This week, Abe McIntosh, global CIO at the building materials group Kingspan, shares his thoughts on technology trends and strategy.
Can you give a sense of the scale at Kingspan from an IT standpoint: how many users are there, across how many sites?
There are currently circa 6,000 users covering 53 manufacturing sites globally
What are the major business applications you use?
We’re running Infor PM10 as our CPM [corporate performance management] tool across all of our entities to do the statuary and management reporting. On the ERP/MRP front we’re mostly SAP – but with a few other flavours in the mix, too.
Is your 2012 IT budget increased, decreased, or the same as last year, and how will that affect your priorities?
Increased; driven mainly by business expansion in traditional territories and growth in new ones. The acquisition growth trail of the Kingspan organisation has caused our budgets to increase slightly – but we are constantly assessing the economies of scale and working with our incumbent vendors to ensure that we’re getting good value for our money. After all … I am a Scotsman working for a Cavan-based company … so value for money is very important!
Can you tell us about some of the main business and IT projects that are ongoing or pending?
We’ve a couple of key programmes on the runway at the moment to start up and roll out globally. One, Kingspan Connect, uses the Microsoft collaboration stack, Lync and so on, to enable teams to connect, communicate and collaborate – internal and external. This is important when you’re dealing with a large, geographically dispersed organisation.
Two [is] Kingspan Perform – to try and sweat our CPM and ERP assets and ensure that everyone is getting their required information at the right place and time.
Can you give an example of a recent technology that’s really delivered business value to Kingspan?
We’re running some pilots around B2B customer portals in our UK business and this is a great example where IT can really step up to the mark and deliver value back to the business.
Kingspan is at an interesting point in its development: becoming a multinational, and putting a lot of investment into R&D. What role does technology play in supporting that change?
Technology has to be the bedrock of how quickly and efficiently a company communicates and reacts. It’s very much the old adage that isolated data is of limited value – it needs to be represented as readily digestible information to the right people in a timely manner. We’re putting in the necessary infrastructure systems to ensure that this can be supported and that it’s all fully scalable.
Kingspan recently acquired ThyssenKrupp and Rigidal, both of which have operations in several countries. How big a job will it be to integrate the new companies from an IT perspective?
Preparation is always key during the due diligence process for M&As to ensure that there are minimal surprises. IT was an integral part of these assessments – so we were fully aware and prepared to assimilate these new organisations into Kingspan.
Having a common CPM across the top is key, too, as it improves the velocity to integrate new entities from a management and statutory perspective.
Lastly, with the general global improvements on MPLS and internet access points, the whole delivery of virtualised application streams and email on-boarding is certainly easier now than ever.
You’ve worked in a lot of different sectors over your career: how does the construction industry compare from an IT maturity perspective?
It’s really no different from any other sectors I’ve been in. Personally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the maturity I’ve encountered to date. Most sectors are becoming heavily regulated. As well as the financial obligations of being a PLC: there is a clear yardstick that you’re regularly being measured by.
This forces compliance around most of the IT spider chart and drives each of the spokes in a positive direction. These days, in order to stay competitive you must have operational and product excellence, coupled with relationship management focus across the business models. IT is a key cornerstone for this.
How would you describe your own approach to IT?
Passionate. My background is in electronic engineering, so I really like to understand how things work and where the improvement opportunities lie. This applies to: people/organisations and processes, as well as the underlying core technology. This is all then set against the backdrop of tactical business priorities and longer-term strategies.
In many organisations, IT is perceived as lacking the skills to understand the business and the direction it wants to go in: what do you think IT departments need to do to get to this level in more organisations?
IT has become so consumerised and commoditised over the past few years that the business community has learned many – thankfully not all! – of our esoteric acronyms. The trick is for IT to understand the business glossary of terms with equal, if not better, efficacy.
The key thing here is the IT is a subset of the business and not stand-alone. I am a Kingspan employee first and foremost and my job is to deliver an optimal IT service to my employer to best support the delivery of our products and services.
What technology trends are of most interest to you, and how could they be applied in the business?
The whole mobility and pervasive context are game changers in how we will operate in the future. I also think that there is a long way to go on how we fully capitalise on true business intelligence – and I’d lump in ‘big data’ here, too – within this new pervasive environment.
What’s your opinion of cloud computing?
It’s another tool for the war chest. It sure makes the cost of entry a whole lot cheaper than traditional on-premise.
Do you intend to use cloud in Kingspan and if so, will it be public, private or hybrid cloud?
Yes. The end model will be hybrid, though we’re mainly private and on-premise at the moment with only very low-risk systems in public.
Does the ‘bring your own device to work’ trend interest you?
Sure. This has to be balanced off against the security elements and that there is sufficient policy in place to protect the individual and organisation.
The TCO [total cost of ownership] around the IT delivery and support, coupled with risk/compliance, is critical. I do not see a free-for-all quite just yet; we’re predominantly looking at user segments and targeting them as pilots.
Do you think trends like outsourcing and the cloud are changing the role of CIO so that in the future you will be less involved in the details of technology and more about delivering IT as a service?
Yes, I think it broadly is. CIOs are now dealing more with third-party commercials, user expectations and service delivery more than ever and I can only see this as becoming more entrenched moving forward.