CIO50 2020 #13 Ursula Phillips, Real Pet Food Company

  • Name Ursula Phillips
  • Title Group chief information officer
  • Company Real Pet Food Company
  • Commenced role August 2018
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 16 staff, 8 direct reports
  • Ursula Phillips reminds us of an often-forgotten group within our community: furry four-legged friends.

    As group CIO with Australian multinational Real Pet Food Company (RPFC), Phillips has presided over a radical digital transformation, coinciding with a rapid program of expansion, including the acquisition of nine companies in just three years to 2018. 

    COVID-19 was of course a major disruption, making it harder for pet owners to access essential supplies.

    And as their dogs and cats became key members of the WFH support network, their needs were brought into sharper focus.

    After joining RPFC in 2018, Phillips set about developing an aggressive change program to replace its existing outdated systems and processes. Rapid growth by acquisition and organic expansion in five international markets (Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the US and China) provided the original impetus, with COVID-19 contributing further to the sense of urgency.

    Key projects included implementing service desk tooling and KPI reporting, migrating ERP from a 10-year old system to the cloud, and transitioning to a new EDI (electronic data interchange) provider for 90 percent of the business.

    Several other initiatives were delivered on Phillips’s watch, resulting in improved operations, production efficiencies, financial management and internal and external communications.

    “The objective of RPFC digitisation is to enable future growth and geographic expansion, without compromising the innovative and agile spirit that is our DNA,” she tells CIO Australia. “The way we’ve achieved this has been driven by and aligned to our corporate values: Work as a pack, make your mark, lead with passion and change the game.”

    For RPFC to be successful, the company knew first and foremost it had to empower people to deliver results. 

    This meant bringing all ‘pack’ members onto the corporate network, ensuring easy access to data and free collaboration across multiple jurisdictions. It also meant removing non-value-add work through automation, insights and digital capabilities, and providing remote access to digital tools.

    Data insights garnered through RPFC’s ‘business playbooks’ have delivered improved manufacturing and distribution efficiencies, reductions in waste and cost-avoidance thanks to better quality data. 

    The company’s automation program delivered annual cost savings of around $250,000, while improving process efficiency and reducing errors. Also, importantly, RPFC managed to significantly increase its ‘cyber maturity’ in the 12 months to July 2020.

    Phillips is especially proud of the team’s achievements given its small number of just 16, including contractors, while operating within a very tight budget. IT OPEX spend is less than 1.2 percent net revenue, compared with the 2019 Food and Beverage industry standard of 1.5 percent, and the All Industry average of 3.5 percent. 

    “The structural, operational and cultural impacts have been overwhelmingly positive,” tells Phillips. “In delivering an enterprise-wide platform that all RPFC entities can access, we have enabled RPFC to become a true multinational FMCG.

    “We delivered a platform that enables our team to collaborate across time-zones and geography and we’ve taken non-value add work away, allowing people to perform the jobs they're trained for and to use the skills we hired them for.”

    Team diversity

    When Phillips joined RPFC in 2018 she had a team of just three, of which she was the only woman. 

    She now leads a team of seven women and nine men, spanning a diverse range of ethnicities including Australian, British, Chinese, Czech, Indian, Singaporean and Zimbabwean.

    Mentoring is also something very close to Phillips’ heart. In 2019 she took on a coaching role for two team members from other departments (R&D and Finance), and in 2020 is mentoring an upcoming leader in marketing. In RPFC’s July 2020 engagement survey, 100 percent of IT staff said Phillips was a ‘great role model for employees’,  while 91 percent of IT staff said their manager / management had shown a genuine interest in their career aspirations.

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