‘AI is an opportunity to evaluate and improve ways of doing business’

12 May 2017

Hays CIO Steve Weston. Image: Hays

In our five-minute CIO series, Steve Weston of Hays explains how AI will be transformative across the enterprise.

CIO Steve Weston is leading Hays’ digital transformation. Prior to joining Hays in 2008, Weston was managing director of Xansa’s UK operations.

Hays is a London stock exchange-listed company providing recruitment and HR services, with a legacy that extends back to 1867.

‘We are at the forefront of our industry when it comes to innovation and we strive to be the ones who keep pushing things forward’

The company operates in 33 countries worldwide and employs 8,000 experts.

Hays helps more than 6,000 professionals each year to find their next permanent job, and more than 300,000 contractors to find their next assignment.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology roll-out across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

We are continuously looking at the digitalisation of our business and the journey the customer goes on. We are doing this through a multitude of ways, including investing in and implementing digital signatures to cut down on the amount of paperwork and the time it takes to print, sign, scan and email the document.

Another exciting area is intelligent sourcing. This involves utilising our open systems to create a better experience for the consultant by matching the candidates to the jobs and the jobs to the candidates. It’s about being able to find the best candidate possible for our clients faster than our competitors.

We’re also looking at how we present this data to our customers by exploring new interfaces so they are able to interact with the information being presented to them. This is achievable by using sophisticated algorithms to search the data, and it is then unique to each customer and their needs.

All these enhancements are about making the customer journey simpler and giving them the very best offering.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

Put simply, it is about making processes faster, more efficient and easier to navigate.

It is essential we provide our people with the right tools – in particular, giving them the right technology – to be even more effective at their jobs. By providing them with the best technology, we are reducing their amount of admin, which, in turn, means more time spent with our clients and candidates, allowing them to do what they do best and ultimately providing the best experience possible.

Through our interconnected networks, we are able to view millions of CVs across the globe, offering something our competitors cannot. If a UK client comes to us, for example, and asks for an engineer in Sydney, by searching through millions of CVs in seconds, we would find them. We also make this system extremely easy to navigate and use.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

We have an up-to-date modern infrastructure that we are continuously ensuring is future-proof. The infrastructure is a hybrid of on-premises and cloud networks, with cloud being the general direction.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

In terms of where spending is prioritised, first and foremost, cybersecurity should be at the top of the list for all CIOs. It’s a big issue that is only increasing at an alarming rate. There is an accountability that businesses must accept when it comes to cybersecurity. Customers trust us with their data and it is our responsibility to keep that data safe.

Aside from security, an efficient engine that is able to handle multiple geographical locations is a must for any global business, such as Hays. We rely on a system that is interconnected across all the countries we have a presence in, so it is extremely important to us that all the data we hold is accessible to our people across our company, regardless of location.

And lastly, you want to minimise support cost, but continue to develop. Ensure your infrastructure is future-proof. There is no point spending all of your budget and development time on something that will be out of date by the time it is complete. You must have a system that can be updated and added to, whatever that may be.

How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it?

As mentioned, we are always looking for ways to make our system as easy to navigate as possible. We spend a lot of time making sure this is the case and that the front-end of our systems is simple to understand and navigate as a result. We made sure that the search side of the system is something that our employees would recognise from programs and websites they use in their day-to-day lives.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

The infrastructure is outsourced through partners, while development is largely in-house. This is the case across our global business. Anything else is then supplemented with the skills we need as and when they are required.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

Half of my time is spent on business and technology strategy, while the rest of my time is divided between cyber-related activities and general IT management, as well as business as usual.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

A big trend we are seeing currently, and one that will only grow in importance, is automation. So, we are looking at the ways of making processes automated and taking some of the responsibilities away from humans, and instead allowing them to focus on the aspect of the job that a computer cannot complete.

AI is an opportunity to evaluate and improve modern ways of conducting business. Tech professionals will have to adapt to work with new technology, however, the demand for technical skills will continue to grow in line with ever-increasing digitisation. The human touch will remain as important as ever.

The advent of robotics and automated processes will be a positive step towards businesses being smarter with their processes and, in turn, more productive. Robots can be seen as a way of making processes more efficient, resulting in less mechanical, repetitive types of work.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

We use traditional service metrics – these play a big part in effectiveness. Other than that, and more importantly, we measure the speed of delivery. To ensure we are hitting these, we carry out two-, four- and six-weekly sprints.

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

We are always looking at innovation, and spend a good portion of our time devoted to it. We are at the forefront of our industry when it comes to innovation and we strive to be the ones who keep pushing things forward. This is why we spend a lot of time looking at and investing in technology that can help us deliver the best service possible to our clients, and the tools to make our consultants more efficient through automation, where possible.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

We have a handful of new data partners that we are working with. These will bring significant changes, assisting to find the best candidate for any role at any time, or the best role for a particular candidate. It’s about making sure we use the wealth of data we have to its best effect, and working with the best data partners around the world to achieve this.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years