The five minute CIO: Henry Minogue, UPC

19 Sep 2014

Henry Minogue, chief information officer, UPC

“It is about embracing the digital agenda, understanding the benefits to the customer and the benefits to the company from that agenda,” says UPC chief information officer Henry Minogue on the challenges CIOs face today.

Overseeing an infrastructure that includes 1,300 desktops and 300 mobile devices as well as enterprise systems and systems that support over 1m TV, broadband and telecoms customers across Ireland, Minogue has arguably one of the most challenging CIO roles in Ireland.

With over 20 years professional experience Minogue says the key challenge for CIOs today is to embrace digital as the barriers that normally separated executives and customers are disappearing fast.

UPC now has 348,000 broadband subscribers in Ireland, as well as 75,000 subscribers for its Horizon TV service. In its most recent quarterly results total subscriptions grew by 71,400 to 1,084,000 year-on-year in the first quarter.

Next year the company will enter the mobile market via an MVNO agreement with Three Ireland.

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

It’s two-fold. I’m the VP/CIO for the Irish operations. It’s your standard CIO role in terms of the enterprise systems and back office functions that need to be supported but we also have customer-facing solutions and systems that support customer base and extensive product range as well.

In that respect we have CRM, fulfilment and billing platforms to support customers across consumer and B2B divisions.

On top of that we would have extensive online systems. We are fully integrated with the digital agenda and embracing the digital customers who like to do things through a digital medium – social, online, mobility and care, etc.

Within my department there are 60 people focused on delivery across the business, IT, cross-functional programme management and billing.

We have been aggressively delivering a lot of new products and services to support the business. No key project in the business is delivered without a heavy degree of IT involvement. And traditionally IT is very strong in terms of structured delivery. That’s why we put the cross-functional programme office under the CIO department, blending the mix of technology involved in all key programmes as well as strong delivery of IT that the IT department has.

What are the main points of your companys IT strategy?

When I talk about IT strategy – strategy means so many different things to so many people depending on the business you are in. From my perspective it is to build the IT capability that can lead the business from where they are to where they aim to be.

In relation to that it means staying aligned, leading the digital agenda is key to the IT strategy from my perspective. You need to lead the innovation agenda and continually demonstrate value through our delivery capabilities.

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

We have extensive infrastructure – 1,300 individual desks that need to be supported in terms of full-time employees and third parties that support our services. In terms of mobility we have 300 mobile devices throughout the country and you need to have security wrapped around any mobile services we provide also. We also have extensive CRM, scheduling, workforce management, business intelligence, data analytics, enterprise solutions supporting finance, payroll, HR and there’s a whole new online suite as well as social media and e-billing. It’s an extensive infrastructure across various types of architecture to support all of that.

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

The first thing is to try and secure the budget that is required. Really, how I go about securing the budget is continually having conversations with colleagues on my senior management team.

IT should not be viewed as a cost centre, it is a value centre and it is the job of the CIO to demonstrate IT costs in terms of investment in business value and business growth. It is continually having that conversation with equivalents at a C-suite level in the organisation to show that IT is a part of the discussion when it comes to budget and the value it brings to each of their domains, and not have IT be the people sitting outside the boardroom door waiting for the next requirement to be costed. It’s about making sure that IT generally is a core of any budgeting process on an annual basis.

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

The total headcount at UPC is 850 full-time equivalents and the same again in third party support. As I said my core team is 60 people We have a very strong corporate IT division, as part of the Liberty Global family and UPC operates in 12 European countries. We get very strong support from corporate CIO division in Amsterdam so a lot of the heavy-lifting is done with their help. On the ground we would use a certain degree of outsourcing. With high value work I try to extract the highest value from the resources I have focused on higher value activities but lower value activities I will outsource where necessary.

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?

The majority of my time is spent dealing with management and business issues. From a CIO perspective you have to be a business leader first and foremost and how I position the CIO role and myself at the table – I’m a business leader first who happens to specialise in technology.

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

It’s about embracing the concept that every company is going to become a digital company.

More and more customers are becoming digital customers and it is understanding the threats as well as the opportunities that this can bring.

In our own business it is bout looking for the opportunities we can provide efficiencies for organisations to embrace the digital agenda – online from a sales marketing, care perspective.

From a social and social media perspective and in terms of cloud there’s a lot we can do for product in the cloud and in terms of mobility, empowering agents in the field and mobility in terms of customers accessing mobile devices and services.

We are moving from a physical business to a complete digital business. When I joined the company in 2001 it was a very much product-driven engineering company that offered 17 analogue TV channels whereas now we would not consider ourselves a product-driven engineering company, we are an entertainment company offering digital products and services.

It is about embracing the digital agenda, understanding the benefits to the customer and the benefits to the company from that agenda.

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

There are different levels of measurement depending o the level of organisation. If you are trying to measure senior management team and expectations down to measuring how boxes, servers and networks are performing. There’s a whole raft of different measurements that need to be applied.

From a business perspective are we in the company meeting our target sand then has technology delivered on its commitment in terms of meeting those targets. You have your standard performance metrics and KPIs but need to ensure aligned with the business every quarter and every month.

One of the things we do here very strongly – merged cross-functional under IT – we manage the roadmap for the company in terms of product and initiatives. I sit down with directors one on one and go through roadmap and determine how e we are performing as well as delivering

This digital world moves very fast, what may have been a priority two months ago may not today. Need to ensure aligned, need to move forward with the business at each point in time.

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

We just need to continue to watch where the digital business is bringing IT departments and CIOs and make sure we are moving in the right direction with them.

It is very important that the CIO stays relevant and to stay relevant there is no other person at C-suite level in an organisation who has the visibility across the business that the CIO has in terms of we know all the business processes, have the capability and business data and ability to join the dots across all those entities and no better way to drive innovation and no other executive has those powers other than the CIO.

So continually proving that we are playing to our strengths on an ongoing basis, that we are the people who deliver value into an organisation.

One of the challenges CIO organisations have is understanding that the bridge between the traditional internal customer and the external customer is actually disappearing.

Traditionally IT departments were writing back end systems, more and more they are no writing apps and code that end customers are experiencing and using on a day to day basis and that provides challenges.

Do we have the skills to understand the customer journey?

This is all new to the CIO department and we need to embrace it. Because if we don’t we get left behind.

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