Ian Woosey interview: laying a smooth path for IT

Ian Woosey is group IT director of the 675-store floor-covering chain Carpetright ,...

Ian Woosey is group IT director of the 675-store floor-covering chain Carpetright, where he has effectively deployed his influencing skills.

When he joined in April 2002, the company, which is now part of the FTSE 250, had around 350 stores in the UK and Ireland.

Woosey's central remit from the board was to provide the IT infrastructure to enable the business to grow.

More than a few promising IT careers have imploded at that point, as big plans for IT-enabled expansion have hit the buffers for various reasons.

But not Woosey's. His grand plan to provide new central and store systems has worked well, with the store nearing the end of a lengthy roll-out. Much of his success is down to involving all parts of the company in IT decisions that affect how they work.

So where do you start if you want to become a CIO with the inter-personal skills that win the support of your colleagues for far-reaching and sometimes risky changes? For Woosey, it began when he left sixth form in Liverpool and took a job as a management trainee at the Birkenhead store of department store group James Beattie.

There was no hint of a high-flying IT career on the horizon. He rattled through the company's 18-month management training course in 13 months - and then became bored in a company where advancement often seemed to rely on Buggin's turn.

"It was pretty obvious that my progression was going to be fairly slow," he recalls. "You had to wait for somebody to retire or leave before vacancies arose. I figured that was not really for me."

With still no sign of IT, he applied for the management trainee programme at J Sainsbury's. In the late 1980s, Sainsbury's reigned supreme over the supermarket scene. So gaining a place on the programme after a gruelling day-long selection session in Southport was no mean achievement.

Woosey moved south to Hertfordshire and discovered how to become part of the team running the supermarket. And this is where Woosey came across the potential of IT.

"It was the beginning of the 1990s and the stores were being converted from sticky price labels to barcode scanning at checkouts," he says.

"After about 15 months of management training, I asked if I could be seconded to the team."

Woosey gained experience of implementing what was a new and challenging technology. He further broadened his IT experience by working on systems such as time and attendance and sales-based reordering.

After a couple of years, he became a business analyst working closely with the IT function. He discovered how business needs could be converted into the IT systems that were required to meet them.

"I thought the variety of experience in this job would be valuable," he says. "I had already figured out that store management probably was not for me."

Less than two years later, at the age of 26, he became one of the youngest managers to be promoted to the job of deputy retail operations manager for the supermarket business.

It was a pivotal moment in Woosey's career. "I wanted to prove that I could do it," he says. "One of the great things about the role was that I had to deal with many different parts of the company and had a lot of exposure to board directors. Normally, at that age, you would not get that in a company of Sainsbury's size. I was able to learn how big companies worked and the politics involved."

The position helped Woosey to develop his ideas about winning friends and influencing people. He has developed two key views which rising IT professionals should take on board. First, it is often the people at the grassroots of an organisation who understand how things work, but "they just have not got the influence or the access to get ideas through".

Second, if you are a middle manager you need to be subtle when influencing senior colleagues, including board directors.

"I do not think you necessarily influence people by standing up with a Powerpoint presentation and expecting everyone to nod and agree. You need to build up trust over time, so you can have a quiet word with the people who matter," he says.

Woosey left Sainsbury's after 10 years, a little too long he speculates. He spent four years working for two management and IT consultancies. In the first, he brought specialist retail experience to Logica Team 121, which was rolling out its retail version of SAP.

He stepped up a gear by moving to the Itim Group where he worked on some major change management projects. One of these was at the off-licence chain Threshers, which had acquired rival Victoria Wine. Woosey became the business programme manager on a £4m-project to design and implement a new stock accounting and supply chain management system for the enlarged company.

He learnt the importance of involving people from all parts of a company in an IT project that impacts on the way they are going to work.

"I learnt a lot about how to put a project team together and how to run it," he says. "I used a lot of the experience I had gained from that project when I moved to Carpetright."

So why was Woosey's "win friends and influence people" approach a success at Carpetright? He started by working with people in all parts of the company to design the end-to-end processes which the new IT systems would support. Then he gave people in the business a key role in helping to define the new system requirements.

When it comes to consulting the rest of the business on IT changes, many CIOs leave it at that.

But when Carpetright set about choosing its new store system, Woosey created a set of baseline criteria used to choose the suppliers on the short-list. He invited each firm on the short-list to present to a panel consisting of people from across the company, including some who worked in the stores.

"Everyone had equal voting rights," Woosey explains. "It was not just a question of the senior people deciding which application to choose."

Over the years, Woosey has bolstered his management knowledge by going on targeted training courses. Significantly, he has not restricted these to IT skills. They include skills in presentations, teamwork, negotiating and coaching as well as middle and senior management.

"I think the middle and senior management courses are useful for anybody early in their career. They do not necessarily give you all the answers, but they give you a start."

He adds: "I think a good CIO should be a really good manager. You need a reasonably broad background to do that".

Ian Woosey's role

Ian Woosey heads an IT department with an inhouse staff of 40 and many outsourced systems development and support activities.

He reports formally to Neil Page, Carpetright's group finance director. In reality, he reports regularly to each of the executive directors on IT matters affecting their areas of responsibility.

In the UK, Woosey has organised the IT function into teams that handle (1) project management, including project managers and business analysts (2) store systems, which handle the roll-out of new systems to stores (3) operations, responsible for the day-to-day running of systems and (4) development and network technology, responsible for future technology developments.

A small technology team split between bases in the Netherlands and Belgium also reports to Woosey and supports the company's stores in continental Europe

CV: Ian Woosey

1986: Joined department store chain James Beattie as a management trainee.

1988: Moved to J Sainsbury's and joined its management trainee programme. Held a variety of roles in the company including departmental management. Early exposure to IT when he joined a team rolling out barcode checkouts to supermarkets.

1994: Promoted to deputy retail operations manager for the J Sainsbury's supermarket business. He was one of the youngest to ever hold such a senior post in the company.

1998: Recruited as senior consultant by Logica Team 121, launching the firm's SAP retail systems product.

2000: Moved to consultancy firm, the Itim Group, as a principal consultant and programme manager working on IT and change management projects.

2002: Joined Carpetright to head up IT. Has grown role in line with the growth of the company. He is now group IT director.

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