The five minute CIO: Michael McGinn

13 Apr 2012

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Michael McGinn, IT manager, Largo Foods

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Welcome to the latest in a series of exclusive interviews on Siliconrepublic.com, where Ireland’s IT leaders share their thoughts on technology trends and strategy. This week, we talk to Michael McGinn, IT manager with Largo Foods.

The Irish company owns some of the country’s most iconic snack brands, including Tayto, Hunky Dorys, King and Perri. It manufactures and distributes a variety of snack foods, including crisps, peanuts and popcorn in Ireland, supplying branded and own-label products in Ireland and in the UK, continental Europe, Australia, Asia and the Middle East.

How big is Largo Foods: how many users do you have, across how many sites?

Largo employs 530 people in the Republic of Ireland. We have two production plants, one in Ashbourne in Co Meath and one in Gweedore, Co Donegal. From an IT perspective, we have about 180 users.

How large is the IT team to support that infrastructure?

We have a small IT team of three people.

What are the main applications the business uses?

It splits into a number of areas. Our core ERP system is IFS. This handles all the normal activities, such as debtors, creditors, finance, distribution and manufacturing. We use a system called Mobilise from a company called EDG for capturing information in the field, covering pre-order taking, delivery/invoice at source and product distribution. This system is linked automatically back to our ERP system.

Our business intelligence is provided by Cognos, which is supported by Prostrategy-Colman. There are also a number of other critical systems supporting various aspects of the business, including production, EDI, plant management, payroll and so on.

Between Tayto and Hunky Dorys, Largo has some very prominent brands – what role does IT play in supporting the marketing efforts around them?

Whatever is asked of us! Fortunately, we have a strong marketing department who are very proactive.

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

Day-to-day IT spending will probably be about the same or slightly decreased. Each IT initiative, or new project, is taken on its own merit to see if it adds value to the business. Although cost is very important, if it is felt that is the right thing to do then it will most likely be approved. We would look to stagger projects based on each one’s priority and value to the business over a period of time.

Do you see your role primarily as a technical one, or a business one?

I see my role more on the business side. I do need to understand the technology but not the detail. My role is to understand the business requirements and match them to our IT capability.

Largo recently moved to a private cloud – what was the pitch for this project; was it cost savings or improved performance?

Cost was secondary. Our ERP server needed to be upgraded. The approach taken was the best one to futureproof the investment.

Why did you opt for a private cloud, and do you ever see a day when you would use public cloud services?

We would not have been ready for a public cloud. It would have been too big a jump from our existing setup. We may consider it down the road, but it is some years away before we would consider such a move.

What’s your view of technology trends like big data, and bring your own device to work?

Big data – interesting; from most company perspectives, business intelligence based on existing internal data is as far as it goes. It will be interesting to see how big data pans out over the coming years.

Bring your own device – this can be OK at a certain level but as soon as it needs access to core systems, it becomes a security risk. I’m unsure how this area will develop but I feel more likely to see some type of ‘thin client’ loaded to these devices so as to control what they access and how.

Do you generally prefer to work with indigenous IT service companies for projects, such as Trilogy with the private cloud project? Or, do you sometimes opt for the multinational providers, and if so, how do you decide who wins the deal?

At present we have a number of key suppliers who have worked successfully with Largo for a number of years. They happen to be indigenous IT service companies. Winning the deal is based on a lot of criteria.

How do you stay on top of technology developments that could help Largo, and how much time do you spend on this?

It’s difficult to achieve this. In truth, I intend to rely on our key suppliers to help guide me through. We do not have any internal software development. The software we do buy in is as much as possible not bespoke. In general, this futureproofs our investment as our suppliers need to ensure that their systems are futureproofed.