Capital & Regional may be behind entertainment ventures such as Xscape, The Mall shopping centre’s and Sno!zone, but it isn’t just the high-energy projects that are in the spotlight, it’s the technology too.

Step forward CIO Richard Snooks, whose role in the company is as far away from just ‘keeping the lights on’ as humanly possible. And that’s not just because he was previously head of IT and has been elevated into this specially created role; it is down to his focus on what he sees as his contribution to the company, for which read the magic words ‘bottom line’.

Indeed the firm’s IT architecture has been designed to allow rapid support for growth, he told CIO.

“We are now entering the second phases of an IT strategy very much focused on how it can directly complement the profitability and growth of the business.” Phase one, he says, was marked by a very conscious “pragmatism”.

Starting in 2002, Snooks and his team looked to build a resilient infrastructure as the basis for all future work.

Structural overhaul

In technology terms this has meant the recent upgrade of the organisation’s communications infrastructure. It has invested in technology to give it application switching and traffic management capabilities for the business, working with specialist supplier Foundry Networks. The network supports a range of applications from business applications to integrated Voice over IP (VoIP), call centre and e-commerce systems, with Dell a key hardware supplier.

“We think of it as heavy at the core and light at the edge,” he says.

“The technology model is to be very light out at the edge locations, with money concentrated at datacentres where we do things Rolls-Royce style. This means it can quickly and easily add sites without huge cost and manage them efficiently.

“By standardisation and always reviewing cost we have managed to run, and still do run, a very tight ship.” The firm keeps its main datacentre assets in co-location facilities in east London and Victoria. This centrally-managed site is the main hub for its 80 satellite and local nodes across the entire Wide Area Network (WAN) .

In the immediate future the company’s IT function expects to gain even bigger savings through aggressive use of virtualisation, for instance .

But now the building blocks are in place, he believes, for the next phase – using IT in a new way. A key area of such growth, he believes, will be e-commerce .

One of the company’s properties is Sno!zone, an indoor recreation facility for snowboarding and skiing enthusiasts. “We are very interested in how we can harness the Web to develop business here – merchandising being a prime example. We think we really have a platform here to do 24/7, realtime work to extend the brand.” That project has been further underpinned by a signifi cant investment in Oracle e-business software, he adds .

On other technology fronts, Capital & Regional was a very early convert to integrated voice and data telephone systems – but Snooks is open enough to admit this has not quite fully been exploited. “We got into VoIP in about 2002, which in some ways was maybe a bit too early,” he shrugs. “But that is changing.”

Increased influence

He points to the recent roll out of support for the firm’s three physical call centres by technologies coming off the VoIP platform, which he says have allowed significant upscaling of the call centre’s reach plus support for things like remote and mobile working by staff. “In terms of flexibility, we are now seeing what we want from that end of things.” For example, the firm is integrating those call centres with the Web so customers get immediate verbal support by just clicking on an icon on their screen.

At the same time, operators can now shadow customer’s screen activities if they are struggling, which of course not just improves customer service but fosters cross- and up-sell.

But it’s not just through bits and bytes that this new ‘phase two’ is being driven forward. At the organisational level, Capital & Regional has started taking much more notice.

A new IT steering board has been created comprising both IT and business executives, chaired by the colourful former Millennium Dome CEO and EuroDisney veteran Pierre Yves Gerbeau, who now runs one of the fi rm’s main divisions .

No wonder that IT at Capital & Regional is called Business Solutions. Or as Snooks says, “It’s time to go down a new route and face the bigger challenge – which isn’t just about saving pounds but making more of them.”