by Divina Paredes

CIO100 2018 #21: John Bell, Fletcher Building

Mar 28, 2018
APIsArtificial IntelligenceBig Data

“Progress can only be made through people,” says John Bell as he singles out his greatest lesson as a CIO.

“In a large organisation like Fletcher Building, it doesn’t matter how smart or capable you are – it’s about reaching the hearts and minds of your staff, providing clear mission objectives and adopting a servant leadership approach that results in staff bringing their best self to work every day, and being willing to go the extra mile to deliver our commitments.”

It is a perspective that he brings to the role as CIO at FB, one of the largest listed companies in New Zealand, which operates across the globe.

Bell and his team are responsible for supporting the global group, with its 23,000 staff.

FB comprises five divisions (International [Laminex and Formica]), Distribution, Building Products, Construction and Residential), 39 companies or business units that operate across 40 countries, with more than 900 locations across the globe.

His major brief when he came into Fletcher more than two years ago was to transform the Group Technology (GT) function.

This led to a large programme of work, which includes, among others centralising the 20 IT teams and ‘professionalising’ the delivery of IT services.

There are also the other tasks of replacing the ‘end user’ computer fleet, moving 39 email platforms to a single global platform, and implementing a single collaboration platform to replace 39 intranets. A global project management office was established together with the introduction of specialist roles.

The entire program is enabling Group Technology to reduce costs, drive toward standard systems and processes across the Group, deliver more reliable services and win the confidence of the Board, the Executive, and more importantly, business leaders.

“Increasingly, Group Technology is being seen as a trusted partner of the business to help enable business growth,” says Bell.

Lee Finney, business transformation officer at FB, notes how Bell takes “a holistic approach to technology ideation, delivery and support”.

Our Digital Innovation Lab has run scores of ideation workshops, assessed a total of 800 ideas, of which 26 are now revenue generating applications.

“He ensures that there is awareness of technology innovation and best practices, whilst remaining measured in his approach to adoption and business process maturity…that the technology strategy is robust but then brings a disciplined approach to first class ‘execution’, change management and life cycle management – ensuring full value is extracted and there is clear accountability for delivering benefit commitments.”

In 2017, Bell and his team delivered around 150 projects. One project involved standardising the finance systems and processes across the Construction Division.

The team also selected and started implementation of core digital platforms such as for their e-commerce and content management system.

Bell says a number of challenges needed to be addressed as they went through the technology-focused business transformation at Fletcher.

One of these was working with every business unit around the new approach.

Historically, each business unit made their own decisions on major technology investments such as ERP systems and websites.

They also needed to make sure they communicated effectively across the organisation, in different time zones.

He has taken steps to ensure Group Technology engages regularly with the FB staff, and part of the challenge is enabling this across multiple jurisdictions.

We have adopted a comprehensive approach for both internal and external communications, says Bell.

For internal formal communications, they organise quarterly face-to-face town hall meetings, monthly CIO emails through the group intranet, monthly calls with all leaders and weekly communications from key leaders within GT.

IT BU leaders liaise with the business units and keep them informed on the progress of projects and key initiatives. They also report monthly on operational performance, SLA metrics, projects underway and their status.

“We are beginning to leverage our business unit communication vehicles to reach those below the leadership layers.”

A major initiative at GT focuses on the human component of any digital business transformation.

“One of our biggest investment areas accompanies the recognition that we can’t transform unless our staff are ‘bringing their best selves to work every day’,” says Bell.

This programme involved all global staff, and included developing a mission, purpose statement and ‘ways of working’. The latter are behaviours we expect staff to apply in the day to day workplace, says Bell.

“We’ve committed a significant investment into developing a growth mindset with staff, encouraging personal development through a new Learning and Development portal and online courses, regular training for all staff (three monthly, one-day day training sessions), and regular lunch and learn sessions.”

Bell says Fletcher has also implemented a Learning Council to continuously refresh the online content as well as identify new requirements.

“We are driving a culture of appreciation, formally recognising and rewarding staff that go the extra mile,” he says. “We are truly making major investments in driving a customer centric/innovation and agile culture.”

He says the FB Group is also making major investments in developing a safe and inclusive workplace.

Every staff member has goals and a development plan, they get regular performance reviews, and new staff are assigned mentors and coaches.

We identify skill gaps and put staff forward for formal development, says Bell. “Our challenge in this area is to bring more females into leadership roles and this is a key focus.”

Driving digital, fostering innovation

Group Technology initiates and strongly supports innovation across the organisation.

Innovation in an organisation like FB can take on many forms. Bell says these could range from re-engineering of core processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness, to introducing new technologies such as Robotic Process Automation.

The technology group has built the Digital Innovation Lab. The lab has run scores of ideation workshops, assessed a total of 800 ideas, says Bell. From these, 26 are now revenue generating applications.

The initiatives have been owned and driven internally but have involved partners such as PwC who are helping with our RPA and Clearpoint, BrashRobertson and Isobar who have been working with us in the digital space, says Bell.

Each innovative solution has been the subject of a business case and each innovation is focused on improving the EBIT of our business units. “We measure the EBIT benefits being delivered,” he says.

In each case the innovation was developed in response to customer demand for solutions so there was minimal resistance to taking the ideas forward.

It’s been essential for GT to adopt a customer centric approach, he says, “pushing back on requirements that don’t deliver direct customer value.”

The technology group is also adopting an agile approach to development complimenting the more traditional waterfall approach, and focusing on minimum viable product.

We encourage the business to provide product owners willing to be actively involved throughout the project, he says.

Bell says contractors and external staff were hired to work with the FB teams on these new models. “We also talked to a number of other organisations like Westpac and BNZ, to understand their journey and the changes we needed to adopt.”

“Over time we’ve introduced changes and have gradually evolved our processes, governance, and methodologies to allow us to embrace the new ‘ways of working’.”