The latest in Third Republic’s Tech Leaders Q&A Series, we heard from Ali-Reza Moschtaghi, Group Chief Enterprise Architect at Nandos, and former Global Head of Enterprise Architecture and IT at BUPA.
Ali-Reza shared his opinions on how technology and enterprise architecture are rapidly evolving the food industry and shared his thoughts on how enterprise architecture is fundamentally influenced by a range of factors – from the size of a business, to the country in which you are working.
Ali-Reza Moschtaghi (AM): I started my career as a business major, and then moved into the IT industry afterwards. I initially begun at GE Intelligent Platforms in a leadership programme where I was put through different stages, in everything from coding to project management.
This gave me a good breath of knowledge and, from there, I moved into a business relationship management role at GE, where I sat between IT and finance, thinking strategically about where the finance organisation needed to go in terms of technology. I then moved into a consultancy and focused on IT Strategy, Cloud and Digital, before eventually moving to the end-customer and into an enterprise architecture strategy role.
AM: Absolutely, I think my role is always about challenging the status quo, and the typical way of doing things, but when you work in a legacy industry one of the problems is that you’re always trying to do something that other industries did 20 years ago.
This does mean that there is a really big opportunity for us to leapfrog, rather than just following this pattern and what others have done, and even working in a legacy industry we can always challenge how we are doing things and take a look at whether we can “copy and adopt” innovation from completely different industries from ours
AM: One of the things I’m doing currently is building up a process of continually evaluating new technologies. Some of the ones we have started looking at are things like robotics in the kitchen, which is huge in the US at the moment, chatbots like the likes of dominoes are using, and there’s lots of stuff happening in AI and machine learning for forecasting and planning so – for instance – we would know how many chickens to cook each day depending on variables like the weather, traffic and footfall.
These are the kinds of things we’re looking at, and that are transforming the food industry at the moment, and then there’s things like how we deliver food, or using wearables for our waiters so they know when to clear tables. The other huge influences are IoT and Blockchain which I think will transform the supply chains even further. So really, there’s a lot of examples and ways in which technology and architecture are being harnessed!
AM: The speed of change is a big one. And the result of this is the fact we now don’t have competitors coming from traditional competitors, such as the restaurant next door, but we also have them coming from other verticals like Amazon and Deliveroo.
With so many competitors coming in from so many different angles, and with the speed at which they are entering the market, the entire industry is really being disrupted and reshaped constantly.
AM: They both had similar challenges in that they are very decentralised organisations – especially in the case of Nandos. What this meant was we had a fairly small headquarters and a not very top-down approach, and it’s more about influencing and convincing every country in order to get some consensus and that’s very difficult. Whilst coming up with a strategy was easy, implementing it is difficult!
I also think it’s difficult because you fundamentally have to change people’s opinions in order to influence change. If you are in a business that is doing well financially then there is little case for change, but when companies aren’t doing so well and realise they need to change it’s already too late because there is no money left and they go into survival mode, meaning IT is often seen as a secondary.
AM: Every company should always have some sort of formal approach to continuously be thinking about improvements and integrating new technologies. So even though you might not roadmap, you should consciously be continually evaluating and considering your options. To do it reactively often means it’s too late, so it needs to be a formalised, proactive approach.
AM: I think this is difficult because there’s a lot of different types of enterprise architecture, and different companies have different needs, but in general the entire space, and the role itself, has definitely evolved significantly, and continues to evolve.
It’s more and more about how an architect can add value at a strategic level to an organisation and knowing which tool you can use from your toolbox to orchestrate business change. I think it will become more and more about making this strategic change – whether it’s to do with budgeting, innovation, or planning – enterprise architecture will continue to move towards this role of influencing business change.
AM: I think there is a big opportunity for the IT department and for enterprise architecture to become more relevant, and to work closer to the business by innovating and coming up with more innovative long-term strategies. But, at the same time, it is a big risk that these strategies won’t happen.
It’s a tough one because sitting in IT or enterprise architecture I think that you should be trying to drive digital transformation, but you shouldn’t be running it; architects should try and instigate it but if they don’t have the involvement of the entire business to drive strategies forward then there really won’t be transformation. So, it can presents a huge opportunity, but enterprise architecture can still be held back by the business itself.
AM: We now live in a world where we have to be nimble and agile, but where we have to really think and balance it out with being structured and foreword thinking. The culmination of this is that businesses, and professionals, need to be able to do new things, and bring in new things, in an agile way and to adapt quickly.
Think of how start-ups work; they have a long-term vision but the way in which they achieve it is agile, and that’s how most people should operate today.
AM: For enterprise architects it is now less about actual enterprise architect skills; there’s enough of that in the industry! Someone who can see the bigger picture, who can oversee and who can build relationships internally and externally, and who has a good understanding of what people are doing, is more valuable now.
You need to be able to focus on what is going on in the industry and in your market – I myself have spent a lot of time at conferences this year doing just that. These skills are now much more important than knowing how to code something, because the discipline has so much breadth now that it’s impossible to have one person who understands everything from a technical perspective.
AM: It’s definitely a culture thing, and technology and the speed of change is very much dependent on this. For instance, I was in Austria before and it was very conservative and isolated and a risk-aversive culture, so they were not very open to change. But, at the same time, there is a lot of stuff happening the government now to support innovation, so this might change.
In comparison, in the US, there is a lot happening in terms of innovation and technology being used to differentiate yourself in the market. In general, the amount that you can adopt technology into a business is always going to be dependent on this culture.
For instance, in our restaurants in Africa, the market and the customer base are completely different and whilst we have some similar solutions out there we just can’t adopt some of them – like our HR solution is a no-go there because the majority of people we hire don’t have an iPhone!