The five minute CIO: Phillip Fischer

23 Mar 2012

Phillip Fischer, vice-president of business optimisation and CIO, ARAMARK Ireland

Welcome to the latest in a series of exclusive interviews on, where Ireland’s IT leaders share their thoughts on technology trends and strategy. This week, we talk to Phillip Fischer, vice-president of business optimisation and CIO with ARAMARK Ireland.

ARAMARK is Ireland’s largest integrated services provider, with 4,000 employees. As a result, the company is heavily involved in providing services, such as food services, facilities management, property and environmental services in the business, industry, healthcare and education sectors.

How big is your organisation – how many users across how many sites?

Our 4,000-strong workforce is predominantly customer facing, however we currently have more than 950 office, mobile and site users operating across the island of Ireland and UK.

What major business applications do you use, and do you prefer to build or buy?

It depends on the scale of the development, the functional area and the availability of ‘fit for purpose system’ globally or within a region. In each case, a corporate governance process is followed to assess the best approach and solution to the problem ensuring the business is effectively supported, ie, whether it falls into the corporate, international or in-country services and application portfolio.

How would you describe your own approach to IT?

There are two areas to IT; utility services and the value add. Utility services, connectivity, email, portals, etc, need to be provided at the best possible cost against the relevant and required service levels – mainly measured in response time or uptime. This requires on-going benchmarking to ensure we are working against the appropriate metrics.

In the case of value-add services which are driven through business systems, the question needs to be: ‘how will it add value?’ Streamlining and/or eliminating the duplication and redundant processes are what drive this value and therefore the net returns. A full ROI analysis is required on all such investments and we ensure it is followed through.

Do you prefer to use indigenous IT service companies and consultants, or do you opt for the multinational names?

As with any element of outsourcing, we try to support local businesses where possible. The most recent strategic investment was with a Cork-based development company that had specialised skills in Android app development. At the same time, the internationalisation of one of our systems was being conducted by a company based in China. It’s always a balance between expertise, project risk and costs.

Have you any plans to add to your own skills this year and if so, in what area?

I completed my MBA in 2009 at the same time I was appointed to regional CIO for the UK, Ireland and India. Very recently I was appointed as VP of business optimisation – while retaining strategic oversight of IT – to head up a large business optimisation programme for the Irish organisation. Organisational transformation is the key skill that I will need to hone and rely on.

Why do you think there’s often a disconnect between business and IT in many organisations?

I believe it’s because technologists are poor at expressing value in a way that’s understandable or relevant to the business. If you’re passionate about technology, what matters to you are things like Android, Java, Microsoft .Net and cloud. If you’re running a business, what matters is cost, return on investment and continuity of business service.

I come from the technical world; I did a lot of systems development in my early career. But over the course of my career I needed to move on to ‘why implement something?’ and ‘what is the value to the business?’ It took me some time to learn how to communicate effectively and on what is relevant.

So would you see the role of the CIO as a kind of interpreter, translating between business and IT?

Yes, absolutely. I’d also add that the full support of all executive leaders is critical to ensure IT investments are a success. It’s a two-way thing.

What’s your main IT project for this year?

The deployment of our Android-based service desk solution within our facilities organisation: that provides all of our engineers and the business with real-time access ensuring timely reaction to all tasks and instant progress feedback to the customer.

It was a clear departure from relying on the more established platform candidates. Of course, there’s always a risk moving on to a relatively new platform but it has been a success and we can now deploy this onto commodity hardware, on a future-proof platform, at a low cost. Win for IT and win for the business.

Cloud computing: vendor hype or business revolution?

Neither: it should be termed ‘infrastructure evolution’. In my view, the principal idea of cloud computing is nothing new: the real evolution is bandwidth. Everything else was always there. Allowing for immense data volumes to be pushed around the world in seconds is what has been the real breakthrough and thus making the world truly ‘flat’.

The key questions are: ‘what is appropriate for my organisation?’; private or public cloud, and whether you are looking for infrastructure, platforms or software as a service. We have focused on creating private clouds hosting our key systems, which gives us the benefits of leveraging our economies of scale while eliminating the risk associated with hosting these systems in-country.

Bring Your Own Device to work: a logistical nightmare or a trend to be embraced?

I’m not particularly in favour of that trend, but the consumer has spoken; now (the) ICT (department) has to catch up. It brings challenges around control, security and ownership. Next thing you’ve a plethora of devices and your support organisation is tied up in supporting those.

Is it an economic model? No. Fundamentally, the role of ICT is to structure, standardise and scale, and this trend doesn’t allow that. It’s a distraction but it is what it is and we just need to get on with it.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic