Welcome to the latest in a series of exclusive interviews on Siliconrepublic.com, where IT leaders share their thoughts on technology trends and strategy. Ronan Murray is infrastructure manager with LeasePlan Information Services in Dublin, which is the location for LeasePlan’s European data centres.
LeasePlan Corporation is the world’s largest fleet and vehicle management provider. From Dublin, LeasePlan Information Services hosts and supports its parent company’s global and local services in 32 countries, of which 25 are in Europe. Most of its customer-facing systems are also based in Dublin.
What does your role involve?
My role as infrastructure manager involves the day-to-day management of the hosted Intel systems, the global network and our Citrix team. I also oversee a number of improvement projects and develop the next releases of our core services.
I also manage a team of technical architects whose role is to develop new and efficient solutions for our users and ensure our technical road maps maximise current and emerging technologies.
What is your main IT project for this year?
Our core project for 2012/13 is to continue to grow in size by using Citrix to migrate local in-country systems into our data centres. So far in 2012, we’ve migrated 1,200 users and are working with countries to continue this pipeline. This growth spawns a number of other technical projects to ensure we have the capacity and capability to support this rate of change within our environment.
Do you see your role primarily as a technical one, or a business one?
I see my role as a business one and feel strongly that as soon as you stop considering the best interests and needs of the customer, you’re at risk. My role is to translate business needs into technical requirements and ensure the technical output meets or exceeds customer expectation.
I also try and spend a lot of time with customers and understand their perspective and requirements. This is especially true with sensitive transformation projects.
Can you give an example of how IT contributed to a recent business decision?
LeasePlan Corporation recently ratified a new global ICT strategy and we’re now seeing a large number of exciting transformation projects in the pipeline. These are aligning business projects with ICT architecture and a long-term strategic view, and we’re starting to see the benefits of this approach already.
It’s better for business and the ICT community. Emerging examples of this would be the harmonisation of core finance and CRM systems across the group companies.
What’s the benefit of having IT so closely aligned to the business?
ICT is merely a tool for the business to achieve its goals. As a separate entity from LeasePlan Corporation, LeasePlan Information Services is acutely aware of this. The majority of our staff are based in Dublin while most of our customers are offshore. This means that to be closely aligned to the business, our processes and understanding of the business needs to be at a high level. We achieve this through close communication and by developing a close working relationship with our customer.
We also try and steer the customer to use solutions that meet strategic and tactical goals and if a customer is ahead of the curve with a particular solution, we try and assist by developing it into a global service offering that all of our customers can benefit from.
Once that’s been achieved, the benefits are that we have the people, capability and capacity to continue to meet customer demands and we have a clear picture of upcoming requirements. Our biggest challenges occur when we are unaware of critical projects and have to react at short notice to ensure we deliver a quality solution.
What advice would you give to other organisations that maybe don’t think of IT in the same way?
Unless you are creating a new product or market where there is no current user base, it’s difficult to succeed without working closely in partnership with your customers. While LeasePlan Information Services has 37 customers in the group, we’ve got 6,400 users of our services.
So, my advice would be to listen to your customers, spend time with them and if necessary look over their shoulders to see how they work. Usually, they already know the solutions. It’s your job to identify and deliver the tools they need.
What more can IT do to make a stronger case to the business for being taken seriously as a business enabler and not just a department that fixes things when they break?
Get involved in the early stages of projects. Ensure ICT has a voice as a senior supplier in all core projects, no matter how small the ICT component may seem. Then ensure internal ICT architects sign off on the solutions and deliver value.
Get involved in all aspects of the business and deliver benefits, be inquisitive and find out how to deliver improved solutions. If you wait in the wings and get involved only when asked, you will become a break-fix environment and you will always be late in delivering solutions.
You spoke at the recent Citrix Virtual Computing Forum in Dublin. Can you tell a little more about how you use that technology in the organisation?
Citrix is a key solution for us and a vital part of our transformation strategy. By leveraging Citrix we can migrate a customer’s back-end servers to our Dublin data centres and present the applications and services efficiently through a Citrix virtual desktop. It’s driving a lot of our growth and delivers an improved quality of service to our users.
We recently migrated 500 users from LeasePlan France in a single day. It took months of planning and a lot of work but it was a significant milestone in our transformation journey.
Is this a first step to broader use of cloud?
Within LeasePlan, our data centres are effectively a private cloud solution. By consolidating into a single location and harmonising services platforms, it gives us great scope to deliver cost savings and utilise hybrid cloud solutions.
Why go for hybrid rather than public or private cloud?
We will always have data that we want to keep internal for a number of reasons. These reasons will no doubt reduce as the market matures further.
What do you think the future holds for IT leaders? Do you think cloud will radically change the role of CIO, and the IT department generally?
Radical change is a fact of life in ICT. For the future, we will need to work ever closer with the business and ensure we continue to deliver business solutions that add value.
With the commoditisation of services, platforms and infrastructure, we have to move away from being tied to the comms room and ensure we are close to the business. When a user in HR can build a server in the cloud in 20 minutes, the ICT team need to continue to be relevant and deliver a value proposition.