Anna Barsby is the CIO of bike and car accessory retailer Halfords. She joined the company having also worked in roles at other major organisations such as Aviva, Whitbread and the Financial Services Authority.
V3 spoke with Barsby earlier this year to hear how she is leading a major software and hardware overhaul of the Halfords IT setup, working with Fujitsu to help implement these changes.
V3: What does your day-to-day role involve?
Barsby: Creating a can-do and supportive environment for my team to deliver with confidence and independence. Lots of my time is spent with people: with my team, out in stores, with my peers and with suppliers.
What would be your dream job?
Running the National Trust – my History of Art degree centred on architectural history and this passion has never left. I’ve love to apply my business acumen with my love of our national heritage.
Which mobile phone and tablet do you currently use?
I use an iPhone and iPad at home and at work.
Which person do you most admire in the IT industry?
Jeff Bezos from Amazon. Simply for his innovation around predictive analytics and recommending products to customers based on buying habits and search history. An amazing breakthrough in e-commerce.
Which technology has had the biggest impact on your working life?
Smartphones with email have allowed me to work flexibly when the responsibilities of being a working mum kick in – it really takes the pressure off knowing I am in touch.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I think landing my role here, being able to run an IT transformation programme as the CIO, is a perfect way of using all my experience from previous organisations in one place. I also think being headhunted from English Heritage by PA Consulting three years after graduating had a massive impact on the direction and success of my career. I feel like I was trained by the best.
What was your first job?
I was one of 30 graduates taken on by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME). We had to convert the paper-based listed buildings data into a new database. In many ways a continuation of being a student, but with early mornings and lots more typing!
What’s your favourite thing about working in the IT industry?
The challenges, the change programmes, and the ability to make a huge difference right across a company if you do things right. Technology is evolving at such a pace that it really keeps my interest up.
What will be the next big innovation of the coming years?
I think the development in mobility, creating work environments to mirror consumer technology. For example the use of apps to create efficiencies such as using our own devices to access secure work areas. This would finally enable true work flexibility should colleagues want to change their working patterns. I think the cultural change will continue to be slower than the technology change we've seen.
What do you enjoy doing when you finish work?
Playing with my two daughters, it is usually cycling or netball, badminton and rounders in the garden when I get home at this time of year. I have also joined a hockey team through the ‘Back to Hockey’ scheme and am loving it even though I haven’t played since school. I am a member of the Halfords choir – we practice one lunchtime each week – and I’m a keen reader, but don’t get as much time as I used to when I was commuting by train. Having said that I now have the best commute I’ve ever had – 15 minutes each way – as I relocated for this role.
What was the last book you read and was it any good?
I am currently reading a series by Andrew Taylor, having loved his novel The American Boy. Two of my all-time favourites are Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. My favourite author is Kazuo Ishiguro.
Who is your favourite band or musician?
I have always been an Oasis fan. More recently I got into a band called Tribes, who I saw a couple of years ago, I also took one of my daughters to see Rizzle Kicks, who were great live. I also listen to Amy Macdonald, Snow Patrol and The Vaccines.
Where’s your favourite holiday destination?
I’m not sure I’ve found it yet, although I loved going to Australia and have been twice now, I particularly love the Gold Coast. We always go to different places and now the girls are getting older we are starting to go further afield.
E-readers or real books?
Definitely real books, I love my collection of books that have nearly taken over the study walls.
Twitter, Facebook or Google+?
Mostly Facebook to keep in touch with friends that I don’t see very often, from London to Norfolk to Australia and the US, although I do dip in and out of Twitter.
Windows or Mac OS?
Windows, but I do love iOS on my iPad.
On-premise or cloud?
Both. We are planning to move more of our services to the cloud during the next two years as part of our transformation programme.
What’s holding back women from entering the IT profession?
I think many companies, particularly suppliers, look for science and maths graduates, which may be appropriate for deep technical roles, but I think we need to look beyond pure development roles and demonstrate the breadth of roles within a modern IT department.
For example, to be a great business systems analyst or project manager you could just as easily be a humanities graduate where you have honed your analytical and problem solving skills: I didn’t even get an interview with a global IT company as a graduate as I didn’t have the right degree.
IT leadership is becoming as much about commercial and people skills as it is about in-depth technology knowledge.
How can we get more school children interested in IT careers?
We need role models to be talking to children about the breadth of roles in IT, this is something I am keen to look into later this year. We need IT companies to sponsor projects within schools setting up technology challenges, such as a hackathon and getting excitement built up in demonstrable ways.
Did you always grow up wanting to work in IT?
No, not at all, it wasn’t planned. I have just gravitated to IT as I love delivering large-scale change programmes, I get bored easily so need a role that is constantly changing with many intellectual challenges. IT has provided me with these things so that is why I stay and continue to love it.
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