Welcome to the latest in a series of exclusive interviews on Siliconrepublic.com, where Ireland’s IT leaders give us their thoughts on technology trends and strategy. This week, we talk to Michael Crean, founder and head of IT at MicksGarage.
As a pure e-commerce business, MicksGarage is Ireland’s largest online car parts and accessories retailer, serving the everyday motorist, through to DIY enthusiasts and the trade via mechanics and garages. In February 2012, the site had 300,000 visitors to its MicksGarage.ie/MicksGarage.co.uk sites.
How big is your organisation – how many users across how many sites?
MicksGarage is purely a web-based company, employing 18 staff in our office and warehouse in Dublin.
Describe the role that IT plays in delivering service to run your business.
As a purely e-commerce business, IT plays a central role in all facets of our business, along every step of the customer journey – from our websites, fulfilment, customer service and distribution. Also, our internal systems are driven by having strong IT infrastructure.
Do you see your role primarily as a technical one, or a business one?
My role is a business role – it has to be! All investment in IT and processes linked to IT must be return-on-investment driven. However, IT has a major part to play in my day-to-day job, managing both our internal- and external-facing IT systems.
Normally, the entrepreneur/CEO and IT manager are two roles carried out by two different people. As someone with a foot in both camps, what do you think your background brings to the role?
My IT background brings key experience to C level and helps me to make informed decisions on behalf of the business when considering IT projects. It also ensures that I’m directly responsible to ensure we achieve an ROI on each and every project that we undertake.
How would you describe your own approach to IT – a cost to be borne, or a business enabler?
IT is definitely a business enabler. In relation to our ROI approach: we invest in IT to return in the future.
Since MicksGarage is a SME, what implications does that have for your approach to IT strategy?
Our approach is to get the best IT available to our budget. All our major applications and sites are in-house, custom built so we invest heavily in internal IT resources to ensure they are rock solid for today’s requirements and to also ensure they are built to scale to support the on-going expansion of MicksGarage.
Is it an advantage to evaluate IT without any legacy systems to worry about, or does starting with a blank page bring challenges of its own?
Yes, it definitely is an advantage. In the fast-moving e-commerce world, a blank page is a great place to be, especially with new developments, systems and tools constantly available to help us to stay ahead of the pack.
Is your 2012 IT budget increased, decreased, or the same as last year?
Our 2012 budget has increased. We’re looking to expand our workforce, particularly to support our IT systems.
What is your main IT project for 2012?
We’re constantly changing and updating our website, but there are a number of key IT projects in the pipeline for 2012. Among them is a mobile offering and localisation of our website for our growing European audience.
What has been the hardest challenge since you started?
To continually ensure we offer the best customer journey through our sites – it is a weekly, iterative process. With so many advances in website functionality, users expect more and more every year. Our challenge is to ensure that they can find the product they need and purchase quickly and easily through our site.
What technology trends are of most interest to you personally and to MicksGarage.ie?
Personally, I believe the cloud offers great opportunities for all sized businesses, MicksGarage included. New entrants to the cloud space across various e-commerce applications offer us cheaper and faster alternatives, while maintaining the same level of performance. It can only get better and better in the coming months and years.
Mobile is also an area we’re paying a lot of attention to. As users deviate away from PCs more and more, we need to make sure we give them the best possible experience when using our websites, whether they are coming from smartphones or tablet devices.
Outsource or in-house IT?
Definitely in-house – the iterative, content, catalogue industry of e-commerce demands it. With changes happening every day, we need to be able to adapt and change when it happens – and often before it happens – so we minimise the effect it will have on our end users.
Given the online nature of the business, do you pay closer attention to trends like social media and cloud computing, maybe more than someone in a similar role in a large organisation?
Yes, we do. We have already migrated some apps to a cloud-based offering and we constantly use social media to ensure we are providing our customer a great experience across all channels.
In relation to social media specifically, seeing as we are a purely online business, we need to constantly be aware of where our customers are while online, and how best to reach out and engage with them.