An interview with John Ingham, Connect Childcare CIO
Our Chief Information Officer (CIO), John Ingham, recently took part in IDG Connect’s ‘CIO Spotlight’ series.
Here, he looks back at his career history in IT, talks about his current role and offers key advice for aspiring IT leaders. If you missed the original article, you can catch up below…
- What was your first job?
My first non-IT-related job was in my student days when I was a part-time skiing instructor. Then, my first IT role was working in the tech support department for a software company that wrote Management Information Systems (MIS) for the print industry.
- Did you always want to work in IT?
No, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was younger. I just knew that I liked solving problems and working with people, so taking the tech route seemed like a great fit.
- What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they?
I graduated from University of Sheffield with a degree in Computer Science, before completing an Executive MBA at Bradford University. In and among this, I’ve also achieved additional industry-related qualifications such as ITIL Foundation, PRINCE2 Practitioner, Managing Successful Programmes practitioner, COBIT, plus other qualifications in IT security, governance and GDPR.
- Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss.
After my stint as a skiing instructor during university, I worked for a management consultancy – implementing the Oracle retail system for retailers around the world. Once the travelling got too much, I worked with a friend importing flatpack furniture and helped create a spare parts business for large UK retailers. After working in IT positions at JD Sports and Morrisons, I then switched industries – but not profession – to manufacturing, when I became IT director at Leyland Trucks.
- What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year?
We’re investing lots into our new SaaS product and platform. We’re also involved in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Alliance Manchester Business School – helping us to make better use of our data and commercialise it.
- What are the CEO’s top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT?
Connect Childcare is a little unusual in that our product is built by IT rather than IT being solely a supporting function.
We have five key initiatives within our product set, and my role is to ensure that we have the correct technical platform and development capability to make all of these happen.
- Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include?
That depends on the type and size of company someone is working for. Connect Childcare is an SME and we don’t have highly defined roles and responsibilities. I enjoy the fact that each member of our senior leadership team is involved in all aspects of the organisation. Also, the knowledge I gained from my MBA studies has also made me more aware of the business side of things, not just IT – and I think this is a crucial part of having a well-integrated CIO role.
- Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two?
We’re developing our products to move from a traditional hosted application and integrated web apps to our new SaaS-based product, over the next few years. This has meant getting the blend right between operational efficiency, scalability and robustness of the platform, while ensuring we have the correct features in the product and an attractive user experience to grow our customer base.
My role is to ensure that my teams are developing the platform and processes ‘ahead of time’, in order to keep on top of technical debt while also maintaining a competitive edge.
- Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT?
This isn’t really applicable to Connect Childcare. The output of our business product-wise is based on what the IT team creates. We do, however, measure several metrics regarding our agile development process – with velocity being the key to success.
- What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it?
I believe it’s all about making people feel valued. As a business, we’ve spent a great deal of time defining our culture and values over the past 12 months. That’s because as the firm has grown, it’s been important to ensure we maintain the same core beliefs we’ve always had, as new recruits join the team. To help keep a company vision that’s shared by all employees, we have run various workshops where we highlight what’s great about the organisation and what needs improving.
In addition, other company perks such as free fruit, a complimentary monthly staff lunch and regular charity days help to involve all colleagues and keep team morale boosted.
- What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill?
Due to being in a highly competitive market, it’s always a challenge to find skilled developers with relevant experience. However, once applicants have registered their interest, it’s easy to share the advantages of working for Connect Childcare, as developers get to see their work come to life with every release – we give a lot of responsibility to our devs early on.
It’s not all about the technical skills though, finding recruits with the right positive mindset is vital – it’s only when we have this, and the practical aptitude, that we’ve found the right fit.
- What’s the best career advice you ever received?
One of my mentors taught me to not worry as much about single deadlines and take care of the people in your team. Projects come and go but employees are there for the long term. Also, it’s important to recruit people who complement your strengths and weaknesses, to keep the team balanced.
Finally, I always try to treat work as a game – learn skills to help you play it better, understand the rules and find ways of using them to be more successful. If someone’s having a bad day, they should think that they’ve just been dealt a bad hand and tomorrow is another day.
- Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff.
Yes, for most of our roles we have a succession plan for promoting from within. Due to the current competitiveness in the job market, we’ve developed a lot of our own staff over the years – from apprentices to senior developers.
However, the challenge isn’t particularly giving people technical capabilities, it is training them to further enhance the softer skills. The jump from a highly capable practical role to a team leader or management position needs a completely different set of traits that are often not taught – such as diplomacy, prioritisation, mentoring and setting objectives. Coaching staff in these areas is vital, so they can progress without feeling overwhelmed.
- What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders?
It’s important to be a people-person. IT leaders need to possess the interpersonal skills, as well as excel in the technical department. They should focus on building a successful team and the work will get done as a natural by-product, without feeling like an uphill struggle.
- What has been your greatest career achievement?
At Connect Childcare, it has to be helping the company grow over the past three years.
We’ve implemented more robust and efficient processes, recruited some great new people and given existing staff the support they needed to flourish. The ethos of the business hasn’t changed but the maturity of how we work has really moved on. Nothing highlighted this more than our move to a new office last year.
We gutted an entire office and built a cool new space from scratch. All staff were involved in the move. We shut down the old office on Friday and began work in the new one on Monday, with no issues. It was a fantastic example of teamwork and the company spirit to make everything come together so successfully.
People-wise, the thing I got most satisfaction from was establishing the ‘middleware team’ at Morrisons. We went from nine contractors to growing 12 highly capable permanent staff. For me, success is seeing those people progress in their careers and taking on new exciting challenges.
- Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently?
Not a lot, really. I would maybe have taken more business risks when I didn’t have family and financial commitments, but nothing other than that.
- What are you reading now?
I have to admit that reading books isn’t the way I learn or like to relax. I tend to read articles, listen to podcasts or watch videos. Currently, I’m in the middle of a data science and machine learning bootcamp on Udemy.
- Most people don’t know that I…
Used to be a skiing instructor.
- In my spare time, I like to…
When I’m not busy with my three kids, I like to spend time skiing, mountain and road biking. I’ve long been an avid user of the Zwift virtual cycling platform too, so you’ll often find me doing that.
Aside from sport, I enjoy practical stuff too – especially home renovations. My wife and I have just finished refurbishing a rental house and are starting on our own “chic 1980s” residence.
Ask me to do anything but…
Nothing which involves heights – I’m what you’d call acrophobic! Also, I’m known for my preciseness when it come
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