The five-minute CIO: Darren Delaney, Pepper Group

5 Jun 2015

Financial services player Pepper's head of IT infrastructure Darren Delaney

“We’ve tried to maintain an entrepreneurial approach to the way we do things so we can effect change quickly,” says Darren Delaney, IT infrastructure manager at financial services player Pepper Group.

Pepper in Ireland is part of the Pepper Group, a diversified, global financial services business headquartered in Australia.

Pepper Ireland is a leading asset manager and provider of third-party loan and advisory services. Established in September 2012, the company has operations in Dublin and Shannon, employing more than 260 people.

Pepper has more than €12bn of loan and commercial real estate assets under management. These are comprised of commercial real estate portfolios and residential mortgages, as well as personal, small and medium enterprise (SME) and car loans.

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

Pepper Ireland embarked on an ambitious upgrade to its infrastructure back in 2013. As the business was moving to new premises it gave us the opportunity to put in new infrastructure and systems that would deliver a world-class service to our customers. As we were essentially building from the ground up it meant we could really futureproof the design to take into account the projected growth of the business.

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

Our IT strategy is based around giving our customers first-class solutions and service. While our business has grown rapidly in Ireland we’ve tried to maintain an entrepreneurial approach to the way we do things so we can effect change quickly. Designing and building the application systems and key infrastructure it runs on, we also manage all systems 24/7. Security is key for us given the fact we are a financial business, so we need to ensure our cybersecurity strategy is aligned with business objectives and is strategically funded.

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

The production environment is built out across two Tier 1 data centres in Ireland and we leverage some cloud services hosted within the EU. Our server infrastructure is more than 50 virtual machines and eight hosts, as well as a number of standalone servers. All our production servers have been virtualised and replicate on a daily basis to our disaster recovery site.

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

CIOs need to be focused on cost management and ensure projects are delivered in a cost-effective manner. This all helps build credibility with your business and makes it an easier proposition to get budget approved down the line. That said, we should not be stuck in a permanent state of cost-cutting. CIOs should be nimble, thinking out of the box and adopting new approaches to enhance business value and keep the enterprise healthy and competitive.

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

Simplification was an important aspect in the design and implementation of our infrastructure from the start. We wanted to deliver a highly scalable and secure solution without adding unnecessary complexity. At the outset of every new business project IT are heavily involved in the design to ensure that this simplification is always at the heart of what we’re trying to achieve. We do have some legacy applications that require simplification and we are working through these at present. Due to the complexity of certain applications this becomes a much harder task.

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

We have an appropriately-sized team given the size of the business and use a mix of permanent employees and contractors. We do outsource in areas that require a specific set of skills. Pepper uses some key outsourced partners to augment our internal IT team and this approach has worked well for us to date.

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 focus would be around the management and business side to ensure we are delivering a great service to all our customers. I still get involved in technical issues if something critical occurs, but thankfully this is less of a problem today given the infrastructure we’ve put in place. We have a highly motivated team here who work together when a significant technical issue does occur. I tend to focus on researching new technologies and trends in the industry to again keep the business competitive.

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

Cloud would be a big trend at the moment. The challenge for us as a financial business is to ensure that data is secured in the cloud so we spend a good portion of time on due diligence. Our servicing business means we have to ensure not only our own data is secure but that of our clients.

Apart from the challenge of managing a continuous stream of migration projects, as we bring in new clients by far our greatest challenge is the ever-shifting threat landscape out there. Today, security compromises are a persistent and globally-pervasive business risk and my challenge is to ensure our business is secure and stays ahead of the latest threats.

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

We produce key metrics on performance of our infrastructure and on how well we are meeting our customer needs.

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

One area IT can improve is probably by spending more time with the business to understand requirements. Sometimes we prefer to stay in our little bubble and don’t feel the need to get out there. Unfortunately this can be detrimental to a project and costly down the line when applications are developed which don’t meet the needs of customers. Apps should be designed in such a way that the end product is simple to use and disguises the technical complexities that happen in the background.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

We have a number of business projects running throughout the year in which IT would be heavily involved. Due to our continued growth we are adding a second office in Dublin, so this will need to be implemented during Q3 of this year.

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