De Beers CIO Craig Charlton is polishing a rough cut

In an unassuming building close to London’s Farringdon station exists a company and trade that has excited dreamers, romantics, authors, speculators, explorers and jewellers for years. Step inside the Charterhouse Street office and other than some diamond-shaped windows in the heavy oak doors and a catalogue on the coffee table, you’d not know immediately that you were in the headquarters of De Beers. In the high-value market of diamonds, whether for jewellery or industry, De Beers is a name synonymous with the gem stone; some observers claim it was marketing by De Beers that has created the now accepted custom of engagement rings featuring a diamond.

“We are a 126-year-old business and have been a diamond firm all that time, it was family owned until 2012 when Anglo American took a controlling share,” explains De Beers CIO Craig Charlton. Anglo American was his previous employer, so the CIO arrived in the diamond world with some insight.

“Interestingly, most mining is getting it out of the ground and selling on the commodities markets. De Beers has traditional mining, marine mining and a sales organisation that sells to site holders. We also have a marketing organisation, Forevermark, which is a retail venture, and we manufacture synthetic industrial diamonds,” he says of the wide variety of De Beers businesses that are responsible for around 36% of the world diamond market.

Forevermark is a brand sold in jewellers around the world, while Element 6 is De Beers’ synthetic business, which creates diamonds either with high pressure, high temperature presses or from chemical vapour deposition for the industrial market, where the famed strength of diamonds is used for cutting or drilling instruments.

In November 2011, Anglo American increased its stake in the business to 85% and as such De Beers is in effect a publicly-listed organisation.

“We’ve been the jewel in the crown of the group. It has been a very federated organisation as it is really a collection of businesses,” Charlton explains of the need to create a more coherent group structure at De Beers.

Changes to the diamond market, globalisation and technology have created the need for greater clarity across the business. “The history of the diamond trade has always been about London and Antwerp, but places such as Dubai are becoming increasing challengers. The biggest market for polished diamonds is still the US, followed by Japan, China and India,” he says of how the luxury goods market has not been adversely affected by the recession. A similar trend has been seen by his peers in the UK’s luxury retail and car manufacturing sectors, whose markets have remained strong.

Polishing the IT position

De Beershas 20,000 employees around the world, from mining staff across Africa and Canada to its headquarters in London. Charlton supplies IT to 11,000 of those employees, but as the business grows and strives towards clarity, technology is getting increasingly closer to the gem stones. To get closer to the raw material of the business though, Charlton has had to transform the basic technology operations of the business to give his department the fire it needs to be a part of the business wide modernisation.

“I inherited a hugely federated business with little group structure, and had to tidy and clean it up with a group-wide strategy in year one, then spend 12 months looking at the common infrastructure and our use of SAP,” he says of his aim to ensure that IT is able to be key to solving business problems, as well as “add tangible value to the organisation”.

“We know now that we contribute a measurable value of £30 million (Net Present Value) to De Beers through a cost savings and revenue increases.

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