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Rentokil moves further to the cloud

When Bryan Kinsella was two years into running his own consultancy, he vowed he would only return to the corporate payroll on three conditions: if his new employer was in a service industry, if it was global, and if it was in trouble.

Luckily, he says, he found all those ingredients in Rentokil Initial, the £2.4bn-revenue facilities and support organisation that includes corporate laundry, washroom services, parcels delivery, office landscaping and, of course, pest control, for which it once held a Royal Warrant.

Lucky for him, perhaps, but lucky for Rentokil too. A proven problem-solver in senior roles at ICI, BPO giant Vertex, and at airline solutions provider Sita, Kinsella arrived just as the aggressive global merger-and-acquisition strategy begun by former chairman Sir Clive Thompson was threatening to pitch the group – once voted Britain’s most admired company – into chaos.

On joining Rentokil in June 2007, Kinsella’s first look at the group’s worldwide IT infrastructure revealed that there wasn’t one. The smaller acquisitions that had any kind of IT setup – Kinsella calls them ‘Mom and Pop’ concerns – had been allowed to keep their existing hardware and software setups, and each divisional umbrella was allowed to set its own goals and choose its own technology to go with it.

Add to that the fact that Rentokil operates in more than 50 countries, and to say that nobody was speaking the same language was true literally and metaphorically.

“We were buying and growing companies without strategies, and businesses were operating very much within their own geographic environments,” says Kinsella. “There was, historically, very low investment in IT, and when I joined we were only spending between half and one per cent of our revenue on IT.

“Because of the lack of investment, and because we had an IT manager reporting to a financial director, we were carrying an unnecessary level of risk. We had to sort that out.”

Kinsella’s predecessor had tried to solve the infrastructure, process and systems deficit by installing a global ERP solution, but with the over-ambitious project exceeding time and budget constraints, the scheme was all but dead when he arrived. “All I had to do was set fire to it,” he jokes.

Kinsella began by looking at the company’s business models, and saw the challenge as not whether he should centralise or decentralise the IT service, but about whether the business processes and goals of each division were common to the group or specific to that part of the business.

“I saw many business models across the company, and some of them were quite similar,” says Kinsella. “If I take City Link [parcels delivery], pest control, and our washroom and textile businesses, what they’re really doing is a man-in-a-van business model. And then we have other models which involved staff who are traditionally at the lower end of the pay scale, working at customer sites.”

To pinpoint the areas that required specific attention, Kinsella broke the group’s information system down into five fundamental layers. He looked at networks, desktop/telephony, datacentres and groupware as a layer each, and decided that as each of these layers had common functions across all divisions, so the solutions could be standardised globally and managed centrally.

Networking, for instance, was a hotchpotch of systems that had grown from the ground up and connected through an intranet. “It was built the wrong way round,” says Kinsella. “Insecure, expensive and unable to manage growth.”
Beginning in the UK, Rentokil consolidated six standalone networks into one managed network that was deployed this summer to offer higher availability, lower cost, more flexibility and more security.

Across the group’s Asia Pacific division, rapid growth had brought very small operations into the fold, with home-grown IT solutions to match. “There’d be a man in a server room serving one client. If he wasn’t in, it just wouldn’t happen, there was no backup or anything,” says Kinsella. “So within my first year I opened a datacentre in Singapore, and then did the same in Australia and New Zealand.

“The challenge that’s left is in Europe, where I had the same technical problem as in the UK, but with more languages and with all sorts of deals with every telco under the sun. But by the end of the year we’ll have a strategy for Europe, which will help us lose cost and gain control.”

At the desktop and telephony layer, a plethora of PCs, phones and PDAs was replaced by global standard hardware, and in the case of the PDA, 5000 ruggedised Motorola MC75 devices that should offer a long life in the hands of Rentokil’s delivery staff and field technicians.

The latest development is at the groupware layer, where Rentokil has signed a 35,000-seat deal to run Google Apps Premier Edition across the group – the biggest deal yet for the paid-for version of Google’s SaaS suite. It’s the suite’s email functionality that Kinsella wanted, and again, it was the acquisition of disparate companies and a lack of overall guidance that had made the group’s email systems many and varied.

“For most corporations our size, basic things like an email system would normally be easy,” he says. “We’d all be on Exchange with Active Directory so I could find a name easily and our CEO could press one button and send an email to everyone.”

But 90 per cent of the group’s 78,000 employees weren’t on Exchange, instead communicating using around 40 different open-source and proprietary systems.

“I could have put Exchange in, but the network and datacentre things I’m dealing with get in the way. I’d have to buy a load of servers and teach people how to use Exchange. It’s a long-term deployment with a high level of investment, so we looked at a few other options. We could combine open-source systems with Exchange, but we still wouldn’t have a directory.

“Then last May I started to consider software as a service. Microsoft didn’t have [a direct] offering, so I spoke to Google.”
As well as online and offline email, the internet giant’s solution offered long-term archiving and security tools, as well as automatic email translation, and real-time translation via Google Talk and integrated chat and video to support training and improve productivity.

Having completed contract talks with Google in December 2008, Kinsella began a 775-user pilot at Rentokil Initial’s Ambius division. Because Ambius, which supplies plants and artwork for buildings and offices, is based in Chicago but has offices in Europe and across the southern hemisphere, its communications issues were typical of much of the group as a whole – staff were using a variety of email systems, spoke a number of languages, and the division has recently undergone a rebranding from Initial Tropical Plants or Rentokil Tropical Plants to Ambius.

Migrating Ambius staff from their own email systems to Google Apps began in February and it took exactly 100 days to bring all 775 users on board. User opinions were were reviewed in June and in July, Kinsella made a recommendation to the board that 20,000 users should be migrated within 18 months. The online nature of Google Apps means than an additional 15,000 mobile users who may not have had a Rentokil email account will also be brought in to the network, and will be able to access their company email from their PDAs or from PCs at their branches.

“We have a lot of people in the business that don’t have PCs and who don’t need PCs, but we’d like to touch them lightly,” explains Kinsella of the potential benefits to company loyalty of the Google deal.

“The Ambius CEO can now manage diaries, and our technicians in the field can go on to any web-enabled computer anywhere in the world and read their email. Training in our branch-based business is costly, but we can use these tools for development, communications and for setting standards.”

The implementation will also strengthen the global brand, as the 180 email domains it owns – many country-based or legacy names inherited from acquired firms – will be cut to no more than six.

The top layer

With four layers standardised across the group, the fifth – the business applications layer – presented the biggest challenge. Kinsella’s team had to decide which business processes were common among the six divisions and which were unique. Again, breaking the process down was key.

“We built a model and kept it simple,” says Kinsella. “We’re a service industry – we prospect, contract, order, serve and finally we invoice. That’s our process.

“There’s nothing standard at the prospect-to-contract level and the offices can use anything they like – for now. But contract-to-bill is the heart of our business, and it was fascinating to look at the richness of solutions that had been developed within the group.”

Kinsella’s team built a core solution based round a Progress database that serves every step of the pest control, washroom and Ambius business processes, and since its implementation in the UK they have adapted it for all global markets.

“The system we use in the UK is now being used in China with Chinese characters. It’s exceptionally powerful,” he says.
“We also found some web services that let us get the data from the Progress database into PDAs and send the data from PDAs back to the core when the delivery is signed off. It will also send text messages so the driver doesn’t have to go back to base to find out what his next job is.”

Further cost savings are being sought by integrating route-planning into the system’s scheduling tool.

“Although we can provide drivers with a schedule of work, it’s not in the right order. Right now we’re working on taking the schedule, optimising it and giving the driver a more time- and cost-efficient route, and GPS applications on the PDA will also be able to guide new drivers through unfamiliar routes.”

Sharing solutions

Members of Rentokil’s 450-strong IT team are encouraged to share ideas and solutions with colleagues across the world, and Kinsella has appointed an IS-IT Partner- – his “junior CIOs” – to the executive board of each division. This is a pivotal role, he says, but one that has proved hard to fill: two of the six IS-IT Partners have come from within the group, but others have been recruited from outside.

“It brings into play what I call the bridging skills between business and IT,” says Kinsella. “I’d expect them to have a blend of top-table strategy, presentability, and the ability to plan tactically and strategically and to deliver performance results to the top table.

“The IS-IT Partners look after their own businesses, but we get together and work out how to reuse our assets,” he explains.

“We built a stock solution in Initial Facilities in the UK, for instance, that we’re planning to use in Singapore, and we’ve built another solution in Singapore that we’re using in the UK. We’ve got another piece that we’ve built in pest control that we’re going to use in Initial washrooms.

“Traditionally, the power of the group hasn’t been used, but now it’s coming together.”

This sense of belonging has been key to Rentokil Initial’s strategy since the new management team of chairman John McAdam and CEO Alan Brown arrived in the spring of 2008. The pair had been credited with turning round ICI, and the campaign for service excellence throughout the group is already bearing fruit as far as customer satisfaction is concerned, with customers of City Link and the UK pest control business reporting more than 98 per cent satisfaction in 2008.

Kinsella’s team has helped increase customer satisfaction with client-centric pieces like the group’s extranet, which allows Rentokil to share accurate live data with customers, which they can then pass on to their own customers and auditors.
“If you’re a supermarket which employs us to keep pests away, we have a responsibility to check traps, change bait and so on,” says Kinsella.

“Every time we do it, it’s recorded on a PDA. We’ve then got a picture of where the traps are in the supermarket, and we can put that on the extranet so that the customer can see that they’ve all been checked and can output this data for their own health and safety inspectors.”

Going the extra mile can increase customer loyalty for a small investment in time. Manchester Airport can monitor its hygiene contract with Initial through an extranet interface that looks like an aeroplane.

“Behind the scenes the system is the same, but the uniqueness of the front-end makes them feel valued,” he adds.
Across the group’s 1000 branch offices, brand unity has also been strengthened by the implementation of a common content management system for the group’s websites. Previously, every country used to build its own website, but now, although data for the 120 sites is all managed locally, the CMS is managed from the group’s HQ in Gatwick. This has allowed strict SEO rules to be adhered to, lifting even the firm’s smallest sites up the search results page due to their association with the web presence of the larger offices.

Personal projects

As well as rebuilding the information systems at Rentokil Initial, Kinsella has taken on the task of deploying a single project management framework throughout the group.

“One thing we discussed on the board is that we’ve been pretty poor at delivering projects,” he explains.

“Be it IT, delivering an acquisition or depot moves, project management is a major weakness. We have no methodology – we just assume that everyone knows what they are doing. I wouldn’t like to say how much this was costing us.

“Our CEO Alan Brown said we needed project management rigour – a Rentokil Initial way of doing things. So I got the task of instilling a project management framework.

“We knew from working with Six Sigma and Prince2 how valuable they are and also what their limitations are, and while our approach was not to reinvent wheels, they are not good enough around clarity of purpose, benefits management and governance.

“So I embarked on writing a framework in my spare time with a colleague, and when we completed the first draft in January, we took a cross-functional group from different businesses and I trained them on the new methodology. We got tremendous feedback and since then we’ve started to roll it out – we’ve put it on the intranet, built training materials and created guide templates, case studies and videos. Our intention is to get through the top 150 people in the company before Christmas.

“The doctrine is working: people are starting to use the same terminology and seek out answers from sponsors, and it’s a great help with reporting on the stages of each project to the board.

“The next step is to roll it out beyond the English-speaking executives.”

Ahead of schedule

Two years into his five-year plan for turning round Rentokil Initial’s information systems, Kinsella says that it is already ahead of schedule, partly due to the support of the group’s senior executives.

“The CEO and [divisional] managing directors are on board, and that’s half the battle. If you have resistance the chances of success are limited,” says Kinsella.

He admits that he wouldn’t have taken on the challenge if he hadn’t been able to change the status of IT within the group and take a seat on the executive board.

“If I wasn’t on the board, I wouldn’t be here. It’s nothing against the CFO but this is a big agenda. The ability to drive out cost and improve service is completely dependent on what I’m doing. All I have to look at is the way Rentokil used to be, and nobody would want to go back – nobody was enjoying it. The fact that we can harness people shows that it’s working.”

About the Rentokil Initial Group

Founded in 1924 by two scientists who had developed an anti-woodworm fluid, Rentokil Initial now employs 78,000 people in 50 countries split into six divisions: Rentokil Pest Control (the world’s largest commercial pest-control business), Initial Textiles & Washroom Services, City Link parcels delivery, Initial Facilities Services (contract cleaning and catering), Ambius (interior plants and artwork) and an Asia Pacific division.

Since a rapid growth in the 1980s and 1990s under CEO Sir Clive Thompson, the last five years has seen the departure of two chairman/CEO pairings, with current bosses John McAdam and Alan Brown launching a three-year service excellence programme to revive its fortunes after a number of profit warnings.

The group was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1969 and in September 2009 rejoined the FTSE 100 index.