure the IT team.\u201cIt is very lean," he explains. \u201cI turned the IT manager role into a business intelligence specialist. With cloud-based reporting, the organisation needs someone to talk to the business and deliver that reporting information. That is the value of IT, providing the insights.\u201dThe second IT staff member takes care of desktop support and manages the infrastructure. \u201cYou need to keep your users happy.\u201d'We are a creative company...What I brought to the table was commercial thinking and how we actually take it to market, how we operate behind the scenes to make it efficient and make the customer experience really great.' - Grant Taylor, chief operating officer, Acland HoldingsTransition and transformationTaylor has shown how the CIO role can provide a great foundation in moving to a new role in the executive team.''My CEO at Kathmandu [Peter Halkett] said the job of the CIO is to make anything possible and there are plenty of opportunities to remove technology from being a constraint in the business.\u201cThe way to move forward and progress is to make IT accessible and enabling,\u201d he states. \u201cYou have to be that person at the executive table.\u201d\u201cI enjoyed my time in Kathmandu but I wanted to do more, to be more than just the IT guy. I wanted to be involved in the running of the business and at a senior executive level.\u201dThis aspiration was partly fuelled by the fact that during his stint at the Southern District Health Board, he studied a master\u2019s in business administration at the University of Otago.By that time too, he has chalked up a range of ICT executive posts in other sectors.In the early part of his career, Taylor was IT engineer at property firm Jones Lang LaSalle and was IT manager at both Fletcher Challenge Forests and PGG Wrightson. He had also honed his sales experience as branch manager at Gen-i (now Spark),With that experience, he says, you could pick up on different management styles, \u201cof things you like or don\u2019t like\u201d.More and more, he felt, he could do well in an executive role transcending ICT.A friend knew the owners of Citta Design and told them Taylor would be a good candidate for the role, following the work he did at Kathmandu.What followed was a \u201cvery interesting recruitment process\u201d, he says. \u201cThey talked to me for four to six months about what it would be like to be chief operating officer.\u201cI actually said \u2018no\u2019 to the position and told them to go to market and they did,\u201d says Taylor.The owners came back to him and offered him the role, which he accepted.\u201cIt was a huge leap of faith for them,\u201d he says. \u201cI was running against CFOs and other COOs. At the end of the day, not many people back the IT guy to run the business.\u201dBut the move turned out to be a good fit for both sides.\u201cWe are a home design brand, and we manufacture our own products to a very high standard,\u201d he says. \u201cAnd when I first arrived, we realised we did not have anybody looking after our brand [full time].\u201dSo he expanded the marketing team and worked very closely with the head of Marketing and Retail.He explains that Citta Design does not have a chief digital officer, as both he and the head of Marketing work together towards building an omnichannel experience for their customers.\u201cBetween the two of us and our different experiences, we are innovating on the platform and enhancing the customer experience.\u201dThis collaboration means Citta has a raft of digital projects in the pipeline in this space.\u201cWe have growth strategies across all our channels, including wholesale, retail, online and Australia,\u201d he states.Citta will open four new stores in the next four months, he says.In October, the company will open the 600-square-metre flagship store in Newmarket. It will showcase the company's products, along with technologies that will focus on improving the customer experience.Citta will also try out new retail programmes here and the successful ones will be rolled out across all the company stores.'Our stores are where design consultants can demonstrate how the products looks when arranged in a room. Customers can then share these on Instagram and other social media sites.'For instance, we are thinking that during a busy season like Christmas, a member of the sales team can walk with the customer sending each order to a mobile POS (point of sale) device to the gift wrapping centre. The customer then picks up the items already gift wrapped, thus \u201cbusting the queue\u201d during the holiday season, says Taylor.Other projects in the pipeline include the ability to push mobile offers for customers who are members of the loyalty club."Our stores are where design consultants can demonstrate how the products looks when arranged in a room. Customers can then share these on Instagram and other social media sites."Taking care of business\u201cI don\u2019t talk technology much these days,\u201d says Taylor. \u201cI talk outcomes for the business.\u201dThis was how he approached Citta\u2019s cloud-based transformation programme.He says the old implementation of Dynamics AX \u201cwas not very good\u201d and using his contacts at Microsoft from the Kathmandu implementation, he was able to get the company into the Technology Adoption Programme for Azure-based (cloud) Dynamics AX.He says this meant Citta and the implementation partner Sable37 worked directly with Microsoft out of the US. When Sable37 saw the product, there was no Australian or New Zealand dollar on the system.\u201cThey actually helped create that with Microsoft as the local partner.\u201d\u201cIt was a real partnership,\u201d says Taylor. \u201cThey gave it at a price we can afford and I was prepared to be flexible with the implementation, and let their people learn.\u201dHe says being a case study for AX in this instance worked for the company.\u201cIt has been great in terms of the attention we get from Microsoft, because my business is not big enough and we do not have a huge budget.\u201dHe says taking on an agile approach to business delivery was important to the project\u2019s success.\u201cWe prototyped, we refined,\u201d as we went along, he says. \u201cThe goal post is always moving and if you are a bit of a traditional thinker who is into waterfall methodology, that is a hard thing to get around.\u201cI have worked with partners in the past who would like to scope everything to the nth degree, write a document that tells you what you are going to get and deliver to that document if they can,\u201d he explains. \u201cThe issue with doing this is you only know what you know at that time. As you go to a project like this, it is like a discovery, you learn more.\u201cIt is amazing that we are doing some really cool things done by companies that are bigger than us,\u201d he concludes. \u201cOne of our advantages is we are small enough to be nimble and be able to do it.\u201d\u201cWatch this space,\u201d there is more to come, he says.Citta Design is the first retailer worldwide, to go live with the Azure(cloud)-based ERP Dynamics AX from Microsoft.Send news tips and comments to email@example.comFollow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinapFollow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nzSign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, views and events.Join us on Facebook.