Jo Stanford is the group IT director for luxury hotel and hospitality chain De Vere and has worked as an IT director for the past 12 years. Unusually for such a high profile IT director, she began her career with a 14-year spell in marketing.
She said that there was a heavy emphasis on emerging technologies in all of her marketing roles, and as a result she developed strong technical knowledge and began to understand how IT can be used to improve business efficiency.
"I got my first IT role when a friend of mine who was a head hunter gave me a call and said: ‘Before you laugh, hear me out - I've got a role as a consultant engineer at Parsons Brinckerhoff, from which you could go on to become IT director."
Stanford decided to give it a try, and in her job interview, made it clear that she was not so much a technical IT person, as one with business acumen.
"I said if you're looking for someone very technical, I'm not the person you're looking for. However, if you want someone who totally gets the commercial view, understands business strategy and can translate that into the requirements for IT to deliver that strategy then I am who you're looking for.
"[The interviewer] said to me: ‘That's fine, I'm not looking for another techie I'm looking for a good manager.' That was my first IT role – I spent six years managing European IT delivery and went on to join the De Vere Group."
Stanford said she had decided to stay in IT rather than go back to marketing because she had come to realise how critical IT is in the hospitality industry; it touches every point of the customer journey. She added that the e-commerce side of the role has played to her strengths as it requires a strategic approach.
Keen on the cloud
A lot of Stanford's work at the De Vere Group has been focused on using cloud solutions and developing partnerships with solutions providers to drive business efficiency. She said that she is not worried about relinquishing control of the IT infrastructure, describing the idea of entering into cloud agreements as "passing on your headaches".
"It's still our data at the end of day, even if it's in a cloud, we still own that data. When you're passing over control of the technology operating system, you're really passing over a lot of your headaches. The model we use involves a lot of outsourcing and I'm not a control freak who thinks you have to keep your data within the parameters of your company to have total control," she said.
"If you structure the contract well and have an acceptable level of trust, effectively what you're doing is using the provider's expertise and passing over the headache of maintaining lots of hardware and monitoring it 24/7."
She added that De Vere carries out regular backups, extracting all of its data regularly to a CRM solution, which is also externally hosted by another company that compiles that data.
"I don't understand the people that need control – if someone else can do it better, more efficiently and it benefits your business, that should be your driver," Stanford added.
The hospitality group is using a cloud CRM solution from Blue Sheep. The project kicked off 18 months ago and De Vere has been regularly increasing the number of data feeds going into the solution.