The five minute CIO: John Ryan

13 Jul 2012

Dr John J Ryan, managing director and CIO of IDT

This week we talk to Dr John J Ryan, managing director and CIO of IDT, who shares his thoughts on technology, business and strategy.

Based in Galway, IDT is a precision sheet-metal and sub-contract manufacturer that provides precision sheet-metal parts and assemblies to sectors like electronics, telecoms equipment, healthcare and general engineering. It employs 40 people.

You hold a joint role of MD and CIO, so where does the balance lie between the technical aspect of the job and the business side?

I suppose I’m the main person with a little bit of IT knowledge in the company, so I spend maybe 10pc of my time on that end of the job. We’re an SME and I’m an owner-manager so I have the privilege of working weekends to solve problems without disrupting the business.

Only 10pc of your time – is that all?

We have major projects like we had last year when it would take up a bit more time. Otherwise it’s on-going things, like upgrades and any things that might arise with upgrades or servers.

How much of your time is given over to looking into how technology can help the business?

A number of ways. We do get some journals coming in, either online or hard copies. It’s just generally about reading the papers and being aware of what the trends are and what’s appropriate.

The timing is important; there’s an awful lot of technology advances but it doesn’t mean they’re right for a company like ours. We would probably lag behind and we would be a little bit cautious of taking a jump into new things.

You recently implemented a new ERP system from Infor – how has that helped the company?

It has helped us with integrating our systems. We had a split between production/management and accounting information. That’s a big step forward for us. It gives us very timely information and gives us control over various financial elements and production costs, and allows us to review what has happened – for example, we can look at information about a particular customer and what we manufactured for them.

Deciding on ERP systems often falls down to a choice between having to fit the business into a pre-designed template, or having one that can adapt to your operations. Was that a factor for you?

It’s a bit of both really. We purchased a particular system that’s set up in the way it’s set up but we judged that we could adapt it to our operations, rather than (having to) adapt our operations to suit it. With a system like that, you have your real-world business operations and then you have a virtual business and your job is to try to keep the two reflective of each other.

Has it changed the running of the business in any way?

It’s helping us run the business more efficiently, saving time, giving us better information for managers regarding customers and delivery times and so on. Having all of that in real time available at people’s desks is a big step forward.

We had one particular new customer recently where we had to control the credit that we would allow that particular customer. Infor let us see what orders that we have received that are in production. To see the whole picture of a particular customer with your credit controller’s hat on would be big step forward.

Is your 2012 IT budget increased, decreased, or the same as last year, and how will that affect your priorities?

We’ll be spending a good bit less. Last year we renewed our hardware entirely and installed the Infor system and we had the training and consultancy costs to get it up and running, so we won’t have that to the same extent this year.

What has been the biggest technical challenge of your role?

Last year it was selecting and engineering the whole internal network and introducing wireless working on the network – and all that on top of the day job (laughs). A good bit of that was done at weekends. Free time and work time become blurred.

What technology trends are of most interest to you personally and to your own organisation?

I think the main emphasis will probably be on the production processes and further automation and computerisation of what we do. Sure, we’re conscious of cloud computing and tablets and all that. The main technology for us would probably be on the CAD and CAM side of things.

What’s your opinion of cloud?

The view on cloud computing is that it’s not yet right for us. We cannot see clearly the benefits of it. We do obviously see the potential for backing up data, but keeping all our data on a cloud setup is something we would be wary of at the moment because of reliability of service. We would want to know on the cloud, where is it actually located. In effect, your data is stuck on a server somewhere in the world and if it’s on the other side of world, we would be wary of committing to that.

Are you considering BYOD at all?

I don’t think we’d encourage that trend in our business at the moment, mainly because if devices get lost or stolen and because of the data that’s on them, ensuring backups would be a nightmare.

I think it’s something that’s probably going to happen more and more, that companies will be faced with these decisions (to introduce BYOD). It’s a matter of co policy which way to go and should involve consultation and taking views on board.

The problem is, most people will be well meaning bringing devices to work, but it could be sub-optimal for the company as a whole. People can be working away on their own little niches and may be doing things in the best way they can, but they might be creating problems for somebody else somewhere along the line. The decision is, is the saving they’re making better than the inefficiency they’re introducing somewhere else.

Given your combined roles, do you outsource IT much?

We outsource very little. It’s partly a question of cost and partly a question of response times if something goes wrong, for argument’s sake. We find it very disruptive to be down for any length of time.

And when you use external providers, do you prefer indigenous companies or the multinationals?

We occasionally use local firms. We would prefer to deal with the local firms if they can provide the service – we feel they would be more cost-effective. Bigger companies tend to require a service contract underpinning it, which would add cost.

What’s your opinion of how IT can make its voice heard at a senior level in other organisations?

I feel it should become the other way: it should come from senior management. It would be their role to give guidance and have an overview of IT and not to over-delegate the responsibility, and to have channels by which suggestions can be made as to what the strategy should be.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic