CIO interview: Rob Pringle, global IT director, Gazprom

interview

CIO interview: Rob Pringle, global IT director, Gazprom

Bill Goodwin

Last year, Gazprom Marketing and Trading (GM&T) rolled out a global SAP system, upgraded its gas trading platform, and built a system to integrate both together – within the space of a month.

“That is the normal life of working at GM&T,” says Rob Pringle, director of global IT, in an interview with Computer Weekly.

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GM&T is the trading arm of OAO Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled gas company and the world’s largest natural gas company.

Created in 1999, with just two employees in a small office in Richmond, GM&T is growing fast.

When Pringle joined from Centrica in 2009, GM&T employed just 35 IT staff and one business analyst. Today, he has a team of 150 IT staff based in the UK, Manchester and Singapore. Overall, the company employs 800 people.

“The culture is very dynamic, and that has allowed the IT department to do things very quickly – much more quickly than other companies would allow us to do,” he says.

Gazprom Marketing and Trading

Founded in 1999, GM&T has grown from an office employing just two people in Richmond, to an 800-strong multinational business generating profit of over £170m.

The group trades in oil, gas, power, carbon credits and foreign exchange, and delivers power to 10,000 business customers in Europe. Its clients include the Arcadia retail group, Domino's Pizza and Odeon cinemas.

GM&T has had to move quickly to catch up with competitors such as BP and Shell in the lucrative energy trading market.

We have had to put the foundations behind our core business capability in place in a very short space of time. Where most of our competitors have very mature operations, we have grown from quite a small scale,” says Pringle.

Developing a new trading platform

Pringle’s first priority was to develop clear processes for managing projects, gaining business sponsorship, and delivering IT systems on time and to budget.

Within a year he took on GM&T’s biggest programme to date – a new trading platform for energy, carbon, foreign exchange and other financial trading.

The Gazprom Global Trading Platform (GGTP) allows GM&T to trade around the clock, shifting activity seamlessly from London, to Houston, to Singapore, and back to London.

Rob Pringle CV

Rob Pringle is director of global IT for Gazprom Marketing & Trading (GM&T), with global responsibility for all aspects of IT delivery and operations for the organisation. He has more than 20 years' experience working in IT within the energy industry. 

After winning a sponsorship from British Gas for a business administration and computer science degree at Aston University, he joined British Gas after graduation to work on IT solutions for the liberalisation of the UK gas and electricity markets.

He then moved to ABB, where he was responsible for marketing and developing energy retail and trading solutions for participants in the competitive energy markets.

Before joining GM&T, Pringle spent 10 years with UK utility company Centrica, working in a number of different roles in the energy trading unit and spending four years as head of architecture in the Centrica Energy business unit.

He joined GM&T at the beginning of 2009.

After evaluating proposals to build the system in-house, GM&T opted for a rapid roll-out of an off-the-shelf platform – Endur from Openlink. Pringle used systems integrator Baringa to provide specialist skills.

The first phase of the project – foreign exchange trading and financial products – went live in December 2011, after only 12 months.

“There must have been 100 people involved right across the company making it happen," he says.

Keeping the project as simple as possible, and minimising customisation, was essential to roll the project out quickly, says Pringle.

“We had a laser-sharp focus on what we actually wanted the product to do, and we spent quite a lot of time getting that right,” he says.

The team opted to build the trading platform on Gazprom’s existing Windows infrastructure.

And rather than follow the usual practice of rolling out new versions of the platform in each location, the team decided to build a single version of the software, covering multiple geographies.

“It is the same technology that very large organisations such as BP or Shell are using, and we are managing to deploy it in a very short space of time,” he says.

Liquified natural gas

There are few off-the-shelf gas trading packages available, so when it came to developing a liquified natural gas (LNG) trading system, Pringle and the business team opted to develop their own solution.

GM&T teamed up with Planlogic, which had a customised code library that allowed GM&T to build the system quickly.

Timeline 

1999 Gazprom Marketing and Trading (GM&T) is founded in Richmond, London, with a staff of two

2006 GM&T begins trading in the UK

2008 GM&T begins trading in Germany

2009 January: Rob Pringle joins GM&T as CIO, with an IT department of 35 people; October: Gazprom decides to buy, rather than build, a global trading platform, for energy and financial trading

2010 GM&T rolls out its Liquified Natural Gas Trading Risk Management Platform (LTRM), built in-house; January: Implementation work begins on the Gazprom Global Trading Platform (GGTP); December: Go-live for GGTP for financially traded products

2011 GM&T commissions a tier 3 datacentre; enhancement work on LTRM platform; IT fit for Singapore trading floor; IT fit for GM&T's new London headquarters; October: GGTP phase 2 goes live, adding European oil and gas trading; SAP for finance, treasury, procurement and HR is rolled out and goes live; integration platform goes live, to feed data from the trading platforms into SAP

2012 GM&T commissions a tier 3 datacentre in Manchester; more work planned on SAP, country-specific projects, and compliance and risk management

The trading platform allows GM&T to trade ships' cargoes of LNG. It handles a small number of trades, compared with the GM&T platform, but the value of each trade is enormous, says Pringle.

GM&T was able to get the project up and running in just 10 months – an industry record, according to Pringle.

“We had good relationships with the core business team, the IT team, and the external supplier to make it happen in a short time,” he says. “That project went really well and was highly rated by the business unit.”

Agile methods for rapid delivery

Pringle and his team make use of agile methods to deliver software rapidly. But the whole company, not just the IT department, operates in an agile way, he says: “There is no point having agile development if you don’t have agile infrastructure, agile management and agile governance to approve the business case in the right time scale.” 

It is important that the IT department has ultimate control – and ultimate responsibility – for delivering the project on time, says Pringle.

“If you just hand over the keys and a fixed price contract to an external supplier the delivery risk does not move away from you as a client organisation,” he says.

GM&T, for example retains responsibility for managing and commissioning the hardware and software in the company’s managed datacentres in the UK and Singapore.

“The fact that we have our own assets, and our own technical infrastructure, means that we can deploy very quickly.”

Managing multiple projects

The IT department’s close working relationship with the rest of the business is essential when GM&T is rolling out multiple projects simultaneously.

Just two weeks before the updated Gas Trading systems went live, in October 2011, GM&T completed its roll out of a SAP system to manage finance, treasury, procurement and human resources, across the group.

In the same month, the team rolled out an integration platform which links the trading platforms into the finance systems and providers traders with real-time market data.

There is no point having agile development if you don’t have agile infrastructure, and you don’t have agile management and agile governance

Rob Pringle, director of global IT, GM&T

“October was a big delivery month, and all those programmes came together at the same time very well. We did that while keeping the lights on with continuous change on our existing platforms and business activity,” says Pringle

Between these projects, Pringle and his team fitted the IT for the new trading system, equipped GM&T’s new London headquarters, and commissioned a tier 3 datacentre.

Extracting business value from core systems

With the main IT platforms in place, Pringle plans to build on their capabilities in 2012, and extend their reach into other areas of the business.

“This year, and the next couple of years is an exploit or harvest phase,” he says. “Having put some of the big platforms in from nothing, we have got as much work to do again, but the next step is extracting more business value from these core platforms.”

Staff development is a major priority, with Pringle planning to expand the IT team by 10% this year.

“Providing for professional development and growth for IT professionals that come through our organisation is very important to me,” he says.

There is a natural tension between keeping up with the growth of our business and keeping the structural IT costs low

Rob Pringle, director of global IT, GM&T

Technical priorities include a project to take business performance insight data from SAP to help the business operate more efficiently.

There are also plans to introduce country-specific platforms in markets, such as Germany, where trading conditions are very different from the UK.

Another programme aims to help GM&T meet compliance regulations and enhance its risk management capability.

“The challenges are consistent. Keeping up with the growth of our business, and its every demanding requirements, and keeping the structural IT costs low. There is a natural tension between those two things," he says.

 


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