The five minute CIO: John Shaw, Kingspan

3 Oct 2014

John Shaw, CIO of Kingspan

“For us the future is all about cloud. The future is cloud, big data, social media,” says John Shaw, CIO of Kingspan, who is responsible for providing IT to some 6,500 people in 20 countries worldwide.

Shaw has 25 years of IT experience in the energy, pharma and manufacturing sectors.

Prior to joining building materials company Kingspan, he served as CIO at Mainstream Renewables and previously held senior IT leadership positions at Pfizer, Accenture and General Electric.

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

Kingspan is a very successful company and it is growing in all its markets. New products are being introduced all the time and the challenge is always to find out what is the most important thing for the business that I can help with.

So there’s routine IT and then there’s IT at the edge of the next big thing we are trying to do as a company. What are we trying to do with digital marketing, our smart products? Those kinds of questions.

For me in the first instance, it is about getting the basics right in terms of service and security and then it is about helping in these other areas. I get the most job satisfaction out of helping the business grow, helping with new products, entering new markets. They are much more exciting to me than the routine jobs.

Just by the numbers last year, Kingspan had a turnover of €1.79bn. In 2014, we are in our sixth year of expansion and growth following the economic downturn. Kingspan is well out of that.

We have 62 factories around the globe; we operate in more than 20 countries. One-third of our business is from Ireland and Britain, a third from rest of Europe, and the final third from elsewhere, such as North America, the Middle East and Asia.

From a products point of view, we have four product sets: Kingspan Environmental, Kingspan Insulation, Kingspan Access Floors and Kingspan Panels. People think of us as a company that manufactures insulation. That’s only one aspect of what we do.

Many of our products have a smart layer in them and have had for many years. Our opportunity now is to figure out where the demand is going for that. We know our customers want more data.

Probably one of the moist exciting things is Kingspan Energy, providing a fully integrated solar installation with no capital outlay for the customer. For that to work, and it is working successfully, we need a smart layer. A whole new way of thinking about energy as service.

The company for many years has been about energy-efficiency solutions, which is a much broader definition, and we acquire companies and develop new products to reinforce that strategy.

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

We pride ourselves on being very agile. Kingspan is agile in how it goes about acquiring new business, entering a new market and acquiring companies. The IT strategy has to be sensitive to all of that, it can’t be clunky it has to be nimble, cost efficient and very sensitive to what the business is trying to do. We have a very adaptive strategy with IT.

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

Kingspan has 6,500 people and 120 locations worldwide. Our sales force is very important. We have a combination of people fixed in factories and executives who are mobile. It’s a mixed bag of IT users. We have 125 people in the IT team across the globe. Every one of us is around delivery of service, value, and to be tuned into that business imperative is to be agile.

Like any business, we have IT growth pains. Certain technologies we are moving away from and now moving into the future. For us the future is all about cloud. Cloud, big data, social media.

I’m fascinated by the possibilities with social media. We would have started off using it to boost selling and recruitment capabilities. But we are looking at what else it can do for us.

In terms of mobile, we are very flexible around choice of devices. The IT department enables it, but we are flexible. We don’t proscribe, that’s not where the value comes from our contribution.

On big data, the big opportunity is in smart products. We are already a big data company, where is it going next? We are very interested in Intel Quark and I’ve done a proof of concept with Intel Quark at our head office.

The Intel Quark was developed in Ireland and we are on the early adoption programme at Intel and we are already piloting the technology at our head office and innovation centre at Kingscourt (in Co Cavan).

We have recently moved to ISO 50000 certification for energy management systems and that uses Intel Quark.

Our CEO Gene Murtagh wants our whole company to be carbon negative so each and every one of our locations becomes a net energy generator. Our CEO drives a Tesla – we’re using our own technology to get us to a carbon negative position, just as our customers demand that from us.

It’s an exciting change for us.

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

On cloud, for a lot of our generic services, such as email, we are evaluating moving to a SaaS and to get the centre of gravity of our IT department more and more towards business agility and enabling change.

What happens to the people who used to do that? We want our people to work on the next big thing for the company, we don’t want to be constrained where we need IT people. We want our IT people liberated from the things they find painful and a source of drudgery. More interesting work, such as R&D.

Everybody who comes to work wants an enjoyable and rewarding experience, no one wants drudgery. That’s a big part of our thinking. How do we enable business agility and individual agility more and more?

The culture at Kingspan is very commercial, it is agile, it is very can-do. We want to take our 125 IT people and recognise and reward that pattern they have already – here’s more interesting work and we’ll take the drudgery away from you. There are plenty of third-party providers who would happily take this on.

Do you think the internet of things (IoT) will be a big game changer for Kingspan?

When you look at the internet of things three years ago, no one was talking IoT yet. Three years from now, half of all devices connected will be IP edge computing devices. The data is saying in the region of 16bn connected devices by 2017, half of them will be IoT, and that’s industrial computing. That’s built into the product and we are already in that space. But it’s now a question of what is the right strategy for Kingspan. We are still forming our thoughts on this.

We have 125 people in our IT team and it is a reflection of the scale of the company but we also work very closely with partners. We have a strong culture of working with IT partners on projects and services and of course with the move to cloud it changes the game, as well.

How do we move the centre of gravity more in the direction of business value and less of the routine IT stuff that is gone to the cloud and can be outsourced?

Traditional outsourcing is being replaced with cloud.

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’m with the company since June 2013 and I could divide my time to three phases; first phase is very much a diagnostic, what needs to be improved, what does the business require and how are we performing. And then early efforts to stabilise some of those issues.

The second phase is really all about implementing more substantial change in how we are organised, getting our IT function benchmarked.

We got the Innovation Value Institute to conduct an IT capability benchmark, we got our security audited and certified to ISO 27001 and business continuity to ISO 22301 and shortly we will have ISO 20000. We got five ISO certifications in nine months.

Does that not wrap you up in red tape?

No it doesn’t. The idea is to take a working framework and measure ourselves against it. Is ours fit for purpose?

Once you have structure, it not only ticks along, it also means we know it is stable and move onto being more agile. It also helped boost morale and motivation with our people and they can see we are getting accolades, getting recognised. There’s an enormous self-confidence rise when we get recognition from external sources.

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

The ISO stuff definitely. We have a balanced scorecard that measures several things. The business value, the service performance, we measure our process, audit preparation, certification, our people, our motivation, our training programmes, our skills and finally on cost.

Cost is important but it is part of a balanced scorecard. We want to be able to accurately predict our budget and execute to that but it is really about value, service, process, people and cost.

It’s a balanced scorecard approach.

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

Overall, there are a lot of things happening that are driving this split between the front office CIO and the back office CIO. The back office CIO role involved running data centre operations, service desk and activities that are increasingly outsourced or replaced with cloud services.

The era of having to configure a laptop for a user is going to end fairly soon. As long as there is a net connection, we can take care of that. BYOD replaces all of that. Data centre is replaced with cloud, things are changing fast.

The front office CIO is the emerging role, which is more about being closer to business decisions, the product and the real customer in the market, and over there what is happening is social media and IoT is changing the game along with big data. But overall it’s the digital picture and fitting in with that.

Overall, the mega trends, social media, mobility, cloud, big data and IoT. They are not isolated but in fact are very tightly bound. One thing enables another. The more IoT there is, the more big data, then we’ll need more cloud and then accessibility to the data. Social media is really where we are seeing a convergence between persona as a consumer and persona as a business colleague.

At home you get onto Netflix and have Amazon easily, but at work you want to have those services presented the same way. If you can buy a book with no nonsense at work, you want to buy books and supplies with no nonsense. If you don’t need training to buy on Amazon why do you need training to use an ERP system?

There is going to be a huge change. You are going to see the traditional applications come under huge pressure in the market because people won’t accept the lousy user interface anymore. The graduates coming out of college today grew up with the Xbox and the iPad, and will not tolerate having to spend a week on a training course about how to raise a purchase order.

There is a revolution we are seeing in the industry and at Kingspan.

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