Engineering a new infrastructure: an interview with Balfour Beatty CIO Danny Reeves

By Sooraj Shah
28 Jul 2014 View Comments
danny-reeves

Global infrastructure company Balfour Beatty has had a busy 12 months pressing on with its five-year IT rationalisation project, which began in 2012.

The project, which is focused on standardising the company’s end-user computing and hosting environments, was assigned to Fujitsu in a contract worth between £40m and £50m. It forms part of a wider Fujitsu-run programme to roll out IT shared services across the UK that aims to help to reduce Balfour Beatty’s IT costs by 25 per cent, or £10m a year, by 2015.

Further reading

The person charged with ensuring the standardisation project meets its targets is Balfour Beatty’s CIO, Danny Reeves.

According to Reeves, everything is on track. He says the biggest initial challenge was getting a detailed picture of how all the disparate parts of the firm’s IT estate were working, and then to develop a strategy to modernise systems with minimum disruption.

Other issues related to clarity of data and engagement with employees, says Reeves, and working with stakeholders across the organisation. He adds that his team has been lucky in that it hasn’t met many “blockers” on the way.

“The business is very supportive of the initiative, everything from understanding the financial and commercial benefits and the standardised way of operating the systems. They are also very supportive in recognising that the ‘new world’ will provide them with a platform that they can leverage more readily and easily, so that they can do what they do more effectively,” Reeves says.

Reeves believes that the company’s relationship with Fujitsu has strengthened since signing the five-year contract, and it has since selected Fujitsu to implement a messaging platform across Balfour Beatty’s UK businesses in a bid to increase collaboration.

“We were careful when we kicked off the initial relationship to focus it on key end-user computing and hosting areas of our business, as we didn’t want to lock ourselves into a number of different projects that would have distracted us. But more than that we wanted to leave the door open to talk about additional projects,” Reeves explains.

“So as we delivered success in those hosting and end-user areas, we were able to discuss other parts of the business that could go through similar processes with our partner, and by leaving that door open it makes the engagement conversation a lot easier as you don’t have as much trepidation that you’re wandering into a new project with a new supplier or partner,” he adds.

The deal involves implementing a single “collaborative” messaging platform to support 14,000 UK users across about 900 sites. Fujitsu is rolling out Microsoft Exchange 2013 to replace 14 existing email platforms. The company will also start using Microsoft Lync.

The Exchange and Lync rollouts could form a platform for an even more ambitious unified communications strategy at the company.

“We are looking at how people are able to communicate with each other. Whether through voice or instant messaging or through Lync, email or online conference facilities. We’re working with our partners to see how some of these things can plug into our existing systems,” Reeves explains.

One key element of Balfour Beatty’s ongoing IT overhaul is the rollout of Oracle’s E-Business Suite.

“We use it for our accounting, finances, HR and processes and support of our business. [The project] is already on the way, it’s a long way down the path and is being rolled out in its early phases this year,” says Reeves.

“It has been through the whole development process and we’re in the process of training our staff on how to use it across our businesses.

“Oracle gives us a single view of our accounts and a single way of doing things around our business processes. We worked with Oracle to configure and develop the ERP solution so that it is closely aligned to the construction, engineering and services parts of our business,” he adds.

Creating an ‘ecosystem’

Balfour Beatty has around 150 employees involved in IT-related activities, but by partnering with companies like Verizon, Oracle, Fujitsu and Microsoft, Reeves believes that the firm has an even bigger “ecosystem” of skills and capabilities that it can tap into at any time.

“While we have 150 of our people, there are a countless number of people that we have access to with far more intellectual property and research and development experience than we can ever deliver internally,” he says.

He suggests that this is how IT departments should operate today, and he thinks that there has been a transition over the past 10 to 15 years from “closed shop IT functions” to this new “ecosystem” way of working.

“We’ve moved more and more away from these closed-shop IT functions that churn out a lot of technology thinking but don’t necessarily leverage the capabilities for the best outcome of the business,” he says.

That’s why it has become imperative for the IT department to view itself as part of the business and as part of how the business supplies its customers, Reeves suggests.

“Just by opening up your thinking and not being a closed shop, you are really able to pull on that ecosystem of capability, through suppliers, through your partners, the supply chain and other parts of your internal business,” he says.

This, he believes, is one way of plugging any IT skills gaps.

“It gives us the ability to take people with the right capabilities in the right areas. It gives you a countless number of brains, hands and legs that can march into whatever the challenges are – and it definitely helps with our challenge of finding the right people across our industry,” he explains.

“[With companies that use this ecosystem] it just means that we as IT leaders within our businesses are not the only ones thinking about how we can do things and what we can leverage to achieve our desired outcome,” he states.

On the horizon

Balfour Beatty has about 13,500 direct users of IT, many of whom are increasingly using tablet devices in their work. These users include engineers, who use tablets to record information and access documents such as plans and certificates. But according to Reeves, this is just the beginning of a wider mobility strategy involving several different programmes.

For example, Windows 8 devices are being considered. But as the company is still standardising all of its desktops and laptops on Windows 7, any move to Windows 8 needs to be carefully considered, says Reeves.

As for cloud computing, the company has a private cloud and virtual servers provided by Fujitsu, and is considering using the public cloud in certain areas, with one option involving an implementation of Microsoft Office 365.

“We’re like most other organisations, we’re identifying those things that we need to control and secure, then we’re identifying the things we need to manage our operations,” Reeves states.
But the area that Reeves really wants to get to grips with is big data analytics.

“We work with the usual partners and make sure that we’ve got our eye on things that other industries have, and we’re thinking differently on how we can mine our data, and provide that data.

For example, by using predictive technologies we could see where certain trends in our industry are going, and using analytics we could improve the safety of our people – even though this isn’t something that will impact our revenues, it is of utmost importance to the business,” Reeves says.

@Sooraj_Shah

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