Tucked away in the leafy London suburb of Teddington is one of the country’s leading science companies. It’s odd that such a modern global business should be headquartered in such an unscientific location, but if you consider LGC’s past it doesn’t seem so strange, being a former public sector organisation bearing all the low-profile status that implies.
For Gideon Kay, LGC CIO for little over a year, it’s a big jump from the construction industry where he spent the previous eight years, but he likes to think it’s a testament to his skills as a manager that he is in the top IT job there.
His lack of knowledge of LGC’s particular domain is more than made up for by his experience in global business and his ability to tackle anything thrown at him.
LGC (which originally stood for Laboratory of the Government Chemist) has been in operation for 170 years. It was set up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day to supervise the accurate measurement of imported alcohol so that the appropriate duty could be calculated.
This is its main business offering to this day, even after being privatised in 1996 and after growing from a purely UK base to having 31 sites across the world.
LGC retains a government remit for science services, with a strong emphasis on work in forensics supporting DNA, crime scene, drug, alcohol and ballistics analysis.
Other services to the private sector include equine testing for the racing communities of the UK and the US state of Kentucky.
LGC now operates in Brazil, China, Germany, Russia and the US, and its staff count should reach 1600 by the end of this year. A quarter of the staff have a doctorate and three out of five are graduates.
Kay likens LGC to a pharmaceutical company or university research campus. Certainly, the corridors of its London HQ have a hospital-like design ethic.
What this all means for Kay is that the company runs on a lot of hard data being pulled in, processed and delivered to customers, where a high level of accuracy has to be maintained. Any lapse in data integrity and the reputation of the company is irreparably damaged.
Four branches of science
The business is split into four divisions, with the forensics services mentioned above being one.
A second business, acquired a few months ago, focuses on genomics analysis, testing DNA samples.
A third produces and distributes high-quality testing samples used to calibrate third-party analysis equipment and the remaining business, the Science Technology division, focuses on a basket of governmental and private sector duties.
These include the equine regulatory bodies already mentioned. The food industry supplies another set of customers who need to satisfy certain standards in health and safety.
The Science Technology division also serves as an ultimate expert arbiter in chemical matters within legal disputes or enquiries. In addition it helps the UK government allocate funding for research programmes on behalf of organisations like the NHS.
Looking at the organisation it’s clear that the business model is complex and a variety of revenue processes have to be supported by the systems under Kay’s responsibility.
He explains that the varied business models within the company require a wide range of applications to support them.
“We have grown as an international company through acquisition over the last seven years. There are different disparate systems, cultures and environments. So, we have initiated a program to standardise the back office. We are 90 per cent there after the last three years,” he says.