IT LIFE: Richard Gifford, Wincanton CIO

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Wincanton CIO Richard Gifford discusses how Office 365 and IoT have changed logistics and his love of cycling

What is your role and who do you work for?  

I am the Group CIO at Wincanton, the largest British logistics company. 

How long have you been in IT? 

I’ve been working in IT for over 20 years, although it wasn’t where I started out.  Marketing was my calling after graduation, but I always leaned towards the analytical side and this took me to technology roles at Whitbread, Memec (semi-conductors), the NHS and more recently in construction.  I joined Wincanton in April 2017. 

What is your most interesting project to date? 

In recent years, I ran a project to digitise the supply chain processes within a large construction firm, from pilot through to roll-out.  It encompassed planning, estimating, cost management and project controls. It made processes more efficient by linking planning and construction from end to end which supports the ambition to fulfil projects on time and to budget. 

The supply chain is a result of linear thinking, as the name suggests. For decades the logistics chain has been a relay race – suppliers pass the baton to manufacturers who pass it to logistics companies who pass it to the end customer. The reality in a world of connected data, is that it actually looks more like a network than a chain. A fundamental shift from a linear way of thinking to a networked and systems-led way of working, is becoming the norm.  

What is your biggest challenge at the moment? 

A new digital environment is transforming logistics. The evidence is everywhere. There is huge potential for capitalising on this change and businesses like ours, with experience and reach, have our own strengths to champion and exploit. Technology will play a key part in enabling us to transform, adapt and become an even more compelling business partner.  The challenge for us is to respond to innovation and change, but with an eye on the fundamentals. We need to embrace and understand what is near and next, while continuing to deliver for our customers, every day. 

 What technology were you working with ten years ago?  

Technology we were using a decade ago is almost unrecognisable in today’s environment.   One that sticks out in my mind is PICK – as an operating system and programming language for an in house developed ERP system.  

What is your favourite technology of all time? 

 It has to be the Office 365 suite, which is constantly evolving. It gives us huge capabilities, drives productivity, provides anytime, anywhere access as well as seamlessly integrating with the tools we already have, which is key to every aspect of our business. 

How will the Internet of Things affect your organisation? 

The Internet of Things is having a profound impact on the supply chain as we know it. It gives us the opportunity to digitise the entire supply chain for our clients; very soon, all devices and products will be able to identify themselves, and their surroundings, and transmit that to the handlers. 

As a pioneering logistics firm, our ambition is to use the operational benefits to gain tangible value for our clients, helping them to improve quality of customer service, enforce laws and regulations and reduce liability cost. 

What smartphone do you use? 

An iPhone 6 

What three apps could you not live without? 

Netflix, Today’s Plan (for cycling), BBC news and the 4th of 3 WhatsApp! 

What new technology are you most excited for a) your business and b) yourself? 

a)For business, it’s Blockchain.  The benefits for business are many and include reduced time (for finding information, settling disputes and verifying transactions), decreased costs (for overheads and intermediaries) and alleviated risk (of collusion, tampering and fraud). 

This technology has the potential to provide a new and immutable level of traceability and enable frictionless transactions like we have not seen before. 

b)Personally, the next generation iPhone.

If you weren’t doing the job you do now, what would you be doing? 

A professional cyclist – dreaming of sporting the yellow jersey, leading the break up Mont Ventoux!