Mark Ridley (@Mark_Ridley) is the Director of Technology at reed.co.uk. Over the past 15 years, Mark has had many roles and responsibilities at reed.co.uk, with a keen focus on examining business process change and implementing IT systems and technology to support that change. reed.co.uk is a SAP Business ByDesign customer.
- reed.co.uk is the UK’s number one job site – we help people find jobs, and provide online recruitment services for businesses. Our legacy comes from being a traditional recruitment agency. Reed was started in 1960 in London; today we have around 250 branches throughout the UK, with a growing international presence.
- reed.co.uk, a company within the REED family of companies, really came into it’s own in 2007. Our original business model was to focus on attracting candidates to the traditional recruitment business by providing the greatest selection of jobs in the UK. We grew from having a few thousand Reed jobs posted on our site in the very early days, to over 135,000 jobs today. From 2001 – 2007 our business was in “start up” mode with roughly 25 employees. From 2007 to 2013, we’ve grown to 245 employees in our central London office and expanded our offering with our personal development and training site, reed.co.uk/courses.
What was the impetus for to moving to cloud solutions?
Our job has always been developing for the web and we felt that we had to represent our technology heritage with the systems we delivered to our staff. We are hiring people of the Facebook generation and wanted to give them systems that would feel natural and intuitive to use. Some of the products we were using, like Oracle and Lotus Notes, were well suited to the main REED business, but didn’t feel like the best fit for our online business. In January of 2012, the Board of Directors gave us permission to initiate a business transformation process, looking at all of the business systems and processes which support reed.co.uk. I made it very clear from the beginning that I wasn’t interested in running a traditional IT procurement process and that this change absolutely had to be driven by our end-users. We approached the process wanting to embrace changes in the traditional roles of IT in terms of support and responsibility and shift the emphasis and ownership to the practitioners – experts in our HR, Sales and Finance departments.
How did you get your end users involved in the decision making process?
Our vision is to make our users – the “practitioners” – more responsible for their own systems. With that goal, I pulled together a team of the most senior practitioners from the key areas of our business, people who are everyday users and managers of our systems, and partnered them with my Service Delivery team to determine what their ideal systems are and how they should work. We went through a process of not only identifying technology, but a very large audit of our current business processes and documenting what we’d like those business processes to look like in the future.
The people that were involved in the procurement process will also be heavily involved in the rollout and the administration of the systems moving forward. For example, if someone wanted to make a change to how a finance or HR process works, typically that might have been a request that went back through a whole chain to be implemented by an engineer or developer. Instead, we want to have our domain experts understand the system and be responsible for actually making the changes themselves. Many of the systems that form part of our new stack are intuitive and well supported, allowing non-technical users to enable change themselves. This is then supported by the Service Delivery team, with expertise in both technical and domain specific skills who ensure that process and change is managed and documented.
Tell us more about your move towards a “browser first” solution.
The path that has become apparent throughout this journey is that by using services which only require a web browser to access, we deliver enormous flexibility to the business. There is no longer a question of whether a PC or a Mac should be used, but rather which is more appropriate for the user. Likewise, tablet and mobile access is baked in by design. Broadly, that means that our staff can be enabled with access to what they need, when they need it, wherever they are.
This also has an impact on how decisions are made. Instead of product or service adoption being an IT decision – “this is what you get” – a manager makes a business decision based on what their staff needs are in terms of devices, access, location – everything becomes a business decision. In order to allow that type of freedom, the browser becomes the platform for the entire business. Moving to the cloud also gave us tremendous benefit in terms of DR and business continuity. With an on-premise solution, you’d have to make sure that you have services to backup and maintain that technology infrastructure. Now, because everything is delivered from highly available cloud services, should the worst happen we can still allow our staff access to the core systems to perform their jobs.
What were the key drivers in your decision to move to the cloud?
- Technology to support business decisions: ensuring that decisions are driven by the business first and foremost and then identifying the best technology we can find to support those business requirements.
- Resilience: confidence that all of our data is stored and protected in the cloud irrespective of what may happen onsite at any of our locations.
Above everything else, the driver was to give people systems that they would naturally feel comfortable with, enhance their performance, and continue to evolve based on their needs. We were constantly focusing on the people who would be using these systems.
What advice would you give to someone when selecting a cloud solution?
Something we found enormously useful is: understand the process without understanding the technology first. Sit down behind the users and watch what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis – asks questions and try to understand what they find frustrating. Rather then making it a technology question from the offset, start by asking the users: How can we help make your job easier? How can we help you be more effective? Our objective is to make it a human-centric decision.
There’s also something to be said for making sure it’s a beautiful solution. There’s no excuse for not having good information architecture and user experience design. If it’s something that’s difficult to read or navigate, or complex in terms of how it’s going to work – then it’s probably not something that’s going to fit very well with the end users. It will also be harder to train, and have a greater maintenance requirement in future.
The final piece is understanding how it will be maintained and updated. A large part of our decision to choose SAP Business ByDesign and Google Apps was because they have a big commitment to driving improvements frequently through their products.
Why did you choose SAP Business ByDesign for your solution?
Because we come from a website development background, we’ve got a very long history of outsourcing specialist skills. Strategically, we have taken the decision to run a very lean team, with a small but passionate team internally supported by experts from outside the company where needed. That was a very big driver in our decision to buy SAP Business ByDesign – knowing that the specialist knowledge and support was available to us when we needed it.
Our objective is to have employees onsite who are experts at managing the relationships and supporting our staff. We want to encourage and motivate our operational staff to feel that they aren’t a distant IT support function that just logs a ticket, but that they can proactively help people with real solutions and assistance. If someone picks up the phone and asks for help, we will be able to sit down with them and resolve their problems as quickly as possible, whilst keeping a better feel for the health of the business itself.
SAP Cloud People Blog Series: how the Cloud is affecting the day to day lives of people.
2013-03-01 : Cloud People: Bodo Klečka, BOA Group
2013-02-25 : Cloud People: Luke Marson, Gavdi Group
2013-02-11 : Cloud People: Mark Ridley, reed.co.uk
2013-01-23 : Cloud People: Sascha Rauhe, AICOMP/VCXI Group
2013-01-15 : Cloud People: Brian Kinion, SuccessFactors