CIO Spotlight: Ed Turner, Asendia UK

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? “I don’t believe in hand-holding and micro-managing. I want to cultivate a culture of self-starters who can get their job done without excessive supervision, and come up with solutions to problems on their own.”

Asendia UK

Name: Ed Turner

Company: Asendia UK

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: January 2012

Location: Hounslow, London

Ed Turner has over 22 years’ experience in e-commerce IT, having worked for companies such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco, B&Q, Currys, and Sony. He has managed multi-million-pound IT projects and implemented complex digital initiatives to align with the business strategy of multinationals. Turner manages Asendia UK’s IT team and has played an integral role in developing the global company’s IT strategy to help meet Asendia's ambitious growth targets. In more recent years, Turner has taken a keen interest in supply chain innovation, in particular automation, AI and robotics. He’s overseen Asendia’s deployment of the world's first 6-axis robotic over-labelling cell for e-commerce parcels. 

What was your first job? My first job was a Saturday milk round and a Sunday paper round, in the chilly north of England, aged about 14. Those early mornings introduced me to the very real world of work, and gave me a good understanding of the value of money. I enjoyed being out in the local community, and learnt that if you have time on your hands, there’s nothing better than to get out and earning.

After university my first career job was working for UPS supply chain solutions as a junior IT business analyst. This was an international role mainly covering EMEA facilities to implement operational parcel processing software.

I worked on one particular project that was quite pioneering at the time, embracing early thinking around reverse logistics. It involved the final mile carrier delivering and replacing hard-drives for Dell computers. The returned hard drive would be tracked within the reverse logistics network, for later re-use once repaired.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, the reason being I’m very interested in efficiencies and redesigned processes, and software makes this happen.

Every project I’ve worked on has focused on the drive for business efficiency – it’s as important now as it was 20 years ago. My real passion is designing process for operations and building in analytics that will future-proof the business. It’s endlessly challenging to design IT processes that are game-changing today, and will be scalable and adaptable for years to come. I’m also interested in ensuring that new software will be congruent with the overall business needs and strategic goals.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? Yes, I graduated at University in Newcastle with a BA (hons) 2:1 in Business Studies, specialising in supply chain technology. I’m PRINCE2 Practitioner qualified and have completed a number of Agile methodology courses, which have been invaluable in helping me with project management throughout my career.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My career path was very retail focused, with much of my experience gained working as a contract Business Analyst and Project Manager. Within retail, my experience spans the fashion, food and electronics sectors, each of which have unique challenges. It’s been exciting to witness the rapid evolution of retail, with e-commerce becoming such a significant sales channel. I worked for B&Q on an SAP retail ERP project; Tesco, in international supplier management; Sony on their new eCommerce website, store and call centre IT systems.

At DSGi I worked on an SAP retail ERP project; then at I implemented RedPrairie, a warehouse management solution. While at Marks & Spencer I worked on a total of 13 different international IT projects to simplify the international supply chain of clothing for M&S. I started as a contract senior project manager at wnDirect for a year, before becoming the CIO as the start-up company with a 1st year turnover of £52m. At wnDirect, I was the CIO for seven years until it was acquired by Asendia Group in 2019, which led to my current role.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Investing in innovative technology is at the heart of Asendia’s vision to make cross-border e-commerce and mail easy, reliable and energy efficient. Beyond using tech to improve operational efficiencies and the customer experience, we will also be harnessing IT to shore up security of data, for ourselves and our customers, and will be looking into the use of AI to streamline internal administrative processes, such as within the accounting division.

Implementation of robotics is the future for big efficiency improvements in logistics. We are currently implementing 6 robots that will over-label 7,200 parcels an hour, which will vastly speed up a very manual process that’s been in place for the past 9 years. The robots are coupled with an automated parcel sorter that will scan, weigh and sort the parcels to all global locations. 

Asendia UK is part of a global group of subsidiaries, so we are leveraging off local systems within these subsidiaries to drive efficiency on a global basis. For instance, our new digital Asendia Courier Library is a group-wide project across UK, USA, EU and APAC.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Security – cyber thieves have become such a big issue today across all sizes of companies. All businesses should have an IT security strategy in place, with quarterly reviews of the security protocols in place.

Automation – process automation, for supply chain but also processes and communication systems.

People – The pandemic has taught us the value of flexible working but it’s very important to get the balance right between home and the buzz of the office. At Asendia we work in teams cross-business, so being together is important. Mental health is a consideration too as we move beyond the Covid restrictions. CIOs need to keep in touch with how their teams are coping post-pandemic and work with the CEO to ensure everyone has the right IT tools, support and resilience for the next stage of the journey.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include?  Largely the CIO role does what it says on the tin. It’s about systems, data and processes – those three things are really key in all international businesses. What is vital is the CIO being available to stakeholders in the business, able to understand the everyday business challenges and act as the bridge to potential IT solutions. Therefore, I need to fully understand the commercial business and use my communication skills to explain the business strategy and convert these into viable projects which are delivered by the IT software development team.

A core CIO responsibility today that poses quite a challenge is attracting and retaining really good people. I pride myself of the strength of my team of 35 amazing IT professionals, and am pleased to say there is very little staff churn – people tend to stay for at least 5 years. We invest a lot of time and effort in securing people with the rights skills, and I feel that CIOs going ahead will have to play more of a role in finding and nurturing talent. For me, that will include helping my colleagues achieve a better work/life balance as I’ve discovered that working remotely is viable in some cases, and offering it can open up a larger talent pool on a global level.

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 my role I champion digital technology as the driving force for Asendia UK’s future prosperity and growth.

This is essential to keep pace with the fast-evolving retail supply chain, and we are committed to harnessing emerging technologies with the potential to shape the future of e-commerce and retailer engagement.

A big project we’re progressing this year provides a good example of a digital transformation that emphasises both revenue growth and operational efficiency. This is Asendia Connect which is the new digital portal for our retail and brand clients who want access to real-time data about the services we’re providing. It’s a self-serve customer portal giving retail customers access to tracking information, invoices, report, data on returns. Clients like and Boohoo will have access to their ‘control tower’ for all this information at their fingertips. Added value services like this encourage contract renewals to drive revenue, and support more efficient ways of working for both us and our clients.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We are not a consumer facing business with a traditional web offering – rather our customers are the retailers who use our services – so all our digital initiatives are being developed to support them, as well as internal efficiency processes as you’d expect for a supply chain operation with warehouses, fulfilment centres and shipping routes.

We are reaching a level of maturity when it comes to digital process, as data management and communications are becoming web-enabled. However, the nature of the warehouse picking and packing operations means manual elements remain, and we are introducing automation only where it offers real cost and service level benefit.

Our customer portal Asendia Connect, as it beds in, will provide the central control tower from which we can build out more KPIs. We already calculate ‘delivery on time’ rates which is a core KPI for the business.

The next step is to keep driving improvements with what Asendia Connect can offer. It’s a modular system so we can add new functionality as and when needed.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? The corporate culture at Asendia UK is probably less formal than your typical supply chain company.  Within the IT division, it’s friendly and there is a lot of flexibility in the way people work, which helps with retention and job satisfaction I believe. I like to think that colleagues here can progress quickly, as there’s a fairly flat hierarchy. The people who do well are those with real passion and confidence to take their own ideas forward.

I don’t believe in hand-holding and micro-managing. I want to cultivate a culture of self-starters who can get their job done without excessive supervision, and come up with solutions to problems on their own.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The most difficult to fill right now are the .NET developer roles. This is a global issue and even if thousands of people do have the Microsoft developer qualifications, only one or two will be excellent in the role. So, it’s an ongoing challenge.

Here in the UK, I would love to see more focus at GCSE level on business analysis and developer teaching, to prepare the next generation of business and IT employees for what will be needed. Everyone has a computer in the form of a smart phone in their hand, and the whole world is digital, yet there seems to be a complete lack of planning around preparing a pipeline of young people with any understanding of business analysis or developer skills.

What's the best career advice you ever received? A senior consultant once told me: “work as if you don’t have a line manager and make your boss look good.”

Without taking this literally, I do firmly believe the CIO must put everything into building the prosperity of the business, without needing to take up too much of the CEO’s time and energy, they have enough on their plate. Our job is to solve business problems with technology and show the company and the board that we have the best IT capabilities within the industry. 

‘Work smart, not hard’ is another maxim I’m fond of. It makes total sense to achieve the best you can, in the most time-efficient way.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I have a ‘number 2’ – Nick Parpotta our CTO - who I work closely with, and together we are building up the internal talent in line with business strategy. While training and motivation are key to managing the team and developing high performing staff, there is much to be said for empowering your team to resolve issues and provide solutions for themselves. Additionally, of course, it is important to recognise and reward successes. This is something our very switched-on HR division works closely with me to address. 

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Be proactive. When I was a business analyst I was always thinking ahead, and asking myself, what would the boss want? How could we do this better? If you can pre-empt problems, come up with timely solutions or have ideas that will deliver business benefits, then go for it. I think there’s room for a lot more individual proactivity – the entrepreneurial mindset - in businesses today. Don’t wait to be spoon-fed the work, get on and tackle it yourself.

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