This week on Leaders’ Insights, we spoke to 4Site CEO Ian Duggan about injecting innovation into infrastructural developments.
Ian Duggan is the CEO of 4Site, a company on a mission to harness engineering expertise to design, build and maintain network infrastructure for telecoms and utilities networks.
Revealing plans to expand its Limerick office last year, 4Site is keeping on a close eye on emerging trends in the internet of things, smart cities and 5G.
It recently developed a mobile app alongside Esri Ireland to reduce the time taken to design and build fibre networks. The 4Survey app allows field engineers to mark, photograph, record and transfer all the necessary data from their handheld device, be it a smartphone or an iPad, directly to the fibre planners’ design tools in the office.
Before setting up 4Site in 2002, Duggan worked with Esat Digifone (later known as O2 Ireland) as a principal engineer and oversaw the roll-out of hundreds of mobile network sites.
‘It’s a pity that Ireland hasn’t progressed more in relation to our networks, particularly in a rural context. We should be world leaders with our networks, not languishing in the international league tables’
– IAN DUGGAN
Describe your role and what you do.
I’m the CEO of 4Site and we provide innovative engineering solutions for major infrastructural developments in telecommunications and utilities networks. We work with infrastructure owners and operators of distributed networks to design, build, deploy and maintain utilities infrastructure across Ireland, the United Kingdom and beyond.
Innovation is at the heart of what we do. We have highly skilled in-house technical teams that continually adapt technology, tools and processes to deliver reliable and future-proofed turnkey services for clients such as Vodafone, Siro, Cignal, NetShare, 2RN (RTÉ), Three, Ericsson, Nokia and Enet. We help our clients to maximise the value of their infrastructure.
We are headquartered in Limerick, with offices in Dublin and the UK, and we currently employ 60 people.
I lead a very strong senior management team across operations, programmes, finance, sales and marketing, and represent a highly skilled and professional workforce that covers all parts of Ireland and the UK. As 100pc owner of the business, my commitment to the organisation is significant.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
Simple – it’s prioritised by the needs of our clients and ensuring that we are doing everything possible to deliver for them.
During a typical week, I will work from our headquarters in Limerick on Monday, focusing mainly on the day-to-day operations with our operations director and programme directors. This sets up the week. On Tuesdays, I’m also in headquarters, but this time focusing on the finance aspect of the business. Wednesday and Thursday are usually client-facing. I meet with existing clients to discuss ongoing projects and also meet with new business prospects. If I can at all, I try and work from home on Fridays as this allows me to catch up on paperwork as well as having time to think.
While that’s my ideal week, this can change on a day-to-day basis, depending on clients’ needs. As we are primarily involved in the roll-out of networks, it can be very dynamic and demanding around targets, and we need to ensure we deliver for our clients. To facilitate this, we have developed our own internal web-based project-tracking tools that allow us track all orders, from instruction through to delivery. This is key to our business as every day, we are dealing with multiple clients and projects that are at various different stages and milestones.
What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?
The biggest challenge for our business is that the projects we work on are finite, in that they have a start time and an end time. Also, in our sector, it may take between six months and two years from initial client engagement to closing a transaction. As a result, we have invested significantly in sales and marketing to ensure that we always have a strong pipeline of new and exciting opportunities.
Telco operators also go through cycles of investment into new technology deployment, ie 2G to 3G to 4G. So, by working in other sectors – both within telecoms (ie fibre deployment and data centres) as well as other utilities – we are able to counteract this cyclical investment nature of the various infrastructure roll-outs.
‘Nobody realised back in the late ’90s that we would end up with an insatiable appetite for data and mobile phones’
– IAN DUGGAN
What are the key industry opportunities you’re capitalising on?
In telecoms right now, it’s about two things: bandwidth capacity and ‘fibre to the home’. We have invested significantly in our fibre-to-the-home offering and have developed a new purpose-built 3,500 sq ft space in our Limerick HQ, called the Fibre Centre of Excellence. This will allow us to support our customers in Ireland, the UK and further afield. It is also testament to the focus on the need for increased broadband speeds for both homes and businesses in Ireland and abroad.
We are also starting to see the green shoots of what will be the next 5G networks, and have been involved in some interesting projects in the UK that are paving the way to what these networks will ultimately be.
We will continue to invest in people, resources and technology while deploying our services across a range of exciting projects in Ireland and further afield. As we continue to expand, managing this growth will be critical to the ongoing success of the company and ensuring delivery excellence for clients. We would like to expand to wider markets across the world, and I believe our unique skills and set-up will also us to do that.
What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?
After I graduated as an engineer with a BSc (Hons) in construction management from Waterford Institute of Technology in 1992, I worked with Jons Civil Engineering as an engineer on a range of major civil projects.
I then joined Ned O’Shea Construction in Kerry as a site manager/engineer looking after a number of commercial, healthcare and public building projects.
I moved to Dublin to Spain Courtney Doyle as a resident engineer, working on the second phase of The Square shopping centre in Tallaght, which included an extension and the construction of a new multi-storey car park.
In 1996, I joined Esat Digifone shortly after they were awarded the second mobile licence, and I worked as a principal engineer, looking after the roll-out of hundreds of mobile network sites. As a result, I gained invaluable experience in the roll-out of telecom networks and getting to market quickly. I was also involved in the establishment of the Cork office for the business and took on the role of construction manager to a team of engineers.
I loved the faster pace of telecoms roll-out and having to constantly adapt to new trends and technologies. Nobody realised back in the late ’90s that we would end up with an insatiable appetite for data and mobile phones, and that there would be a need for the constant expansion and upgrading of networks. After six years with Esat, I saw an opportunity to set up a consultancy company offering engineering services to the telco operators and, in 2002, I established 4Site.
When I started in telecoms, you had a dial-up internet connection, and mobile phones were used for talking. We have come a long way since then, but it’s a pity that Ireland hasn’t progressed more in relation to our networks, particularly in a rural context. We should be world leaders with our networks, not languishing in the international league tables.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Going into a so-called partnership where we just ended up being a sub-contractor. Don’t underestimate the value of what you do as a business and what you are bringing to the table. If you let companies that don’t understand what you do front your services without retaining control, you can risk your reputation.
Another piece of advice would be not to be overly dependent on particular clients or sectors. Diversify and grow across multiple clients and sectors, but don’t ignore the core skills your business provides.
I’d also recommending placing more emphasis on sales and marketing. A lot of companies, particularly engineering ones, often underestimate this and find it difficult to invest in sales and marketing. It’s worth it – believe me!
‘I grew up in a house where running a business was a big part of our day-to-day lives. I only really appreciate now the highs and lows of running a business’
– IAN DUGGAN
How do you get the best out of your team?
In 2011, we had a team of 12. We now have 60 and will be growing this figure again. It’s a highly skilled and educated workforce that love to keep up with technology, staying at the forefront of trends and developments. They are brilliant at what they do and, every day, I encourage them to remember that they play an important role in creating a smarter, more connected world, and that the work we do makes a difference.
The majority of our employees are based in Limerick, apart from our survey and build teams that work throughout Ireland, the UK and across Europe. We are very lucky to be based in the mid-west as we have fantastic access to great graduates from UL and LIT. We operate a very successful graduate programme. We bring in graduates with the key engineering skills and have created our own training programmes specific to our projects. We find the graduates great as they continually invigorate the business with new ideas and they are all very tech-savvy, which is vital for what we do.
STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?
It’s a huge challenge as businesses are missing out on a rich pool of talent. Engaging with young people in schools is vital and I really feel that academia and business need to work together more to make STEM industries a more appealing option to everyone.
Who is your business hero and why?
I have huge admiration for anyone that has set up their own business – no matter how big or small. I particularly admire those who may have failed on their first or second attempt at entrepreneurship, but have still come back and created jobs and real value in our economy.
As the son of a garage owner, I always had ambitions to work for myself. I grew up in a house where running a business was a big part of our day-to-day lives. I only really appreciate now the highs and lows of running a business.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
I recently read The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton, a member of Lance Armstrong’s US Postal team. It’s a great book that shows what winning at any cost can do to people. Even if you’re not into cycling, it’s an honest and compelling account of a guy thrown into a rotten system, and the disastrous results this had for him and the people around him. We too often look for the villain in an individual when, in actual fact, it’s the system that is to blame.
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
The obvious ones are my mobile and laptop. We use Microsoft Skype for Business, which is an invaluable tool that seamlessly allows us all to connect with each other, no matter where we are – Dublin, the UK, Europe or elsewhere. We need to be able to share screens while we talk to each other. Imagine trying to explain a design over the telephone without being able to point out things – it just wouldn’t work for us. Skype for Business removes this obstacle – once, of course, we have a good fibre or 4G connection, which is the reason 4Site exists!
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