IT Leaders interview: Clifford Burroughs, CIO, United Biscuits

By Stuart Sumner
18 May 2011 View Comments
Clifford Burroughs is chief information officer at United Biscuits

IT Leaders logoClifford Burroughs holds the enviable position of CIO at snacks company United Biscuits (UB), home of household brands such as McVitie’s, Hula Hoops and Penguin.

Further reading

Besides keeping him going between meals, the position involves managing around 140 IT staff across the world. And that number has not been affected by recent economic conditions.

“United Biscuits tends to do well in harsh economic climates – snacks and biscuits are important to people. We therefore try to maintain our investment in IT through difficult times,” says Burroughs.

In fact the group has been recruiting, as Burroughs has identified a need for greater cloud expertise internally.

“I’ve needed to employ staff who understand the cloud environment, as well as how to deploy software in a web environment – in particular a PaaS [platform-as-a-service] environment.”

Burroughs and his team are currently selecting a PaaS supplier, and expect to use the service extensively in the coming months.

“I’m fundamentally very supportive of the concept of PaaS. It gives us the flexibility to develop new things, without us needing to host all the infrastructure,” he says.

He explains that the agility provided by PaaS is the key attraction.

“We could build an application that we think will only be used by 10 people, and then find it’s wanted by 300. With the right PaaS solution you can scale up easily.”

There are cost and licensing constraints in providing a new application to a wide user base with no guarantees as to its actual take-up, but in Burroughs’ opinion, the cloud allows you to think differently.

“It changes the mindset. You’re open to developing new ideas or up-scaling existing ones.”

Burroughs puts this desire for a new mindset down to what he calls “the iPad effect”. He believes the widespread adoption of Apple’s iconic tablet device, and tablets and smartphones in general have made people expect more from IT.

“People are used to downloading an app and working with it immediately. We need to be able to allow that to take place in the enterprise in a cost-effective way.”

Although very much a cloud advocate, Burroughs is keen to sound a note of caution. In his opinion, companies should experiment first by only allowing less critical applications and data to be hosted off premise.

“You need to pick your areas quite carefully. You could wrap the cloud around your ERP [enterprise resource and planning] transaction systems, that’s one of the less sensitive areas. My strategy is to do that until the market matures and you can move on to your more sensitive core systems.”

But that’s not to say that Burroughs would be slow to adopt a full cloud solution where appropriate. In fact, UB’s recent expansion into India makes for a classic cloud success story.

 

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