The five minute CIO: Dara Keher

1 Feb 2013

Version 1 IT director Dara Keher

Proper systems and processes will enable IT to move beyond a firefighting role and to drive business improvement, argues Dara Keher, IT director at technology services and consulting firm Version 1.

Can you describe the scale of Version 1 from an IT perspective: how many users are there and what are some of the main applications the company uses?

Our internal IT department enables more than 330 employees in four office locations across Ireland, as well as remote workers in seven countries across four different continents to deliver world-class IT services 24 x 7 x 365.

We serve Irish and international businesses across all industry sectors, which means our IT landscape is really as diverse as our customer base.

Describe your typical day – what does your role involve and how much time do you spend on technical work versus what you dedicate to business alignment and strategy?

Version 1 is an extremely fast-paced company; we have grown by 60pc in the last two years. The majority of my time is invested in supporting our growth plans through business alignment and strategy. However, you really have to be fluent in both languages – technical and business – in order to align the technology with the business.

Is IT a board-level role at Version 1, and what does that entail?

The culture in Version 1 is very open. We have transparent access to the board and IT is very much seen as essential to the enablement of our business goals.

With the business growing rapidly over the past number of years, what challenges does that pose for delivering IT to users? 

Managing a mobile, dynamic, ever-growing user base is a challenge which requires an IT environment that is not restricted by location or capacity and can cope with step changes in resource demands. The cloud is an important enabler for us here, giving us capacity on demand.  

However, perhaps the biggest challenge when a business is growing rapidly, is keeping all parts of the company aligned behind the common goal. We have a very open culture and strategy is shared and communicated across the organisation, which means there are no shocks or surprises.

How important are those standards for your own work – what has Version 1’s IT organisation done in terms of implementing PM, ITIL, or others?

We are long-time adopters of ITIL and we were the first company in the world to be certified to the 2011 edition of the IT service management standard ISO 20000. We are very much committed to delivering service excellence to our customers and understand the role that robust processes play in achieving that.

My team has to operate to the same standard because if we are not delivering an excellent service to our employees, they cannot deliver an excellent service to our customers. We utilise the same processes and tools and are all trained to ITIL standard.

Can you give an example of a recent internal business and IT project – what did it involve and what were the benefits as a result?

Much of the focus over the last year has been on activating our cloud road map and migrating systems to cloud platforms which has greatly contributed to our ‘technical agility’ in terms of providing resources quickly and cost-effectively.

Aligned with that project, we have delivered a complete technology refresh, from laptop through to comms room, delivering increased efficiency and the ability to leverage new technologies.

What major IT and business projects do you have planned for 2013, and how much of your time will be taken up with them?

The business focus is on expansion internationally by first replicating our success in Ireland in the UK. Given that business focus, internal IT is focused on change management, continuous improvement and automation in line with ISO 20000 and ITIL.

In 2013, we will deploy new supporting infrastructures and utilise the latest toolkits to help us more effectively plan, deliver, operate and manage our services and infrastructure as we grow. At the same time, we’ll be delivering business as usual services in a very busy environment.

Is your IT budget the same, reduced, or increased on 2012 and how will that affect your priorities?

We recognise that we have to invest to grow and an increased budget reflects that.

Where do you stand on the role of IT – do you see it as being there purely to deliver services to the business as cost-effectively as possible, or does it have a role in helping an organisation to innovate and beat the competition?

Adding value to the business through innovation and continuous improvement is really at the core of what we do. To be able to achieve that, we have to have the right systems and processes in place that allow us to get beyond firefighting and to initiate and drive improvement.

While delivering value to the business is the end goal, we achieve that using a balanced approach to supporting, protecting and enabling the business. For instance, over enabling can often result in under protecting, while over protecting can hamper growth.

Much is said about how trends like cloud or consumerisation of IT are radically reshaping the role of the IT department. Do you believe the changes are as radical as that?

Trends like cloud and consumerisation of IT should only really radically reshape the roles of IT departments where they can deliver value to the business. Just because certain trends are being promoted does not necessarily mean they are either useful or valuable to specific use cases.

Having said that, new trends give us all more options to deliver the right solution for the business. If these trends are worth implementing, then it is worth radically reshaping the role of the IT department!

The second part of that question is, how are you responding to those changes – either through reskilling or using your internal IT resources differently?

I would say that trends like cloud and the consumerisation of IT necessitate more of a change in mindset; it is a question of rethinking how you deliver IT services.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic