The five-minute CIO: Niall Kelly, Netwatch

17 Jun 2016

Niall Kelly, CTO and co-founder of Carlow-based Netwatch

“As IT security risks increase with the proliferation of IoT devices in the security space we have to think outside-the-box and ensure that security is at the centre of everything we do,” explained Niall Kelly, CTO of Netwatch.

Niall Kelly is co-founder and chief technical officer of Carlow-based security company Netwatch.

Headquartered in Carlow, Ireland, with offices in Newry and a new office under construction in Boston, Netwatch protects customers across industries including retail, logistics, warehousing, automotive, construction, hardware, manufacturing, the public sector and utilities.

Intervention specialists at the Netwatch Communications Hub direct operations through remote CCTV monitoring and intervene as soon as a security is breached, alerting intruders to the fact they are being watched and that the police have been informed.

Kelly was named 2012 CIO of the Year by the Boston Business Journal and Mass High Tech.

Kelly drives the research and development department of Netwatch, has led Netwatch to receive several accolades in Ireland, including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, the Deloitte Fast 50 Technology Award and the Business & Finance Enterprise of the Year Award.

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

Netwatch Systems has moved from a physical on-site virtual environment to platform-as-a-service (PaaS) hosted with Evros. This improved uptime aligns with business continuity and disaster recovery strategy. It has also allowed us to broaden the number of monitoring hubs that we have. Our Newry hub, which was a £3m investment, opened this year and allows us to have an always-on presence from another jurisdiction. Our new US monitoring hub is currently underway and we expect it to be operational in 2017. The cloud is an enabler to allow multiple simultaneous monitoring hubs. Our business is all about availability and this has enhanced this capability.

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

Everything must align with our business continuity and disaster recovery strategy, and that of our clients, which is to provide 100pc uptime and have no single point of failure.

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

Netwatch Systems is supporting 180 internal users over three continents and our network is connecting to more than 40,000 cameras. At all of our physical locations, we have enhanced our investment in backup technology (such as wireless, satellite, redundant fibre) all of which is remotely monitored from our hub locations and our service providers.

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

IT budgets need to be seen as part of business strategy not just as a cost base and to be seen to be giving value-add for expenditure.

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

By moving away from physical hardware devices to a cloud environment we have greatly simplified resource planning. Supporting multiple locations worldwide, including office-based and mobile users, we have recently upgraded to a unified communications platform that allows video and group conference. It also links into our proprietary alarm management software.

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

No, we don’t have a large in-house team. We have a strategic alliance with our cloud provider that supports 24×7 physical infrastructure. Supporting both desk and mobile users across multiple time zones means we have to have a 24×7 first-level IT resource in-house and we have recently invested in extra capacity on both sides of the Atlantic.

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?

As the company grows, I find myself moving away from the transactional into more strategic value-add business division. I see my role as transitioning the IT group from reactionary to becoming an integral part of the daily decision-making process. We find ourselves getting involved in client-facing sales issues as much as technical issues.

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

As IT security risks increase with the proliferation of the IoT devices in the security space we have to think outside-the-box and ensure that security is at the centre of everything we do. Huge increases in volumes of data due to higher quality cameras, richer features list, faster communication speeds and customer expectation means that fast data storage will become an issue and is one of our main focusses.

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

We measure uptime in terms of KPIs: desk uptime, client connectivity and server uptime across our multiple locations. Obviously, budgetary spending needs to be in line with business resource planning and decisions made in terms of IT trends have really far-reaching consequences for the company.

There are so many emerging technology trends so it is critical for us to make the right technology choices as our business grows across continents. We are not a 10-person organisation anymore!

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

Netwatch Systems has made a huge investment in our internal R&D function, Netwatch Visual Labs. This team are developing cutting-edge technology in terms of video pattern recognition, false alarm reduction and intrusion detection. It can be very hard to plan IT requirements for technologies that haven’t been invented yet!

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

Netwatch is in the process of rolling out a completely new software suite, including apps, to enhance every single point of customer contact with the organisation; e.g. finance, service, sales, installation. This will contribute massively to the business in terms of scalability and improved customer experience. The edge devices that we use such as cameras will have a host of new technologies, which will allow us to offer new business services to clients going forward.

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