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IT director Jonathan Vardon keeping Boots in good health

Mark Chillingworth | April 12, 2013
In the wake of one of the worst starts to a year for the retail sector, Boots the chemist chain, remains - no pun intended - in good health. Its stores remain popular with customers, it has a presence in all the key channels, it fared better than some in the ongoing corporate tax scandal and it continues to grow as an international brand.

Vardon inherited a transformation plan from his predecessor Andy Haywood. "Andy initiated a three-year transformation activity called Break Through. The first year of my role was to make sure we delivered on that activity."

Haywood, now group CIO for the Co-operative Group, hired Vardon himself and is a keen advocate of Vardon's talents - telling this title how proud he is of Boots for backing Vardon's progression. Whenever a protege moves into the top seat there is a tendency to live in the shadow of the previous incumbent, but Vardon, while committed to completing Haywood's plans, has some clear strategy ideas of his own.

"Now the strategy for the next three years is a platform for growth and for ensuring IT is all about the customer. All our KPIs are about how we help the stores to trade, increase sales and ensure there is a feelgood factor for stores, customers and colleagues.

"I'm really excited about the ambition to have IT at the centre of that transformation."

With this IT-centricity in mind, Vardon has team members working with all areas of the business to deliver the technology message.

"My relationship team sit within the business areas. These are the people that have the customer lens, without the technology jargon. As a department our mission statement is "to deliver what the business needs at pace"?, not what it wants, not to be order-takers, but assertive in what we can do and what the business problems are.

"Some CIOs have a desire to deliver innovation, but Boots is very focused on understanding what the customer wants," he says, pointing out that the helpdesk operation has been trailblasing ideas that have reduced costs at the company.

Prescription for change

Rationalising and modernising the Boots estate is no small task for Vardon.

"Boots has got a complex legacy estate, it's not what I'd call simplified," he says. "SAP is part of the drive towards agility and operational efficiency and we have still got a good job of work to complete. Some of our mainframes are aged and are clearly not fit for purpose as we go into the digital age. We are in the process of laying in a new generation of strategic applications that will simplify our operational landscape and kick-start future growth.

"Mainframe is relatively cheap to run and support, but it becomes a complex estate to support and therefore costly, but SAP can be costly to run. It all depends on how you run your partner model so that everything depends on the business benefits," he says of the legacy versus rip and replace dilemma many CIOs face during their careers.

"We have had a busy year looking at our partner model and we are about to go on a three-year sourcing transformation journey," said Vardon.


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