AMI is tackling the knowledge gap in the IT retirement sector

22 Nov 2017

Philip McMichael, managing director of AMI. Image: AMI

AMI’s Philip McMichael discusses GDPR and the challenges facing the IT industry today.

Philip McMichael is the managing director of Asset Management Ireland (AMI).

Since founding the company in 2001, McMichael has grown AMI to become a €4.5m turnover organisation with 40 staff working from two processing facilities in Dublin and Belfast.

The company services a wide range of private and public sector clients throughout Ireland and ranks among the top six companies audited worldwide by leading global IT disposal standards body ADISA.

AMI is hosting a breakfast seminar tomorrow (23 November) in preparation for the enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) next May.

‘I would encourage anyone who has that “big idea” to put the time and resources behind it as soon as possible – any delay can be detrimental’

Describe your role and what you do.

As managing director of AMI, I define the strategic direction of the company. With information security becoming an increasingly hot topic, and as news of data breaches makes the headlines on an almost daily basis, I am responsible for ensuring that AMI is equipped to provide customers with a completely secure service that minimises the risk of potential data compromises arising from the disposal of end-of-life IT equipment.

AMI has come a long way since it was founded 15 years ago and I’m incredibly proud of everything that we have achieved. My goal now is to continue to build on our success and secure the prospective futures of both the business and the brilliant team that I have around me. To do this, we need to continue to develop our service provision to the point at which we are the clear number one in Ireland.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I’m completely reliant on the calendar app on my iPhone. It helps me to list all of my engagements and commitments and then prioritise them in order of importance in a physical diary. It might sound old-fashioned, but there’s no better way to juggle multiple commitments than by writing them down and crossing them off one by one. I also recently took on a personal assistant who always ensures that I am where I need to be at any particular time.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge facing the IT retirement sector at the moment is lack of understanding about the inherent risks posed by failure to properly dispose of old IT equipment. People are well aware of the need to implement network security strategies to protect their data, but there seems to be a knowledge gap when it comes to the end-of-life stage. We recently carried out a survey, which found that almost one-third of Irish businesses could be leaving themselves open to huge fines under impending GDPR by failing to correctly manage the data destruction process.

We have been doing our best to close this knowledge gap by educating our customers about what they should and shouldn’t do when dealing with end-of-life assets. To get the message out to a wider audience, we’re running an event at the end of November, which will take a look at the data-handling obligations laid out under GDPR, and provide advice to organisations on how they can protect themselves and avoid exposure to fines.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

There are a number of significant developments that are currently driving business growth for AMI.

  • Firstly, the growth of the data centre market in Ireland is having an enormous effect on the business. Data centres are, of course, among the most security-conscious businesses in existence, and we have invested significantly to enhance our portfolio of services to enable us to provide them with the secure service that they demand. As well as minimising the risk of a data compromise, ensuring that all data-bearing equipment is erased to the most stringent global standards has another benefit: it enables us to provide companies with the highest return on their retired assets.
  • Secondly, the continued growth of mobile working practices is also driving business. People don’t often consider this, but mobile devices can store a huge amount of data and also need to be correctly processed at the end-of-life stage. We have noticed that we are receiving more and more mobile devices – to accommodate this, we have updated our processes. As more companies embrace mobile working, this number is set to increase further, and it represents a real opportunity for the business.
  • Finally, GDPR is set to have a significant impact on how Irish companies approach the IT retirement process. Awareness of the scale of potential fines is starting to grow among organisations, and board members are starting to ask questions of their IT teams about data security. Companies will now have to ensure that they are taking adequate steps to safeguard their futures.
What set you on the road to where you are now?

From the very beginning of AMI’s journey, it was the desire to be a leader in the security sector that was behind every strategic decision that I made. In 2010, I made the decision to refocus the company by moving away from being a waste company (which is how AMI was formerly perceived) and towards an IT company. This was a long process but one which I feel has been largely successful. Crucial to the success of this shift was the need for AMI to be recognised as a leader in the IT retirement sector, and key to this was our development of what we see as a gold-standard IT disposal process.

To this end, our Data Erasure Lab uses the most technologically advanced equipment and processes, including Blancco data erasure software, to minimise the risk of harmful data leaks. Our processes have been recognised as class-leading, and undergo regular, unannounced security audits to maintain 11 international and quality certifications.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I think my biggest mistake to date is failing to put appropriate budget behind new ideas when they were first developed.

A prime example of this can be seen with DiskShred, our on-site IT shredding brand. DiskShred was a really innovative idea when we first came up with it, as it provided companies that were unwilling to have data leave their premises with access to a secure shredding company that was backed up by AMI’s security accreditations and know-how. However, rather than putting budget behind the idea and making noise about it to drum up business, we tried to grow it organically as an alternative offering to AMI’s asset recovery service. Ultimately, this delayed growth and resulted in the business failing to live up to its potential. It is only now that it is starting to take off as an alternative offering that appeals to companies that need their data destroyed on-site. I would encourage anyone who has that ‘big idea’ to put the time and resources behind it as soon as possible – any delay can be detrimental.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I feel that in order to motivate those around you, it’s important to stay as connected to the business as possible and lead by example. I take a hands-on approach with many aspects of the business, rather than simply delegating everything. Plus, educating our customers about the security risks posed by end-of-life IT, and the necessary steps that they need to take to protect their interests, still reminds me of why I got into this business in the first place.

It’s essential to treat your team fairly, to reward them for work done and to give them the responsibility that they deserve, allowing them to grow and develop in their roles.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

There’s no doubting the fact that there’s a diversity problem in STEM sectors, and the problem goes right back to education and a failure to communicate the message that getting to work in science, technology, engineering or maths isn’t a path that is solely restricted to white men. There’s still a long way to go before we reach gender and ethnicity parity in STEM, but I’m hopeful that things are improving. Initiatives like CoderDojo are going a long way towards making young girls aware of the options and opportunities that are open to them. For our part, we ensure that everyone gets the same opportunities for progression and development in AMI.

Who is your role model and why?

I would have to say that my dad is my role model, as his influence was the main driver that got me to where I am today. He ran a menswear shop in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, when I was growing up and I used to work there on the weekends and over summers. Seeing him run the business had a lasting impact on me – from then on, the only thing I ever wanted to do was work for myself.

From an early age, he taught me the ins and outs of running a business. He used to say: “Always treat your suppliers and your customers as you would like to be treated.” In short, pay your bills on time and be gracious to your customers. It might seem like a small thing, but being known as the business that pays its bills on time can pay dividends if you ever have to go through more difficult times.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I really enjoy reading anything that deals with technology or the IT industry. A book that I’ve just finished, and which I now consider to be essential reading for anyone working in IT, is Big Data: The Essential Guide to Work, Life and Learning in the Age of Insight by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I think everyone says it, but I wouldn’t get through a single day without my iPhone. I’ve mentioned it already, but that calendar app is a lifesaver. Aside from those two things, it’s all about coffee and spreadsheets. And more coffee.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.