As It Grows, Watchfinder’s IT Team Keeps Moving Like Clockwork

We often hear it’s easier for startups to adapt quickly to changes in the business environment because they’re smaller than companies that rely on enterprise technologies. In other words, small sailboats can change course faster than big ocean liners.

Jonathan Gill, IT Director for Watchfinder & Co., has a foot on either side of that line. Since its founding in 2000, the company has been redefining the way watches are bought and sold. And since 2008, the retailer has specialized in the sales and service of “pre-owned” timepieces, which has turned into a booming market.

Our growth has accelerated astronomically. We’ve been asked to solve problems we didn’t think we’d have, like how to scale people.

The Kent, England-based company now has 100 employees, but just six on the IT team. The modest size has allowed Gill to maintain a high level of responsiveness to the fast-changing demands of the business. That’s a characteristic Gill is keen to hang onto as Watchfinder grows into an enterprise class firm. For example, he’s now experimenting with ways to keep application delivery on a very tight schedule.

“We try to keep the IT work schedules to no longer than a week,” he told us in an interview. “We really bring the work we do down to the smallest amount we can get done. Every new project we do, we’ll do a minimum viable product and then we’ll iterate rapidly until it reaches a point where all partners are happy. Then we’ll move onto the next job on the list.”

That kind of responsiveness is lacking in many larger companies. In a survey for the Transform to Better Perform initiative, only 14 percent of the respondents said their enterprise IT teams are executing “very well” on the mandate to become a strategic, responsive and valued business partner.  And the top IT priority cited by the execs was to improve responsiveness to ever-changing conditions.

Gill is quite conscious of that reality. “Our growth has accelerated astronomically,” he said. “We’ve been asked to solve problems we didn’t think we’d have, like how to scale people.” 

David Leyland, head of next-generation datacenters for Dimension Data in the UK, said a cloud-based approach can lower the barriers to enter the enterprise class for companies that may have lacked the required capital earlier.

“The model can be tested and scaled in operation. Low-risk innovation is also a supreme feature of the cloud,” said Leyland. “To a very high degree, the need for operations starf is also siginificantly reduced or eliminated, and the standard to which the platform is operation in many cases is at the current state of the art.”

Gill can see where this is heading  – “We’re turning into an enterprise” – and he’s already put some ideas into effect to block any deterioration in the responsiveness of his team. For example, until recently, when the team got specifications for a new product, it would go and build it. But sometimes, it found the product didn’t meet expectations of the business user.  So now Gill requires the IT team member handling the project to spend a day with the business user to get a better idea of what would work best.  The IT worker actually does the job of the business user to understand the problem better. “Nothing focuses the mind more than actually having to do it,” said Gill. “We’ve found that to be quite effective.”

Gill is also working now with an outside development team that can take on the simpler jobs while his more-expert team tackles the problems that require an in-depth understanding of the business.  One project the company wants to take on is to unify the data available to clerks and customers through iPads and large touchscreen monitors on the wall. “That is something I can outsource quite easily to an outside agency,” said Gill.  Meanwhile, the in-house team can move the company’s reporting platform to Power BI Office 365 with data visualizations. “We can do that in isolation,” he said.

Cloud Impacts

As Leyland suggested, Gill is also looking to the cloud to make the transition easier. “Now, if we want to do some TV spot advertising, I don’t have to say ‘Give me 10 weeks to provision hardware,’” he said. “I can literally automate it, and we’re done. Things just became a lot simpler and a lot more cost effective.”

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Given his perspective as a smaller fish that’s swimming quickly toward a bigger pond, Gill offered some advice to enterprise CIOs who have been told their team members need to improve their ability to innovate quickly.

“Get them involved,” he said. “Everyone’s on the same team. The people we’re providing services for are doing this for their day job. We need – as the IT group or department – to provide the best level of service for the people using our services to make the firm better. So get out there. Talk to them. Go out to lunch with them. Just get to know them. Don’t work in isolation.”


Jonathan Gill
IT Director
Watchfinder & Co

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