The five minute CIO: Ken Tormey

9 Nov 2012

Ken Tormey, chief technology officer, Easytrip

Easytrip’s chief technology officer Ken Tormey gives a perspective as a provider and consumer of IT, and reveals why he prefers an in-house IT job to consulting.

IT is often cast in the role of firefighter and at the same time there’s this aspiration to be more of a contributor to the business strategy – where does Easytrip sit between these two poles?

Specifically talking about IT, we absolutely straddle both. We are continually making changes to the basic IT infrastructure, the basic systems, and with change comes firefighting. That’s the nature of the beast and we have a change management process that we go through.

The other key aspect of what we do is, we do a lot of the value-added stuff so we’re not just a basic IT support function. We are also product development, research and IT strategy. It’s very much aligned to what projects are going on at the moment and IT are pretty much involved in everything. So it’s quite diverse.

How much of a contribution does your IT department make to Easytrip’s business strategy?

It has to. The fundamental part of our business is a small piece of technology that’s put into a car so from that point backwards, it’s all about the piece of hardware in the car or the electronic transactions behind that.

While the board would drive the business strategy, that’s driven by what we can deliver from IT, and how IT can add new products and services.

That being the case, how much of your role involves looking at technology trends that might apply in the business?

Quite a bit. Typically, we try and have a strategy in place for the year ahead. In essence, I split it between fundamental engineering requirements – that might be replacing or upgrading certain systems or migrating them. That doesn’t give us any material value-add, but it maintains the level of service and quality that we need. Equally, what I and IT are involved in is looking at new projects and new products that are coming down the line and we would drive a lot of those.

Can you give an example of that?

The big project we completed last year was the taxi management system at Dublin Airport. It was an IT project that we delivered to an outside partner; a business product for the Dublin Airport Authority, driven by the IT team in here.

Another example of that would be the most recent project [charge to mobile] that we’ve just completed and are in the middle of going live with, working with O2 and our partners Oxygen8. There was a business concept but very early on we took quite a lead role in what the technology would enable us to do. That, in essence, defined what the product to the customer is at the end of it all.

You were previously in consulting roles, which presumably gave you a good overview of lots of different IT organisations. Why swap that for working in the same place all the time?

I guess I wanted to see a different side of things … I’ve been the supplier, the vendor or the consultant. As part of being CTO of Easytrip, I’m in both places: I’m a supplier and also a customer of our suppliers into us. I get to see a different view of things.

I actually prefer it in this role. Certainly it’s a challenge. You have to look at life slightly differently. The advantage I have is, I’ve been sitting on the other side of the table. I’m able to ask the questions and know when I’m being fed the answer, and when I’m being given the answer I want to hear!

Easytrip went through a PCI-DSS process recently because you process cardholder data. A lot of people see regulatory compliance as a burden; what’s been your experience?

I think when you start on the path it can appear daunting, and can appear complex. The rules are very straightforward; it’s black and white in terms of what’s asked of you. It’s about providing the evidence. Fundamentally, our job is to look after other people’s money and with that comes a responsibility. I don’t look at it as a burden.

You’ve also gone down the road of server virtualisation, so is it fair to say next stop cloud?

Not necessarily. I think we will utilise the cloud as and when we see fit. I’m not one for jumping on to the next and greatest platform. We will look at it on the basis of whether deploying on the cloud gives options and benefits to the business.

What’s your main IT project for the year ahead?

The charge to mobile project has been the major project that we’ve undertaken this year. The other significant one is a new set of services through our banking partners to allow us to offer more convenience to customers through their credit cards – the Visa/MasterCard updater. When they get a new card from their provider, customers won’t have to ring us up to update their numbers – it happens automatically. In 2013, we also plan to extend the reach of our charge to mobile programme, bringing on the other operators.

You used Arkphire as the prime contractor on a recent project covering virtualisation, PCI and disaster recovery – what are your criteria for choosing an external IT provider?

It comes down to expertise and also comes down to how I think the relationship will work. You get a sense of whether you can work the way you want to work with the people who are talking to you and that’s critical to us. We are a small IT team, so when we have a partner, we can rely heavily on them. We take all that into account.

Have you any preference for indigenous providers or multinationals?

I don’t. I’ve seen the pros and cons of both and I don’t think you can draw the line on the basis of that alone. It’s the people, the processes, the technology and their expertise. And Ireland – and Dublin in particular – is quite a small IT area.

What’s your opinion on outsourcing generally: do you consider it a big part of delivering technology to the business, or do you prefer to keep it in-house as much as possible?

It works for us and I have had varying degrees of success. In previous instances, I’ve had horror stories of outsourcing, where just through geography it became a task of managing the provider instead of them managing the systems.

We’ve had some good successes in the past couple of years. Certainly one that has been a real success for us was where the work was done on the basis of the delivery of system code and training. That meant we could sustain ourselves internally, but we could always go back to the supplier if we needed help with a particular issue. That can’t always work but that would be my preference.

With all of the changes happening in IT – cloud computing, especially – do you think your role is going to change substantially, and how do you plan to respond to that?

I think it will change over time, definitely. Through the back end of 2013 I think we’ll have a lot of back-end infrastructure jigsaw pieces here. We have some big projects planned.

It will change dynamics of what I do, and of the team that’s here, as well. I think in essence what I’m trying to really do is groom them into similar leaders so they can go and manage these outsourcing projects on their own. And that just gives us greater flexibility – it means we can deliver more with what we have.

A big part of that is automation. Quite a lot of this year was focused on what we would call necessary internal housekeeping and infrastructure, putting the monitoring in place.

We’ve already virtualised our servers. Early next year we’re going to virtualise all our desktops. What that leaves us open to doing is, I can move that – if I want to – to a fully managed service where our guys then look after the outsourcing agreement.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic