“I think CTOs/CIOs/heads of technology need to bring more to the table – new ways of doing the same things, new ways of doing new things,” said Ricardas Sveikauskas, CTO at Smarter Surfaces.
Smarter Surfaces is an Irish company that has created technologies that can turn any flat surface into a reusable whiteboard, magnetic wallpaper, projector screen or any combination of these.
Previously known as Smart Wall Paint, the company was founded by Ronan Clarke in 2011.
The company has filed two patent applications for a new dry-erase coating technology.
‘Our rapid growth rate is brilliant from a business perspective, but it means we have to constantly think about our future IT needs, which can change very rapidly. In Smarter Surfaces, change is the only constant!’
— RICARDAS SVEIKAUSKAS
In recent weeks, it emerged that Smarter Surfaces is to create 29 new jobs by June 2017 after getting backing from AIB Seed Capital Fund and Dublin BIC and winning €6m worth of overseas business.
The investment will see Smarter Surfaces expand its international reach to more than 30 countries, including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Brazil, Chile, Panama, Australia, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?
We run a multi-store and multi-lingual electronic point of sale (Epos) system. This is on a Magento-based platform, which connects all the e-commerce transactions from our 17 international websites in five languages to our warehouse, stock control and financial systems.
As we sell products, not services, the integration of our technology is critical for stock maintenance, order fulfillment and our global shipping and logistics department. Everything is stored in the cloud for remote access and to allow for rapid global expansion.
Smarter Surfaces is 98pc export-oriented and we have two routes to market – our e-commerce presence and our global distributor network. Due to our considerable international presence, remote access is critical for everyone in the company.
As we provide direct customer support to our many global end-users, ranging from Google and LinkedIn to entrepreneurs, schools and universities, architects and designers, our in-house IT team needs to be able to handle a wide variety of communications. This includes phone, email, live chat, ticketing systems and more.
To support this, we operate on cloud-based multi-servers and monitor the system closely using internal dashboards
What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?
Aside from the obvious factors as robustness, speed, security and cost, we need to take into account scalability for us, our end-users and our partners, in a variety of languages, all around the world.
Our rapid growth rate is brilliant from a business perspective, but it means we have to constantly think about our future IT needs, which can change very rapidly. In Smarter Surfaces, change is the only constant.
In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?
My first responsibility with our budget is to deliver something that works, something that is stable, and something that is scalable.
I think CTOs/CIOs/heads of technology need to bring more to the table – new ways of doing the same things, new ways of doing new things.
CTOs etc… also need to continually check that the IT ‘to–do list’ matches the business’ growing priorities and requirements. The return on investment for IT, particularly in terms of time over budget, may not be easily understood by those outside of the IT department. Clarity and communication on what is being worked on against the business’ needs is an important part of my role.
How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it?
As a young company, most of our infrastructure is being introduced for the first time. This gives us a great advantage as we can use the latest software, study trends and continually come up with new ways to work smarter through IT.
The overall IT infrastructure and platforms to run the e-commerce and distributor parts of our business are well established. We are now optimising the provision of intelligent information to each function within the company. This means providing the tools and reports to track performance and KPIs on the dashboards of all departments, from warehousing to finance. Automation is an important step in simplifying the infrastructure. It is vital to keep looking at each element of the business to see where improvements can be made.
Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?
Our team includes web developers, analysts and an IT project manager. We went to tender when rebuilding our online infrastructure 18 months ago and that continues to be outsourced.
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?
In simple terms, my main responsibility is to keep our online stores open 24/7. If any of them are not fully functional for any reason, our revenue can fall, which simply cannot happen.
There is a continual focus on strategic planning in the business. I spend 100pc of my time on technical issues — about 60pc of that time is ensuring on-time implementation, 10pc is monitoring market trends, trends in our sector and general technology developments to continually implement efficient, updated software into the company. Other areas of my responsibility include diagnostics and reporting. The latter comprises regular reports to management as well as my own initiative as to what needs to be recorded.
Most of the team here in Smarter Surfaces come from a strong sales and marketing background, so often IT planning comes from a completely different angle, which is encouraged and valued in the company.
What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?
With e-commerce/Epos at the core of the company, adapting and responding to market trends will continue to be a focus for our user experience team. We are conducting a series of focus groups this month to get qualitative feedback on our online presence. These findings will be incorporated back into our sites. So IT does not sit in isolation in Smarter Surfaces. We use IT to improve the customer experience, not just to deliver an online transaction.
The continued rapid growth of the company represents the biggest challenge from an IT perspective. Forward thinking is required and our developers have an ambition to tackle challenges head-on and create solutions.
What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?
From our e-commerce platform to our customer service, we can tell precisely and instantly how well our software is performing. Detailed reports via our developers and web analytics provide information on user experience and can be dealt with in real time.
We are at the stage where too much rather than too little data can be a problem. So from an IT point of view, we are looking at how to automate and speed up the collection of data, so we focus on analysis, interpretation and decision-making.
Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?
Automation and connectivity between all departments, as well as between us and our customers worldwide is crucial. Best-in-class reporting and intelligence gathering are also important. And of course, no downtime!
What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?
We have been very much in a build phase for the past 24 months. I like to think we are moving out of that space now as we enter our third year of trading
Following our recent announcement of 29 new jobs being created on the back of a number of international distribution deals, our focus will be on managing this growth and expanding further. We are in new markets now across South America and Europe, Australia and elsewhere and it’s an exciting time at the company.