Attribution: Phillip PerryTonight I attended a talk by Sainsbury’s IT Director Rob Fraser (hosted by the BCS ELITE group) – who was voted Computing’s CIO of the Year 2011 no less! Whilst I do rub shoulders with the odd CIO, it’s usually on a very specific topic so tonight was a great opportunity to hear some candid details of what it’s really been like driving through a three year transformation programme at Sainsbury’s, what the gotchas were, what he’d do differently next time etc.

So here’s some of his key pieces of advice and reasons for success:

  • They used an architecture-led approach. This was music to my ears to be honest – I tend to oscillate between “(enterprise) architecture is the answer” and despair at the state of the architecture profession in practice, so this gives me hope. When he landed they had an architecture team of about 5, and to drive the transformation programme they grew this up to about 40 (with approx 500 staff in IT, excluding external delivery resources, that’s moving from a ratio of 1:100 to 1:12.5).
  • He hired some key staff for the IT transformation from the retail side of the business, not from IT (but supported by strong technologists). The credibility of a business representative massively helped drive change through with the rest of the business, and enabled more educated push back on the inevitable attempts at scope creep. In fact, the whole transformation strategy was very people-focused.
  • The transformation programme was tracked over a 3 year time period, and the original “plan on a page” was still in use as the benchmark to measure progress against every year (i.e. they did not suffer from a “stretching” programme), and the programme had a definite end. It started, ran, and finished – rather than the original objectives bleeding into other change activities and giving a fuzzy back-end to the work.
  • “Time to value” for any delivery was limited to 18 months maximum – as most organisations just don’t have the attention span to concentrate on anything with a longer payback.