The five minute CIO: Sean Convery, Viatel

12 Dec 2014

Sean Convery, CIO of Viatel

“The key to IT strategy is making things simpler, more flexible and more affordable,” explains Sean Convery, CIO of fast-growing European telecoms operator Viatel.

Viatel connects more than 150 data centres and thousands of multinationals across Western Europe.

The Dublin-headquartered company began a €125m expansion plan in August that will include jobs, acquisitions and the extension of its fibre infrastructure, cloud services and data centres.

Earlier this week, the company said that as part of that it was committing to investing in infrastructure across five European countries that connect to its 8,500 km fibre network.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

Viatel delivers an extensive portfolio of leading data, cloud, managed services and voice solutions through our wholly owned infrastructure, platforms and partner networks. Our ability to supply the private connectivity (Ireland or Pan-European), data centres and secure managed infrastructure is a huge differentiator for us and has its own unique challenges. As a company, we continue to work with vendors on application performance and features to make the customer experience much richer and more efficient while also allowing access to new products, including hosted voice, cloud and virtual data-centre solutions on our extensive network and DC footprint.

Internally, as with our customers, virtualisation and the completion of the move onto our cloud platform is the key driver to complete from an in-house server perspective. This will allow easier management of the physical infrastructure which overall will improve the service to the businesses Viatel support and enable much faster Recovery Time Objective’s and Recovery Point Objective’s from a backup and disaster recovery (DR) perspective.

We also have a desktop refresh on the horizon alongside the closing out of the Windows XP and Office 2003 support, which is opening the world of Virtual Desktops more and more.

What are the main points of your companys IT strategy?

The key to IT strategy is about making things simpler, more flexible and more affordable. With virtualisation and cloud, operational platform and infrastructure management is streamlined including backup and DR as well as reducing server footprint. In terms of applications, Viatel’s focus is to drive the automation of internal processes, complete the systems integration and process alignment of acquired companies while also enabling customers to do more for themselves.

Viatel provide a customer cloud platform which allows customers (internally and externally) to effectually have a virtual data centre enabling their production and/or DR environments to be run external to their premises through a very flexible interface. This effectively allows the customers network to extend privately to off premise infrastructure giving them much more flexibility without the need to worry about their underlying infrastructure.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

As a leading Europe wide telecommunications company Viatel provides connectivity and ICT solutions tailored specifically for larger enterprise, public sector, wholesale and carrier customers throughout Europe. Our IT infrastructure allows Viatel to securely support thousands of customers from our four main offices in Ireland (Dublin and Dundalk), France and the United Kingdom.

Viatel has metro fibre rings and data centres in Dublin, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Paris, Rotterdam, Brussels, Zurich, Lyons, Bordeaux and Marseilles supporting thousands’ of servers. In addition, Viatel owns over 8,500km of duct and fibre optic network infrastructure connecting eight countries, 35 primary cities, 150 data centres and thousands of mid and large sized enterprises.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

The industry is driving consolidation of infrastructure and flexibility of environments by enabling easy off premise solutions allowing IT organisations to focus on customer value-add activities. The industry also continues to drive more and more towards a service model where it demands service providers to offer as much of the non-core business activities as possible where previously these were multiple vendors that end customers had to manage.

The perceived risks associated with this and off premise solutions are reducing with private networking and dedicated storage encompassed in related security systems. The key to driving cost savings is to constantly challenge the status quo by understanding your current infrastructure and application foot prints and looking at the models that could support the same or give better features going forward, should that be supported in house or by a third party.

The key for IT strategists and leaders is to be open to different approaches to arrive at the same or better result which may have a cost and or a functionality and or support benefit.

The right fit vendor partnerships are key, which deliver out of the box functionality with the ability to integrate other features and options to build a custom customer experience which defines your organisation. More than ever this is critical, given the demands to bundle a wider portfolio of products as complete customer solutions.

How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it?

Infrastructure can be complex, but the core part of the IT strategy for Viatel relates to simplifying, virtualisation and the embracement of cloud technology and evangelising this with our customers. Providing compute, storage and connectivity to our customers on a standardised platform is key to reducing complexity and giving flexibility and the possibility of off premise secure solutions if desired.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

Viatel has an internal integration team that covers a large product portfolio, from co-location and managed servers to mobile, IP and fixed telephony to fibre and data circuits. As a service provider, we are looking for our customers to outsource their infrastructure, and management of, to ourselves.

For me, more broadly, the key is to look at strategic vendors and platforms which allow your organisation to develop on a right size, low risk and right cost model to ensure that internal IT are focused on customer value add activities.

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?

The IT industry is vibrant and dynamic with lots of opportunities and demands. When you add this to the fact that Viatel is a fast growing company and you begin to realise that there are on-going challenges as we enable people, systems and process to be right sized and fit for purpose. This means that we are constantly challenged in balancing vendor and technology selection projects along with business priorities as we focus on customer needs and features plus the occasional acquisition.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

There are three key areas here. Firstly, making the move to cloud or an off premise model a reality for our customers allowing them to be freed of infrastructure and platform management constraints allowing them to focus on their core business application needs that support their customers. The second is to integrate the network, processes and systems, both on premise and off premise, to make them simpler, more flexible and more efficient while providing a better experience and a predictive cost model for our end customers. The third is the constant demand for a wider product portfolio to offer complete end to end solutions for customers. Ease of applications integration are key decision points to enable these wider offerings.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

At Viatel we are the same as most organisations as we target annual year on year efficiencies on IT spend which generally has a project one off spend to achieve but ultimately reduces opex. The correct use of data, generated from ticketing systems, key customer support systems, usage reporting and financials allow us to analyse trends and come to conclusions on how to strive for new opportunities of continual improvement projects. Your success metric always comes ultimately from your customers, both internally and externally.

Are there any areas youve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

A lot of companies are struggling with the move to virtualisation and off premise options/cloud and all the efficiencies from an IT lifetime investment perspective that that entails, given the balance between operational issues and the need to explore new technology areas. It’s easy to get caught on the Merry Go Round of doing the same job every day and not exploring ways of doing things better.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years