Twinings tech chief stirs up the IT department

As the chief business transformation and technology officer at Twinings Ovaltine (TwO), some might imagine Sandeep Seeripat’s role to be the epitome of what a senior technology executive should be, with a remit beyond IT operations, an authoritative voice in the boardroom and a reporting line straight to the CEO. But it hasn’t always been this way, with IT once leaving little more than a bitter aftertaste for this historic tea marketer.

When Seeripat joined the organisation in 2018, having been the global IT delivery director at multi-national consumer products manufacturer Kimberly-Clark, IT was seen as a back-office cost centre. Introducing new technology to drive growth was neither encouraged nor supported, not least in a federated organisation across nine business units.

Seeripat asked the senior leadership team during his interview if the organisation wanted change, or business-as-usual.

“The answer was, ‘We want change,’” he says. “What wasn’t dimensioned was what that actually meant. I can’t say I had open arms to change the world, but there was definitely an intent that we want to do things. We just didn’t know how.”

CIO promotion shows IT’s new trajectory

Change is certainly what TwO has done, even if this centuries-old British institution retains the world’s second oldest logo from 1787, and the same 216 Strand, London, office as it has since founder Thomas Twining opened it as a tea shop in 1706.

Owned by Associated British Foods since 1964, TwO today sells teas and infusions to more than 100 countries, and is evolving into health and wellness products and experiences within the tea market.

But the federated business model makes defining a single technology strategy difficult to articulate, says Seeripat, meaning that the IT team instead works to a broad set of business themes, such as facilitating business growth, creating scalable platforms, and developing a technology-capable team and learning culture.

Alongside these themes, Seeripat rebranded the IT function from Information Systems to  BizTech to change how it engages with the wider business. He also oversaw the introduction of a new purpose statement—BizTech Partners that Deliver Wow—accompanied by two team behaviours: be curious and learn continuously.

This evolution of IT to becoming a digital partner to the business is already yielding results, with the BizTech team engaging earlier on business initiatives, driving better outcomes, and growing in size. It’s also helped Seeripat, a mechanical engineer by trade, progress into a new transformation role.

On the back of initiatives to build a platform business and connected supply chain last year, he was promoted from global CIO to global chief business transformation and technology officer, where he reports to the CEO and works with other executives to create a so called end-to-end innovation organisation.

“This role is truly a business role as there’s no broader business activity that I’m not involved in: NPD, supply optimisation, consumer engagement and sales force enablement,” he says. “It’s still accountable for technology, but strategically as opposed to operational.”

Rebranded IT function starts to pay dividends

A key ingredient of Seeripat’s success has been rebranding the IT department to BizTech to change how it engages with the wider business, as well as developing an ethos within the team to be curious and learn continuously.

Seeripat says that the BizTech name reminds us of all the reasons we come to work. “We should drive business outcomes first supported by technology,” he says, adding it moves IT away from being order-takers. Introducing a purpose statement within the team—BizTech Partners that Deliver Wow—has helped.

“We wanted to focus on the end user experience by looking to create moments of wow,” he says. “This change has allowed us to earn a seat at the decision table and start influencing technology choices, educating our stakeholders on how and where technology can add value.”

He adds that the simplicity of a name change, coupled with his own promotion, has seen BizTech move from a delivery capability with no influence, to an entity influencing the growth agenda.

BizTech team members are now engaged in conversations long before technical requirements, often being asked to be part of client pitches and design processes. Infrastructure teams recently liaised with production teams on using HoloLens and VR equipment to digitally visualise manufacturing plants, while dialogue with the marketing team has sparked an Optimus project where there’s a series of martech initiatives in flight, such as standardising the firm’s consumer experience platform, reviewing consumer data platforms, and collaborating with start-up partners.

Seeripat says that BizTech team engagement is among the highest in the business and has improved every six months since 2019, resulting in a bigger team. BizTech is expected to grow from 54 to 80 people by the end of 2023 as well, with new functions for data and analytics, architecture, security and the Microsoft Power Platform.

“BizTech wasn’t just words on paper,” says Seeripat. “It’s words, supported by delivery, and supported by mindset, which has now created the platform where the business has the confidence to talk to us about the consumer or technology.”

Business transformation in flight

A series of business transformation programmes are now underway at TwO. Program Optimus is a full revamp of the internal technology platform, with S/4HANA on Rise on Microsoft Azure as its core, while Project Unify sees Twinings Ovaltine tech teams modernise infrastructure, end-user compute, and security by moving from MPLS to SD-WAN. There’s also growing investment in automation, like Automation Anywhere, Power Platform and Alteryx, with use cases emerging in automating invoice processing, sales validation, finance process, P&L analysis and claims management.

Seeripat says that Optimus will establish new ways of working by establishing a collaboration hub for finance, supply chain and procurement, as well as a standardised tech stack across 10 geographies, a data analytics platform, and a digital adoption tool to extract value. It’s about driving a data-driven decision-making culture.

“The value proposition I presented to our CEO and CFO was that we could standardise our ERP to provide the backbone for our business while creating an integration layer and data platform to enable the systems of differentiation and innovation,” he says.

One year from now, Seeripat hopes to have improved back-end infrastructure, built out the BizTech team, and have Optimus off the ground. The solution is being implemented now, and is expected to be completed in early 2025. “The first objective is to make sure that what we’ve done, in terms of fixing the basics, is sustainable,” he says. “Because you lose all credibility if you talk about all the clever stuff, but can’t maintain my network or laptop. To grow the business is understanding more value we can bring to it. Delivering our first implementation for Optimus is complex and ambitious, but it’s my number-one priority.”

Business IT Alignment, Business Process Management, Digital Transformation, IT Leadership