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CIO interview: Kieran Delaney, director of IT, Innserve

After 13 years at the drinks dispensing firm, Delaney moved into the top IT leadership role and has set out about using technology to empower workers across the company

Innserve director of IT Kieran Delaney knows more about his business than most. He joined the drinks dispensing firm more than a decade ago and has climbed the executive ladder.

“I started doing a temporary job at Innserve and I’ve pretty much worked my way up. During the past 13 years, I've worked in various roles,” says Delaney, who began at the company as a maintenance call scheduler and subsequently as an operations project manager and IT systems analyst.

After honing his technology and management expertise, Delaney became director of IT in April 2016. His team develops its own applications for a range of business functions, from office-based call logging and planning to Android mobile tools that are used by the firm’s 400-plus field-service engineers.

It’s a hands-on management role that Delaney relishes. “I love making change happen,” he says. “I also like being part of a team that drives the business forward. But fundamentally, I enjoy my day-to-day role, which is making change through IT.”

Although Delaney was educated in computer science, he never expected to be a CIO. In fact, when he reflects on his career, he is surprised that he ended up as an IT professional at all.

“I was interested in IT, but I never really considered it as a career as such – it was more that I was interested in systems generally,” he says. “But I think one of my skills is identifying issues and coming up with solutions to those issues.”

As Delaney developed within the business, he began to hone his abilities. In particular, he points to the three years he spent as IT systems analyst at Innserve, where he was responsible for the management of internally developed software solutions, including a custom reporting platform, custom intranet platform and heavily customised project management tools.

“I was always looking at things like systems analysis and solution design,” he says. “And I guess there’s a big overlap between being a CIO and also trying to solve problems with technology. Fundamentally, my role now is to try and use technology to empower people and not be an obstacle, either – that’s one of the big things I’ve learned.”

“As I’ve grown into the IT role, I’ve actually learned the importance of how things work”

Kieran Delaney, Innserve

Delaney says he has absorbed a great deal about managing people since leading IT, particularly around the art of compromise and how to develop workable solutions to intractable business challenges.

“It’s important to try to say yes to everything, or at least ‘yes, but’, and then to explain how there is a compromise available,” he says.

“It’s never great telling people ‘no’. What you want to try and do is say, ‘we could do that, but we could do it this way instead’. I think one of my skills is in trying to find a solution. That’s meant that as I’ve grown, I’ve learned more about the business, but I’ve also taken over certain elements of the business in terms of IT. And I think it all means that I’m better positioned to be able to bring those skills to bear.”

Delaney reports to the chief operating officer, who is a member of the executive board. When it is suggested that his promotion through the business to a senior IT position is a sure sign of the faith the business has in him, Delaney agrees, suggesting his insider knowledge of the firm also gives him an advantage.

“It’s definitely a positive, because I’ve been in the operations department and I’ve worked within the business, so I’ve learned how it runs,” he says. But Delaney knows there is no room for complacency. Moving up the executive ladder can mean losing an understanding of operational areas if you are not careful.

Fast-paced industry

“Make no mistake, being outside of day-to-day operations for more than a year means you kind of don’t know what those guys are doing any more because it’s a very fast-paced industry,” he says. “But fundamentally, I understand the business and the levers that drive it. As I’ve grown into the IT role, I’ve actually learned the importance of how things work.”

Delaney gives an interesting example of how his intimate knowledge of the business creates an advantage, particularly when it comes to understanding the role of IT. Technology might be crucial to Innserve’s operational activities, but Delaney’s detailed awareness of operations means he doesn’t overstate the importance of technology.

“What most people don’t appreciate is that computers are actually not the most important thing to a business like ours,” he says. “If the computers go down, we can still function – we can write jobs on bits of paper, we can contact technicians and tell them. So, if there’s a cloud outage, it’s not great – but we can work around it.

“If the phones go down, we can’t do our jobs and that’s a key thing. A lot of people concentrate and fixate on computers, so one of the biggest things for us has been the phone system and learning how to make that resilient. And that can be something that’s overlooked if you haven’t worked within the operational part of the business. You wouldn’t necessary understand the importance of those phones.”

Connecting people and using data

Delaney says one of his key achievements relates to his focus on communications technology. He believes developing applications in-house on Android is the best way to deliver the software functionality that workers demand.

The firm’s technicians use a bespoke app to receive their schedule of up to 10 appointments a day, plan their journeys, and record information about each job. Innserve engineers use this app on their mobile devices in the field to send and receive data in real time.

Delaney’s team are currently rolling out Panasonic Toughbook L1 Android tablets to 400-plus field technicians across the UK.

“That’s really made a big difference to way the technicians work,” he says. “We are seeing the fruits of our approach to mobility within the business.”

The IT team’s bespoke software development work also extends beyond mobility. Delaney refers to work around customer service. The company has written its own call-logging software, which is intended to help reduce the amount of time customer service workers take to log a call.

“That approach is not about getting people off the phone and terminating calls quicker, it’s about giving them more time on that call to be better at helping the customer,” he says. “So, it’s about making better use of the time, rather than trying to restrict it.”

Moving to the cloud

Delaney says his department’s bespoke software developments are helping to change perceptions of technology across Innserve. He refers again to his desire to empower people, to engage with other functions and develop solutions to business challenges.

“The other thing where I’ve made a change within the business is just trying to improve communication with IT,” he says. “IT is no longer seen as a blocker, because that can be a bit frustrating – and it always used to frustrate me with an IT team that said, ‘we can’t do that’.

“What we’re trying to do now is empower the business to come to us and ask us questions and make suggestions, and actually listen to them and open that up. Because I think the development process should be more collaborative. I don’t do the job that most of the people in the business do, so it’s important to listen to those guys and listen to their challenges.”

That engagement process will continue over the next two years. Delaney says his team is investigating “lots of different things”, including making changes to some internal business applications to make them accessible to as many people as possible.

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Delaney says Innserve recently moved its web application servers to Microsoft Azure. Many of the priorities for his team over the next two years will be related to that shift to the cloud, including the rationalisation of the existing application environment, the culling of monolithic application services and a move towards microservices.

“That shift is about trying to make better use of the services that we’re starting to consume in the cloud,” he says. “Azure has already been good for us. It’s helped us remove single points of failure and move towards a model where my team no longer have to install and maintain clusters of software. Instead, they can consume the cloud as a service and get back to developing applications.”

Creating operational certainty

Two years from now, Delaney hopes he will be managing a more self-sustaining IT department, where use of bespoke applications and the cloud helps to boost operational certainty.

“I don’t want to worry about things going down in the middle of the night,” he says. “We do have a fair few systems that we keep our eyes on. Normally, there aren’t problems. But sometimes, you can be a little bit nervous as a head of IT, where you think that if something goes wrong, you’re going to get the phone call.”

Delaney says operational certainty is more than just a question of implementing reliable systems and services. Human resources matter, too – and he is key to reduce what he refers to as “key-man risk” within IT, where if certain people are unavailable, the business could have continuity concerns. The move to the cloud will prove key.

“We want to know that certain services talk to each other and are resilient,” he says. “So I think that, in 18 to 24 months, we would like to be in a position where everything is bulletproof, and we can lose a datacentre and not really have any concerns and no one would notice. That’s a big driver for us for the next couple of years.”

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills

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