The five minute CIO: John Hampson, Ardagh Group

1 Aug 2014

John Hampson, CIO of Ardagh Group

“I always look for the best value for the organisation, which is not always the lowest-cost solution but the right solution for our company,” says John Hampson, CIO of glass and metal packaging multinational Ardagh Group.

Ardagh Group is an Irish multinational that through a strategy of acquisitions and organic growth has developed into a 20,000-strong organisation that brings in annual revenues of around €4.8bn.

The company operates 98 facilities in glass and metal packaging in 24 countries globally and produces more than 35bn containers a year.

As CIO, Hampson has been focused on ensuring standardisation across the company, rolling out cloud computing and ensuring that with each acquisition the new companies’ systems align smoothly with Ardagh Group’s systems.

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 a 20,000-employee company. Not all of those would be IT users, there would be around 7,000 approximate IT users within that. Because of the acquisition trail that Ardagh has been on the last number of years, as we acquire we inherit a reasonably diverse range of systems. Our IT strategy over the last number of years has been around standardisation and simplification and ensuring we don’t have multiples of applications when one will do.

In the last three or four years we’ve standardised our IT platforms, we’re down to one core ERP platform and we have a number of others but one core system and the intention will be to move all the others onto the single core platform.

What are the main points of your companys IT strategy?

Once again, it is the same philosophy of reduction of complexity, keeping our environment as simple as possible. That has been our key focus over the last number of years.

Standardisation and simplification, and the reduction of complexity arising from our acquisitions.

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

I always look for the best value for the organisation, which is not always the lowest-cost solution but the right solution for our company. That is principle No 1.

We are a value-based procurement operation in terms of IT. That is the key measure.

The challenge for us is trying to get the right balance between operational spend and transformational spend. Looking to the future rather than just keeping the lights on.

That is always challenging but it’s something we have to keep working at. I don’t have any silver bullet on that; it is a constant and continuous process.

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

We have a reasonably lean IT team across the globe. We hire in expertise from external consultants or third parties for skill sets we don’t have in-house. We don’t have frequent enough requirements for top-end enterprise architecture functionality; typically we will recruit that in on a temporary basis.

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?

As always, it’s a balance. We always try to align our IT strategy with the business’ goals and objectives. I need to be very familiar with what that is. From an operational perspective, I try to avoid getting too heavily involved in specific instances or projects, but that doesn’t always work out.

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

The general trends will be the likes of bring your own device (BYOD) strategies and cloud computing strategies.

On cloud computing we embrace it; we have our own private cloud within our own data centres. We fully embrace virtualisation for our server infrastructure.

Where we then additionally look at cloud as a value-add to us is very much around applications that we feel can be brought in by people more expert than ourselves.

For example, in terms of Microsoft and its cloud email platform, we’ve heavily embraced that completely for our US business and our intention would be to move towards our entire business on cloud-based email over the next year or two.

For an organisation like ourselves that is fundamentally a manufacturing organisation, we make glass bottles and metal, we make glass containers and metal containers, so on the production side of our business we feel less requirement or need for a comprehensive BYOD-type strategy.

However, on the service side of our business – the operational side and finance, procurement and IT staff, office-based rather than production-based workers – we are seeing an increasing desire to move towards not necessarily a BYOD strategy but a “choose your own device” strategy which would be a better way to describe it.

Like most organisations, we try to move IT away from a control culture where the answer is usually “no” first.

I try to move that to the answer should be “yes” and how should we do this? Within reason, of course.

On the choose your own device part, that still has its own technical difficulties but once again suppliers such as Microsoft are providing functionality now that will enable us to be more proactive in this area.

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

Our business in general is very key performance indicator (KPI) oriented. As a world-class manufacturing organisation, we have many years of experience of KPIs to monitor and improve our business.

On the IT side we’ve been slow to take this on, however, we’ve learned a lot from our business colleagues and we use a number of KPIs to measure and monitor performance. For us it is not so much a server uptime KPI but a business service uptime. To clarify, regardless of whether one of our email servers is down, is the email service up and running for our business? Can they receive an email?

That’s a slightly different metric than the traditional server uptime metric. But we also have had traditional service metrics about first time fix rates.

Where we would like to get to is metrics in terms of the input of IT to the overall value of the business.

Financial-based metrics is where we are looking now but it’s a work in progress. How IT is bringing and adding value to business and how we monitor and measure that.

Are there any areas youve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

I don’t believe in magic wands unfortunately, although my daughters do. Within our organisation we are very firm believers in the concept of continuous improvement.

What we promote is the concept of continuous improvement, ranging from our own app development efforts right through to a service desk, for example. Continuous improvement is far and away the most important thing for us.

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

Because of the acquisitive growth of the organisation we do find ourselves where we have non-standard systems after an acquisition. What we have become quite slick at is the integration of those businesses, which usually requires a rollout of core systems.

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