CIO Spotlight: Duncan Fendom

We chat to CIO Duncan Fendom about the effect of the 4IR on the role of the technology leader, what to take into consideration when creating a technology strategy and how he overcame the challenges of globalising a UK based transport business. 

TurleyWay: You have a career spanning 20 years within B2B and B2C IT settings with significant experience working globally across strategy, operations and technology. How have you maintained your passion for technology throughout that time?

Duncan: I’m lucky to have kept a strong passion in tech throughout my career as all the industries I have worked in have been disrupted and gone through a significant amount of change. As a leader in tech, during any period of disruption you’ve got to look at why customers buy from your business and why they would buy from your competitor, then look at the role of tech within your business and whether implementing new technology will take your business to another level and whether you can offset the costs of implementation by reducing costs in other areas or increasing sales. Those things have kept me interested as it means I am always looking to do something different to either cost save or generate additional revenue. In business, your customers become your best advocates. They are not sitting inside the same box as you and therefore can produce ideas you may have never thought of. Getting the perspective from people that use your solutions and services is massively important when driving your business forward.

TurleyWay: Had you always been interested in tech?

Duncan: No, tech was never something that I had thought of going into. I spent the first ten years of my career in leisure management which at the time was completely manual with no computerisation. After two years I was fortunate enough to be part of a project that investigated tech implementation to streamline the booking process which we then rolled out across several leisure centres. We then introduced credit card payment and direct debit capabilities, which was cutting edge for its time.

I knew at that point tech was for me but to be successful I would have to start from the bottom and work my way up. I started as an apprentice rolling out PCs to schools and gradually progressed to a team leader for a support service organisation.

My first senior role as IT Director at Lewis Day came with a lot of responsibility. Much of the business was computerised but the crucial part, the dispatching of jobs to drivers, was still manual. To compete with the then largest taxi provider at the time Addison Lee, we needed to transform ourselves and so we created a bespoke dispatch system that saved cost and improved efficiencies.

TurleyWay: With the 4IR gaining momentum, tech is at the forefront of change across all industries. In your experience how has this changed the role of the technology leader?

Duncan: In transport, machine learning and AI have been incorporated into the industry for nearly eight years, prior to the 4IR.  At Green Tomato Cars, we integrated with flight systems so that if your plane was going to be late landing, your pickup time would update automatically to reflect your new arrival time. Some dispatching systems are now operated automatically by systems which continuously look at where a driver is, where the bookings are and where drop offs will occur to rationalise and optimise the most efficient way for passengers to get picked up on time. 

AI and machine learning have been incorporated into everyday life for several years, trying to compartmentalise each of them into a specific category is where it can get confusing. Technology is not new, but everyone has a different understanding particularly of what AI is. We need to be very careful and mindful about getting too focused on terminology and ensure that what is implemented is of benefit either to the business or to the products and services that business is selling. If there is a requirement for specific technology, you need to assess how the business will pay for that technology. Will it be through reducing overhead costs, or perhaps you will be able to create a new product you can then sell using that technology. There’s no point implementing blockchain, for instance, if you’ve got no requirement for authorising payments virtually.

TurleyWay: How important is it for organisations to have a technology strategy?

Duncan: At senior level you need a good understanding of what IT does.  CEOs can become preoccupied with the concept of introducing new technology to the business at which point technology leaders should ask (a) do you understand what you’re asking for? and (b) is there a business need for this? Your strategy should be to embrace new technology while challenging the thought process of other people. Will there be a benefit to your business and customers in implementing this technology?

TurleyWay: Your time at Transdev UK saw you lead the development and execution of Green Tomato Cars in the US as their IT Director. What were the greatest challenges throughout the process and how did you overcome them?

Duncan: We planned the first launch outside of the UK in Washington and were due to launch in Paris a few months later. When you’ve got a fledgling system, which has only just gone live in one city, also being proposed in two other cities it’s a scary concept. In the UK we had bought the Post Office’s PAF database which contains every postcode/address in the country and we created our own search logic within that. However, the US and France work differently and users would quote just a street name and number meaning that we had to integrate our mapping functionality and geo location systems with Google before anything else.

Our USP for Washington and Paris was that our customers would get a fixed price fare from one area to another in comparison to Uber which charged you on time and mileage. In London it’s very straightforward when going between postcodes but we were unable to do that in Washington or Paris. We had to adapt the mapping software and introduce a functionality which created areas within Google allowing us to price from one area to another area. Taxation was also a big consideration as we had to respect the local tax regimes for the US and France, which were completely different to that in the UK.

TurleyWay: Was the success of this roll out a factor in your promotion to Chief Information Officer?

Duncan: Transdev UK was unusual when I joined as it had no technology leadership at executive level. A lot of the technology was being driven through the finance teams who invariably concentrated on cost saving and not necessarily how you can use tech to attract customers and reinvigorate your products and services. Having worked successfully on the launch of Green Tomato cars the business decided to appoint a CIO and I was fortunate enough to be offered that role.

It was an interesting transition and I was able to gain a better understanding of the five businesses owned by Transdev UK.  Not being in the day-to-day provided me with a better idea as to what each area needed to do to keep going or in order to transform, attract new customers and deliver better products and services.

TurleyWay: What is your key advice to those looking to make the step up to CIO?

Duncan: My advice to aspiring CIOs would be to embrace the fact that you’re not always going to be the smartest person in the room.  You should however bring a broad base of technical understanding to the table.  It doesn’t necessarily need to be a deep understanding, but when there isn’t consensus in the room you need to be that person who can make firm decisions. People get their confidence from knowing they are making the correct decisions and they can only get that confidence from you.

TurleyWay: What advice would you give to senior leaders when developing a high performing team?

Duncan: Part of your role is to bring in the best talent that you can afford, with the knowledge and understanding about how to implement certain solutions. If you’re working 16-18 hours a day, 7 days a week, you have an issue with your hiring policy and you’re not being supported by your team. 

Environmentally, I find an open plan office promotes two things: (a) it makes you get to understand how your team works and (b) that the relationship amongst everyone is more open and transparent which enables people to speak up if they feel something would work better differently.

TurleyWay: You describe yourself as a positive and forward-thinking leader. If you could go back to the start of your career, what advice would you give to yourself?  

Duncan: Listen and look more. The answers to almost every problem are in front of you and most of the time your team have already got those answers. You should never be afraid to put your hand up and ask a question if you get stuck somewhere.
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