The five minute CIO: Hugh Gallagher, BDO

15 May 2015

“BDO has realised that the strategy of keeping IT in-house has actually improved relationships with our clients,” said Hugh Gallagher from BDO.

Gallagher leads the delivery of IT for BDO, the business advisory and accounting firm for Ireland’s most ambitious companies.

BDO has offices in Dublin, Belfast and Limerick as well as its wider international network.

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

As well as managing a sophisticated and complex internal network, BDO also partners with the BDO International Network in using cloud based systems to enhance delivery of business services to our clients here in Ireland and internationally.  We also develop and deliver our own hosted services, and data transformation solutions directly to our clients from our secure data centre facility in Dublin.

Our clients trust us to utilise and provide the best in IT security systems backed up with the most robust security policies and business continuity/Disaster Recovery strategies.  We heavily invest in high end computing with both standard and specialised software solutions that enable our users to deliver their specialist services to clients.

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

One component of BDO’s IT strategy for 2015/16 will focus on achieving maximum value in IT investments such as our global enterprise agreement with Microsoft which will, this year, develop into a business partnership that will enable us provide cloud based bookkeeping solutions using Microsoft technologies.  We decided almost 10 years ago that the single most important component of our IT strategy is our management, delivery and understanding of our IT security systems and the secure use of technology by all users in BDO.

This has developed into a very complex combination of security systems which we manage and maintain internally.  This gives our clients confidence in our abilities to secure data and additionally we regularly allow our clients to audit our facilities and services.  Another component of our IT strategy that started earlier this year, provides the systems necessary to carry out data transformation processes using high level tools and databases which will dramatically reduce manual data processing and allow us to spend more time on validation processes which is a key business improvement requested by our clients.

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

BDO hosts its own heavily virtualised IT infrastructure in two data centres located in Dublin City Centre and Citywest.  Our IT Infrastructure consists of 300 laptops/Desktops/Mobile Devices, 45 Servers and many virtual appliances. We employ a zoned network approach to separate regulated and un-regulated processes and we use the best technologies available to allow secure remote access to our users.  The IT infrastructure also incorporates the internal managed printing solution and all telecoms / mobile telecoms used by the firm.  We also host a secure hosting facility for virtualised versions of networks acquired from clients for the purpose of investigation and discovery.

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

Ultimately our IT is an enabler of great service delivery by BDO to Ireland’s most ambitious companies. BDO has multiple business units covering audit, tax, business advisory in almost every industry sector imaginable.  And each of our business units uses standard and specialised systems specific to their business offerings. This can make prioritisation complex so an important aspect of managing IT budgets is for the CIO to align-with and fully understand the business functions.  We need to know how IT investments will help our business units achieve their goals and be measured. That helps us gain the most out of IT contracts through constant monitoring of spending and ongoing periodic re-negotiation of contracts together with assisting the business to prioritise IT spending in all aspects of technology so that IT fully supports the business goals.

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

BDO’s IT Infrastructure is large and complex and we utilise a number of technologies that allow us to centrally manage and monitor the infrastructure.  Previous implementations of server virtualisation using VMWare ESX and Citrix Xenserver, as well as other solutions such as storage/replication using Dell Equallogic has simplified management of our infrastructure.  Examples of areas where we are taking steps to simplify would be our focus on data transformation services to simplify parts of business processes and the development of the International BDO cloud based audit process tool.

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

BDO’s IT team is large enough to have the diverse IT skillsets and experience necessary to manage and develop the internal and externally facing IT infrastructures and solutions. In fact, such is the strength of the team that as a firm we also provide specialised IT services directly to clients.  We have maintenance contracts with third party providers and we outsource some functions when regulations or business units require it such as Penetration Testing, Financial Auditing Process Tools and Staff IT Training.  Over the years we have found that our client’s demand that we are responsible for the security of data and must have comprehensive expertise of our own systems and security and that they are fully managed 24/7.  BDO has realised that the strategy of keeping IT in-house has actually improved relationships with our clients as we can immediately implement solutions for the business without third party interaction and huge consultancy fees.

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?

I manage all aspects of IT including delivery of IT solutions in line with the business so I spend a lot of time with the partners and directors of the Firm.  However a large proportion of my time would also be spent on developing complex IT solutions to the business and direct to clients but this percentage can vary week on week.  I manage all other IT functions but delegation of tasks is utilised through an IT management hierarchy.

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

Put simply, ambition and growth are the big trends and challenges.  At BDO, we are advisers to some of Ireland’s most ambitious companies and many of these have both global and local business growth plans. Our IT offering needs to support them in achieving this. For the sector we see a big drive towards data transformation services.  This means providing more portal based services and workflows to clients so that they can manage their business growth from wherever they are.  It also means focusing on assessing client systems to ensure they are fit for purpose.

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

BDO is a leading firm of business advisers and accountants so measurement and results are in our DNA.  In the IT team we use many centralised management, monitoring and alerting systems to manage logs and performance of systems and infrastructure.  This is a huge part of BDO’s IT Security strategy and helps our IT team to make informed decisions.  We also do a series of user questionnaires to gauge user opinions of the user facing systems such as printing, WIFI and mobile devices.

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

We have highlighted a number of cloud/hosted solutions that we can provide to our clients that will allow us to provide value added services that will complement existing services.  Expertise in this area is available to us throughout the Global BDO network and many initiatives have already been explored in the areas of Business Outsourcing and Payroll services.

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

We have a huge number of projects lined up this year such as Virtual Desktops Infrastructure, ISMS Certification and IM/Desktop Videoconferencing Solution.  It’s impossible to go through all of the projects but we have an extensive prioritisation process that applies a number of weightings such as business need, security requirement, associated costs etc, to determine which projects will go ahead.

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