How sport made CIO 100 winner Joanna Drake a better technology leader

As CIO at The Hut Group (THG), the British ecommerce agency behind such manufacturers as Lookfantastic and Myprotein, Joanna Drake has been navigating some critical headwinds.

Chargeable for world operations and expertise companies throughout firm and buyer web sites, workers expertise, and THG’s direct-to-consumer Ingenuity service and internet hosting enterprise, Drake has seemed to assist the fast progress of the Manchester-based agency by means of IPO, a worldwide pandemic, provide chain instability, and the onset of recession.

Talking on the CIO UK 100 awards ceremony on the St Pancras Renaissance Lodge in London, Drake defined what it meant to be ranked the top CIO in the UK, how her tennis background formed her management, why automation is releasing up her IT staff, and the way THG is supporting engineers relocating from war-stricken Ukraine.

CIO 100 winner, sports activities management and being ‘too pleasant’

Having featured within the CIO 100 in 2021 and 2020 previous to topping this year’s list, Drake says the award is for her staff, not simply her.

“If this was about me, as a person, I’d wrestle to do a [CIO 100] submission,” she mentioned. “So it’s in regards to the staff and I’m blessed and honoured to work with some superb individuals every single day, with a lot grit, dedication and creativity.” She additionally added that it was additionally a chance to cease and replicate on how far they’ve come within the final 12 months, and the way she fell into IT after a profession in tennis did not materialise, first beginning out in assist desk assist earlier than progressing into service administration and engineering positions.

As she climbed the ranks, taking up extra senior expertise roles at Diageo, Accenture, Yahoo, Betfair, BBC and Skyscanner earlier than becoming a member of The Hut Group in 2018, she realised that her sports activities background may form her management model.

“Sports activities taught me about teamwork, placing gamers in the appropriate positions, staff formation, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, apply, laborious work, self-discipline and the way and when to use teaching or mentoring,” she says, including that she regularly analyses the ‘substances’ of her staff, to seek out particulars that may make massive variations.

This isn’t to say that Drake’s ascension to the upper echelons of enterprise management has come with out problem. Particularly, all through her 20-year profession, Drake has typically been chastised for being too pleasant, an unfamiliar high quality maybe in a results-driven enterprise world.

“Quite a lot of instances in my profession I’ve been informed I wouldn’t make it as a senior tech particular person,” she mentioned. “Really, I believe it’s about being my true genuine self as a result of it’s exhausting in case you can’t be your self. I’ve discovered by means of being me that truly, that’s okay.”

Digital office, automation and ‘IT as consultants’

Drake highlights THG’s digital office and automation initiatives as her staff’s most notable achievements during the last 12 months, alongside its Ingenuity Compute Engine (ICE), by means of which THG is hoping to construct ‘hyperscaler experiences’ throughout greater than 50 information centres.

As a part of the ‘infrastructure reimagined’ programme, ICE offers a software-defined, infrastructure-as-code (IaC) platform the place groups can run containerised purposes on Kubernetes, in the end dashing up infrastructure procurement and deployment. Drake says THG has constructed the platform in 4 of its information centres thus far, permitting builders to construct new platforms on ICE, and migrate current THG workloads onto it.

Pace and ease have additionally been the essence behind THG’s digital office initiatives.

The e-commerce agency has additionally rolled out zero-touch system provisioning, constructed app shops for Microsoft and Mac-based gadgets, provided expertise drive-through and click-and-collect companies, in addition to quite a few enhancements to the workplace atmosphere from digital signage, wayfinding screens and common desk set-up for decent desking, to assembly room expertise, video modifying suites, system lockers and digital packing benches in warehouses.

Automation, in the meantime, has been launched to free-up IT staff members to turn out to be consultants to the enterprise, eradicating their operational toil whereas empowering their line-of-business friends to concentrate on extra strategic work.

Leveraging a mix of RPA, low-code and no-code applied sciences, THG has sought to streamline processes, significantly in HR resembling joiners, movers, leavers and role-based entry management.

“Automation has been about [IT] nearly automating themselves out of the roles that they had, so they may go on to extra fascinating roles,” says Drake. “The place they’ve eliminated a number of operational toil, we’ve needed to re-skill our engineers and that is nice for retaining expertise.” So as an alternative of churning or doing tickets, engineers exit as consultants within the enterprise and converse to totally different departments about processes. “They comply with issues that maintain them again, how they may do extra, to allow them to truly take away their operational toil,” she provides.

Stalking expertise and supporting Ukrainian workers

Regardless of such technological innovation, Drake is adamant that folks stays her high precedence, and she or he’s taking to stealthy strategies to seek out potential expertise.

“I do a number of stalking on LinkedIn,” she says. “I take into consideration the kind of individuals and talent I need, and I am going and hunt them out. I’ve bought to construct the staff and I need the very best gamers so I’ve bought to go on the market and discover them. And after I’ve bought them, I would like to verify they’re profitable and making a distinction. And in the event that they’re profitable, we’re all glad.”

But she recognises that the continued recruitment challenges, cost-of-living pressures and deepening psychological well being issues imply the main focus have to be as on expertise retention and attraction in equal measure.

To additional assist with the previous, Drake oversees a collection of stand-ups in the course of the week to maintain the staff engaged. There’s a Monday session that tackles how the IT staff plans to ‘win’ that week, a Tuesday one is named take-over Tuesday, Wednesday’s focuses on wellness and improvement, and Friday presents a chance for staff shout-outs and common updates.

The Hut Group has additionally seemed to assist engineers get out of Ukraine on the onset of the battle with Russia, serving to to evacuate them and their households to Poland, paying for lodging and offering homeware, toys and jobs at a neighborhood warehouse.

“For lots of our workers in Ukraine, work has helped them lead as regular life as attainable in these circumstances,” says Drake. “Making certain they’re very actively concerned in and heard every single day is a extremely essential a part of supporting them.”

Monetary strife places the CIO’s concentrate on effectivity

A lot of final 12 months’s progress has been about laying the technological foundations for the subsequent 10 years, but Drake acknowledges that the subsequent 12 months may very well be a bumpy journey.

The Hut Group has seen its progress stunted in latest instances by rising uncooked materials prices, cost-of-living pressures on prospects, declining shares (down 86% year-on-year), and a market valuation that not too long ago plummeted from £5bn to £600m amid market headwinds.

In October, Japanese investor SoftBank introduced it was promoting its 6.4% stake to firm founder Matthew Moulding and Qatari buyers for simply £31m, having purchased the stake within the buying group for £481m in Could 2021.

Such uncertainty means Drake’s focus is now on effectivity.

“[My priority is] persevering with with all of that effectivity stuff—ICE, composable compute, which implies we will ship extra, extra shortly.”

Drake can also be spearheading THG’s ‘match-fit programmes’, methods the group can enhance customer support, operational effectivity and staff improvement for when some semblance of normality returns.

She says THG is consolidating toolsets, decommissioning legacy expertise and migrating prospects to the most recent platforms, in addition to ensuring the agency will get the very best ‘bang for buck’ when working with suppliers.

“We considered utilizing it as a chance to get in actually fine condition, prepared for the combat when the world turns the appropriate manner up once more.”

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