Riding the disruptive wave of cloud and digital momentum

16 May 2017

Jimmy Sheahan, MD of managed services and group technical director, Ergo. Image: Maura Hickey

As part of our Leaders’ Insights series, we spoke to Ergo’s Jimmy Sheahan about digital momentum and the rapid growth of cloud in the world of IT.

Jimmy Sheahan is the managing director (MD) of managed services and the group technical director at Ergo.

A past student of University College Dublin, Sheahan has a wealth of experience in managerial roles. He spent eight years as MD of Avocado Technology and was also MD at 3StackCloud before joining the Ergo team in 2013.

In his current role, he leads technical strategy and keeps a keen eye on emerging trends in the world of cloud technology.

Describe your role and what you do.

I have two core functions:

  1. I sit on the executive team in Ergo as group technical director. In this role, I work with the executive team and the board, focusing on the strategic direction of the business. This is a future-looking role, advising on where we should play, mergers and acquisitions, growth areas etc.
  2. I am also the managing director of the services strategic business unit. This is where I spend most of my time. Vision, strategy and leadership are prominent aspects of the role. I own the P&L for the strategic business unit and hence, I am very close to our proposition and our customers. The role requires a very rounded skill set, business strategy, and an understanding of our markets, proposition, operations, commercial strategy and, most importantly, customer success.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Monday: I start the week by energising the front-end of our business with the sales team early on Monday morning. Plan for the week, if you like.

Tuesday to Thursday: I fill my calendar with customer engagement as much as possible; listening being the most important thing I do!

Every day: At 8:45am every day, I do a 15-minute call with my head of customer success. We discuss priorities for the day and any operational challenges, with a key focus on customer outcomes and delivery success. Following that, I do a 15-minute stand-up meeting working on a Kanban board on the floor with our practice and sales leads. This allows us to maintain momentum on actions in a very efficient, lean style. I nominate a proxy when I cannot be there so that the stand-up always happens every morning.

Friday: The wrap-up day, decision day. At 8:30am every Friday, I sit with the CEO and business services director to do what we call ‘revenue assurance’. It is a business-focused session to ensure that we are tracking to plan. It is also used as a forum for a catalyst for changing something if it is not working. I meet with my team after lunch to allow them to discuss people and culture, to report on the teams’ performance indicators, to facilitate alignment and to make decisions. Everything else comes to me via scheduled and on-demand reports eg in-flight project reports, service delivery performance indicator reports, customer satisfaction reports and so on.

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

Our business is growing rapidly and the world is becoming a smaller place, given the nature of cloud and the digital landscape. The growth is amassing but this comes with challenges.

We have built our business on people and expertise, so the ongoing acquisition of amazing talent is a priority. We tackle this successfully with the aid of our amazing people and culture team and ‘Great Place to Work’ programme.

An ongoing challenge is the fact that everything around us is changing rapidly; technical landscape, regulatory landscape and other disrupters. Luckily for us, riding these waves is what we are best at.

What are the key industry opportunities youre capitalising on?

In general, cloud and digital momentum is a continuing playground for us. We are extremely well positioned as a partner, carving out a new space for ourselves between cumbersome tier-one providers and less-ready mid-tier providers. We are delivering enterprise-grade engagement experiences in a fresh way.

Currently, GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] is driving a lot of opportunity for us to help our customers to meet regulatory challenges. We have a consultative approach, underpinned by a suite of technical and business solutions to manage requirements.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

Two people had a conversation on a golf course; one of them needed an IT coordinator and the other knew me. I had no idea what I was doing, but had to learn quickly. Fortunately, the organisation executed a series of acquisitions so I found myself gaining deep domain knowledge across all aspects of the IT landscape, from wires and bare metal to advanced technologies. This led to a move to the business side of IT, but the ground-up learning in the first instance was invaluable.

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

Not knowing what I had because I was too anxious to chase the next big thing.

I am a big believer in reaching for the stars, however, I now know how important it is to get the balance right between recognising what you have and the time needed to maximise that, versus moving to the next big thing too soon.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Belief – belief in the vision. People are different and can be motivated by different things, but the most powerful thing is to create and share a vision that the team really believe in, that we can all attach to and be proud of. That belief in purpose will get the team through anything, being resilient in the face of challenge and energetic when going forward.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to effect change?

Internationally, the statistics speak for themselves and so it is important that the issue is recognised and faced head-on. My approach is very much based on a culture focus and ensuring that everyone is given the opportunity to excel, as opposed to diversity for diversity’s sake.

We need to ensure that people coming through our education system are given an equal footing to get an opportunity. Then, in the workforce, we need to ensure that a cultural focus is put in place to remove any (typically unaware) narrow views or bias. Simple checks and balances can govern this, but any effort needs CXO [chief experience officer] sponsorship, which is key. When it is done right, it is something that becomes a very natural thing.

In Ergo, our main focus is on things such as skills, aptitude, leadership and so on. We see a good pipeline of diversity coming through into the business and everyone has an equal opportunity to excel. I am very proud of our approach in that it is driven from a cultural standpoint through a joined-up effort between our people and culture department, and the business leads.

Who is your business hero and why?

If it was one name, then it would have to be Elon Musk for his energetic combination of engineering and business acumen, his pushing of boundaries, the incredible innovation. He has been able to mix these talents, capitalise on his influencing skills, make great decisions; and what he is doing now in almost every venture is shaping the future, having a significant impact on the world. That is the bit that inspires me the most, the impact that shapes the future as an output of business.

In terms of inspirational people that have had a direct influence on my business life, then it would have to be the people around me throughout my career. I find it is incredibly important to maintain a mentor network; mine includes CXO peers, non-exec board members and extended family. Nothing beats experience.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I don’t read much fiction these days, I tend to read business literature to expand my thinking or when seeking to address a specific area of concern.

Must-read business: Good To Great – Jim Collins.

Current business reading: Sprint – Jake Knapp.

My all-time favourite novel: To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee.

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

I would be lost without my smartphone, but who wouldn’t be! The reporting tools and BI tools that we use in Ergo give me great insights, allowing me to make timely, effective decisions. The Kanban board is a great tool that we use every day.

The most important tool that I use requires no technology, and that is the tool of people-to-people communication.

The most important resource is my mind and, in order to have that working to its maximum, I make sure that I get out early in the morning for a jog three to four times a week.

Jimmy Sheahan will be presenting at ‘Journey to the Agile Edge’, a half-day seminar organised by Ergo and Microsoft on Thursday 18 May in Croke Park, Dublin and Thursday 25 May in the Maryborough Hotel, Cork. The event will provide practical steps to IT leaders on how to build digital transformation into their organisations, and addresses the key challenges they are faced with currently, such as the impending GDPR, and how to make legacy infrastructure and applications more agile, to extending the reach of their business without compromising security. Limited places are available to register here

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