The five minute CIO: Danny Kerins

26 Jul 2013

Danny Kerins, head of infrastructure services at Fexco Group

At Fexco Group, IT is geared towards improving the experience of its 1,000-plus internal users. The firm’s head of infrastructure services Danny Kerins discusses the challenges involved in taking a standards-based approach to technology services.

It’s often said that financial services companies take a very risk-averse approach to IT investment. Would you say that’s true in Fexco’s case?

Certainly there’s a very strong approach to do the assessment of the risk with any IT investment we undertake. Obviously, there’s a very strong focus on the value proposition of any such investment. By virtue of the fact of operating in a regulated environment, we’re very focused on putting best-in-breed in place in relation to the technology we use.

We have a strong focus on secure, resilient and reliable infrastructure. We also have a very strong commitment to innovation and to developing and growing consistently. To that end, Fexco’s overall investment in technology and the use of it is absolutely intrinsic to our business.

Where does innovation come into it?

In the recent past, Fexco has started an initiative – an innovation group which is geared towards harvesting ideas from people internally. We have a methodology and process for asking people for ideas and developing them. We have a forum in place to review ideas and see what makes sense to move forward with.

Supporting that, we have a whole team of software developers that is engaged in developing various apps.

Do you favour in-house or outsourced IT, and how do you make that choice for projects?

One of Fexco’s key strengths is in delivery of IT solutions and services in-house and that is something we have grown and continue to develop for our internal customers. It is certainly a key differentiator for us.

Like most enterprises, we’re focusing more on our core competencies. We’ve been reviewing how best to deliver our services and we have engaged with some third parties to do, for example, desktop deployment for us, telephony deployment, or some wide area networking services. We would partner with people that can add a bit of value to IT.

How do you view IT vendors? Is it a case of ‘this guy’s just looking to sell me something’, or have you been able to find true business partners who bring something extra to the table?

My view is IT vendors are extremely important for our overall service delivery. For me, it’s critical that they take the time to understand our needs and work with us on a collaborative partnership basis, as opposed to being an order taker or box mover.

The service I’ve described that my team does, we are effectively an IT vendor or delivery to Fexco enterprise, for all intents and purposes. For us to continuously improve on our goal, we have to deliver. To do that, we have to have good relationships with our IT vendors.

What we would expect from IT vendors would be unbiased advice and the ability to see things through our eyes and empathising through our difficulties. I’m not sure all of those elements exist in one provider, but we have very good relationships with a whole host of suppliers to us: Dell, HP, BT, Eircom, Ergo, Vodafone, Microsoft and EMC.

Can you give an example of a recent business IT project, and what benefits this brought?

We did a major revamp of how we deliver IT services from a central perspective over the last year and a half and we did a programme to migrate ourselves to an ITIL-based best practice model for design and delivery of IT service.

Core to that was developing and deploying a single centralised service desk environment. We invested in a solution for OTRS, which is an ITIL-compliant service desk platform. Basically, we revamped the IT services organisation and put a service desk framework in place with level 1, 2 and 3 layers of support in place.

From the outset, our whole approach is that everything we do ultimately has to improve the internal customer experience. And in that we have been aiming towards proactively managing risk, facilitating business growth, a process of having continuous service improvement loop and ultimately making sure that we’re listening and understanding what our end users are saying.

We’ve all been well aware of the distance of some IT departments and end users. We work very hard to get to a point where we have key measures and metrics around how services are defined and delivered.

It’s certainly made life easier, we believe, for our internal customers: which, really, was the objective. I think it’s allowed us space to look at how things are done and to reflect on how to improve.

The trajectory downwards in terms of incidents logged has been very noticeable and there’s been a noted improvement in terms of customer satisfaction. We monitor internal customer satisfaction levels and we have a very clear roadmap for solution delivery and release plans. It’s all been very, very positive.

In 2011, Fexco acquired Goodbody Stockbrokers. What was involved in integrating the IT systems of both companies, and how hard was it to achieve?

It goes back to making sure that we’re involved in proactively managing the risk. We have a methodology of being part of the due diligence from an IT point of view, so we’re involved from the beginning in terms of understanding how the acquisition works.

We say, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. We take a pragmatic approach. Some of the business will continue to work the same from an IT perspective; some may take on board, for example, the Oracle ERP platform.

We leverage off existing supplier relationships, such as telecoms services and enterprise agreements that we have with Microsoft for example, to leverage a better deal for the target company. Strong emphasis is placed on the IT.

How close would you say Fexco’s IT is to its ideal state, from your point of view?

There are constant new challenges and opportunities internally from my perspective so the ideal state is constantly moving. We have a continuous improvement process that we work towards, so we have great people, a positive can-do approach to the delivery of the services and we keep informed through training, through the research organisations, such as Gartner, to keep aligned with best practices. We have PCI DSS, and we are ISO 27001 certified.

We’ve been doing an awful lot of work to ensure the internal business understands we’re an enabler and we’ll do everything in our power to help the business development, and make it as easy as possible for the business to engage with IT.

What’s been the biggest challenge since you took on your role?

Actually, I think it would be changing the organisation to the ITIL-based approach. Unquestionably, that was the biggest challenge – and more importantly, bringing everybody along in the process. We would have had people in the organisation a long time, who were very professional and very customer-centric, and the challenge was to bring them along.

We devised a strategy early on as to how to approach it. We had a lot of on-boarding, a lot of engagement with internal customers and internal resources, we did a lot of research into organisations that have taken this path and we created a couple of new roles internally to help move this along. We also got a couple of key people in to help the process.

Overall, it was a substantial investment from Fexco’s perspective and that’s been absolutely a success. We have a series of KPIs to measure our overall performance. There’s complete transparency to the end user in relation to the services they have consumed, and the performance of the service delivery. The business would be well aware of what they’re getting.

To what extent does your role involve leadership as opposed to technical proficiency or business knowledge?

I have a technical background and I would have a strong grasp of the technology – but it’s not an area I focus on as much as leadership and the areas I have responsibility for.  

I’m very business-focused and would have recognised what was needed to deliver for the business. In terms of my role and this project, that very much would have been to lead from the front, and steer and guide what would be very strong technical teams.

It’s an element of being mentor, of being coach, of being a guide, and being direct when something needs to happen. It was very much a team effort and without a good team it doesn’t work.

At a personal level, I have been both a consumer and a supplier of IT services and I would have a very strong understanding of what makes the customer tick. I think like most IT professionals, we’re aware of the uphill struggle the IT organisation faces consistently to show the value of what it brings and maybe even simplify of the complexity of what it is we do. We’ve kept messaging that everything we do is about improving the customer experience. We’ve focused on that consistently.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic