Five minute CIO: Gareth Rogan, Lifes2good

12 Jun 2015

Lifes2good CTO Gareth Rogan says cloud computing has enabled health and beauty business Lifes2good to grow internationally

“To help us stay on the cutting edge, our IT strategy follows this by providing the latest cloud-based mobile solutions to complement our teams,” says Gareth Rogan, CTO, Lifes2good.

Recently awarded Best Managed Company at the 2015 Deloitte Best Managed Companies Awards, Lifes2good is a rapidly expanding global health and beauty business that markets and distributes a portfolio of category-leading health and beauty brands.

In the past three years, the company has seen nearly 100pc compounded sales growth thanks to accelerating sales of core products, new product launches and expanding distribution.

Sales in the past year have grown from €31.4m to €42.3m.

Founded in 1997 by James Murphy, Lifes2good announced in February that it is to create over 50 new jobs in Galway following a €5m investment by the BDO Development Capital Fund.

The company relies heavily on cloud-based services to compete with some of the biggest cosmetic brands and punch above its weight.

Cloud also helps Lifes2Good create a tech team rather than creating a large development company within a company.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

In 2013, due to the aggressive growth strategy of the business, with more sales channels and more customers across a wider geographical scale, we were in need of a replacement product for our traditional server-based system in order to connect and interact better with our customers.

We needed a 360-degree view of all customer interactions and information; to achieve this, we deployed Salesforce as part of a plan to move our systems to the cloud. Now, every order, every request and every consumer interaction is logged in a single system. Not only does this enable us to deliver a highly integrated service to existing customers – resulting in increased lifetime value — it helps drive new business also.

At Lifes2good, Salesforce has become the foundation of an entire cloud-based eco-system, that now includes email, file sharing and social media monitoring systems all integrated to a single data set. This allows Lifes2good to quickly grow and conquer new challenges in our business through technology.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

As a global sales and marketing company we are constantly challenged to come up with new ways of working. To help us stay on the cutting edge, our IT strategy follows this by providing the latest cloud-based mobile solutions to complement our teams and products.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

We have very few traditional servers. Our aim is to minimise the physical infrastructure, enabling the Lifes2good team to work from anywhere without the need to connect back to an office or headquarters. As a global organisation, we cannot allow issues in our Galway headquarters to cause us down time in offices around the world, such as Chicago or London. As head of IT and with a small internal team I was certain that to address this we needed to utilise cloud-based solutions.

Utilising products like Salesforce and Box (among others) we are able to continue to do business with only an internet connection. The ability to access our systems and work from anywhere is key to modern businesses, and Lifes2good is working towards moving entirely to cloud-based systems. I would be quite happy if we had no physical servers on site in our offices!

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

Experts have spoken and written about how enterprise IT has been slow to take advantage of the array of products and services available in the consumer IT area. Many businesses still utilise onsite email servers, CRM systems and file servers. This is a challenge in a business with a younger generation of users who are used to using products like Dropbox, Facebook and Viber.

The challenge to heads of IT and CIOs is to understand the available tools and to provide a set of tools and products to the business that allows the same levels of usability in consumer systems, but with the required levels of security and compliance demanded by any business. This is key to the approach I have put in place in Lifes2good, we want to make it as easy as possible to do business.

How complex is the infrastructure and are you taking steps to simplify it?

At Lifes2Good our go-to-market model has a large element of direct selling as well as a complex array of customers from independent pharmacies through to major retailers such as Boots and Walgreens.

We want to avoid spending significant amounts of time and funds on development of internal systems, so we have chosen to deploy cloud-based services that help simplify the complexities of our sales structure, while we focus on our core business activities of developing niche, profitable and powerful brands.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

I don’t believe in creating an enormous development company within in a company. I wanted to create a team of technical experts on key systems who work closely with the business and utilise the tools to help streamline the business process, rather than create a large IT team developing ad hoc and in-house custom solutions.

Products like Salesforce do the work for us. In fact, we have even managed to build our own systems without the need for any external development costs or the need for a large in-house development team.

This allows us to concentrate on working with the business to improve processes. The core IT team in Lifes2good is quite small, so when we do need to supplement this we rely on a selection of external partners who manage key areas of IT for us. The outsource suppliers work very closely with the entire Lifes2good team, to the extent they are considered almost part of the company.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

The IT strategy in Lifes2good revolves around working closely with the business to understand and help address the challenges and growth opportunities, and how technologies can be used to address them.

Cloud computing and Salesforce is a great example. In a more traditional client-server environment, tasks like optimisation, speed checking, backups and recovery would require more internal resources. This would take away from helping the business succeed. Using products like Salesforce and utilising outsourced partners allows us to concentrate on the solutions, or the “what rather than the how”.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

Within the nutraceuticals and electric personal care space, Lifes2Good faces stiff competition from big players in the industry like Pfizer, Scholl, L’Oréal, P&G and Unilever etc…

Having a cloud-based service allows us to compete with some of the biggest blue-chip companies in the world. Cloud makes it much more democratic and allows us to utilise the same tools like Salesforce, which are used by some of the biggest companies in the world, without having to have an internal infrastructure or large IT team to manage it.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

Accelerating sales and expanding product ranges and new markets; in the last year we’ve seen sales grow from €31.4 million to €42.3 million

Greater efficiency; every day, Salesforce saves us time. It used to take several weeks to generate a new report whereas now it takes a matter of hours. In the past we found it difficult to react to information as the business was moving so fast.

Improved targeting and success rate of marketing campaigns and surveys.

Greater agility by eliminating the need for painfully slow application development.

Better communication amongst employees, which ultimately leads to greater customer service and business growth (cut down on emails).

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

The role of IT within business is definitely changing. An IT person needs to understand business needs, from accounting through to digital marketing. Keeping up-to-date on key advancements in these areas is key to success.

IT is more than keeping your internet connection on and clearing printer jams!

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

Lifes2good are constantly reviewing and looking to improve their internal systems. Making our cloud-based systems work better and integrate in a more efficient manner is key to keeping our technology in line with our growing business.

Big data and business intelligence is an area we are currently working on to help improve the level of insight we can get from the wealth of information available to us, which will help drive the brands and businesses.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years