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Interview with Yiannis Levantis, CIO: Yiannis Levantis strives for total quality at Unipart IT



Interview with Yiannis Levantis, CIO: Yiannis Levantis strives for total quality at Unipart IT

Brian McKenna


Published: 09 Jun 2022 17: 30

Turning a company’s IT function into an exceptional business in its own right must be the dream of many a CIO. Yiannis Levantis is the group CIO of Unipart, a UK logistics company. He draws on his long career in corporate IT which included stints at Unilever, Rolls-Royce, and other companies.

Levantis is not easily daunted. He grew up in a household in Greece at which business leaders and politicians sat at the dining table, among them Antonis Samaras, who was prime minister of the country from 2012 to 2015, and the leader of the New Democracy party.

“Was it of any use to me?” he thinks. It was, I think. As a child, I was surrounded by multimillionaires at dinner. They owned newspapers, hotels chains, football teams and even hotel chains. That meant that I didn’t think things were too large or overwhelming. How would I get there? How do I do it? I always thought, ‘Well, unless it’s a sprint over 100 metres, at which I would be absolutely rubbish, if it’s doable, it’s doable by anyone. And, therefore, by me’.”

As the CIO of Unipart, whose origins are in the car industry, Levantis has led the choice of the Rise with SAP cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) and related technologies service as it seeks to enhance the systems integration side of its own business. Amazon Web Services (AWS), is the cloud provider that it chose for its Rise service.

The international logistics, consulting and manufacturing organisation, which has been an SAP customer for 21 years, announced in March 2022 that it is adopting Rise, which is built on the supplier’s high-speed, columnar database, Hana, and which puts managed cloud infrastructure and managed services into one contract.

Oxford-based Unipart emerged from British Leyland in the mid-1970s, specialising in the manufacture of parts for the automotive industry. It emerged as a standalone company in 1987, as a logistics services business, and is now looking to strengthen its capability as an SAP systems integrator.

The company has a heritage summed up in the phrase the Unipart Way, consciously modelled on the Toyota Way philosophy of continuous improvement and respect for people, and so putting a big emphasis on quality, lean manufacturing, the elimination of waste, and the like.

Levantis is seeking to develop Unipart’s business in this respect, with IT more to the fore than it has been hitherto under the rubric of logistics.

He came to the company in March 2021, immediately from Britvic, where he had been IT strategy and delivery director. But his two big formative experiences were at Unilever, which he joined from university in 1999, and at Rolls-Royce, where he was global IT director.

“I had a clear ambition to get to the top of the [IT] function. Not for reasons of ego or vanity, but because I had observed a lot of things that were done either badly or not very well, and I could see that they could be done much better”

Yiannis Levantis, Unipart

Levantis has two degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Manchester, and to that added a Masters in financial management and control from Aston Business School.

He says he is very grateful to Unilever for giving him a grounding in business technology, starting as a management trainee in supply chain IT. They put me in more responsibilities to help me understand the wider business. They were very kind to me. They put me at the table with a senior leadership team and treated me like an equal. I knew nothing about anything.

” Early in my career, one of my managers said to me, “Let’s do real work now.” Would you like to go into an SAP project?’ And I said, ‘What is SAP?’.”

He quickly discovered that it had given him “a common backbone to his career.” He said, “That’s extensive global business and business transformation that spans multifunctional business transformation with SAP at its core. This has been my common thread throughout my career up to and including GSK.

Levantis was global IT director for commercial ERP at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for three-and-a-half years, after which he joined Rolls-Royce, spending just over five years there, from 2011 to 2016.

Chrysalis moment at Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce was a “pivotal moment” for Levantis, for a couple of reasons. “One, I escaped from my SAP box that had been serving me very well up to then. I was determined to reach the top of this function. He says that he did not do this out of vanity or ego, but rather because he had seen a lot of things done poorly or very well over the years and could see how they could be improved – even without an innovative approach.

” It is all about clarity, discipline and honesty. The basics are often not there. The IT industry beset by confusion and suboptimal practices.”

Why is he convinced that this is the case?

“Money. Consulting can make you a lot of money. We’re not talking about thousands of pounds. We are talking about billions and hundreds of millions. This is a lot of money. This directly impacts individuals. Many people who are in sales or in leadership positions within these organizations see the sale as a significant benefit to their families, their children, and their pockets. Levantis says that this is something very personal – it’s not an arbitrary or ethereal matter.

” Another reason is that was represented in Klingon by the men who spoke Klingon and were locked up in a darkened room, typing away at their keyboards. There came a time, probably around the late 1990s, early 2000s, when the IT guys said, ‘We need more friends. It is impossible to be alone. We need to be more normal’.”

Hence IT professionals bulked up on their social skills and got more involved in the business, “not just saying, ‘I don’t care what you do for a living – just tell me what you want me to build for you and I’ll build it”.

Don’t turn your back on tech

Levantis argues that, as IT professionals have cast aside their headphones and hoodies to learn more about the business of the companies and organisations that pay their salaries, some might have gone too far, and allowed their technology knowledge to rust to the extent that they are at a disadvantage when negotiating with smart and sophisticated suppliers, with their deeply expert technical staff and their lawyers.

Technology must be your passion from the top down, regardless of what you do for a living. You should look elsewhere if it isn’t.
Yiannis Levantis, Unipart

“Many have forgotten or turned a blind eye to the extremely important need to be a technology expert,” he says. You can’t be an expert in everything. But you can pick your strengths and become an expert in one area. It is not enough to assume that technology will automatically take care of itself.

” Technology should be your passion. This applies to all levels of IT, not just what you do for a living. You should look elsewhere if it isn’t. He adds that we ended up with many amateurs who were excellent at people management, general management and leadership behaviors.

Levantis says the current technology scene is too complex for that generalist approach to be sustainable. “Cloud computing gives you a lot more mobility and allows for data to be created and extracted with a lot of value. He says machine learning is on the rise. It is impossible to be an expert in every area of life. However, it is important to have a wide range of expertise. And you have to maintain this expertise, no matter how far you progress in your career.”

However, Levantis counsels IT professionals against then neglecting the non-technical, and not just in the realm of people skills. He says, “If you want to be a leader in technology, you should know contract law.” You don’t need to be a graduate in this field. Get together with your friends who are lawyers. Get together with your procurement guys. Understand commercial negotiations that make a real difference.”

Experience means scars on one’s back

Experience is the best substitute, Levantis says. Levantis gives the example of strategy consultancy firms. McKinsey is a magnet for the best talent. They are a great group of strategic thinkers who work together to create truly exceptional think tanks. He says they are a great organisation.

” But there’s a big difference between intelligence and training, presentation skills and people skills. Practical execution is where you are most successful. You can only be great if your pants are rolled up and you have lots of scars. It is not possible to achieve that practitioner experience in a polished manner. There is no easy way to get there. Only the hard way is the best for enduring difficult projects over the years. Taking the pain of all the mistakes, the errors, the miscommunications, the overspends, the delays, being in the spotlight of that, managing through that, learning through that.”

Levantis says the biggest learning point of his career has been “making sense of people, bringing them together, because everybody has an angle, everybody has a way of thinking, everybody has a background”.

He gives an example of how he dealt diplomatically with an Italian manager during his time at Unilever. “Unilever was a great school. I went through many country SAP implementations. He says that they once sent me to an Italian factory run by a man who was not easy to work with.”

“Now, I’m Greek. After having a glass red wine for lunch, we discuss anything other than work and then get back to it. It was imperative that I said, “This is how we’re going about this. It is not optional.” Let’s first understand what it means for you and then let’s make this change appropriate and relevant. Tell me what you value and what you don’t need. You tell me what you need and what is most important to me. Let’s ensure that we both focus on achieving a viable outcome.

“Then we could finish earlier and go for another glass of wine in the evening. This was a special approach. He was an Italian flamboyant and a very nice man. Although he was very easy to understand, you had to work with him to reach his goals. His culture, his thinking style and approach required that you align with him. You could not approach him like a German or a Swiss or a Japanese or a Dutch guy.”

Janus role for IT at Unipart

At Unipart, which has sites in Nuneaton and India, as well as Oxford, Levantis leads an IT function of around 200 people. Both he and it have an internal and external role.

In terms of internal IT, he wants it to be a place that spends very little time on firefighting. So, our collective intelligence can be focused on always being better. It’s about how to make cloud capabilities more efficient and smarter. These are viable solutions that automate the deployment of systems so it doesn’t take three days. Instead, it takes only three minutes. These aren’t dreamy goals, they’re very feasible,” he said.

” The second part of the process is to establish a truly exceptional IT transformation and partner business, based upon what I have already discovered. He adds that he is not starting from scratch. There is already a lot of good stuff. However, you must bring it to a level where it is exceptional in the context of a larger market and grow it. Not necessarily explode it, but grow it appropriately, so we never lose focus on top-quality engagement with customers, top-quality customer experience throughout the implementation of the services, top-quality service and outcome.”

And, finally, a glass of red wine to thank you for your hard work.

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Nothing announces official launch date for new Ear (stick) AirPods alternatives




Nothing announces official launch date for new Ear (stick) AirPods alternatives
Nothing Ear (stick) held by a model on white background

(Image credit: Nothing )

True to form, Nothing has just announced the full reveal date for its upcoming audio product, Ear (stick). 

So, an announcement about an announcement. You’ve got to hand it to Carl Pei’s marketing department, they never miss a trick.

What we’re saying is that although we still have ‘nothing’ conclusive about the features, pricing or release date for the Ear (stick) except an image of another model holding them (and we’ve seen plenty of those traipsing down the catwalk recently), we do have a date – the day when we’ll be granted official access to this information. 

That day is October 26. Nothing assures us that on this day we’ll be able to find out everything, including pricing and product specifications, during the online Ear (stick) Reveal, at 3PM BST (which is 10AM ET, or 1AM on Wednesday if you’re in Sydney, Australia) on (opens in new tab)

Any further information? A little. Nothing calls the Ear (stick), which is now the product’s official name, “the next generation of Nothing sound technology”, and its “most advanced audio product yet”. 

But that’s not all! Apparently, Ear (stick) are “half in-ear true wireless earbuds that balance supreme comfort with exceptional sound, made not to be felt when in use. They’re feather-light with an ergonomic design that’s moulded to your ears. Delivered in a unique charging case, inspired by classic cosmetic silhouettes, and compactly formed to simply glide into pockets.” 

Opinion: I need more than a lipstick-style case

Nothing Ear (stick) – official leaked renders 1, 2022

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It’s no secret that I want Nothing’s earbuds to succeed in world dominated by AirPods; who doesn’t love a plucky, eccentric underdog? 

But in order to become some of the best true wireless earbuds on the market, there is room for improvement over the Nothing Ear 1, the company’s inaugural earbuds. 

Aside from this official ‘news’ from Nothing, leaked images and videos of the Ear (stick) have been springing up all over the internet (thank you, developer Kuba Wojciechowski) and they depict earbuds that look largely unchanged, which is a shame. 

For me, the focus needs to shift from gimmicks such as a cylindrical case with a red section at the end which twists up like a lipstick. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of theater, but only if the sound coming from the earbuds themselves is top dog. 

As the natural companions for the Nothing Phone 1, it makes sense for the Ear (stick) to take a place similar to that of Apple’s AirPods 3, where the flagship Ear (1) sit alongside the AirPods Pro 2 as a flagship offering. 

See, that lipstick case shape likely will not support wireless charging. That and the rumored lack of ANC means the Ear (stick) is probably arriving as the more affordable option in Nothing’s ouevre. 

For now, we sit tight until October 26. 

Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.  

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YouTube could make 4K videos exclusive to Premium subscribers




YouTube could make 4K videos exclusive to Premium subscribers
Woman watching YouTube on mobile phone screen

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Kicking Studio)

You might soon have to buy YouTube Premium to watch 4K YouTube videos, a new user test suggests.

According to a Reddit thread (opens in new tab) highlighted on Twitter by leaker Alvin (opens in new tab), several non-Premium YouTube users have reported seeing 4K resolution (and higher) video options limited to YouTube Premium subscribers on their iOS devices. For these individuals, videos are currently only available to stream in up to 1440p (QHD) resolution.

The apparent experiment only seems to be affecting a handful of YouTube users for now, but it suggests owner Google is toying with the idea of implementing a site-wide paywall for access to high-quality video in the future.

So, after testing up to 12 ads on YouTube for non-Premium users, now some users reported that they also have to get a Premium account just to watch videos in 4K. 1, 2022

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It’s no secret that Google has been searching for new ways to monetize its YouTube platform in recent months. In September, the company introduced five unskippable ads for some YouTube users as part of a separate test – an unexpected development that, naturally, didn’t go down well with much of the YouTube community. 

A resolution paywall seems a more palatable approach from Google. While annoying, the change isn’t likely to provoke the same level of ire from non-paying YouTube users as excessive ads, given that many smartphones still max out at QHD resolution anyway. 

Of course, if it encourages those who do care about high-resolution viewing to invest in the platform’s Premium subscription package, it may also be more lucrative for Google. After all, YouTube Premium, which offers ad-free viewing, background playback and the ability to download videos for offline use, currently costs $11.99 / £11.99 / AU$14.99 per month.

Suffice to say, the subscription service hasn’t taken off in quite the way Google would’ve hoped since its launch in 2014. Only around 50 million users are currently signed up to YouTube Premium, while something close to 2 billion people actively use YouTube on a monthly basis. 

Might the addition of 4K video into Premium’s perk package bump up that number? Only time will tell. We’ll be keeping an eye on our own YouTube account to see whether this resolution paywall becomes permanent in the coming months.

Axel is a London-based staff writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the newest movies to latest Apple developments as part of the site’s daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion. 

Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned a gold standard NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme. 

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Europe sets deadline for USB-C charging for (almost) all laptops




Europe sets deadline for USB-C charging for (almost) all laptops

USB-C als Ladestandard in der EU

Mundissima / Shutterstock

Author: Michael Crider
, Staff Writer

Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

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