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CIO50 2018 #26-50: Darrel van Dort, Merivale

  • Name Darrel van Dort
  • Title Chief information officer
  • Company Merivale
  • Commenced role September 2015
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 23 technical staff with 3 direct reports
  • Darrel van Dort’s biggest career lesson is a simple one: be pragmatic. When he was working at a startup with 10 people, he rapidly established some fundamentals when it came to evolution, capability building, strategy and spending.

    "I left the relatively comfortable world of big, global business where I was regional CIO across the Asia-Pacific. The business was established, employed 65,000 people and was an iconic advertising giant," he recalls.

    "In this environment there was a focus on profit and return to shareholders but it was also an environment of multi-billion dollar budgets, corporate 'largesse' and massive returns. In simple terms, there was an innate capacity to absorb spend, tolerate less than successful activities and be audiciously strategic."

    This was very different to the startup world where he learned that every dollar needed to be spent wisely on growing the business.

    "While we could not endlessly make perfectly brilliant decisions, we had to get it right pretty much all of the time. There was no room for a major over and misspend," he says. "We carefully managed our resources and asked ourselves one question when it came to decision making: 'How will this grow the business?'

    This learning has provided the foundation for how van Dort goes about his business as chief information officer at hospitality group, Merivale.

    These principals remain the same but his thinking has now been expanded to include two additional questions: How does it benefit the customer? What is the ROI on these decisions?

    "So, today I operate on two distinct levels. Firstly, I drive global best practice and enterprise level thinking, and secondly, I pragmatically ensure that all technology development and innovation will support business growth, enhance customer experiences and aligns with our business strategy and priorities.

    "I am a big believer in experiment style and test learns. You can very easily prove to the business whether an initiative is going to drive business or customer value," he says.

    Over the past two years, van Dort and his team have implemented enterprise-wide SAP and Kronos HR and workforce management tools to replace cumbersome emails, spreadsheets, paper forms and broken communication links that were inefficient, costly and ineffective.

    Merivale is expanding rapidly and has a highly casualised workforce and the combined effects of 'wrong-sized' disparate systems meant that the company continually faced the risk of paying people correctly right and at the right time, he says.

    The new web-based systems have increased payroll accuracy by 100 per cent, and provided timely salary cost information related to past and future rostering. This is supported by data analysis capabilities that improve workforce scheduling, lowered costs, and improved service delivery at the coalface.

    "The single most unique aspect of this innovation is the impact across the entire business, providing our people with access via desktop, web browser, mobile app and tablet," he says.

    "Such access has enabled our workforce to quickly and effectively complete tasks that would otherwise have taken longer, required paperwork, resulting in data entry and a lag in processing. Value has been delivered on several levels with the simplest and most effective being the introduction of a business-wide, live, and online company directory. Searchable my multiple parameters, this has equipped our people with an efficient method of finding and contacting the right people to address daily business issues.

    "This alone has created 'connectivity with ease', resulting in time efficiencies and productivity improvements."

    Further benefits come from the HR team's new capability to use the technology to manage the employment variation process. Eradication of back and forth emails and phone calls is substituted with completing a few fields on a mobile app, and the HR team can provide advice as business partners rather than solely administrators of pay increases and the like, he says.

    In the first year following implementation, operational managers saved time related to scheduling and forecasting, putting $615,692 back on the company's bottom line; $382,154 was saved in the time it takes to schedule and approve wage analysis; and $202,415 due to improved leave uptake (decreasing leave leakage by 4 per cent.)

    Merivale's technology team has also saved 8 to 15 hours per week in new user account creation and disabling by automating active directory account creation, Office365 license allocation, mailbox activation and email groups.

    Best practice design

     A major challenge during this initiative was ensuring employment records were accurate and eliminating manual processes relating to staff with multiple roles. There was also inconsistency of information between HR, finance and IT. This led to system integration at several layers and best practice organisation design that would impact the culture and way of conducting business.

    "So we needed to concurrently address business structural issues and technical complimentary systems. The result was an organisational structure that laid the foundation of each system and connected SAP and Kronos with the same levels. This was a critical step in ensuring that both systems seamlessly integrated with no manual intervention by the HR team," he says.

    "We created a foundation structure and designed roles linked to teams and carried out an intensive consultation process to engage the business and obtain a commitment and buy-in. We conducted workshops with our group operations managers to discuss role titles, reporting lines and succession pathways to ensure that a revised structure made sense. The result was the creation of uniform roles to teams (for example, bar, kitchen, cellar, restaurant) and to cost centres - a brand new concept to the business."

    Byron Connolly

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