CIO 100 award winner talks digital transformation and 2021 game plan

Last night, at the awards, Abhy Thomas Joseph, IT & Digital Director at Pentland Brands, was listed number two in ‘The CIO 100’.  The awards recognise the 100 most transformational and disruptive CIOs in the UK and celebrates the achievements of them and their teams.

We spoke to Abhy about the increasing importance of IT and digital during 2020 and how it’s influenced Pentland Brands’ 2021 digital strategy.

 What are the biggest digital changes you’ve seen in 2020?

“2020 has seen a seismic shift. Data shows us that we’ve leapt five years forward, in consumer and business digital adoption, in a matter of weeks and months.  For example, the subscriptions Disney Plus achieved in five months, took Netflix seven years; 250 million students in China moved to online studying in just two weeks; and eCommerce globally has made 10 years’ worth of deliveries in eight weeks.

“Digital has allowed businesses to keep running, has entertained us, and kept us connected with friends, family, and the world outside.”

What do these changes mean for our industry?

“The game has changed. The global market is seeing a 15% to 30% growth in online purchases and 36% of consumers are trying new brands – which is both an opportunity and a challenge.

“In the UK, 17million consumers are expected to permanently shift to online and 75% of US consumers have tried a new shopping behaviour.  Not only that, 40% of consumers in Asia Pacific, 31% in the US and 18% in EMEA now plan to do more shopping online.”

How has IT and digital influenced ways of working within Pentland Brands this year?

“Over the past eight months, we’ve broken down internal silos, become more agile in our ways of working and are responding and moving at a quicker pace.

“When the UK Government announced the first lockdown in March, we needed to shift all office-based employees onto Microsoft Teams overnight. While we’ve had Teams capabilities for some time, adoption was limited with people preferring to meet face-to-face. We quickly set up virtual training sessions, it’s now integral to our day-to-day working lives and has enabled a more inclusive meeting culture globally.

“With travel restrictions in place, we also needed to accelerate the development and adoption of our online retail customer website,, so retailers could still access and order products from our brands. The website allows them to view stock and order products directly online. It was initially launched with Mitre, but retail customers can now also order from Canterbury, Speedo, Berghaus and Kickers; with Canterbury customers able to order personalised products for sports clubs and teams.”

What brand digital developments have been introduced in 2020?

“We recently introduced new functionality on the product pages.  If a product is out of stock on the website, it now directs the consumer to approved retailers, like Wiggle or Evans, where their size is available.

“For the Kickers ‘Back to School’ campaign, we realised the power of communicating to consumers across every touchpoint, from creating awareness through to purchase. This was possible because we looked beyond our current organisational silos. Led collaboratively by the Kickers brand teams and digital, it resulted in a 65% year-on-year revenue growth during the back-to-school period.

“We’ve also focused on enhancing our brand consumers’ digital experience. For example, Berghaus worked with consumers, who had posted images on social media of them wearing Berghaus products, to make their images shoppable on This resulted in an average order value increase of 18% and a conversion rate increase of 238%.

“We also recently trialled a digital product called Personify on which personalises the product listing and offers for consumers shopping on the website.”

What is the role of sustainability in digital transformation for Pentland?

We have integrated sustainability into the core of what we do. This year we moved into 100% premium sustainable packaging for all our D2C Commerce orders and we’ve recently started to look at emerging technologies like 3D product design, digital showrooms and virtual launch platforms.

What do you see as the key enablers to your success?

“A highly motivated, empowered, and diverse team. I’m a strong believer that best decisions are made when we break our natural biases and have a team with diversity of thought, views, style and experiences who challenge each other, but also work together to do the right thing. This is the culture I have tried to role model and champion.

“As an employer, Pentland Brands allows every person to be their authentic self which is, alongside the support of my talented colleagues, what helps me be at my best.”

What is your focus for digital in 2021?

“We’re taking what we’ve learned from 2020 and resetting the game for 2021 to help our consumers discover and engage with our family of brands in a digital world. This includes increasing the reach and engagement of our brands across all touchpoints, inspiring and delighting our consumers by showcasing what our brands stand for and providing convenience that looks beyond the point of purchase.

“We will also use feedback from our retail customers to increase adoption, and enhance the user experience, of Overall, we’ll look at more ways to partner with our retail customers across the digital ecosystem, so that more consumers see, buy and love our brands.”