Experienced IT leader and interim at Flybe Jonathan Greensted on businesses meeting the IT challenges and opportunities of the new technological age.
Bridging the gap between the board and IT
Jonathan Greensted is a serial interim director and entrepreneur with over 20 years’ experience as an IT leader. As well as holding interim positions with a string of businesses, he has also launched a number of companies of his own. Much of his experience is in the travel sector, including directorships with Virgin Holidays and Avis Budget car hire.
He is currently interim IT director at low-cost airline Flybe. Here he explains why his love of trouble-shooting means interim work is the perfect career for him.
You’ve had a long and varied career so far – how would you describe yourself as a professional?
To some extent I have always worked on an interim basis as a technology problem-solver and I took my first interim director role in 2007 with Virgin Holidays.
I’d describe myself as a business geek – if you drew a Venn diagram of business and technology, I’d be right in the intersection as I’m extremely passionate about both sides. I can talk to business people in their language, but I can talk to technical people in their language as well.
What can you tell us about the work you’re currently doing for Flybe?
The past couple of years have seen a great deal of change in Flybe’s market, and the company has had to make a lot of readjustments to adapt to the conditions.
Understandably, the management team’s primary focus has been strongly on the commercial and operational sides of the business.
However, as is the case is so many modern companies, they have found that all roads lead to IT as the key enabler for the next wave of growth.
Being the UK’s largest regional airline, it carries more than seven million passengers a year and, as you might expect, this requires a significant amount of IT infrastructure running across a very large number of different servers and applications. Making effective improvements to a system of this size requires careful co-ordination and effective team management, and that’s where I come in.
What has been your main focus working with the team there?
There’s a risk when faced with a project on this scale of being overwhelmed by a million different priorities, so a big focus for me has been identifying which projects are genuinely the most important and ensuring the IT team have the resources to make progress with them.
We’ve introduced a project demand process that has reduced the number of active projects being dealt with by the team by 75 percent. These projects range from back-office revenue-management systems to Flybe’s mobile app.
Flybe has an excellent IT department filled with very good people, so the main focus of my job has been to provide intelligent leadership to free them up to do the things they do well.
Why do you think your particular skill-set is so in-demand?
It can be very difficult for non-technical directors to know whether their IT department is a well-oiled machine or a bunch of busy fools. Management know they absolutely rely on the abilities of their technical staff, but often they can’t understand literally a word they are saying.
This poor understanding and communication can, in the worst cases, result in a host of issues including underinvestment in upgrading heritage systems that are no longer fit for purpose, appointment of ineffective people, bad decisions or just plain inefficiency.
In essence, you can’t manage a team of people effectively if you don’t have an inside-out understanding of what they are doing, so there has always been a need an effective bridge between the executive board and the IT department. As digital technology has taken over almost every aspect of how a business runs, this need has grown increasingly critical.
What is it about interim work that appeals to you?
I suppose really I am an entrepreneur. I thrive on situations where are there are lot of things to fix and I get bored very quickly if I run out of problems to solve. Interim roles are perfect, as there is no shortage of IT challenges out there.
Even in my time off I thrive on taking on challenges that will make me better in my day job and I’ve launched a string of start-up microbusinesses, the most recent of which Joy of Socks is a subscription service for luxury socks which I built in 48 hours. Now that it’s up and running, I’m already thinking about my next project – Sentient One – a business aimed at helping brands bring together their fragmented channels of customer communication.