Under the banner of "zero infrastructure", Mark Evans has removed extraneous hardware from all offices. The provision of all services via the internet and equipping all staff with 3G/4G/Wi-Fi is a key enabler that has allowed the business to redesign its engagement with clients and to offer a faster turnaround on decision-making, client information and service provision. It has also taken 30% of spend out of the IT budget, a saving of £500k per annum.
Name and job title
Mark Evans, head of IT, Rider Levett Bucknall.
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
As the head of the IT team at RLB I have an involvement in any aspect of service which has a reliance on IT systems. My team has developed, with internal subject matter experts, an online system for our clients to check the CO2 profile of their construction project from initial build and then 25 years into the future, for compliance with applicable environmental legislation and to maximise any government funding to mitigate the cost of the development. This is believed to be a first in the construction industry.
We have partnered with an organisation which offers us the facility to commit surveys to our backend systems by using a tablet (iPad/Android) to complete automated forms in order to deliver the data requirements of our clients. This has led to a huge increase in efficiency, with surveys taking less time and giving RLB the opportunity to undercut competitors and deliver the data needs of our clients in a shorter, quality-assured timeframe.
How as CIO have you driven cultural and behaviour change in your organisation and to what extent?
I have championed BYOD and the use of tablet technologies within the business. I designed a strategy to deliver a working environment for all staff anywhere there happens to be an internet connection. Every member of staff within RLB, from secretaries to directors, has a laptop computer and is free to work and access our systems from anywhere.
I recommended (and ultimately selected) a document management system to promote quality assurance, collaboration and document management, replacing mapped network drives. This service was hosted in a new private cloud environment and has subsequently been moved into public cloud. With the reliance on desktop computers and LAN login removed, our latest round of office moves enabled true hotdesking and a reduction in the number of seats, enabled by home-working and client co-location. We have been able to 'embed' our staff with clients more readily, building better relationships between the business and our clientele. I am reliably informed that RLB is now seen as a true innovator in terms of computing within the construction industry.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's performance
I have taken 30% of spend out of the IT budget, a saving of £500k per annum by moving to public cloud, aligning our Microsoft licensing accurately, and using Office 365 to provide email services, underpinned by Mimecast for resilience. The strategy of moving our industry-related business applications, which revolve around CAD services, into the cloud has allowed RLB to scale back on hardware requirements for personal computing. Heavyweight applications now run under VDI sessions, meaning that hardware costs for personal computing equipment have been cut by 70%. On a three-year lease, this is leading to additional savings of £120k p.a. in FY2016/17.
Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
The CO2 system (total cost management) uses a blend of organisational skills, public domain information and industry-derived data to create a holistic picture of the CO2 profile of new and amended buildings for our clients. This is seen as a value-add service for RLB and is a key tool in customer retention.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I devolve certain authority to my direct reports and reserve time for myself to speak to colleagues in the business to understand their drivers and requirements. I am a contributor to the business plan and align this with the business strategy though attending senior management meetings and acting as a 'lightning rod' for requirements which the business has, but no one outside of IT has the vocabulary or oversight to deliver. I am happy to engage with ideas from non-IT staff as an enabler for the technologies and services they require. I ensure that these services are properly reflected in the IT budget with justification and capex/opex implications.
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
I define the digital strategy of the business, in liaison with my colleagues across the business. My role is to show staff what is available and to explain the sometimes obscure benefits of pursuing a certain strategy. The move to private IaaS cloud six years ago was driven by me and delivered by my team with very little information to staff in the business for what was a transparent (to them) change.
The move to our first cloud installation was to achieve the requirements of the business strategy to enhance mobility of staff. I took the business strategy and then applied a complementary IT strategy on the premise that internet-based document management and a 'per user' laptop allocation would provide truly global access to RLB services. The move to public cloud was the logical extension of this. The strategy was to offer truly global working for all RLB EMEA staff. By utilising 'commodity' services we were able to move into a scalable global solution for data and service provision while also mitigating costs.
Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
New initiatives are promoted to senior management in a formal board report, or via a section in the annual business plan. These strategies are then disseminated to staff via the monthly IT forum (held via video conference to the eight regional UK offices) and by the monthly newsletter. A standing element of the newsletter and the forum is a 12-month 'lookahead', which informs IT reps in the regions about new systems, services and developments.
As mentioned previously, the use of laptops for all staff, the provision of all services via the internet and the provision of 3G/4G/Wi-Fi to all staff is seen as a key enabler. This has allowed the business to redesign its engagement with clients and to offer a faster turnaround on decision-making, client information and service provision.
How do you engage regularly with your organisation about your team and the role of technology in the organisation, and what impact is this having?
As mentioned above, I hold a monthly IT forum via video conference, and IT provides a monthly newsletter which features reports on mobile telephony billing, new developments/services and delivery dates, notifications of planned maintenance, reporting on service desk operations, a 12-month 'lookahead' and any information which may be useful to staff in their private usage of their own domestic IT equipment (as a service to our colleagues).
In addition, I represent the IT team at regional board meetings and at the national board. At this level, I reflect on team performance, costs, cost savings, impact of new or amended services and future plans for IT in the same 'lookahead' which is offered to IT reps at the IT forum. In addition, I also have an open invitation to attend office staff communications meetings. Conversely, I can request a slot in the agenda for the monthly office staff communications meetings and tend to give specific, targeted information to a more focused selection of staff.
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
I am a regular contributor to LinkedIn and have written opinion pieces and provided interview for industry magazines such as IT Pro. I am a member of various focus groups on LinkedIn, and write articles on my own profile page.
How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
This occurs during business planning, as mentioned previously. I have an 'open door' policy (our offices are indeed all open plan) for speaking with staff, and the IT newsletter seeks opinions and 'pinch points' from staff in freeform via email. The main avenue for technology discussions is the IT forum, closely followed by the regional board meetings where IT is a standing agenda item.
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
I am a regular attendee and speaker at industry conferences. I have spoken on issues surrounding cloud and organisational impact at numerous conferences in London and further afield in Europe. At these events I target potential suppliers and fellow presenters to discuss upcoming events, technologies and opportunities. Similarly, I attend industry dinners and roundtable events (typically in London) where the Chatham House rules offer a full and frank inspection of vendors' wares and the accompanying technologies. Finally, I maintain CPD with the Chartered Management Institute (of which I am a fellow).
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
My team is represented by Asian, West Indian and male and female staff of varying religious and cultural backgrounds. It is probably worth mentioning that all appointments are on the basis of capability; diversity and (potentially) 'quotas' are not considered. If you're good enough, that is all that matters. The requirements for halal food to make our team meals inclusive for all team members has made my team aficionados in Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi food at team events!
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
I work very closely with the CFO to ensure that the bases of any IT strategies are financially sound as the fundamental basis of any IT decision. I am highly visible in the organisation and available to discuss any IT ideas or issues, as are my direct reports and their teams. Influencing the leadership team is on the basis of a cost/benefit analysis for new ideas and opportunities. This is usually accompanied by a SWOT analysis of the business and a breakdown of which opportunities can be emphasised and which threats minimised by the diligent and appropriate application of information technology. I am also on hand to inform my colleagues across the business on any matter which may be a cause for concern or deeper inspection than simply reading a report or review.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
I have undertaken and passed an MBA to broaden my perspective of 'business' rather than 'technology'. This has broadened my vocabulary and toolset when dealing with colleagues who are not from an IT background. My studies have also given me a better perspective on the key drivers of business and allowed me to further attune my IT solutions to enhance and deliver business strategy. I was assessed and accepted as a fellow of the Chartered Management Institute. This has given me a channel to realise an opportunity for effective CPD and an insight into the soft skills of management in terms of influence, mentoring and developing business relationships at all levels.
What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
Our primary drive has been to create a cloud-based CAD workshop for our technical colleagues. This has led to using GPU-enabled cloud services, which allows our staff to access the full suite of CAD technology they require and to ensure that we waste no time in downloading and uploading large files between user and storage. This enables our colleagues to access heavy-duty CAD systems from any internet-connected device and removes the requirement or workstation-class hardware in RLB offices.
Under the banner of "zero infrastructure", I have sought to remove any extraneous hardware from each office. The plan is to offer Wi-Fi access, printing and nothing else in each office. This minimises physical footprint for hardware, removes potential issues from server outages and gives staff an operating environment which broadly resembles their home circumstances or those offered in a public Wi-Fi arena. Even the printing revolves around a cloud-based print server, so that staff can print to any printer in any RLB office, mitigating waste and enhancing efficiency.
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
Due to the nature of our work, staff need access to services in any location they could possibly source internet connectivity. In line with the zero infrastructure strategy, our decision-making is channelled by the requirement to offer all corporate services on a mobility basis.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
Absolutely. I have engendered a supportive atmosphere where my team can investigate tools, technologies and services which might make their role easier (to enhance service or efficiency) or to improve the business. These new developments are discussed at fortnightly team meetings as and when an interesting opportunity (or threat) arises.
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
We source from suppliers with whom we have developed a strong working relationship over a sustained period of time. On occasion, we reach out to other suppliers as a sense check to ensure that our relationships with current suppliers aren't lapsing into complacency and uncompetitive pricing and service, but we view our suppliers as part of our extended team and address them in a similar manner. We regularly meet to discuss service, supply provision and any new technological developments which may have a bearing on the business. Our strategic suppliers are Microsoft, Level 3, Blue Jeans and Insight.
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
A key innovation is the provision of CAD services in the cloud. This has enabled RLB to offer its employees access to key business tools from any device with an internet connection. The heavy-lifting of files has been mitigated by keeping drawings, etc, on one platform. It has enabled collaboration to improve across the business and the region due to the provision of this centralised, specialised service.
The direct corollary of this work is that we no longer need to provide workstation-class hardware (laptop or desktop/tower) to deliver the service, which has led to a direct saving in computer hardware as the despecifying of equipment brings down cost while the work of CAD drawings is presented on an extensible platform away from the local environment or user. By moving heavy-duty software into a scalable, demand-driven infrastructure in the cloud we have been able to save on cost for hardware, expected to be £100k p.a. (5% of IT budget) once the project completes this year.
We have been able to move to the standard 'pay for what you use' model, whereby we aren't investing in hardware which operates for around 25% of any given week but for which we are charged 24x7x365. It has enabled us to provision the environment in an 'elastic' manner so that if our staff are dealing with a large CAD drawing or cost model the environment will cope – it has broken the restraints of a physical computer chassis in the hands of an employee. It has also ensured that everyone sees the authoritative source for any changes or amendments to any piece of work, which helps with data integrity and has also allowed us to take certain steps for QA.
We have introduced a new print management provider. Their service allows a print-anywhere solution within RLB and a print-from-anything service for tablet and smartphone users. By tying printing into a security model we have mitigated waste by clearing down unclaimed print jobs at the end of each working day.
The move to the zero infrastructure model has led to senior management being able to decide the size, shape and location of office accommodation going forward. Hotdesking and remote working has led to a reappraisal of office space and a saving in rental outgoings from the business. We no longer need to provide a desk for everyone, leading to obvious floorspace savings.
Zero infrastructure has also led – at this stage in its development – to better business continuity. My team manages failover in the cloud, but with no reliance on physical offices, the requirement to dwell on disaster recovery for any office is now, largely, a matter for facilities management. We had a flood in our Birmingham office which closed the entire floor. Staff simply worked from home and were able to complete their work without recourse to a physical office environment. The managing partner in that office sought temporary rental accommodation for staff, but this was more to facilitate an office environment for ad hoc team meetings and face-to-face client engagement than for any real operational needs. It is this flexibility in terms of technology provisions, staff location and disaster recovery which have been part and parcel of the strategies I have delivered for RLB in the UK.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
We have signed into the full suite of Microsoft services we require from Azure and Office 365, along with Amazon Web Services for niche products. These services provide RLB with email, applications support, productivity software licensing and availability. These services replace an outgoing private cloud IaaS provider whose services we have outgrown in recent years.
We are due to sign a deal with Level 3 for network services. Level 3 can support our overseas operations and offer network facilities, which is beyond the scope and business model of our current provider. This is not a poor reflection on our current provider; however, they don't have the international reach of Level 3 and this could be a restraint on the services we seek to offer to overseas clients.
Finally, we have signed a deal with Blue Jeans video conferencing services. With a staff diaspora such as ours, the ability to remain in contact with regional offices in the UK and overseas RLB offices requires an enterprise-scale VC provider. Using the latest technologies, Blue Jeans allows staff to participate in a video conference as long as they have an internet connection and a compatible, standards-compliant browser. They can also participate as a voice-only participant, which means that even the necessity for an internet connection is not sacrosanct.
Rate how important your sources of innovative technology suppliers are
- Always referred to: CIO peers.
- Often use: industry body, media.
- Occasionally use: consultants.
- Of little importance: analyst houses.
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
Cyber security is covered by the company secretary, the infrastructure manager and me as a shared responsibility in terms of technological threat and business threat, bringing both sides of the picture together to ensure that any response or defence is measured against business strategy and operations. This ensures that – while we maintain a robust defence against outside intrusion – we bolster our defence where the business believes there is the most significant exposure.
While every potential threat should be considered, this approach (business/technology working in tandem) ensures that cyber security is maintained as an initial part of any business plan and is built into our service offering from the first stage of business service provision or development. It has, on at least one occasion, led to a review of whether or not a particular service is worth the potential risk to the business from cyber attack.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What is the annual IT budget?
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
What is your budget's operational/development split?
How many users does your department supply services to?
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Being developed for 2016/17.
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?