As CIO of The Hut Group (THG), the British e-commerce company behind brands like Lookfantastic and Myprotein, Joanna Drake has been dealing with some serious headwinds.
Drake, who is responsible for global operations and technology services for corporate and client websites, technology for employees, and THG’s direct-to-consumer Ingenuity services and hosting business, hopes to bolster the Manchester-based company’s growth with a global pandemic IPO. Rapid growth, unstable supply chains, and the onset of a recession.
At the CIO UK 100 Awards held at the Renaissance St Pancras Hotel in London, Drake explains what it means to be named the UK’s top CIO, how her tennis background has shaped her leadership and why automation is liberating her IT team , and how THG supported the relocation of engineers from war-torn Ukraine.
CIO 100 Winners, Sports Leadership and ‘Too Friendly’
Drake, who featured in the 2021 and 2020 CIO 100 before topping this year’s list, said the award is for her team, not just her.
“If it was about me, as a human being, I would try to be a [CIO 100] Commit,” she said. “So it’s about the team, and I’m so lucky and honored to work with some amazing people every day, with so much grit and determination and creativity. She added that it was also an opportunity to pause and reflect on how far they had come in the last year, and how she got stuck in IT after her tennis career didn’t materialize, first in help desk support and then into Service management and engineering jobs.
As she climbed the ranks, taking on more senior technical roles at Diageo, Accenture, Yahoo, Betfair, BBC and Skyscanner before joining The Hut Group in 2018, she realized that her sporting background could shape her leadership style .
“Sports taught me teamwork, putting players in the right positions, team formation, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, practice, hard work, discipline and how and when to apply coaching or coaching,” she said, adding that she constantly Analyze ‘ingredients’ or her team to find details that can make a big difference.
That’s not to say Drake’s ascension to higher business leadership levels was without difficulty. In particular, during her 20-year career, Drake has often been accused of being too nice, a quality that can be alien in the results-driven world of business.
“I’ve been told many times in my career that I can’t be a senior technician,” she said. “Actually, I think it’s about being who I am, because if you can’t be yourself, it’s exhausting. By being me, I know it’s actually okay.”
The digital workplace, automation, and the “IT consultant”
Drake highlighted THG’s digital workplace and automation initiatives as her team’s most notable accomplishments over the past year, along with the Ingenuity Compute Engine (ICE), through which THG hopes to build “hyperscale experiences” from its 50 data centers. “.
As part of its “Infrastructure Refactoring” initiative, ICE provides a software-defined Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) platform on which teams can run containerized applications on Kubernetes, ultimately accelerating infrastructure acquisition and deployment . So far, THG has built the platform in four of its data centers, allowing developers to build new platforms on ICE and migrate existing THG workloads to it, Drake said.
Speed and simplicity are also the essence behind THG’s digital workplace initiative.
The e-commerce company has also rolled out zero-touch device provisioning, built an app store for Microsoft and Mac-based devices, offered technology drive-thru and click-and-collect services, and made numerous improvements to the office environment through digital technology for wheeling. Signage for desks, wayfinding screens and general purpose desk setups, conference room technology, video editing suites, equipment lockers and digital packaging desks in warehouses.
At the same time, automation was introduced, freeing up IT team members to become business advisors, eliminating their operational work while freeing their line-of-business colleagues to focus on more strategic work.
Leveraging a combination of RPA, low-code, and no-code technologies, THG sought to streamline processes, especially in HR, such as joiners, movers, leavers, and role-based access control.
“Automation has always been about [IT] Almost freeing themselves from existing jobs so they can move on to more interesting roles,” Drake said. Talent is very useful. ’ So instead of churning or making tickets, engineers go out as business consultants and talk to different departments about the process. ,” she added.
Track talent and support Ukrainian employees
Despite such technological innovations, Drake insists that people remain her top priority, and that she’s taking a stealthy approach to finding potential talent.
“I’m constantly stalking on LinkedIn,” she says. “I think about the kind of people and skills I want, and then I go look for them. I have to build the team, I want the best players, so I have to go out there and look for them. When I get them, I need Make sure they succeed and make a difference. If they succeed, we’re all happy.”
However, she recognizes that ongoing recruitment challenges, cost-of-living pressures and rising mental health concerns mean retention and attraction must be given equal weight.
To further help the former, Drake oversaw a series of stand-up meetings throughout the week to keep the team engaged. Monday’s meeting discusses how the IT team plans to “win” that week, Tuesday’s meeting is called Takeover Tuesday, Wednesday’s focuses on health and development, and Friday provides an opportunity for team shout-outs and general updates.
Drake also wants to help engineers leave Ukraine when it goes to war with Russia, helping them and their families evacuate to Poland, paying for lodging and providing household goods, toys and jobs at local warehouses.
“For many of our employees in Ukraine, work has helped them live as normal a life as possible under these circumstances,” she said. “Ensuring they are very engaged and their voices heard every day is a really important part of supporting them.”
Financial strife has CIOs focused on efficiency
Much of the progress made in the last year has been laying the technological foundation for the next decade, but Drake admits the next 12 months could be a bumpy ride.
Market headwinds stem from rising raw material costs, cost of living pressure from customers, falling share prices (down 86% year-on-year) and a recent plunge in market valuation from £5bn to £600m.
In October, Japanese investor SoftBank announced the sale of its 6.4 per cent stake to company founder Matthew Molding and Qatari investors for £31m, and in May 2021 it will acquire a stake in the shopping group for £481m .
That uncertainty means Drake’s focus now is on efficiency.
“[My priority is] Moving on to all this efficiency stuff — ICE, composable computing, which means we can deliver more things faster. “
Drake is also spearheading THG’s “Matching Initiative,” looking at ways the group can improve customer service, operational efficiency and team development when normalcy returns.
She said THG is consolidating toolsets, retiring legacy technologies and migrating customers to the latest platforms, and ensuring the company gets the best “value for money” when working with vendors.
“We see this as a great opportunity to be ready for the fight when the world is looking good again.”