The five minute CIO: Russell Gascoine

30 Mar 2012

Russell Gascoine, IT manager, Greenstar

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 Russell Gascoine, IT manager with Greenstar.

One of Ireland’s largest waste management companies, Greenstar serves 25,000 commercial customers and close to 100,000 households. It employs more than 830 people across 40 sites throughout the country. Part of the NTR Group, its range of services includes education, research, composting, recycling and the development of facilities for the safe disposal of waste that cannot be reused, recycled or recovered. 

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

We have 270 users across 20 sites, managing 3.7m service transactions per year.

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

It has stayed the same. Our priorities will continue to ensure our IT systems give us a better understanding of our customers’ needs and usage, which helps us shape and evolve our business offering.

What is your main IT project for this year?

Changing our website to provide direct customer account access, payments, ordering online and customer query resolution.

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

Technical resource for our business. The business continues to strive to improve customers’ interaction with Greenstar and one of my primary roles is to make it happen or propose the technical options available.

How would you describe your own approach to IT?

Understand the technology, understand your team, understand your customers and keep improving and innovating.

What IT initiative are you most proud of?

Integrating the entire IT operation of a business acquisition that Greenstar made a couple of years ago.

What has been the hardest challenge since you took your current role?

Reducing costs while maintaining service levels

How do you achieve this in practical terms – where are the savings made?

One of the major areas of savings was moving from a leased line MPLS WAN to a DSL-based MPLS WAN. And we moved our DR (disaster recovery) site in-house. We also looked at knowing what we have and only paying for what we should have and need: phone lines, mobiles, licences, etc. We also get the most out of our hardware and software by delaying refresh. We renegotiated contracts with our vendors who have been great and very supportive. In some cases, they have taken on more activity for less money in these tough times.

What technology trends are of most interest to you personally and to your own organisation?

Personally, graphene and the potential impact the material could have on the future of IT. From a business perspective, cloud computing and the benefits it could bring to our business and customers.

What’s your opinion of social media: a distraction, or a useful part of your IT toolkit?

Becoming an important part of the IT toolkit and will become a big part, I think.

Cloud computing: vendor hype or business revolution?

Becoming a revolution, I think, and as security improves more and more business will move or partly move – unless they get the pricing wrong and it remains more cost-effective to keep the internal data centre.

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

Absolute nightmare today, but I like the idea. I worked at a US company more than 10 years ago and it was being discussed at that point. It’s likely to happen in some business when the security implications can be handled cost effectively.

What’s your approach to major business applications: build or buy?

Buy from the experts whose business it is to develop applications. You do need good change processes to adapt the application to your own constantly changing business.

Outsource or in-house IT?

We have a mix of both in Greenstar and it works very well.

Do you have a preference for using indigenous IT service companies and consultants, or do you opt for the multinational names?

Again, we have both. It depends on what we need, expertise required and who can deliver it at the best cost.

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

No plans but looking at pursuing the MCA (Microsoft Certified Architect) certification.

How do you stay on top of developments in IT that could help your organisation, and how much time do you spend on this?

I subscribe to a large number of technology news and information emails and a few magazines. I probably spend three to five hours a week depending on what information I see and whether it is worth further investigation.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic