CIO Spotlight: Antoine Boatwright, Go Instore

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? “Not much. Failure is part of the learning process.”

Go Instore

Name: Antoine Boatwright

Company: Go Instore

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: May 2020

Location: London, United Kingdom

Antoine Boatwright is CIO of Go Instore, a solution technology connecting instore product experts with consumers via live video. He has close to 3 decades of experience in IT roles globally and across a number of industries ranging from Space to Business Travel. Before joining Go Instore, Boatwright was CIO of Hillgate Travel which was acquired in 2018 and then SVP of Innovation in Reed & Mackay. He has also worked for Logica, Oracle and DELL in various capacities from development through to sales and marketing

What was your first job? My first job was as a developer in the Space Industry. I worked on a Rocket Tracking system for the French National Space agency (CNES). I will always be grateful to my then employer, and the team, for having believed in such a young graduate and given me a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, but not in the more conventional sense of having worked in an end-user IT department or in staying on the technical side of the house the whole time. IT is a very broad domain and enables almost every industry. The variety of career paths and experiences is almost infinite. I have been lucky to do many of them from development, to sales and marketing while taking on senior leadership positions.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a BSc in Maths, Stats and Computing, an MSc in Administration, Management and Design of Information systems from LSE and an MBA in Strategy from Reading University.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. After University, I went to do my National Service which laid, in my opinion, the foundations of discipline and a belief that when you think you are at the end of your abilities, there is actually still a long way to go. 

Then I joined Logica Space as a developer on a rocket launching system project for the French National Space Agency (CNES). That is where I got my introduction to the safety critical software development and my first exposure to Oracle. This too was a very formative time and 30 years on we all had a virtual reunion on LinkedIn to talk about how transformative that project was for the space industry and us as individuals. Some of those individuals are going on now to build out the UK’s own launching capabilities. 

From there, I joined Oracle in its rapidly growing Consultancy division. I took full advantage of this and travelled the world working across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. I quickly progressed from consultant, to senior consultant, to practice manager and then onto consultancy sales. The latter coincided with going back to university to do my MBA following the advice and support of my VP of Sales. I worked across many different industries and that showed me how truly transferable IT skills are. 

After a three-year career in consultancy sales, I joined the Service Product Marketing team at DELL where I worked in Product Management and Marketing operations for 11 years.

I was then ready to move from the supplier side, to the end user side, as CTO, and then CIO, of Hillgate Travel, helping to grow an already amazing company. It was then sold to Private Equity buyers in 2018 and I subsequently worked for the acquirer with a focus on Integration and Migration activities.

Most recently, I joined Go Instore as CIO. It did not take me long to decide to join the Go Instore team as the value proposition was clear and the founders were committed and inspirational. 

Some may see this as a non-conventional evolution, but I think it has prepared me well for the needs of today’s CIO – to be both technically and commercially astute. At board level, it is also important to be able to empathise with your fellow board members, and the best way to do that is to have walked a mile in their shoes. Having had a P&L, worked in sales and spent a number of years in marketing, it is much easier to ensure that it does not become “fortress IT” against the rest of the company. 

The only other thing I’d like to say about my career path, is that along the whole trajectory, there have been people who have helped, encouraged, taught and guided me. There are too many to mention in fact. The key take-away is for me is to “look, listen and learn.” Be humble most of the time, and decisive when it counts.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? We are a young company with no legacy. We are experiencing superlative growth. So, in the coming months it is about more of the same but on an ever-increasing scale.  

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? In four words: security, scalability, availability and innovation. Below those hang a multitude of initiatives, options and opportunities to continue to lead and define our segment. If I had to add one last word, it would be execution. Plans are great but delivering is the only thing that counts. We are in a fast evolving and increasingly competitive space. Getting it right is critical. There are no second chances really.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I am not sure there is a “conventional CIO” role anymore. There is the right person, for the right time and in the right culture. What I mean by this, is that there is a very large breadth of CIOs, CTOs and CDOs and the reality in the field as to what they do seems to bleed between these definitions. For example, the CIO of a start-up will typically need to be possibly more of a CTO with some notions of IT.

The CIO of a scale-up will have to be a broad technology leader with experience of inputting processes and a possible bias towards information security. The CIO of a large corporation will tend to be the leader of large infrastructure and business application support organisations. If you are looking to build to sell, then you may want a CIO with PE or VC experience. As a board member it is essential also that chemistry is there. The CIO will fit the challenge and the responsibilities will naturally fall under that. The only difference I would say these days in terms of responsibilities is that great CIOs, will not be afraid to go out and sell.

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? Go Instore is a six-year-old company. Our transformation is not one of architecture or platform but more one of operational maturity. We are lucky to have both a brilliant CTO and VP of Product who resisted the temptations of expediency, to build out from the start a scalable, flexible architecture that was cloud first. As a CIO who joined later, it is a privilege to be able to be able to pick something up and run with it.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We have some, but given the state of our rapid evolution, this is something we are building out further.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Go Instore is a very dynamic place with people from various professional, personal and cultural backgrounds. As such those who thrive at Go Instore are respectful, open-minded, challenging, self-sufficient and exceptionally talented people. We have a Talent Manager who is working on formalising and capturing the culture but much of it is about hiring the right people and the rest is chemistry.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate being) the most difficult to fill? The pandemic has shown that we no longer need to limit our recruitment to a specific geographical location. Our remote working environment means we can recruit anywhere in the UK, which has opened a huge talent pool that we would not have considered previously. As such, skills are not so much the limiting factor. The greater limitation is finding the type of people that will enhance and thrive in our working culture.

What's the best career advice you ever received? It is hard to pick just one as I have received a great amount of advice over the years. But if I had to pick one that stood out, it would be ‘follow the money.’ At the time, my VP of Sales was explaining that all organisations need revenue to be able to thrive – like fuel to an engine. Most other functions are funded by virtue of this revenue. This is what drove me to take on an MBA and work in sales. This advice has helped me to be more empathetic towards the sales teams and to also be happy to be an active part of the sales cycle.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I have been with Go Instore for six months and we are still in our growth phase, so it is just a little too early to discuss, but I am always keeping an eye out for that person, and similarly for all my leads.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders?

  • Go broad – It is important to have a lot of varied experience to be able to make better business decisions
  • Be patient – Careers are sometimes like playing golf, you may need to plateau for a little before your next progression
  • Enjoy the journey – I often meet people who are so worried about getting somewhere or reaching some objective they forget to enjoy the here and now
  • Ask how you can make others successful – If you think about how you can make others successful, your own success will follow

What has been your greatest career achievement? I have a made many friendships I still have today. People who I have helped, and who have in return helped me.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Not much. Failure is part of the learning process. So, if there was anything to do differently it would be to worry less and enjoy more. (Even during the hard times!)

What are you reading now? I am at a time in my life where I no longer read management or self-help books. I have accumulated enough life experience to be able to dip into that resource as and when I need to. So, I tend to just keep up with technology news and learn from the many MOOCs available. I also enjoy listening to podcasts on drama, documentaries, science and current affairs.

Most people don't know that I… am an identical twin.

In my spare time, I like to… I love to travel and be with my family – ideally both together. After many years of being away from family, I enjoy spending as much time with them as possible. They ground me and keep me real. They are also my source of courage, inspiration and motivation when I need it.

Ask me to do anything but… anything with extreme heights.