CIO Spotlight: Ketan Patel, TCC Global

CIO Spotlight: Ketan Patel, TCC Global

Name: Ketan Patel

Company: TCC Global

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: Feb 2016

Location: London, UK

Ketan has spent 20 years working in retail technology. Throughout his career he has managed IT divisions at major retailers - including Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer - in support of fast-paced business transformations. Ketan joined tcc global as CIO in February 2016 and has overarching responsibility for the Group's global technology function, both internally and in support of client goals. He ensures that tcc's clients - which include a roster of globally recognised retail brands - are given the forefront of digital tools to make personal, lasting connections with shoppers in readiness for the future of retailing.

What was your first job? I was an early day point of sale project manager at Arcadia. Well, that was my first proper job. My very first job was a part-time role as a sales assistant in Dolcis Shoes whilst studying.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, technology has always been my passion. I've long been fascinated about how it holds the potential to change our lives—all inspired by how much I loved my Commodore 64!

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I quickly realised university wasn't for me, so I effectively went straight into full time work. My formal education ended at Redbridge Technical College, where I kept my options open by studying both technology and finance. Since then, I've gained a few project management qualifications such as Prince2 and PMP.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I got into early day point of sale systems at the very start of my career, whilst working part-time in retail. This tangibly showed me what a difference technology could have and what it took to roll out such technology, back then the change and impact was a steep learning curve and since then my career has remained steadily fixed in retail technology.

I feel fortunate to be at the forefront of a discipline that literally shapes the world around us. Every sector continues to be enhanced by evolving developments in technology. Particularly within the retail sector, it is playing a vital role in things like customer experience and driving competitive advantage at a time when competition has never been so rife.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? For tcc global, artificial intelligence (AI) is going to be key, along with an increasing use of the trusted consumer digital identity. Our focus is on how we connect the consumer eco-system and supercharge the power of digital loyalty for retail customers.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? The priority is to keep our business ahead of the competition, by using technology to create market opportunity. This is about finding the right tools with which we can grow our business, whilst providing the very best in shopper engagement technology for our clients.

For us, technology has become an enabler to revenue, and we continue to look for new streams where we can add value to a retailer using any number of our digital capabilities.

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, or should be, a conventional CIO role any more, given the rapid pace of change that is being driven by technology. CIOs need to be much more flexible than they may have once been. Their responsibilities should be expanded to include commercial success and business growth and, whilst this may often be difficult to define, I believe this is key to ensuring we keep ourselves challenged in the CIO role.

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? Our process of digital transformation has been ongoing since I joined tcc global in 2016. The business has become completely different to what it was three years ago, in terms of digital capability, driving growth and future plans. Balancing customer experience and revenue growth is relatively simple; we weigh business cases and our overall strategy against each other and ensure we are being as efficient as possibly to maintain profitability. This is where the commercial element of the CIO role plays a big part.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Our digital capability is born from ensuring we have the best people and tools to drive our business. We are sophisticated in what we have, but that is today. Tomorrow we could be playing catch up—it's a continual evolution. Our KPIs are driven by our clients and the changing nature of their shoppers. Generation Z, for instance, will behave very differently to my own generation in their use of technology. Business success will be dictated on the ability to cater for them across a new medium of tools. We assess ourselves on our ability to provide clients with the technology to meet their future needs and goals.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? We live in an agile world where we have to adapt daily to a variety of different challenges, I call it the "chameleon effect". Adaptability is a trait we look to encourage in the tcc global culture. We are a fast-paced business with an entrepreneurial ethos. Our work is continually changing, and we have fun whilst doing it. Ensuring we are all working to a common mission and purpose is important to cultivate a strong culture. 

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? This won't be news to anybody working in technology functions, but the most difficult skill to find in technology people is a commercial grounding with the ability to see the bigger picture. I think that's changing fast, however, as a new generation of techies with broader experience are entering the field.

What's the best career advice you ever received? That's difficult, as I've had a lot of good advice in my career. The piece of advice that sticks out the most is that overall success and ambition relies 50% on your skills and knowledge, and 50% on the relationships and teams you build. It's incredibly important to remember but can be easy to forget.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. It's important that you have the right succession plan. As high performers are nurtured there comes a time where they hit their optimum. You need to ensure there is somewhere for them to continue growing, whether horizontally or vertically. The challenge is always to ensure they understand the possibilities at the end of their training or a development plan. Honesty always works best; explaining that it's not personal, but it is about personal growth. If someone's role isn't set to change, it is important that high performers see a path of personal growth which will make them more marketable both internally and externally.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? I believe in simplicity, so here goes. Remember that it takes time to be a leader. You can always be better, so keep pushing yourself. Be bold and follow what you believe is right. This can often be difficult, but it sets true leaders apart from the rest.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Related to the previous question, I would say my greatest achievements are all about people. I have seen many colleagues and friends who have worked for me grow into outstanding leaders themselves. To be a part of their growth is a huge personal reward.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I am not sure I have enough space here to answer properly! I'll pick one. I would ensure that I set my teams up for success quicker. Your team is the backbone to wider success and keeping grounded so, with hindsight, I'd make sure my 90 day plans always included a larger emphasis on putting the right team in place.

What are you reading now? Give and Take by Adam Grant. It's all about looking at life through a different lens, turning conventional wisdom upside down whether at home or work.

Most people don't know that I… Once I had a slot as a DJ in one of the most iconic venues in London, the big Oxford Circus Topshop. I happened to be in the branch of Dolcis Shoes at the time, which was a concession right next to the DJ booth. I was there at the right time and the right place, as the DJ they had scheduled was late—I got the gig. To top it off, I was in the show alongside Naomi Campbell. It was just as well she did all the talking, I was simply star struck!

In my spare time, I like to…Sit under the sun with a G&T in hand. Luckily for my career, the sun doesn't shine that often in the UK! More seriously, I love travelling the world in my spare time. In the past few months I have been to Abu Dhabi, Cape Verde and Gavdos, near Crete.

Ask me to do anything but… Dance or sing. Or worse, to do both!


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