How the C-Suite Shaped the PGA European Tour’s Digital Drive

The PGA European Tour’s chief financial officer, chief technology officer, and chief people officer discuss finance, IT, and HR transformation against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

During the pandemic, businesses from all sectors were forced to accelerate digital programmes and find new ways of working. For leaders at the PGA European Tour, bringing back golf safely while supporting a complex business model was a significant challenge.

The organisation’s Claire Giacometto, chief financial officer Michael Cole, chief technology officer; and Fran Merrylees, chief people officer; talk about finance, IT, and HR transformation against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

Overcoming Complexity and Driving Innovation Key to the Tour

Complexity in modern business is not unusual, so it’s hardly surprising that, as a professional sport, golf has its own unique set of management challenges. Add to the mix a global pandemic, and it’s clear that disruption is—pun fully intended—par for the course. For the PGA European Tour’s C-suite, the last 18 months have been both an opportunity to push through crucial digital initiatives and also rethink how technology should help the business overcome complexity.

From a finance perspective, CFO Claire Giacometto understands the importance of reducing complexity to ensure players and staff can be paid on time and that finance processes are as frictionless as possible.

“We’re responsible for generating income, and Workday is responsible for how that income circulates around the business.”

Michael Cole Chief Technology Officer PGA European Tour

“We're small but we're quite a complex organisation, and we operate in many different countries' jurisdictions, so it's absolutely critical that when we're paying the players, or calculating taxes, we have a really reliable system that makes sure that we're doing everything as it should be done,” she said.

“It’s crucial that we're never running late with payments, as once things start to run behind, then you're onto the next tournament and people are scrambling. We want to be professional, we want the players to be paid on time, and we want it to feel as effortless from their perspective as possible.” 

As CTO, Michael Cole is well placed to understand the organisation’s business and IT complexity. He believes technology plays a key role, not only in making the business more efficient, but also in maintaining the PGA European Tour’s brand challenger and innovator status.

“We're not two teams on one field of play, playing for 90 minutes. We're 156 players, playing 18 fields of play over four days, and we sometimes even change our format, which means that we are a complex organisation. Technology has a key role to play in how we can create efficiency and simplicity across the organisation,” he said. 

“We like to look at innovation and creativity to bring new and exciting content to our fans. But, also we know we've got a real challenge in terms of using technology to create simplicity out of what is a massively complex organisation.”

COVID-19 and the Reimagination of Business as Usual

In 2019, the European Tour transformed from a data centre-focused organisation to one that was cloud-based, greatly increasing the level of agility across its operations. As COVID-19 placed most sports, including golf, on hold, the importance of organisational agility became immediately apparent. 

Cole explained, “When the pandemic kicked in, because we were set up to work remotely with that level of agility, staff were overnight simply able to work from home. In fact, home just became an extension of their office.”

Managing people working remotely and ensuring they had both the tools to do their jobs and the support to thrive presented its own challenges for the organisation’s HR function. But what were the key areas for HR to focus on and the challenges to overcome?

“Having a cloud-based system enabled us to have HR information and data anytime and anywhere, and that’s been incredibly important,” said CPO Fran Merrylees. “We had a very difficult furlough process, as many organisations did. But being able to have all that information at our fingertips, even when working remotely, has been really important.”

Often, adversity is the biggest driver of innovation and the greatest test of capability. The pandemic drove many organisations forward, as they simply had to find ways of getting the job done. For Giacometto and her team, the cloud was a central component of delivering finance agility.

“Having a system where, at a flick of a switch, anybody could go in and understand what was going on was so important.”

Claire Giacometto Chief Financial Officer PGA European Tour

“We were constantly having to rework things, from forecasts, cash management, and tax requirements. Things changed on a constant basis. The fact that we were able to do all of that from home was something I never believed would be possible. But everything was seamless, and we didn't drop a ball in managing our cash through what was a really difficult period.”

What Digital Means: The Power to Plan, Execute, and Analyse

As the world begins to move again, and professional sport takes on a more normal appearance, what does digital mean to businesses like the PGA European Tour in times of non-crisis?

On the finance side, Giacometto points to having a single system in which the business can plan, execute, and analyse, even as things continue to change in real time.

“Knowing that we have really good audit trails of our data, we can analyse it, and know it's reliable, that was a big change for us. Having a system where, at a flick of a switch, anybody could go in and understand what was going on was so important,” she said. “We have tournaments week in, week out, so we're paying players every week. We're obviously trying to manage our cash resources, so we're doing a lot of cash forecasting, and also working with the business to make sound commercial decisions.”

Bringing the power of finance and HR together in a single system is an important consideration for people leader Merylees.

“Having a modernised HR function means we can stand back and be a lot more strategic, and engage with business partners such as finance in a very different way. We're able to plan for the future, and use real-time reporting to collaborate with stakeholders on key things such as finance and workforce planning. Because managers and staff are empowered through data, it actually means they can be more strategic and sophisticated in their roles.”

Taking a broader perspective on the role of the cloud and digital more broadly, CTO Cole points to the direct correlation between having the right technology and how the organisation generates revenue.

“For us, two things are critical: empowerment of employees and accessibility to data. We are a members-based organisation. We need a mechanism that creates playing opportunities for over 1,000 golfers. Every pound that we generate goes into the operations, and more importantly, is delivered as a prize fund for the players. We are responsible for generating that income, and Workday is responsible for how that income circulates around the business. From that perspective, Workday is a catalyst for us.”

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