The five-minute CIO: John Coleman, ProStrategy

23 Oct 2015

“Passionate IT managers who support the business goals of the organisation will get the budgets they require – but then they must deliver on their vision,” says John Coleman from ProStrategy.

John Coleman is managing director of ProStrategy.

With offices in Dublin and Cork, ProStrategy started out in 1985 and is one of Ireland’s leading business management software solutions and services partners, spanning an extensive customer portfolio base across multiple industry sectors.

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

Our key systems are MS Dynamics NAV ERP, MS Dynamics CRM and IBM Cognos BI. CRM (customer relationship management) provides us with a place to build and score our market intelligence on prospective customers and all of our opportunities and associated correspondence/agreements are stored there.

We also use CRM to capture customer support tickets and manage responses and service level agreement (SLA) targets.

NAV provides our billing and project management tracking system. Time and people are our key resources so everybody’s time is input on NAV and tracked against customer, projects or internal assignments. Project management and billing are fully integrated with debtors and creditors.

IBM Cognos sits over CRM and NAV and provides reports, dashboards and analysis to all our people.  These reports vary from:

  • Interactive P&L dashboard that monitors performance by business unit, revenue stream and selected KPI such as average daily rate and revenue per employee
  • Employee dashboard that let’s people know how they are performing vs peers or group averages
  • Customer ticket analysis
  • Project profitability with drill down to timesheet entries.

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

Support the business to grow and capture data and report information at an appropriate level so that we can: understand customer or projects that are (or are not) profitable; cost future projects correctly and deliver a great service to our customers

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

We have two office locations in Dublin and Fermoy with a VPN connecting the two offices. Servers are located in both offices. Active Directory is mirrored in both locations. Most servers are virtualised using Hyper-V with some dedicated servers for specific functions

Several staff work from remote locations and connect to our network via a VPN facility. A lot of processing is carried out under Remote Desktop Services.

We also have dedicated and secure connections into several of our customer sites to facilitate secure remote support.

All of our staff are now using cloud-based services and we see growing dependency on cloud services over the next several years.

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

There is no substitute for planning and IT should follow the goals and objectives of the business.

IT should introduce innovative ways to help the business achieve its purpose. Enabling staff to work smarter and providing flexibility is really important and IT should be aware of technology trends that make working easier and more effective.

Technology should be helping staff and managers to stay informed and make better decisions faster. Once we know and agree on the purpose of IT then the budget planning should be based around this reasoning. IT budgets must have space for experimentation with new approaches and how they can be applied to the business. Passionate IT managers who support the business goals of the organisation will get the budgets they require – but then they must deliver on their vision!

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

Not overly complex when I consider the distribution of staff over two office locations.

We have moved to Office 365 with growing use of SharePoint to help us with collaboration on projects and also for document storage

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

We outsource the management of our infrastructure. Management of our critical applications is held internally. As a software provider, we have the skills to configure, build and customise those applications ourselves.

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?

Strategy – understanding where we believe the market is going over  the next few years and ensuring that we bring relevant products and skills to the Irish market.

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

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.

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

We spend most of the time measuring the business and use Dynamics NAV and CognosAnalytics to help us with that.

IT itself is not monitored in detail – we expect our infrastructure to be:

  • Always available (apart from planned downtimes)
  • Always accessible (from any location vis secure channels)
  • Always reliable (more to do with our information systems than the infrastructure itself)

Once we achieve these goals then it’s more a matter of keeping IT spend within an acceptable budget.

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

  • Using more visualisation to help in decision making – i.e. moving away from reviewing raw numbers and towards graphical analysis of the raw data
  • Providing faster access to information – resulting in faster decision making and better customer relationships
  • Increased use of mobile information so that all relevant information is available to all people that need it at all times and anywhere.

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

We plan to upgrade to the latest version of Dynamics CRM and NAV.  Use of new features will streamline the business process and make better use of mobile devices.

We are also on a course to further automate more of our manual administrative processes. This is expected to reduce the number of man days required to close off on each month’s activities. It will make meaningful management information available faster – resulting in better decision making.

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