CIO Spotlight: Jean-Philippe Avelange, Expereo

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “For me to be an IT leader you need to know your content… if you don’t know what you are talking about, then no one will believe what you are saying, so being firmly in the content is key.”

Headshot of Jean-Philippe Avelange, CIO at Expereo

Name: Jean-Philippe Avelange

Company: Expereo

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: March 2017

Location: Amsterdam

Jean-Philippe Avelange has been Chief Information Officer at Expereo since 2017, following an IT Telecoms career in Cloud Computing, Internet, Telecom or E-Commerce industries, which has included time within global consultancies and as a founder and Entrepreneur. He started with Capgemini Telecom and Media in 2000 before co-founding InovenAltenor, a consulting firm with a focus on bridging the gap between business and technologies. Building the company from five co-founders to 40 consultants in 2010, he then became an independent consultant advising businesses on cloud solutions, digital transformation and agile methodologies. Avelange is vastly experienced in helping customers deal with complex information systems architecture across multiple technologies. During his spare time, he enjoys kitesurfing and continues to develop his coding skills.

What was your first job? If we take it back to the beginning, I once worked at a clinic where my father used to practice as a paediatrician, and by the time I was 14 I was already helping the clinic with its IT setup! Though I would consider my first official job to be at Capgemini. After completing my education, I did an internship at Capgemini for six months and I was lucky enough to work there for a further five years as an IT consultant.

Did you always want to work in IT? Honestly, no. But from a very young age I have always been drawn towards technology, I used to spend hours coding and playing with computers and it has always been my passion. It was only when I started to get a bit older that I realised you could actually make a living out of them. Even at engineering school, I didn’t specifically study computer science or IT, but also about fluid mechanics, quantum physics and other topics; it was only towards the end of my studying that I started to specialise in telecommunications.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I had a very traditional French education. I did my Baccalaureate and integrated engineering school right after where I studied for five years and obtained a classic engineering diploma (ESSTIN). During this time, I was able to take part in the Erasmus scheme which allowed me to study for a year at the Vienna Technische Universität.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so discuss. I took a very direct route to where I am today. I did my standard French Baccalaureate before obtaining my engineering diploma. It was after this that I got my internship at Capgemini for six months and then my consultancy role for a further five years. When my time with Capgemini came to an end, I co-created my own consultancy company, InovenAltenor, with a few former colleagues. After working here for a further five years, I relocated permanently to the Netherlands where I worked freelance, and then in 2017 I joined Expereo as the CIO.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investment in your organisation in the coming year? We say that Expereo is the intelligent internet platform connecting people, places and things everywhere by managing internet performances better than anyone else. We are therefore heavily focused on driving digital transformation throughout the entire company to ensure the platform is working at its best capacity, and ultimately to ensure we are providing the best service to our customers. There is also a big focus on driving standardisation and automation within our platforms to give employees more time to focus on the human side of their role, through interacting and engaging with our customers. But as always, we remain focused on developing network solutions and services that automatically give our customers the best connectivity solutions for their businesses.

What are the CEO’s top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? The CEO’s main priority for me in the coming year is to accelerate Expereo’s journey towards digital business by enhancing innovation and scale. The business can’t scale without embracing automation and technology, and it’s my job to communicate this to the business and ensure there is a culture shift that paves the way for digitalisation. Every single person within the organisation is part of this digital transformation and its important to bring everyone along on this journey.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities is should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? If I had to think of something, then it would be dealing with issues relating to company laptops and printers. I think that the real challenge of a CIO is to push for transformation and to change the mentality of those around you. It is a real contrast fixing a problem someone has with their printer to completely rolling out a new platform for the business, so I think it is important for a CIO to find the right balance between the two.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operation efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? The digital transformation is currently a shared responsibility across many teams, including product, technology, IT and operations. It is a team effort, which is certainly needed in order to drive the transformation into every corner of the company. The focus for us is and always has been the customer experience, we are totally customer centric. Our rationale is that by putting the customer first, we will naturally spot any areas in need of improvement or focus on product development or operational efficiency. 

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Yes, in IT we have our own metrics for how we want to measure performance, but we are currently much more focused on how we can drive transformation at large. We do this through setting company-wide aims and objectives and working out how we are going to achieve these. For me the focus should always be on delivering high quality value to the customer.

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? We favour the autonomy of clearly defined cross functional teams. Through following the OKR model, we set objectives to teams without telling them specifically what they should/shouldn’t be doing, but instead enabling and supporting them to collaborate and be creative to find solutions that support the wider business objectives. Our values are: believe it, own it, do it, share it and we cultivate this by providing tools such as Sociabble to naturally share our individual and team achievements.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill?  It is no easy feat finding the right tech talent. At the moment in IT we know it is not about finding good technical people, it is about finding technical people with the right mindset. There are currently a lot of people who possess a lot of technical skills but maybe don’t know how to solve wider business problems and it is these people we currently desire.

What is the best career advice you ever received? Whilst I was working for InovenAltenor, one of my customers said to me: ‘at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is managing expectations’. Whatever you do, always think to yourself what are the expectations that come with this? Clear transparency in what you are going to deliver and by when is vital.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I do have a succession plan. The challenge is all in the timing. In your team, you need to nurture high performing individuals that have the potential to at some point take over from you, but a lot of people won’t wait around for too long if they can’t see this progression happening. It’s therefore about finding the right balance between keeping high performing people in your team engaged and focused on the task at hand, but also making sure they are ready to take over if and when required.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? For me to be an IT leader you need to know your content. You can study all you want, but if you don’t know what you are talking about, then no one will believe what you are saying, so being firmly in the content is key.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I would say my greatest achievement to date is taking Expereo from where it was when I joined in 2017, to where it is today. I am proud of how far the company has come.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? From a career point of view there isn’t a lot I would have done differently. I have my dream job and I do what I love every day and for that I’m grateful. Of course, if I had the chance, I would have invested in stocks like Amazon, Apple or Tesla back in the day… I would now be reaping the rewards!

What are you reading now? I’m currently reading The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday. It’s all about how we as humans learn and grow through facing challenges and adversity.

Most people don't know that I… It might surprise you, but I like to relax in the evenings by writing code. I used to be very technically driven, but now as CIO I have to step away from the keyboard and leave that to other members of my team. When I need to relax I always like to go back to what I enjoy and what makes me feel the most comfortable and that is coding. It also gives me the opportunity to relate more to those I work with.

In my spare time, I like to…Kitesurf.

Ask me to do anything but… Repetitive tasks. I will always look for ways to optimise and automate it to help save time.