Interview: Simon Post, chief technology officer, Carphone Warehouse

The retailer's IT chief talks to Angelica Mari about his extended role, outsourcing plans and the BestBuy integration

As Carphone Warehouse continues to expand in Europe under its partnership with US electronics retailer Best Buy, the firm's chief technology officer (CTO) Simon Post is widening his remit while orchestrating an IT integration effort and reassessing the company's offshoring strategy.

Since joining  in 2005, Post has steered a large IT transformation programme at Carphone, which included some crucial outsourcing arrangements - such as a multi-year infrastructure contract with IBM and an application development deal with Indian IT firm Patni - as well as other significant projects such as the demerger of Talk Talk.

According to Post, the technical element of his job is becoming increasingly less relevant when it comes to the challenges ahead, despite his successful track-record of the past few years in "sorting out IT".

"My role is purely around people leadership. Although I am technically competent, I don't use [my IT skills] very much. My remit has changed more in terms of expansion into non-IT areas than it has within technology," said Post.

"I now run supply chain and various other parts of the business, and am moving towards a more generic, operations and management type of role rather than an IT- specific one," he added.

"That's probably a reflection of the sorts of skills that the team has shown in transforming IT over the past two or three years around strategic direction, leadership, and communication in terms of where we were going, as well as leading the department through that change."

As additional business areas are inherited, Post will apply the same leadership exercise and strategic goals, while ensuring the objectives are communicated to the team and that professionals are placed in roles that match their expertise.

Outsourcing arrangements

About 80-90% of The Carphone Warehouse's IT is already delivered from India, in areas including testing, development and infrastructure. According to Post, there are proposals under way in IT to generate further efficiencies from third-party work, as well as supplier consolidation.

"We have done a lot of offshoring over the past few years. Depending on how much capex we are burning, this probably involves about 800 to 1,500 people at any one time" he said.

In addition to offshore teams, internally, Post adds that the firm needs capability to deliver complex challenges at a people level.

"Supplier management is a key part of what we have to do, as is the ability of leading through change: we have gone through a lot of transformation over the past two to three years, with the joint venture with Best Buy and the TalkTalk demerger. And IT has to support all of that."

Best Buy integration

Two years after the £1bn investment from Best Buy in Carphone, Post's team now has to work out how the details around the technology supporting both firms.

"Probably the biggest IT-related decision we have to make this year is around how long and when we will merge the two technology stacks that we have running the two different parts of the business," he said.

Most of the IT estate at Carphone runs on Uniface, with various billing engines sitting underneath, some off-the-shelf; some encoded in-house on C+.

A state-of- the-art Tibco architecture glues a lot of these systems together - according to Post, this makes it easier to migrate the applications if necessary.

Best Buy sits on a SAP-Oracle based platform, while Carphone's is about 70% legacy, so the firm is now considering whether the best decision is to bolt Carphone on to the Best Buy stack, or build an integration layer.

From a people perspective, the IT teams at both firms have been learning how to work together for some time and, according to Post, that has progressed "reasonably well".

"There has been a period of getting to know them and making sure our strategies are aligned. Whereas Carphone is slightly more entrepreneurial, Best Buy has a strong, quality-oriented process view of the world," said Post.

"You can see that by the way they approach their international business: they have a large SAP platform and they put each of their businesses onto that system, so they run consistently according to the same best practices," he said.

Looking forward

The looming integration will consume a significant chunk of the IT team's bandwidth, but the company is still evaluating the benefits that technologies such as cloud computing could bring.

"We are looking at whether there is real value in cloud computing; certainly in the infrastructure services space there is a lot of interesting stuff going on," said Post.

The business is also looking at enhancing its multichannel capability and considering moving its European businesses onto a software-as-a-service platform to allow more flexibility and faster time-to-market. This will be done in partnership with an offshore player.

According to the CTO, the highlight of his role so far has been building a team that has gone through a lot of change, and the fact that the colossal amount of IT work undertaken was not noticed by the rest of the business is a testament of success.

"We have actually delivered everything on time and on cost and all of this has been proven. It was quite difficult to do, but we've done it," said Post.

Under his extended remit, Post's focus will be to continue to "prioritise the right things" while driving the technology strategy "following what is right for the business, not the other way round."

"By most standards, we have done a pretty good job in IT here, and as we move to look after other areas of the business we have to ensure that we continue to deliver well in the area we are most famous for - it is an interesting balancing act."

Read more on IT outsourcing