DataSolutions’ Michael O’Hara: ‘The IT industry is in a constant mode of flux’

25 Jul 2018

Michael O’Hara. Image: DataSolutions

This week on Leaders’ Insights, Michael O’Hara of DataSolutions tells us how he manages his team in the ever-changing IT industry.

Michael O’Hara is the group managing director at DataSolutions.

DataSolutions was established in 1991 and offers an array of IT solutions, including virtualisation, security and enterprise cloud.

Building his education at Athlone IT and Galway-Mayo IT, O’Hara now has more than 25 years of experience in the IT sphere.

‘Technologies that are flying high this year could be dead in the water next year’

Describe your role and what you do.

As group managing director of DataSolutions, I have the overall responsibility of running the company. I share this responsibility with other members of the management team and my fellow directors.

DataSolutions is a leading specialist distributor of IT solutions servicing reseller partners both here in Ireland and in the UK. As a distributor, we are effectively a services-based business and our employees are the key to our continued operations and continued success.

My key role is to ensure that each and every one of DataSolutions’ employees is happy, motivated and functioning well, and has the skills and training necessary to provide the level of service all our partners require.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Meetings, meetings and more meetings! I’m a great believer in empowering people; I think you get more value from your colleagues and they feel more engaged and motivated when they are involved in the decision-making process themselves for the key aspects of their work functions. I achieve this through delegation of responsibilities to the people who can get the job done – that is the trick.

This is a key factor into how I organise my own working life. I hold regular (weekly, monthly and quarterly) meetings with my management team to agree budgets and plans, and subsequently (and constantly) review our progress against these plans. On top of that, there are regular meetings with different teams within the business, covering specific areas such as sales, marketing and finance, among others.

As well as this, as MD, there are continual business development meetings added into the mix with both vendor and reseller partners – these are vital to ensure the company’s future and success.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The biggest challenge by far is the rate of change. The IT industry is in a constant mode of flux. Technologies that are flying high this year could be dead in the water next year. It is vitally important that we keep up with where the market is going. Thankfully, we have some really excellent vendors with cutting-edge technologies that will be relevant in the marketplace for a number of years to come.

We also have ambitious growth plans for DataSolutions. To achieve these, we constantly need to bring on new and disruptive technology vendors that will be worldwide market leaders in their particular fields. For example, in 2015, we took on the little-known (at that time) vendor Nutanix. Today, Nutanix is listed on the Nasdaq with a market capitalisation of circa $9bn.

‘The most important thing is maintaining a good work-life balance. Everyone needs to make time to look after their personal wellbeing, both mental and physical’

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

DataSolutions’ approach is to align with products that we know will grow quickly. We take a really hands-on approach with emerging vendors, taking ownership of their business and effectively becoming a distinct division. This enables us to drive market penetration and accelerate the success of vendors’ products.

As well as the hyperconverged infrastructure market, which is an area of particular focus for DataSolutions at present, we are also concentrating on mobility, security, networking and enterprise cloud, and focusing on bringing innovative IT solutions to market in these areas. All four of these areas are experiencing strong growth in the marketplace currently.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I’m an accountant by profession. In the late 1980s while working for an accountancy practice in Dublin, I was seconded out to an IT company as acting financial controller for nine months. It was here that I was bitten by the business bug; I discovered that I liked the variety that working in business offered as well as the challenge of maximising opportunities. I made some new friends who I would later set up DataSolutions with and that’s what got me on this road.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

In 2016, we set up our UK operation in Camberley. The UK business has been growing rapidly over the last couple of years and within the next three years, we see this business growing to become as big as our Irish business.

With this in mind, if I was to pick one mistake, I would say it was not entering the UK market and capitalising on this opportunity sooner than 2016.

How do you get the best out of your team?

The DataSolutions team is the company’s most valuable asset; they are the reason for our success to date and why we will grow to €80m in the next three years.

As I mentioned earlier, empowering the team and engaging them in the goals and plans for the company gives them an ownership and buy-in into what we are trying to achieve.

For me, striving to create a happy and professional work environment is key. It is difficult to find and retain good work colleagues as the market is very buoyant at present, especially in the IT industry. People want to know they are respected in their jobs and they want to work in a business that is ambitious and has a well-thought-out plan that they can be part of.

This works both ways in that it can be good for the company, too. Down through the years, empowering and encouraging colleagues to take ownership of their various functions has seen them come up with innovative ideas and suggestions that the business has taken on board. This is what has helped us continue to grow and develop.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

The IT industry is traditionally very male-dominated and although this is changing, it is happening slower than I would like. I do think it goes back to career preconceptions that were instilled in us as children from an early age.

Today, I have three teenage children and I encourage them (and would encourage other parents to do the same with their children) to consider the IT industry for their careers. There are great opportunities in this growing market on which they can build successful careers.

Other than that, I do think people working today in the Irish marketplace, wherever they are from, have a very open and inclusive mindset. They enjoy working with colleagues from different cultures and experiences, and Irish businesses are all the better rounded because of them.

Who is your role model and why?

I’m a big fan of Steve Jobs for the amazing things achieved in his short life and not giving up when faced with what looked like impossible situations. He did an amazing job with Apple, not once but twice, ultimately helping to make it the largest company in the world. As well as amazing self-belief and determination, he also had great vision and understanding of human nature to create new products such as iPhone, iPad and iTunes that captured the imagination of the public and then became multibillion-dollar sales lines.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I like historical fiction novels and would recommend the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough. It offers a great insight into a fascinating period in history.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

For me, the most important thing is maintaining a good work-life balance. Everyone needs to make time to look after their personal wellbeing, both mental and physical. If you are not feeling well yourself, you will not be able to perform at your optimum level.

To accomplish this myself, I go to the gym in the early mornings and get away the odd weekend to go trekking with friends, usually in the Wicklow Mountains. I also love watching my children partake in their various sporting activities and spending time with my family.

Aside from this, I’m a great believer in mobile working, both in the office and when I’m away from it. I try to move around and work from different locations as this keeps me fresh and constantly gives me a new perspective, which is always valuable in business.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.