Victor Bouch, former CIO of retail giant Mosaic Brands, talked to us about his approach to running large-scale IT projects and complex acquisitions, highlighting the importance of alignment with the right 3rd party provider.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today, can you tell me about your role as CIO at Mosaic Brands?
“As CIO at Mosaic, I was responsible for technology within the business covering both in-store and the corporate offices. At the time, the focus of the business was to grow through acquisition of non-performing brands and turn them around, while delivering the best Customer Experience possible with every interaction. (“We put the Customer at the heart of everything we do.”)
When I joined, the business grew from one brand (Noni B) with 288 stores, to ten brands totalling close to 1430 stores across Australia and New Zealand. The acquired companies were Pretty Girl Fashion Group (3 brands), Speciality Fashion Group (5 brands) and EziBuy.”
What was your approach to the management of Acquisitions from an IT perspective?
“Mosaic conducted due diligence activities before acquisitions to determine if it was viable to proceed. My role was to focus on the technology components of those businesses, understanding the IT landscape:
- What applications are within the landscape?
- How is the network structured?
- Are all systems and processes working efficiently?
- Identify the inefficiencies – is there an opportunity to improve?
- How could we integrate them into our systems effectively?
During the analysis, I discover systems and processes that the broader business would benefit from, and areas that could benefit from significant improvement.
The landscape included:
- ERP systems
- Point of Sale (POS)
- Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
- Data Warehousing
- Hardware and Network infrastructure
- Written contracts (volume and terms)
- Websites including e-commerce sites for Consumers and informational sites for Investors.
The aim is for a smooth transition of IT systems, processes and people, to be better integrated with centralised operations. At the same time, we want to ensure we introduce as minimal risk as possible to the operation in any transition we undertake.”
How did you balance managing the current brands and complex acquisitions at the same time?
“The best approach was to delegate. Darran Low and his team from Digital Convergence (DC) were able to assist by taking full ownership of the Noni B (brand) technology, enabling me to focus on the incoming acquisitions of the further 6 brands.
Darran had worked with the Noni B brand to implement a fully integrated ERP, POS, GL and WMS business platform before my commencement at Mosaic. He contributed greatly to the improvement of simplifying the process and use of the system throughout the business. He and his team had the knowledge and ability to look after this area well.”
What was the outcome after the acquisitions and IT restructuring under Mosaic?
“With 10 brands, and 1379 stores (by the end of FY19), the initial landscape included the following:
- 5 ERPs
- 5 POS
- 3 networks
- 2 Data Warehouses
- 4 Data Centres / Server Rooms
When it comes to restructuring as part of the process, cost-cutting usually includes job loss, I decided to review the 3rd party partnerships measuring the value to the business to determine if any activities could be brought in-house to save jobs. This also has the benefit of enriching some team members roles.
As a result, I cancelled some partnerships and retrained staff to manage those activities internally keeping redundancies to a minimum and retaining partnerships where there was an alignment in skill, effective pricing, and efficiencies to the business.”
When reviewing 3rd party providers, what are the key criteria used to determine alignment and how did Digital Convergence gain your trust?
“I will never work with a business or company I get a cold call from. If I am ever looking for a Service/Partner I will go by recommendations. If you cannot be recommended, I will not work with you, simple as that.
With legacy partnerships, being the incumbent doesn’t mean they are the right partner for me. I go through a standard process to determine performance of these partners. With DC, I spoke to people in the business, team members and management who had worked with Darran and his team, to determine:
- How does DC deliver?
- What has DC delivered?
- Why do we think DC is a good fit?
- What value does DC bring to the business?
I then can categorise the existing partnerships into three groups:
- Continue the Partnership
- Still undecided
- End the Partnership
For the next step, I test the feedback by assigning an initial piece of work, then gradually grow to the size that will be expected to be ongoing. From there I start to build trust by measuring the following:
- Can they deliver on the small?
- Am I getting clear and consistent communication?
- How do they perform when things go wrong or not to plan?
In IT projects, not everything goes to plan, so it’s how we deal with those situations that are the biggest determinant of success.
To summarise the process of evaluation; it’s referral, discussion, testing, and ongoing performance.
After the process above, Digital Convergence continued as a valued Partner of Mosaic, can you give an example of where you utilised their expertise for other projects?
“When Mosaic acquired EziBuy, Steve Gosney was appointed CEO and I was given responsibility for technology. I was in a position where I didn’t have the full-time capacity to devote to EziBuy as I had to deliver other projects (from the other acquisitions) and would not be available for the first 3 months.
I had to find a solution that allowed me to conduct a thorough analysis to better understand the business and improvements required. This needed time onsite in New Zealand, however I had to also be available and accessible in Australia for other projects.
I had been working alongside Darran from DC for some time at this point, and his expertise would be invaluable, so I requested his assistance as Co-CIO of EziBuy until I could devote the required time.
Steve had worked with Darran on the Noni B Pronto implementation 3 years prior and was comfortable with this arrangement also.
This solution was effective. We both kicked off the project by sitting with Steve and the technology team the first week, then worked as a tag team visiting the office and sites on alternate weeks so there was at least one of us there working with the business each week.
Darran was given the ability and permission to make decisions on the alternate weeks while I was in Australia. Darran’s decision-making was considered, communication was clear, and actions were well executed.
This continued until I was available to take on the responsibility full-time in January (3 months later) as planned, and Darran continued to serve both Mosaic and EziBuy, as part of that business.”
How would you best describe the partnership with Digital Convergence?
“Working with Darran, I never questioned the rate, the number of hours submitted, or the effort Digital Convergence was investing, I knew I was getting absolute value every time I signed the invoice.
It is difficult to find a partner with the same high quality, integrity and focus on delivery.”