CIO Spotlight: Julia Aymonier, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? "Technical skills are in high demand in Switzerland."

Name: Julia Aymonier

Company: Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne

Job title: Chief Digital Officer (since 1st May 2019, previously CIO)

Date started current role: May 2019 (CIO as of Feb 2016)

Location: Lausanne, Switzerland

Swiss and British national, Julia Aymonier specialised in IT for the banking, finance and trading industries working for companies such as JP Morgan. After more than 25 years in these industries, Aymonier chose to change direction and bring her wealth of experience in IT to the Hospice Général, responsible for social welfare and immigration in the canton of Geneva. She joined Ecole hotelière de Lausanne in June 2015 and became the first female member of the Executive Committee.

What was your first job? My first job was as a software engineer for Hewlett Packard Limited, in their R&D Lab in Crowthorne in the UK. I was involved in writing a new content management system for HP's own operating system on the HP3000. The HP Way and its management by objectives has been a guide for me throughout my career. 

Did you always want to work in IT? I loved Maths and languages at school, but when I started studying them at University, I liked them a lot less. So, I looked for a subject which was like maths at Glasgow University and came across Computer Science. I struggled for the first year and thought I would never succeed. However, I buckled down in the University's reading room and that's when something clicked. I couldn't understand why I didn't see the logic before. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a BSc (Hons) in Computer Science from Glasgow University /University of South Wales. I have a certification from MIT Sloan for Artificial Intelligence, Implications for Business Strategy, one from Stanford for the Executive program for Women Leaders, as well as Innovative Technology Leader from Stanford. I also have a certification in ITIL Foundation. 

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Once I left HP I spent 90% of my career either working for banks or trading rooms or for companies who wrote software for them. I worked in a team who created the first touchscreen Forex trading application for AMEX Bank for example. I moved from development to project management for software projects in the UK before coming to Geneva in 1993 to work for J.P. Morgan (Suisse) S.A. on a new private banking system.

I decided to leave banking and finance at the end of 2012 to do something more socially impactful with what I had learned during my career and I joined Hospice Général in Geneva who deal with all the social welfare and immigration for the canton of Geneva. Two years later I was contacted by a headhunter for a job where they wanted a female CIO - which is extremely rare in Switzerland - and a month later I signed a contract with Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne.

In May of this year Michel Rochat, the CEO of EHL asked me to take on the position of Chief Digital Officer to concentrate on the digital transformation of the group, leaving the day-to-day operational part to the shared services operation.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? As my mandate is now digitalisation, we will be working on continuing the development of our digital co-worker, IPsoft's Amelia, who is an AI-empowered virtual assistant. We will also be looking at RPA (robotic process automation), facial and image recognition as well as predictive analysis using machine learning. The continuation of VR in the classrooms will see us looking to produce more courses using this technology as well as producing learning materials using AR and MR (augmented and mixed reality).

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? EHL is opening a campus in Singapore in the near future. The role of my team and the CEO's priority is that we provide the most high-tech teaching facilities in Switzerland and Singapore by using innovative and cutting-edge technologies, while enhancing business efficiency using digital transformation.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? There is no longer the role of CIO at EHL. Operational IT is carried out by Shared Services and digital transformation by my new team.

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? As Chief Digital Officer I am leading a digital transformation at EHL. This transformation targets both customer experience and operational efficiency. We can balance the two because they are intrinsically linked in our industry. Creating more digital courses using latest technologies like VR, AR, MR, flipped classrooms, e-Portfolios etc. allows us to teach more students at the same time and gives them access to the latest advances in education including gamification and blended learning to name a few. Other projects are assessed on their benefits to the group and their coherence with our differentiating strategy and are prioritised and scheduled accordingly.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? The post of Chief Digital Officer was only created on the 1st May this year and we are currently working on our KPIs.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? EHL's culture is based on employee empowerment, teamwork, innovation and open space working environments. EHL's values have recently been redefined by internal community. The values which were identified are; Excellence, Family, Respect, Learning and Innovation. It carries out surveys of its staff using Great Place to Work once a year and follows up with workshops to tackle issues identified in these surveys. EHL is also Bilan's (leading Swiss business media) employer of the year 2019 for academic institutions in Switzerland.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Technical skills are in high demand in Switzerland, so it is difficult to find this type of role and even more so at EHL as we have many types of companies and thus technologies under the same roof; university, hotel, restaurant, event management, consultancy, innovation hub and the standard administration functions. This makes our unique position all the more challenging and fulfilling.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. As I have just moved to my new role I do not have a succession plan yet.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? When I began in IT it was possible to have an in-depth understanding of the technology from hardware and software to development. Today this is not possible, so it is incredibly important to educate yourself to keep ahead of the game so that you have enough knowledge to be able to challenge your respective teams and talk intelligently on all subjects.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Having the privilege to work with and learn from so many talented people during my career.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Nothing. I am satisfied with my career and the choices I made. I would have liked to set up my own company but family requirements meant that it was too much of a risk. I don't regret having put my children first.

What are you reading now? Becoming - Michelle Obama.

Most people don't know that I… used to sing with a jazz group.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend my time gardening, walking my dogs and being out in the countryside.

Ask me to do anything but… Eat snails or oysters! But I like frogs' legs!