2016 Winner Profile

2 Sisters Food Group

Ferenc Vezer

RANK: #53

COMPANY WHERE WON: 2 Sisters Food Group


2 Sisters Food Group CIO Ferenc Vezer has been focusing on further consolidation of the technology estate following two years of intensive 'stabilisation' work, but the wholesale foods manufacturer are also developing business intelligence capabilities and scenario modelling 'what if' situations with predictive analytics.

Name and job title
Ferenc Vezer, Group CIO, 2 Sisters Food Group

How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
We are continuously sensing requirements for new products/services from our market place. The current stage of the IT strategy is designed to deliver the necessary capability for the business to bring them to market with minimum latency.

How as CIO have you affected cultural change and / or behaviour in your organisation and to what extent?
Our efforts in technology simplification and standardising processes also support integrating knowledge-management and sharing real time enterprises information. Whilst these drive real business performance improvements, also contribute to cultural change. For example; the recently implemented Office365 and the new Intranet has started to change the way we work. Willingness started to emerge in increased networking, information sharing of best practices, driving organisational change.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s company performance
Started an In-house development, industry specific, suite of applications that ensure business information is complete and current, with high integrity, reliability and availability. The full suite of applications aimed to support up-stream visibility between farm and processing plant, quality, rapid product verification, H&S, traceability for compliance and discovery. Two modules now live, with significant benefits in labour cost and manual data input error reduction.

Describe how you have used organisational and third party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
Changes in consumer buying patterns (products bought and where sourced from) driven by considerations of value and evidenced by the success of discount retailers. Developments in the retail environment driven by emergent digital and mobile technologies forcing retailers to support increased online ordering and multi-channel sales accompanied by effective cross-channel fulfilment.  This in turn is driving innovations in fulfilment processes, placing new pressures and demands on the supply chain for greater flexibility and responsiveness.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
IT activities broadly focused in two areas, service and delivery. The technology platform delivers highly available services, which are reliable and low cost, but sustainable. The importance of this is often overlooked and dismissed as ‘bread-and-butter’, but it is as important as building new business capabilities. System and process automation is focused on supporting business needs, for ever-increasing competency and responsiveness in terms of compliance, traceability and discovery. Reducing delivery times on fresh produce driving the supply chain increasingly in the direction of “just in time” performance.

Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
The Digital responsibility is shared with divisional colleagues due to the diversity of the branded and non-branded makeup of the business. As part of the 'collaboration', we designed our technology ‘environment’ to be part of the ‘digital eco-system’, connecting devices like factory sensors, scanners and scales, collecting data, to be consumed by enterprise systems, pass information on to costumer systems, connect to mobile devices, social media and any online use.

Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and organisational structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
Following two years of intensive 'stabilisation' work, we are now focusing on further consolidation of the technology estate, but with a major change in emphasis towards the standardisation and simplification of systems and processes. Work started on reducing the diversity of the technologies we operate to the minimum required to deliver effective, robust, flexible and scalable services. It is planned to remove unnecessary layers of complexity in the system architecture (de-layering). The target IT environment components have high interoperability and are capable of freely interchanging business data to provide complete and transparent support of end-to-end business processes across the Group. The re-designed end-to-end process, supported by best of breed technology, aims to deliver a single unambiguous view of the customer and their interactions with 2SFG across all touch points, while integration will allow, where desirable, greater customer visibility of the upstream supply chain for a more effective partnership. It will deliver an inherently scalable environment that can flex to meet fluctuations in customer demands.

How do you engage regularly with your organisation (e.g. via a blog/seminars/newsletter etc.) about your team and the role of technology in the organisation and what impact is this having?
The new Intranet enabled IT to communicate with collogues by publishing articles on strategy, projects, work-in-progress. We also send newsletters specific to our manufacturing sites on activities planned. Yammer is widely used by all of us; we blog about our interest, emerging technologies and ‘cool stuff’ relating to technology. At company events, IT always has a stand where we showcase technology. We also run monthly 'coffee shop' events.

How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
I find participating in specialist LinkedIn groups very useful and time-efficient. My workload often prevents me from attending round table events, peer group discussions or workshops. I do make it from time-to-time. Often I am also asked to talk at events and seminars about my own experiences. I do have a healthy network.

How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
Due to the structure of the organisation I have created an IT executive board (ITX) where each division is represented by an executive sponsor. The ITX ensures for governance, prioritisation of work and full alignment of IT.

Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management e.g horizon scanning, technology strategy workshops, involvement in industry events and bodies
Tech is changing so quickly! It seems impossible to keep up with everything, but I find listening to podcasts in the car whilst driving a good way to enjoy the M62. Gartner, BCS  is also an invaluable source of information. Also regularly check technology sites to keep up with advancements / trends. You can also pick up a lot by taking the ‘odd’ sales call, talking to specialist providers.

Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
Following the acquisitions, it has taken more than two years for the team to settle, and become one, coherent IT team. Working closely with our HR partners’, running team workshops we have developed the team’s identity and values. We started the transition by capturing the top 10 priorities of each individual, what they would like to ‘stop’, ‘start’, and 'continue' with. As a group we have prioritised the feedback and chose three of each that everyone agreed on. In 2015 we made the proposed changes. Finally, we are one team, without subgroups, or “we” & “them” attitude. The key was to engage and involve individuals who joined 2SFG as part of the acquisitions. It was not an easy task to bring together diverse, corporate cultures, different ways of thinking, values and aspirations. As a leader I encourage involvement, questions, challenges from my team on strategy & direction, respect disagreement and different views. I do not believe in surrounding myself with “yes” people. Diversity brought richness to the team.

Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
Our approach is on two levels. I chair the ITX Board interacting with executives representing  divisions, I also attend divisional board meetings. My leadership team have also developed their own forums with site based senior management including  financial  controllers.

Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
Throughout my career most of the organisations I worked for encouraged personal development. I have lost count of all the management training courses and events I attended in the early days. As my responsibility grew, these became more leadership focused. I recently attended a three-day 2SFG Leadership Development event with leaders from across the organisation. As a Gartner subscriber I have access to an Executive Partner, my very own mentor, who gained experience throughout his career as CEO / COO and CIO.

Are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with: Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence; Data Analytics; NoSQL; wearable technology; Enterprise Apps; Internet of Things; Automation and Robotics;  3D Printing; the Sharing Economy; Anything else?
Yes, significant progress has been made during the last 12 months in developing BI capabilities. The chosen technology stack (SAP Data Services & BPC) is designed to deliver ‘normal’ operational, KPI and financial reporting for authorised personnel, to access the right information in the right place at the right time, but also scenario modelling, ‘what ifs’, predictive analytics. The design will enable the mixing of internal and external (Kantar) data in further stages. Infrastructure work is also extended and ongoing for more network points on the shop floor connecting sensors and devices to the internet of things and increasing the automated data capturing. A cross functional team is also experimenting with 3D food printing.

How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach – e.g. from consuming services from the cloud or on-premise products through to spinning up in-house development teams for bespoke work?
We use external cloud services/partners for ‘non-differentiating’ services, where providers’ scale can deliver services more effectively. Hardware is on rolling lease-cycles, software is subscribed where possible in order to maintain flat predictable cost and allow flex (up/down) as demand changes. A good example of this is our recent move to cloud based MS Office365, SharePoint, Lync etc. Systems that are considered to lie outside the value chain (ERP) and reporting tiers but integral to the operation of the business are generally bought and hosted on premise. Systems unique to 2SFGs line of business and tactical in nature are developed in-house with external partner support.

Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
The current workload makes searching for new partners difficult, and not always beneficial. The senior IT Management team as a collective, prefers to use long term strategic partners and rely on the relationships. However, as emerging technologies necessitate specialist skills, we do use and rely on peer recommendations, research and industry body analysis. Gartner is one of our key, trusted source of information. Emerging technologies are researched and put forward for discussions at monthly team briefs, or blogged on our new Yammer.

Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
Our expectation on a strategic sourcing partner is to deliver measurable costs savings, fulfil critical stakeholder needs in a timely manner, the outcome has low or reducing risk factor and able to flex with our changing needs. We see strategic value in more than just the lowest price point. Quality, reliability, value-add services, and innovation in the supply chain is part of the base criteria. Our current strategic partner base includes ATOS, Gartner, Dell, Microsoft, Talk-Talk, Virgin, Ricoh, SAP, Opalwave and O2. These suppliers have earned our partnership and trust.

Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
The food industry is becoming under increased pressure by changes in consumer buying patterns. What is bought, from where, farm-to-fork and other traceability information are part of the compliance process. Two, recently developed applications are already delivering business benefits in this area. These applications are part of an in-house, bespoke suite of applications planned to support 2SFG to remain in dominant position in the UK food manufacturing sector. In other areas, the combination of, and innovative use of ‘off-the-shelve’ technologies deliver significant benefits. Up-to-date connected PC’s and mobile devices, Office365, cloud email, single logon and Skype for Business fundamentally changing the way we operate.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
The strategic deal we made is with EpiServer, DirectSmile and Microsoft. Not so long ago our company’s intranet was a dull affair and un-used by employees. A modern, connected set of technologies changed all that. The intranet has undergone a revolution and is now alive, kicking, powering social interaction, contemporary business applications and bi-directional communication. Work is ongoing, but the design is all about the people, considering the individual, encouraging engagement, supporting remote workers, enabling e-learning etc. In a nutshell it is intended to be people centric, and if not a cultural influencer, at least an enabler.

How do you rate the following as sources of innovative technology suppliers:
Analyst Houses - Always referred to
Consultants - Occasionally use
CIO Peers - Often use
Industry Body - Occasionally use
Media - Always referred to

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?

How is cyber-security led and discussed by senior management?
IT Security Strategy is a permanent ‘work in progress’ and is a regular topic at the IT and Audit Board. Activities are based on using industry best practices to ensure that we are focusing on the right improvements. Working with our external security experts from ECSC, MTI and Bytes Security we monitor and validate our progress. All of the above makes it easier to keep pace with new technology developments, changes in working practices and the consumerisation of IT.

When did you start your current role?
Mid 2013

What is your reporting line?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

What percentage of your budget is spent on IT operational spend "keeping the lights on" compared to new developments and innovation?
Due to the scale and mixture of old technologies inherited from the acquisitions, our focus was on stabilising the IT estate. This meant that in the last two years 85% of the spend was on run and only 15% on new capability. This is now started to change in the right direction.

What number of users does your department supply services to?
24,000 FTE's some with shared factory system access. 7000 'traditional' IT users.

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?

How many employees are there in your IT team?
92 permanent staff, supported by additional contract resources as and when required. Out of hours support provided by ATOS to cover 24/7 operations.

Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?

LOCATION: Wakefield, United Kingdom

INDUSTRY: Manufacturing Industry