A former IT administrator who has made the switch to providing IT management services as managing director of his two companies E-MIT and Cloud Compare, Eamon Moore talks about bridging the gap between business and IT.
What made you decide to cross the threshold from the technology to the business side?
I started in the technology game when I was quite young: I started in CSK Software when I was in 15, in transition year. I got on well with the IT department and they invited me back each summer. That brought me into my time in Esat Clear – I was involved in setting up the service. That was my IT administration background, and I was working with them throughout college while I was doing my computer applications degree.
Then I got the opportunity to do some consulting for a legal firm. I set myself up as a sole trader, really as a vehicle to be paid. I wrapped up my career in Esat in early 2003. Before I knew it, I was self-employed and I was essentially an IT manager for four or five different companies.
How unique or standard were the problems you came across in those companies?
From an IT support point of view, the problems were pretty much the same – the issues people had on their PCs or servers. Where I added more value was as a consultant/IT manager, so I would manage projects where they were using third parties which might be for CRM, a website or implementing mobile technologies.
Where people most needed my presence was to bridge the gap between themselves and the technology providers, in order to translate the business requirements to the technology providers and to ensure the technology met those requirements. You didn’t have people [in the client companies] at a technology level that was required to get those projects home.
Do you think you bring a different perspective to a management role because of your background in technology?
Definitely. I think the big thing about businesses and technology – there has been a gap between them, and I think that’s going to change with the advent of the cloud. They were seen as separate aspects of the business, but I see technology becoming more integrated with business processes.
I think that’s a big change and I obviously understand how technology interacts with the businesses as a managing director – it’s not just in one department of the business. Everything we do on the accounting and sales side is directly affected.
From a technical background, I tend to be quite methodical about things. No matter what problem comes across my table, I take a methodical approach. I’d also say, technology is always built on partnerships. You can’t do everything. I have a lot of key partnerships on the business front, to plug some gaps from a business point of view.
You went to the IMI to study: do you think that making the switch from a technology role to a business role is almost like deconstructing a golf swing – that you have to re-learn certain things to be able to approach them differently?
The approach they took at the IMI was that it was three days a month that you took out of your schedule. You kind of get away from things, you don’t have distractions of day-to-day business – it got you thinking about the business from the outside in.
The point about the golf swing is a good one – I’m actually a very keen golfer myself but when you’re so busy at home – and I play golf in my social life and for business – you never get chance to change the things you want to change: you go with what you have. If you tried to make tweaks on the golf course, you’d be all over place. The time at the IMI gave me time to readjust my golf swing – to go back and look at the basics. And it has the advantage of being backed by excellent learning tools.
Why is it that business and IT people frequently don’t understand each other, and what can be done about this?
The perception of IT sometimes is that there is a complete separation of business and IT: that IT is just used to run the business at the ground level, to support it in its other activities. I think that is changing and needs to change, particularly with cloud.
The revolutionary thing about the cloud is it’s going to change business models and business processes. That’s going to have business and IT people talking more about the business and the role that technology plays in serving clients and in the business model itself. Cloud will make the way you do things more efficient, and will make you a better company.
I think that separation won’t exist down the line. Some businesses aren’t seeing IT as a cost centre – they’re getting the IT department to charge each department for the use of services. I think that’s very interesting. Then, suddenly you find the IT budget isn’t as huge as you thought: it’s a part of the business and it interacts with each element of the business.
You set up a cloud brokerage service (Cloud Compare). Did you do this because there’s a lot of uncertainty among businesses about what’s involved in moving to the cloud?
Certainly, there’s a lack of understanding around cloud and what it really is. People with email on the cloud consider that to be cloud. But it’s more than ‘the cloud’: it’s really cloud services.
Each of the services you run on your server can be run as cloud services. If you think of it that way, it helps you understand and you can see how it affects every single part of the business.
A cloud project will touch on every part of the business. IT used to be about infrastructure or hardware upgrades. With cloud, you need to involve everyone in the decision-making process. It has a knock-on effect on the way people do their work, so it’s important to include people in that.
That’s something the IT industry has historically not done well: how do you think businesses should go about it?
Definitely from the cloud side of things, part of the frameworks we developed was that we hold interviews with key staff members. When you move to cloud services, people’s business processes, habits and techniques they have built up over a number of years are affected. If you include them in it and get feedback about their pain points, that’s how you can have a successful project.
Given the ‘gap’ you spoke about between business and IT, do you think there’s a need for brokerage-type services to help IT projects?
I think so. People refer to the dangers of cloud contracts and while some are quite complex, it’s been the same for a number of years: you have people who might know the business inside out but won’t have the expertise to map out both the business requirements and the technical requirements. I spoke about partnerships earlier: sometimes you can’t beat a fresh set of eyes looking at something for you.
What are the biggest misconceptions about the cloud, in your experience?
The big one we always get is about cost. In some cases you will save money, but a lot of times it could be no. It all depends on how IT has been treated in the past. If a system was installed a number of years ago and the business just let it sit there with no upgrades or changes, then the chances are cloud is going to be more expensive. Even though it’s priced per user per month, if it’s not a like-for-like system, there could be more expense for you. If it is like for like, there could me more savings for you.
It’s not just [comparing cost of] what you put in three or four years ago, but it’s support, maintenance, warranties and even the electrical cost which could be €800-€900 a year to power a server. They’re all things to take into consideration when you’re comparing like for like.
The other one to add is the security questions. People see it as losing control. What I see on the ground, more in the SME end, is that there’s not much investment in infrastructure – I’ve seen firewalls that are out of date, I’ve seen weak passwords on post-it notes. And then some people ask ‘is it not going to be safer in my office’? What about a data centre that has millions invested in it on security?
As someone who held IT roles in your career, do you think the cloud is the threat to technology jobs that some people perceive it to be?
I don’t think so. I think there will always be a need – maybe the jobs might move to different locations – maybe in different data centres where the systems are hosted. Your typical IT manager has to realign himself with the business. When this new relationship between technology and the business comes along, the role will be more around realigning the business strategy and the IT strategy.
I’m a firm believer that the IT manager of tomorrow will not be fixing servers, they’ll be sitting at the boardroom table.
In your experience, what are some of the biggest mistakes that businesses make when procuring IT services, and how can they change?
I see a lot of time it boils down to cost. That’s understandable in a way but it’s detrimental to a project. If businesses realise that technology is a business enabler and can enhance your business and the service you give to clients, they should include that element when asking for IT services and it will help them.