Gerhard Eygelaar, director of IT for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) of food services company Compass Group sees his role as bringing IT governance to the heart of the organisation.

“We are making radical changes to the restructuring of IT,” he says. “There is an emphasis on corporate IT governance, rather than just corporate governance.” His aim is to make information management more democratic and transparent by opening up decision-making and giving technology an independent status.

The Surrey-based group is the world’s biggest caterer. It was founded in 1941 to feed munitions workers during World War II and now supplies catering services to the BBC, American Express, IBM, The Pentagon and even London Zoo.

Pot boilers

2005 was not a good year. In late October it had to suspend a top executive, Peter Harris, chief executive of Compass’ UK, Ireland, EMEA division as part of an investigation into how United Nations’ contracts were awarded. Harris used to head Compass’ Eurest Support Services (ESS) division before moving up to the office of chief executive. An explanation is being sought as to how ESS got hold of sensitive documents with details about multi-million dollar contracts to supply peacekeepers.

But Eygelaar stresses the company attitude to governance long predates the recent troubles. “The setting up of an IT governance board was decided months before these events. It is based on the trend of CIOs playing a bigger role in the business and IT being very much at the forefront.”

Eygelaar’s information management strategy is based on consenus and involves all the business units in the decision making process. “IT will still include the CFO, but other business and services units will be represented on the IT governance council. The decisions are made by stakeholders so IT will become more aligned with the business. The business changes every single day and an information management policy must respond to this.”

He adds: “IT is a service to the rest of the business. If you do not know what the service has to do, you will not get it right.”

He recognises that some decisions, by necessity, will be a compromise. “If we decide to go in a certain direction, it is not possible to suit everyone all the time, but it is important to know how the business units relate to each other. If one unit has a problem with a decision, it needs to be flagged up so it can mitigated.”

"If one unit has a problem with a decision, it needs to be flagged up so it can be mitigated"

Gerhard Eygelaar, IT director for EMEA, Compass Group

Email management forms a crucial part of the company’s IT management strategy. It is the core method of doing business, hosting 80 per cent of business activity.

Considering Compass Group’s reliance on email, and with many operations in remote sites, Eygelaar chose a hosted email service from Cobweb Solutions. The service permits remote access in sites with no PC availability, using multiple methods including BlackBerry devices and PDAs.

“Two years ago we made the decision to outsource. In areas, like the Middle East where I’m based, it makes sense to have an outsourced solution,” says Eygelaar.

“Many employees are working in remote offices where they cannot back up data every night. We only have five hubs with a full IT infrastructure where their data is backed up every day.”

Improving menu

One of the firm’s most effective methods of drumming up new business is through 4D2 Camp Configurator, a business intelligence tool developed in-house.

The web-based program allows prospective clients to estimate the size and needs of a camp using visual information. Users register their details, which are fed into a database using precise targeting to generate sales. “The tool gives us an immediate advantage. Otherwise it could take weeks trying to contact the right people,” he says.

A future project is to deploy Cobweb’s Windows SharePoint Services. The software, which is integrated with Microsoft Office applications and Exchange 2003, enables staff to work off the same page by creating team websites for information sharing and document collaboration, instead of just dumping files into directories.

“Its content management properties and online collaboration provide better access to information across geographic locations, which we hope will help drive sales. Our people operate in 54 countries and this we hope will help break down silos of information making it accessible to the right people at the right time.”