CIO Spotlight: Gary Delooze, Nationwide BS

Do you have a succession plan? “Yes, in fact, we have options. It's really important to have this in place, even if just to mitigate risk…”

Nationwide BS

Name: Gary Delooze

Company: Nationwide BS

Job title: CIO and leader of Nationwide technology

Date started current role: December 2019

Location: London

Since 2019, Gary Delooze has been Nationwide’s Chief Information Officer. He leads the Society’s Technology Strategy, Architecture, Engineering, Change Delivery and Operations capabilities. He joined the Society as Chief Technology Officer in January 2018, following a year on secondment in that role.

What was your first job? My first 'proper’ job was a paper round in my local village.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I wanted to play basketball in the NBA, but I didn't have the talent for that, so working in IT was my next best option.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? My local grammar school in Rugby, followed by Salford University, where I gained a BSc. in Computer Science. 

At some point in the past, I was also a member of the British Computer Society and a TOGAF certified Enterprise Architect.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started a career in IT consulting with Andersen when I left university, working as both a software and infrastructure engineer and then as a technical architect, before moving through several firms as an IT architect, Enterprise Architect and Strategy Consultant. I then spent several years building and leading technology consulting teams in the Big Four consulting firms.

I've also stepped out of consulting a few times to work for Barclays, then HBoS and Lloyds (following the merger), and now Nationwide. Each time has been a fantastic learning experience.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? From a business perspective, our two biggest drivers are operational resilience and agility. In other words, the ability to provide unbroken 24x7 service for our members (customers), which is so important right now, and the ability to quickly respond to opportunities and challenges so we can create even more value for our members.

In a low-interest-rate environment with narrower margins, we also have to be super-efficient and keep control of costs. We are responding in a number of ways to this, from automation of business processes to adopting new approaches such as distributed agile delivery.

Underpinning all of these is simplification – the simpler our IT estate, the less there is to do wrong, the less there is to change, and it costs less to run. 

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our CEO, Joe Garner, has laid out what he needs us to do: reduce our change and running costs, increase the effectiveness of our IT controls, maintain and improve the availability of our IT services, and deliver innovative new digital platforms, underpinned by insights created from the data we hold.

The result of this will mean we can better support our members by ensuring that we are always available for them, offering more self-service through new digital services, and funding more competitive products through a reduced cost base.

We've partnered with Contino for the last 3 years to help us build our in-house engineering capability, which underpins this. They've helped us to drive forward Nationwide's cloud adoption, modern engineering practices such as DevOps and SRE.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The CIO role is traditionally not seen as a fully transformational role but rather more focused on delivering IT service and change in optimal ways.

But nothing stands still these days, and CIOs do have a key role to play in enterprise transformation, especially where an organisation is aiming to become an agile enterprise. IT should be leading the way in collaboration with other parts of the business, given our experience in this field.

In industries where technology is a driver of disruptive transformation, I believe the CIO should also be a key advisor to the ExCo and the Board, helping to shape the business strategy in order to exploit the opportunities technology can provide.

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? Yes, in partnership with our Director of Digital and our Member Mission Leaders, amongst others. It’s a hugely collaborative effort involving teams from across the Society.

I was recently asked to outline our approach to the transformation in Contino and TLA's Top 20 Digital Transformation Innovators: Europe 2021 report.

As a mutual society, we are 100% focused on the member experience and the value we can create for our members, as opposed to aggressive revenue growth or cost reduction targets. Of course, we have some of those targets too, but our primary goal is in delivering the experiences our members want and expect from us.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We are probably now in our third generation of this capability, and yes, we drive value measurement and improvements through OKRs (Outcomes and Key Results).

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? We have a very distinct Nationwide culture, which runs right through our Society and our people. We are ambitious but humble, collaborative and collegiate, and we care – about our members, our colleagues and our partners. We are open and increasingly non-hierarchical, believing in the power of "accountable freedom", which means supporting teams and individuals to do things differently where they believe they can do better.

As the Contino and TLA report highlighted, the right culture is critical to a successful digital transformation.

We foster this culture from the top and enable our people to champion it across our business. Letting teams explore new ways of working creates more value than simply telling them exactly what to do. It's important to bring people from all levels and parts of the organisation into our leadership meetings and create a psychologically safe environment in which they can give us candid feedback on how we are doing. And to celebrate success whenever we see it, as success breeds success.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Many. There is a huge competition and, therefore, an opportunity at Nationwide for talented software engineers, cloud platform engineers, site reliability engineers, DevSecOps engineers, test automation engineers, Linux sysadmins and SMEs, scrum masters, agile coaches and more.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Two comments stick out – "do what you love, and it won't feel like work", and "if you want a new role, act as if you already have it". The latter is about enabling senior leaders to see you in a role in order for them to believe you will be successful in it.

But in terms of career advice, a mentor told me that the best advisors are those that have done the job, so moving between consulting and industry a few times has been one of the best things I've done.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, in fact, we have options. It's really important to have this in place, even if just to mitigate risk, but in terms of training, doing a CIO role is as good as it gets, and we have a number of fantastic "Mission CIOs" in my team.

But it's also important to help everyone train and develop, regardless of their role and experience, especially if we are going to be a constantly learning and evolving organisation. We are all learning throughout our lifetime, so helping our people to make the time available and helping them to access learning opportunities are both very important.

We are steadily increasing our investment in this area and in certification, as we see this as important support and recognition for our people. The challenge for us is that we then make our people more valuable in the market, and they could leave. But so far, most have stuck with us, and it has therefore paid off.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Build a wide range of skills – technical, commercial, strategic, and softer skills such as influencing and effective communication – as having specific technical skills will take you only so far, but a broad range of skills will enable you to go much further.!

What has been your greatest career achievement? There have been quite a few things I've been proud of, from delivering some really complex solutions to building great teams, but what we're doing at Nationwide at the moment is probably one of the greatest challenges and easily the most comprehensive transformation I've ever led. And I’m really proud to achieve recognition for this, on behalf of the team, from Contino and Tech London Advocates.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Working in consulting was great; it gave me a massive amount of experience, and I learned so much from this, but I probably spent too much time as a consultant. With hindsight, I'd perhaps have spent more time in the corporate world, which I've really enjoyed and has presented very different challenges.

What are you reading now? Sooner, Safer, Happier by Jonathan Smart. It's a great book that brings together a lot of practical expertise on how to (and how not to) transform the way work is done. We're following many of the learnings from this at Nationwide.

Most people don't know that I… am a part of the family that imported some of the worst cars ever to grace the roads of the UK, including Ladas, FSOs and Protons. I'm so sorry!

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with friends and family, renovate houses, run, cycle, go to the gym and watch movies. But not all at the same time.

Ask me to do anything but… Webcasts! I love talking to a room full of people and the energy that comes from this, but I really don't like talking into a camera without being able to see people's faces or get a sense of how the message is being received. This last year has been tough in this respect, as we've used more and more webcasts in order to stay connected to our colleagues. And they seem to like them too. But you have to have some perspective – I'm in a really fortunate position doing a role that I love, and many people have far bigger issues right now. So, more webcasts it is.