Leading CIOs and IT leaders give an insight into the data challenge, how to manage it and the kind of cutting-edge projects they are embarking upon.
Every week we talk to CIOs from local and global organisations as part of our five-minute CIO series.
There are two kinds of people who are the power brokers of change in the data-centric 21st century; the start-ups creating businesses that will become brand names as fast as Uber has; and the CIOs, charged with leading the digital transformation of all kinds of organisations with one thing in common, they are all going digital.
Here we select quotes from some of our featured CIOs to get an insight into the transformation projects they are spearheading with data at their core.
Big data is going to play a vital part in our future. Over the past number of years, the mail volumes have been in decline. In the last seven years, probably close to 30pc of our mail volumes have declined due to the advent of email and other electronic services. But that doesn’t mean An Post is in decline. Conversely, packages are on the rise thanks to consumers engaging in e-commerce. Our volume of parcels and packets has increased quite significantly over the last two years.
The value of big data for us is we have created a system that frees people up to make business decisions, to innovate and create new ways to develop An Post.
For us, we see the hybrid cloud as a logical next step because everyone in some shape or form is in the cloud.
We are testing archiving and back-up via the Oracle data centre in Slough in the UK with non-business critical data that is fully encrypted and I think there is going to be a lot more done in this space over the coming 12 months.
We have to be flexible in how services get delivered, a hybrid approach of off-shore, near shore and on-site supported by on-premise, cloud and hosted shared services. Users and management have no interest in how or where they receive their IT services, just that it’s available, performs well, and is value for money, and that it supports business initiatives.
Our core policy administration system sits at the heart of our application stack, providing a single source of data. We have surrounded that with best-in-class third-party apps for process management, print, electronic records repository and financials. Customisation of legacy and web presence ensures best fit.
Standardisation, consolidation and simplification are key considerations that inform our strategy. We are happy to buy rather than build if required and, where we build, maximum re-useability is the goal.
We are really about three focus areas: the software-defined data centres, the hybrid cloud and end-user computing.
You can put them all together in one very simple story, realistically, in that the software-defined data centre is about evolving data centres to be controlled, scaled and managed by software as well as using software to manage networking and storage.
The hybrid cloud is about extending customers’ IT environments to include not only their on-premises but also their off-premises IT and other cloud providers, allowing them to look at the ‘one-cloud any application’. The ‘one cloud’ is about organisations made up of multiple internal and external clouds but managing it all as one cloud.
Then the any application and accessing it on any device, which is the end user computing piece and that is really about allowing users to securely access any application on any device and that’s not only DDI but also managing and securing content from mobile devices, iPads, tablets etc.
It is really right across the board from modernising the data centre through to extending a customer’s IT to be spanning multiple businesses in different locations and then evolving their applications to literally any device.
And one of those other things you might hear us talking about is a fairly new area for us, which is Cloud Native Applications. This is much more in the area of containers where we are helping customers embrace innovation and bring services onto our platform and others.
We are moving from multiple local data centres (including disaster recovery sites) to a hybrid cloud model, where the core applications and data at a global level reside in cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure. We will maintain local data centres for disaster recovery/business continuity planning purposes.
The current complexity relates to having over 60 separate solutions in each geography, each with bespoke modifications and a suite of end user computing solutions (e.g. complex spreadsheets and specialised individual databases). The move to single global solutions with vastly reduced end user computing (EUCs) is where our complexity challenge is, rather than our infrastructure.
For bespoke applications, we have moved from PHP to .Net, and we are ardent users of Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
We implemented a new app platform in 2015 that allows us to publish content from multiple sources, and we launched the successful RCSI MyHealth App on iOS and Andriod to bring this platform to life.
Our move to hybrid cloud and the consolidation of legacy systems and EUCs into core applications have already delivered significant benefits across our global locations. We have invested heavily in technology-enhanced learning pilots over the past 12 months and, aligned with the ongoing development of our curriculum, we are re-engineering how our course materials are delivered and consumed so that our students are given every opportunity IT can provide them to excel in their chosen discipline.
Dropbox, through its shared folder capability, enables people to create connections that are persistent; not just sending a link or an attachment, you are creating a shared space for you and another person, where you and hundreds and, in some cases, in the largest scale, of one person sharing with millions through web-based links.
It is really powerful connections that it has enabled and, for us, one of the most exciting parts of our growth isn’t just the 500m users, but it’s the 2.8bn connections that have been created by users.
To me, that volume of connections is actually the most powerful part. When you think about it, those are persistent connections between individuals that represent the network by which people actually get work done.
The other cool thing is that growth of connections is growing faster, even as fast as user growth. We announced 2.8bn connections by the end of last year and when we announced it the previous year it was 1.3bn.
So, it is still growing at over 100pc a year and it’s an extraordinarily large number and no competitor has suggested an alternative number, so we don’t really know how to benchmark it. Competitors numbers are smaller or they don’t even draw importance to it as we do. But to us that is the life’s blood of Dropbox, it’s those connections that users make.
That’s one of the big evolutions in terms of what people are doing when they have a platform like ours, going from access into connections and a huge collaboration network.
As with most organisations, we have the challenge of a large retail estate running alongside a thriving online business. Our organisation covers from the Far East to the UK, with the majority of decision-making functions here in Ireland.
The main attack points are three-pronged:
- Online product experience
- Infrastructure design, capacity and PCI/security projects
- Disaster recovery. For example, recently we moved some of our perimeter network infrastructure into Microsoft Azure. The challenge we have found with this element of our infrastructure is that it is difficult to scale during high-profile events using our private infrastructure as we have a fixed set of resources available to us. Azure offered us the ability to create an elastic infrastructure that could scale in and out as we needed it to, allowing us to better meet demand and reduce the risk of downtime. This approach also allowed us to leverage the large investments made by Microsoft in security, independent certifications and network flood protection.
If I look at what takes up my time, it is in three areas. The first one is just with our customers, and those discussions are either making sure we are defining the right solution that meets their needs, is it already done or delivering, and we go wherever the customer wants to go with that.
Another third is with our technology strategy and do we have the right technology strategy moving forward. I will have a deep dive on the future of networking, concepts like NFC, software-defined networking (SDN), virtualised networks, that’s where networking is moving in the future. With SDNs, we are defining our strategy and plan and we are going quite deep into the technical detail to set the strategy for a three-to-five-year timeframe.
The third area would be, because of the size of the team and importance of design skills, how are the team engaged and are we investing in the right development
The Individual Health Identifier (IHI) went live as a proof-of-concept in the second week of September 2015. All that means is we have tested the fact that we can uniquely identify every person in Ireland and we can share that into systems as they come online.
This means those systems can start to share information about patients and uniquely identify those patients.
The IHI is a building block to identify who you are and where you live, the next stage is the Electronic Health Record itself and in December 2015 we went live with the public consultation to ask people how they would like to see an electronic record handled, how they would like to see consent handled, what are the privacy issues and how do they want their health information to be looked after.
One of my biggest lessons learned from working anywhere in health technology is that if you turn it into a technology project it will not succeed. This is about clinical engagement and patient-leading projects.
At Nitro, we are pushing some of the biggest trends in the industry to unleash the value behind them for our customers. Two obvious ones are mobile computing and data-driven decision-making. Mobile computing is essential to make our vision of smart document management anytime and everywhere a reality.
Data-driven decision-making is at the core of what we do. Not only internally, but also, and especially, for our customers. We know a lot about how users use the product and what they do with the documents and we also know a lot about the documents we process. We are working very hard to turn that knowledge into insight and expose it to our customers so that they can make better decisions faster. Internally, we are obsessed with using leading-edge industry trends like Agile Software Engineering and DevOps to build an engineering organisation that can be fast, right and cost-effective in the presence of uncertainty.
We rely heavily on reporting and dashboards, some native Salesforce and some custom developed. These give us a live view of the company performance, along with allowing us to forecast accurately any additional resources that may be required.
We also recognise that it’s possible to get overwhelmed with statistics and that ultimately the goal of metrics and measurements are to improve how we perform as a company. We tailor our metrics to give us the necessary information when and how we need it.
We have tailored custom dashboards that show real-time information to letting agents, giving them quick and easy access to a snapshot at any time of the current state of every property in their portfolio, allowing them to quickly identify any problems – and ultimately for them to deliver a better service to their customers.
There are so many options now on how to manage budgets and costs. Partnering, outsourcing and platform-as-a-service options are a key way to maximise return. The case for continually investing in hardware is getting harder to make now that there are so many high-quality cloud partners and solutions out there.
By using platform-as-a-service-type solutions, we are essentially sharing costs with many other organisations that, in another scenario, we may have had to invest in ourselves. We have also found some great open source options on internal toolsets that help us manage costs – the surprise for us was that when we investigated this, we found many very large organisations are also using these same open source products. Each organisation is different, but it is clear that the technology landscape is changing at a much faster pace now and CTOs need to take the opportunity to get the most from investments off the back of this constant innovation.
Cloud is something that provides us with challenges and opportunities. We don’t see many of our customers currently putting critical business applications on a public cloud, with the exception of CRM. But we have little doubt that this will change over time.
Volume of data is growing rapidly, particularly as new data sources such as social media and machine sensors are being adapted.
The challenge will be to empower people to get valuable insights from this data that will allow them to improve performance and grow their business.
Mountain-top image via Shutterstock
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