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CIO interview: Ed Higgs, group director of IT shared services, Rentokil Initial

The pest control provider has consolidated 77 datacentres globally to just three – but with a corporate culture of acquisitions, there’s still a lot more to do

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: Innovation not infestation – digitising pest control

Ed Higgs, group director of IT shared services at Rentokil Initial, has been with the pest control and hygiene services giant for more than a decade. Even after helping the organisation reduce its datacentre facilities and move to new technology platforms, Higgs still has big ambitions for further change.

“My job isn’t done,” he says. “We continue to grow as an organisation and the job of standardising and consolidating is never really complete. We’ve got targets as a business that we need to carry on meeting, so we will continue to grow.”

Rentokil Initial operates in around 90 countries. Listed on the London Stock Exchange, the company was founded in 1925 and has continued to grow organically and through a series of acquisitions, including its October 2022 purchase of US pest control business Terminix.

Across all business units around the world, Higgs and his team aim to deliver high-performing technology that supports effective working practices. These technologies combine to create a standardised and reliable platform for product innovation, such as using internet-connected traps at client sites to spot signs of infestation automatically.

Higgs says the ongoing objective of this effort is to create what he refers to as “delightful colleague experiences” for employees around the globe. “We’ve got a good idea of what we need to do and we’ve planned out the journey,” he says, suggesting that his team will be busy with a range of activities over the next 12 months.

“We’ve got tools that can deliver that work and we’ve got technologies that can help. But what we need to do is make sure that the end-to-end flow and processes are aligned to make sure the delightful colleague experience is consistent whether you’re in the US or Kenya.”

Accepting the opportunity

Higgs – who hails from Warwick and is an Aston Villa supporter – joined Rentokil Initial in April 2012, having previously held senior IT positions at City Link and Manpower. He was keen to take on the fresh opportunity of a senior management position in a big business.

“They’d been growing quickly and it was at a time when they’d realised they needed global capacity to drive through some consistencies,” he says. “There was an opening in the organisation for someone to own datacentres worldwide.”

During his time at the company, Higgs has had a series of promotions and assumed his current role in April 2019. As group director of IT shared services, he reports to the group CIO. His work is based around three key pillars: customer services, workplace services and infrastructure services.

In customer services, Higgs covers service desk, service management, deskside support and IT fulfilment. In workplace services, he oversees user devices, the management of those devices, plus collaboration tools, such as Google Workspace. In the area of infrastructure services, Higgs is responsible for hosting, cloud platforms and networks.

“There are two key elements to my role,” he says. “The first part is ensuring that my team delivers those services for the UK, parts of Europe, and the rest of the world. The second element of my role is ensuring that, wherever possible, we are delivering those products and services in a consistent way across 90 countries.”

Dealing with integrations

Higgs “loves” his broad and multifaceted role, where he works across 90 countries around the globe. “I like being challenged – and it’s certainly challenging,” he says, suggesting the acquisitive nature of Rentokil Initial means his team is focused on integration and is always searching for new ways to bring systems and data together effectively.

“We’ve got a fantastic board. They’re absolutely willing to invest in the right technologies, the right services and the right products”
Ed Higgs, Rentokil Initial

By way of an example, Higgs refers to Rentokil Initial’s recent acquisition of Terminix. He says it’s the latest in a long line of purchases, which create important objectives for his team. “We acquire on average just over one company a week,” he says. “And those integrations bring complexities. It’s challenging work, but it’s also fun.”

One of Higgs’ big achievements during his time with the business is reducing 77 datacentres around the world into three facilities based in Europe, Asia and North America. His team also built the technical stack that supports those consolidated datacentres. This process has taken the pressure off technology operations in national organisations, allowing business units to concentrate on delivering value instead of simply managing IT operations.

As well as looking for opportunities for consolidation and standardisation, Higgs explains how an ongoing search for digital solutions to intractable business challenges means his team gets to test out what he refers to as innovative technologies.

“We have to make sure we don’t take careless risks, but we are willing to be early adopters,” he says. “We’ve got a fantastic board. They’re absolutely willing to invest in the right technologies, the right services and the right products, and have done so over the past few years significantly to make sure that we’re in a really good place in terms of our compliance and our security posture.”

Embracing new technologies

When it comes to embracing innovation, Higgs gives the example of software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). Just over five years ago, Rentokil Initial was an early adopter of SD-WAN technology, where it used the network to support 700-plus sites across five continents. More recently, the company has been testing and deploying connected rodent traps based on the internet of things.

“We’ve got millions of connected devices out there. When a pest goes into one of our connected traps, it sends a message to our central command centre. That means we know when there’s activity and we need to go and visit an organisation,” he says.

“That’s changing the model of the business – instead of going to visit every site every day to check for activity and to look for pests, we can wait until we get an alert from the connected traps. That capability is changing the dynamics of pest control for the better.”

“We’ve got millions of connected devices out there. When a pest goes into one of our connected traps, it sends a message to our central command centre. That means we know when there’s activity and we need to visit an organisation”

Ed Higgs, Rentokil Initial

As well as providing benefits to the business and its customers, Higgs says embracing innovation makes it easier to attract and retain talent. In an increasingly competitive IT labour market, the ability to get hold of and keep capable staff is critical to business success.

“It’s not always easy to attract people into the pest-control industry because it’s not particularly sexy,” he says. “But when we get people in for an interview, they can see everything we’re doing and everything we’re working on. They’re keen to join and then we retain those people. Over the years I’ve been here, we’ve built up a really good team that I love working with – and because they get to do interesting and challenging stuff, they stay.”

Moving to the cloud

Higgs continues to hone his approach to customer services, workplace services and infrastructure services. Across these three core areas, VMware technology plays a key role.

Rentokil Initial has been a user of the virtualisation platform vSphere for the past decade. The company also uses the device and application management platform Workspace One, which helps with security, compliance and visibility, and the endpoint protection technology Carbon Black. Higgs says this combination of technologies makes it easy to integrate new employees into the enterprise.

“Everything is based on personas, everything’s pre-approved,” he says. “We give them a device; they log in, and – with Workspace One – it downloads all the applications they need to do their jobs. It just makes their initial experience great. And if they change position, we can click a button and put everything they need in the right groups and they get the right apps. It just makes everything so much easier to control.”

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Other VMware technologies used by the business include the hyperconverged infrastructure technology VSAN and the network virtualisation and security platform NSX. Rentokil Initial also recently moved its EMEA datacentre to the infrastructure-as-a-service platform Google Cloud VMware Engine.

Higgs says one of the benefits of using VMware’s stack – particularly Google Cloud VMware Engine – is that the company has reduced the number of environments it relies on to provision its applications and has been able to boost performance for users. With Europe’s datacentre moved to a new platform, the firm’s other two facilities are next.

“We haven’t consolidated the other two global datacentres yet,” he says. “We’re adhering to the hardware refresh lifecycle, so we’ve got the Asia and US datacentres to deal with towards the end of 2023. We’ve also got a new a new datacentre in Memphis, following our purchase of Terminix, but we haven’t started detailed planning yet.”

Taking the next step

Looking forward, Higgs says his big priority for the next 12 months will be ensuring the successful integration of Terminix into the Rentokil Initial business.

“Because of their size, the process won’t be as simple as going in and putting in place our usual systems and processes,” he says. “They do some really good stuff. It will be very much about a meeting of minds and using the best of both organisations.”

Another key focus will be security. “That’s about keeping one step ahead of the people who are trying to infiltrate us,” he says, before suggesting that Carbon Black will play a key role and also help ensure that any newly purchased business is securely integrated into the wider organisation.

“We need to act quickly,” he says. “We can’t have a backlog because, if we wait, we might have another 10 acquisitions to deal with after a couple of months. We need to make sure we can provision new capacity as quickly as possible and that’s one of the major benefits of our integrated technology platform.”

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