Post Office CIO delivering stamp of authority

The Postal Services Act 2011 shook up the Crown legacy setup of Royal Mail and its subsidiary the Post Office. The Post Office became independent of the Royal Mail in April 2012 and, as with all corporate divorces in the digital age, managing the separation of IT estate topped the agenda.

However, for a retailer offering everything from stamps to mortgages at a single point of sale, with owned outlets as well as franchise agreements, and a claim to fame of having a service counter within three miles of 99.7% of the population, the Post Office's task was a shade more difficult than most.

Stewardship of change management and corporate expectations fell to one former Royal Mail employee: Lesley Sewell, CIO of the Post Office.

"Since technology supports the whole brand in more ways than one, I am leading one of the biggest changes in IT estate and processes that could befall any of my peers. Furthermore, our business itself is undergoing an inexorable change in the digital age. My primary task is one of keeping the Post Office relevant.

"A retail CIO develops click-and-collect customer modules; my team also has to work on drop-and-go solutions, especially as e-commerce is seen as the driver of growth in parcel deliveries," Sewell explains.

Conjuring up an IT platform for a portfolio of more than 11,500 branches, including 350 directly managed Crown Post Offices, is underway. The type of products on sale, from phone cards to savings accounts, travel money to stamps, adds another dimension to consider.

The CIO's answer for process streamlining is the Post Office's Common Digital Platform, which is aimed at transforming a multichannel business into the heralded 'Omni-channel' trader. This deployment will be the big ticket project for the remainder of 2014.

"We're in the middle of the first concept via Agile methodology; conjuring up the main conduit for all of our sub-channels," says Sewell. The move is intertwined with the replacement of legacy systems.

"The change agenda is not linear for us. The entry point might well be process efficiencies and a modern Post Office, but reaching there not only entails working up a new digital platform and our recent rationalisation of helpdesks, but also hardware issues.

"I can't chuck legacy IT in an instant. So while we're trialling usage of tablets at branches, we're also upgrading service-counter hardware," Sewell continues.

Then there's the inevitable IT estate separation with Royal Mail, which the CIO says is on track for a conclusion within the next 12 months.

"Some of our technology is presently aligned to Royal Mail and as part of the separation plans we have had to take all of it, bring that into the Post Office, and attune or change it to meet our needs. It's also why, despite being enthusiastic about BYOD, we do not have a corporate policy on it for the moment."

Sewell, plus five senior IT executives directly reporting to her, are scouting around for inspiration amidst the corporate divorce.

"Although we are a retail business like no other, we do keep an eye on what other retailers doing. At industry events, I fit in with government sector CIOs and peers from retail and finance alike. I feel as though I am an IT industry executive that's all three rolled into one," she says.

Feedback is directly passed on to the Post Office's Executive Committee, of which Sewell is a member.

"As a CIO in a customer-facing organisation such as ours, I can't build IT for IT's sake – customers drive the slant and pace of change in the direction of how technology is evolving. It's natural to worry about devising plans at the present stage of the business cycle, only for them to go from nascent to dormant within a few years. It's why we're on our toes," explains Sewell.

Replacing legacy tech

Sewell reveals that the Post Office conducts frequent 'innovation sessions' with its biggest IT vendors.

"Working closely with our commercial teams, I throw up our parameters and corporate objectives at the vendors and challenge them to help us with platforms aimed at achieving our goals."

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