Welcome to the latest in a series of exclusive interviews on Siliconrepublic.com, where Ireland’s IT leaders share their thoughts on technology trends and strategy. This week, we talk to Dominick Griffin, director of IT and operations, UK and Ireland, for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH).
The company – which produces textbooks, educational technology materials, reference works and books – came into Irish ownership when the Dublin-based e-learning firm Riverdeep completed a reverse takeover of Houghton Mifflin in 2006; the Harcourt arm was acquired the following year.
How much of the HMH organisation does your role cover: how many users across how many sites?
More than 400 employees – the majority of which are based in our innovation headquarters in Dublin, with a small number based in the UK and Middle East. I report into the IT leadership team in our US headquarters, which is ultimately responsible for supporting our 3,000 employees across multiple locations worldwide.
The Dublin office also acts as a central IT support hub for HMH vendors all over the world, allowing us to operate a 24/7 software development cycle. I’m lucky to be supported by a small but highly-skilled and multi-talented team of IT engineers locally in Dublin.
Do you see your role primarily as a technical one, or a business one?
I would see my role as a mix of both technical and business. We have a number of different business divisions based in the HMH Dublin office, including creative design, software development, quality assurance, and project management. Understanding their individual business needs is critical, so I can act as a conduit in translating any local IT requirements for the corporate IT team in the US.
Is your 2012 IT budget increased, decreased, or the same as last year, and how will that affect your priorities?
Our IT budget is about the same as last year. With many major IT projects scheduled for deployment during 2012, such as the migration of our servers to a managed services provider and the rollout of a unified communications strategy across the entire HMH organisation, it’s critical that we extract as much value as possible from this year’s budget.
We are implementing a number of cost-saving measures, such as the consolidation of our telecommunications services and the introduction of environmentally-friendly multi-functional printing devices.
What is your main IT project for this year?
Our main project will be the migration of our production servers to a managed services provider. This transition will have many advantages for the local HMH teams, for example instant server provision for our software development teams and on-demand, increased disk space for fast project management growth.
What IT initiative are you most proud of?
I’m proud to have been part of the start-up Riverdeep team that produced the Destination Math programme, which is now used by schools all over the world.
I have also been involved in the design, deployment and ongoing support for computer labs in a number of Irish and US schools sponsored by HMH over the years.
What has been the hardest challenge since you took your current role?
HMH has expanded rapidly over the last number of years, moving to new, larger premises almost every two years. Moving large numbers of employees and IT equipment in a very short space of time, while allowing software production teams to continue their work uninterrupted, is always a challenge.
You went from working in an indigenous company to a large corporate – did you have to change your approach to IT in any way as a result?
There were many new processes and policies introduced when Riverdeep acquired Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt in 2007, which gave us the advantages of a much larger and more mature IT organisation without losing too much of the speed and flexibility of a smaller development organisation.
What technology trends are of most interest to you personally and to your own organisation?
Cloud computing is one of many new trends that I find interesting – one that our own organisation has introduced in some areas of its IT strategy.
What’s your view of cloud: vendor hype or business revolution?
My opinion is that it’s not necessarily the right solution for everyone right now, but it could be in the future. I think there’s still a long way to go.
One of our software development teams is currently conducting ‘proof of concept’ testing with a cloud provider, so we are certainly exploring the ways in which it can benefit HMH.
Outsource or in-house IT?
We outsource some services – for example, all our multi-functional printing devices are monitored and managed by our service partner. This frees up our internal IT team and allows them to focus on supporting our employees.
Given that HMH is a global organisation, how much autonomy do you have for IT either at a tactical or strategic level?
We have enough autonomy to allow us to respond quickly to the needs of our supported users and regular communication with our dedicated global IT strategic management group. We use some vendors as part of parent company agreements, but have flexibility locally. Telecommunications would be an example where we have local flexibility.
Have you a preference for using indigenous IT service providers, or do you opt for the multinational names?
We use local indigenous IT service companies as far as possible, as they can respond quickly to local requests. However, we do share some global licences with our US counterparts.
Have you any plans to add to your own skills this year and if so, in what area?
I will attend the Gartner Conference later in the year and hope to sharpen my skills at some of their workshops. I’m particularly interested in emerging technologies and the ways in which they can benefit our organisation.
Internally, HMH facilitates regular employee sessions presented by different company divisions, which is a great way to learn more about the business. On-demand training is also available through our intranet to allow employees to update IT skills.