“The first thing I learned when I joined V.Group is that we don’t talk about boats,” he laughs, recalling his first few weeks at the company. “They’re vessels. It was an intense education.”
Although Rose lacked specific industry knowledge, he brought an excess of IT experience. During his first year at V.Group, he drove a wide-reaching digital transformation of the company’s global IT operations.
Today, his team is virtually unrecognizable from the “reactive, order-taking organization”, he inherited. Indeed, Rose and his team now contribute strategically and proactively, all the while recording outstanding customer satisfaction scores - 95% of employees rate his work as “awesome.” But it hasn’t been an easy journey to get to that point.
A COMPANY WITHOUT BORDERS
V.Group was a mature business when Rose joined. Founded in 1984, it expanded around the world, opening 60 offices across 30 countries. Today, the group supports around 1,000 individual vessels, ranging from oil tankers and container ships to cruise liners and bulk carriers. Alongside 3,000 internal staff, they work with more than 45,000 seafarers.
Against a backdrop of consistent growth and evolution, one business unit lagged behind: IT.
Rose says the team was stuck in a “transactional, reactionary, order-taking” rhythm. Technicians and engineers picked up requests from a shared inbox, solved them as best they could, and moved on to the next request.
“It was a free-for-all,” Rose says. “There were thousands of tickets in it and you couldn't see the wood for the trees. The team was working crazy hours, commonly staying logged on until two or three o’clock in the morning.”
IT employees were constantly playing catch-up, chasing ticket after ticket, and working late into the night. Little work was proactive and even less was strategic. Morale was low and customer satisfaction metrics dragged along the floor.
While the status quo was poor for IT employees, it was excruciating for their colleagues. After emailing IT, people had no insight into what—if anything—was happening. Rose compares V.Group’s IT support process to a cable outage. If your TV went out and you emailed the supplier, you would want to know what was happening. If all you received was radio silence, you would feel confused and frustrated.
Despite the significant scale of V.Group’s IT challenges, Rose wasn’t phased. In fact, he’d specifically joined the group to transform its operation. That process started, not with technology, systems, or processes—but with experience.
START WITH CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Rose spent his first few weeks walking V.Group’s office, talking to employees, and analyzing existing ways of working. Drawing from his colleagues’ experiences, he constructed the ideal experience.
“For V.Group, we wanted an IT department that was easy to do business with,” he explains.
Once he had identified the ideal experience, he began working backward to the technology to power it. He built out a business case or terms of reference defining the features and functionality necessary to power his ideal experience.
He knew V.Group needed a central point of contact and a way to contact IT via various channels. It needed a robust request function to power equipment requests. It needed a self-service environment, so people could solve simple issues themselves. And it needed a way for employees to track their resolution progress.
“It wasn't just a ticketing platform I was looking for, he says. It was something that would help me deliver the ideal experience.”
Using his business case, Rose launched into a Request for Proposal (RFP) process, speaking to multiple vendors and evaluating them against his list of criteria. Combined with insight from industry peers and Gartner, he eventually selected Freshservice.
In partnership with Freshworks, Rose spent six weeks building the platform and rearchitecting V.Group’s processes. Eventually, he was ready to go live. While the change management element of transformations is a common sticking point, that wasn’t the case here.
“Adoption was very easy,” Rose says. “It was a very user-friendly and “webby” environment. And it comes back to the experience. We designed everything based on the customer experience.”
But implementing new technology was only half the battle. Before Rose arrived, IT staff were working incredibly hard and burning out. Although Freshservice eased some pressures, it wasn’t a silver bullet. To create sustainable change, Rose knew the service model had to change, too.
FOLLOW THE SUN
For years, V.Group operated four IT hubs around the world: Manila, Singapore, Mumbai, and the UK. Each hub supported vessels and employees in its local region. The Manila hub picked up tickets in the Philippines, Mumbai supported vessels in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, and so on. While this seemed to make sense, it created disruptive working practices.
Say a night-shift employee in London encountered a problem at four o’clock in the morning. If they called for support, the local IT engineer’s phone would ring, waking them up in the middle of the night.
The old model didn’t make any sense. Although it was the middle of the night in the UK, it was early morning in India and the Philippines. Engineers in Manila and Mumbai could pick up tickets, but only if they were empowered to do so.
“Things were just all over the place,” he says. “We had to reset the service model. We had to reset it quickly, because the staff were exhausted.”
Rose designed a new service 'Follow the Sun' model. He closed down all support backchannels, promoted Freshservice as the central IT hub, and reinforced the change with a large internal marketing campaign. Working from a central intake, engineers could pick up tickets regardless of where in the world they were. Empowering V.Group’s global IT workforce changed the service overnight.
VISION DRIVES CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT
Perhaps confusingly for someone who has spent more than two decades working in IT, Rose prefers not to focus on technology. He compliments every sentence on systems with one on people. Every remark about features or functionality comes wrapped within musings on human psychology. Asked what he is most proud of during his time at V.Group, he replies simply: “My team.”
Rose says transforming how the IT department saw itself and how it was seen by others was just as important as overhauling the underlying technology. He devoted a lot of time to resetting the culture and defining a new vision.
With a passionate, energized team behind him, Rose says the transformation process is just getting started.
“Transformation isn't a start and a stop,” he says. “It's continuous evolution. You focus on what matters most. In the early days of this transformation journey, that was building capability, re-establishing control, creating a sense of purpose, and delivering consistency.”
What comes next is something Derek is calling “The Year of the Vessel.”
Operations on modern vessels are incredibly complex—a maze of interconnected systems and tools. He plans to harness the momentum he built on land to drive a transformation on the water. He wants to overhaul the technology seafarers use to generate valuable digital insights and, ultimately, drive a better customer experience for the crew.