The five-minute CIO: Barry Minnock, Musgrave Wholesale Partners

1 Apr 2016

Barry Minnock, IT director for Musgrave Wholesale Partners

“The key is for technology to be closely aligned with and proactively influence business strategy,” said Barry Minnock, IT director for Musgrave Wholesale Partners.

Barry Minnock joined Musgrave Group in 2013 and is currently IT director for Musgrave Wholesale Partners (MWP) and Musgrave Northern Ireland (MNI).

The role includes IT responsibility for several Musgrave brands, including MarketPlace (ROI & NI), SuperValu (NI), Centra (NI), Daybreak (ROI) and Mace (NI).

Before joining Musgrave MarketPlace, Barry worked for more than 15 years in the IT consultancy sector across several countries and industries with Version 1, IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Barry holds a primary degree in commerce (management information systems) and a master’s degree in management science, both from University College Dublin.

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

There are many facets to our technology programme for Musgrave Wholesale Partners and Musgrave Northern Ireland.  We have technology projects to further enhance service to our customers, optimise operations, increase business agility, ensure business stability, provide insight, and enhance digital collaboration.  All will add value to our customers and, as a result, our business.  Our technology programme is a substantial multi-million continuous annual investment to ensure our businesses keep pace with technology and are equipped to meet the ever-changing digital demands of the millennial generation.

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

Our IT Strategy has four key components:

  • Stability and service: Our technology estate has to be stable and reliable. This means mandating a solid infrastructure foundation with robust systems and well-managed risks. Technology plays an important role to ensure Musgrave MarketPlace is easy to do business with, providing a flexible and consistent high-quality service. It has to be easy to navigate our IT services. Our IT service desk solution is designed to provide a consistent reliable quality service.
  • Simplicity and control: The most effective systems are simple, intuitive, and well controlled. The expectation for an emerging technically-savvy population is to be able to use systems based on intuition alone, without the need for comprehensive training. While there will always be a need for technology and process training in a business environment, the challenge from a systems perspective is to minimise this effort. This will be achieved by consolidating our systems estate to a small number of effective systems. As we consolidate our systems, it will in parallel be easier to maintain control of our technical estate.
  • Intelligence and insight: We have well-established business intelligence solutions throughout our business. We can now leverage the power of the data by enhancing our business intelligence solutions and moving to true data analytics by providing business insight and informed decision modelling.
  • Improve and innovate: Technology plays a key role in enabling all innovation from incremental continuous improvement to full business transformation. Technology can assist all business functions reduce costs by simplifying administration and enabling a focus on value creation activities.

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

Our systems service is circa 1,400 direct users and a multiple of this in terms of indirect users and customers. This mandates a large technology estate, with several hundred servers supporting our application estate.

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

  • All businesses need a predictable cost base. It is important for technology leaders to provide this predictability and to scale technology costs appropriately in line with business growth.
  • Core system and service costs can be made predictable with good resource planning and by tying into fixed service contracts with third party providers.
  • Cloud infrastructure and application services also provide predictable costs based on usage, users or volume. Cloud systems can also provide efficiencies in terms of handling variable scale, for example providing extra system horsepower during seasonal peaks.
  • In terms of small projects and incremental innovation, our approach is to set aside a fixed annual budget and work within our budgetary means.
  • Major system implementation projects are the most difficult to estimate. This is where it is most important for technology leaders to work with colleagues across business functions to establish a clear business case for transformational technology projects. Major technology projects can provide a strategic advantage in terms of efficiencies, control, service or intelligence, but are typically only successful where there is clear business buy-in and ownership from the outset. A business case assists this process and gives people a reason to get involved.
  • Technology project complexity and risk typically grows exponentially with project size. As a result, it is critically important to keep projects as small as they can be. This can be achieved by splitting a major project into logical phases or focus areas. This approach can also increase management buy-in as project components are delivered early in the overall programme lifecycle.

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

Maintaining simplicity is critical to achieving sustainable technology success. Simplicity is difficult to achieve and mandates a continuous strategic mindset. The demand for technology change is continuous. The easy solution is to give in to the demand and develop piecemeal solutions to address demand. The right methodology is to have a clear system strategy and to only sanction change that is in line with the strategy.

Over the last three years, we have taken steps to simplify our application estate down to less than 10 core systems. Our technology programme is focused on achieving transformational change. This is achieved by ensuring our team is not distracted with small customisations to meet short-sighted demands. This mandates strong change control procedures and working with business colleagues in relation to technology strategy.

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

Our in-house team has approximately 30 full-time employees, augmented with several outsourced service partners. Outsourcing in terms of resourcing and cloud solutions is critically important to our technology operating model.

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?

My main responsibilities are strategic and business focused in nature. I rely on a strong technology team to work through issues and only get involved in top-priority incidents. With a large technology estate there will always be issues. While it is important for technology leadership to have control and awareness of issues, they cannot become a barrier to strategic thinking and business collaboration. Understanding emerging technology trends is critically important in my role to either influence or align with our overall business direction.

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

The big technology trends of social, mobile, cloud, and information impact all industries. We have technology initiatives to increase our impact in all of these areas.

In terms of social, we have significantly increased our activity on all major social media platforms and it is now a significant component of our marketing strategy.

Mobility is critically important for our employees, service providers, and customers. An example of an investment in this area is our recent relaunch of our Musgrave MarketPlace Online Store, which equips our customers with the ability to easily shop with us from any location and on any device. Customers can easily browse our range of more than 10,000 products via mobile, tablet or desktop. Another key feature is the ‘Retail Must Stock’ section, which uses current Nielsen data to provide customers with details on products that are seen as ‘must haves’ for Irish retailers.

We utilise cloud technology extensively to take complexity out of our business and technology estate and in parallel increase pace of solution delivery.

We have strong data platforms in our business, with an increased focus using information-based insight to drive business action.

One significant technology challenge is pace and the fact that no substantial business change can take place without technology change.  Addressing these challenges mandates resources and it is critically important to align technology spend with business ambition. Our businesses have appropriately increased focus and investment in technology in recent years.

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

We have clear service targets and service level agreements in place for all major systems (based on the ITIL framework). These metrics are critical to operational governance and prioritisation and also are formally reviewed monthly.

All IT projects have clear ownership and a governance model appropriate for the project scale. There is monthly management team governance and prioritisation review of strategic technology projects.

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

There is always room for improvement. The key is for technology to be closely aligned with and proactively influence business strategy. Too often business leaders view technology purely as a service and too often technology leaders are not in tune with business strategy. My focus is on improving collaboration between my technical function and our customers and colleagues. Only then can we be equipped to leverage our technology to its full potential in our business.

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