Rob Pritchard runs tech at soft drink giant Britvic, and is professor of applied IT at Birmingham City University
It’s rare for a CIO to also have an academic role, but Rob Pritchard is a professor at Birmingham City University while also being IT director at the iconic soft drinks firm Britvic plc.
Owner of the Robinson’s, J2O, Tango and R White’s brands, Britvic started in the 19th century as the British Vitamin Products company. It now also has the Pepsi brand in the UK, and a turnover of more than £1 billion. In his 24 years in the industry, Pritchard has built expertise in IT strategy and enterprise applications like SAP and Siebel, and will be sharing that with Birmingham students as professor of applied information technology and corporate strategy.
What has been your favourite project so far?
One of the smallest and most recent – an organic, viral, stealth deployment of Yammer that went from zero to a third of the company using it in about 6 months. A great example of an IT function providing tech leadership into a business and turning the whole delivery methodology on its head. The time to value was slashed, the implementation costs were minimal and it’s transforming the way some teams communicate, collaborate and celebrate.
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago I was working with Britvic, but they were my client back then, not my employer – I was working for Deloitte. I was heavily involved in Siebel implementations, usually in the European consumer goods sector. Siebel had a real lead in the CRM space and businesses were getting great results in contact centres, sales automation and promotions planning. I think the market is much tighter these days; SAP is hot on Siebel’s heels and niche players like Anaplan are trying to eat both their lunches.
Taking user experience seriously
What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
No ugly tech! Whatever we’re using; cloud, wearable, prosthetic, embedded – it will all have benefited from the tech industry taking UX (user experience) seriously. I think user experience is the game-changing mind-set for the industry. Great Tech will be either invisible to us or will lead us through use-cases in an entirely natural way – In ten years’ time, companies will focus 100 percent of ‘IT’ training on business process and business values, we’ll not need to train anyone on tech.
Who’s your tech hero?
Lots to choose from, but it’s got to be Jony Ive. He’s made an enormous contribution to design and arguably transformed our expectations of what good Tech looks and feels like. He summed it up beautifully at the iOS 7 launch, “I think
there is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity, in clarity, in efficiency …True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter and ornamentation; it’s about bringing order to complexity.”
Who’s your tech villain?
I’ve got no idea who designed the SAP R/3 user interface, but whoever thought that was a good way for ANYONE to interact with an enterprise system needs to seriously reconsider. That person’s my tech villain!
The amazing success of Unix
What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
Something old and something new. During my undergraduate studies and early career at HP I spent loads of time working with Unix; systems development, systems admin, network design. The elegance of the OS design and the eventual openness of the platform were revolutionary for an industry that was dominated at the time by proprietary tech giants. So my favourite tech is Unix. And the tech I use the most, well it’s still Unix but now it’s wrapped up in a sexy UI and sits inside my iPhone, iPad and Macbook – Truly amazing that a system developed by Kernigan, Ritchie (pictured) and Thompson in the late 60s is bigger today than it’s ever been.
What is your budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?
In truth, it’s a bit of both. I see continued focus on driving efficiency in the operating budgets – how can we run IT at the sharpest cost whilst still delivering a good service. I also see real opportunities for driving more value from Tech within the business, so budgets for projects could well continue to rise – getting the maximum value from the platforms we’re already invested in and bringing in new solutions where the value proposition is really compelling.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
I was privileged to recently spend a couple of days with Cancer Research UK on a leadership development programme. I was blown away by the depth of commitment that those within that organisation have to the fundraising and research that they support. It was a powerful example of what can be achieved when employees connect at a visceral level with the vision, aims and values of an organisation – a fantastic place full of fantastic people.
What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
I think attracting, retaining and developing great IT talent has got to be #1. The under-investment in IT skills in schools, colleges and at under graduate level in the past decade is about to hit the industry. And it’s going to happen at a time when tech change is at its most intense. UK PLC and the education sector need to help make sure that businesses have a strong supply of tech talent that’s got the right skills and experience for today’s workplace. Some Universities really get this and are investing in their enterprise links and industry advisory boards. I’ve been working with Birmingham City University who are strong in this area – they understand that working with industry means better student outcomes.
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
Yes, definitely Cloud … BUT preceded and underpinned by strong, clear policy on Information Security and Data Protection. I’m not convinced by the ‘Cloud is cheaper’ brigade, for me it’s more about reducing the time to value, speeding up innovation and enabling my
IT team to focus more fully on business outcomes (profit, revenue, cash, experience) rather than functional specification.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I’ve always loved Land Rovers, and I reckoned I could get one if I worked in Woodland management. That never really happened but I do now have a Land Rover (even older than me) and can often be found planting trees and chopping logs at home in Herefordshire.