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CIO Interview: Mike Young, CIO, Dentsu Aegis Network

CIO Mike Young describes how Dentsu Aegis Network used technology to become a consolidated company with a unified collaboration strategy

Dentsu Aegis Network is a media and digital marketing company consisting of six global brands, each of which has its own presence across the world.

When Mike Young started as CIO of Dentsu Aegis three years ago, it was clear the firm needed a transformative IT leader to help it use technology to develop a unified approach to collaboration, data and IT infrastructure.

Bringing the business together

Young describes his job as bringing together the technology and data strategy for the brands under the Dentsu Aegis umbrella. 

According to Young, the business has been supportive in moving the “legacy CIO role” from behind the scenes to the boardroom.

“Much like our Japanese parent we put a lot of emphasis on looking after the client and making sure we’re meeting customer needs,” says Young.

“When you consider 50% of our revenues and a number of our brands are digitally enabled, technology sits at the core of everything we do,” he says.

With 27,000 employees serving more than 500 clients in over 110 countries around the world, it was important for Dentsu Aegis to make sure its technology and data strategy was the same across all of its offerings.

“When I turned up three years ago, it looked like a business that had been pulled together through a lot of mergers and acquisitions,” says Young.

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“A lot of the tech felt like it was bolted on rather than something synonymous with centralised services and products,” he adds.

This led to an expensive and inefficient architecture running both old and new systems, which needed to be consolidated.

“When you’ve got disparate IT, where it looks and feels different on a market-by-market basis, the customer is going to feel that [and] they’re going to see it,” says Young.

Though some parts of the business have technology specific to that brand or its clients, Dentsu Aegis followed a unified approach to collaboration across the firm.

“If you’re using IT, it should be the same anywhere in the world,” says Young. “The core of everything we’ve got in the centre acts as that central hub, with the technology systems around a big datacentre and collaboration tools.”  

Reducing inefficient technology

When Young joined as CIO, the firm had around 600 IT staff managing separate systems with different functions across the different markets it operated in.

Dentsu Aegis outsourced its operations and engineering to Tata Consulting to centralise servers and some IT architecture.

It began by consolidating its servers and datacentres, reducing 80 servers to one global exchange, and 50 local datacentres to four datacentres in key regions across the world.

The firm now has one datacentre in both Hong Kong and New York and two in London on separate sites.

“In moving from 50 datacentres to four and lifting all those boxes and all that architecture out of the market, there was disruption – there always is,” says Young.

“Despite in-depth planning and your best endeavours, you don’t always maintain the service where you’d want it to be,” he says. “You end up with two [systems] – you end up with the legacy and you end up with the new.” 

“When you’ve got the new to the point where it’s a living and breathing animal, you’re starting to build a centralised architecture,” he adds.

The firm now has all of its own architecture, which is based on the most up-to-date version of Microsoft’s software offerings, including AX Dynamics, Lync and SharePoint, as well as Windows 7 and 8.1.

This has moved Dentsu Aegis's IT expenditure against company revenue to 5%, down from around 7.8%.

Ahead of the competition

Of all of the IT projects embarked upon since his introduction to the company, Young believes the firm’s implementation of its centralised datahub is what will put it ahead of the competition.

Although the competition has now begun the journey towards centralisation, he believes Dentsu Aegis’s datahub will have it far ahead by the time the competition catches up.

Technology sits at the core of everything we do

Mike Young, Dentsu Aegis Network

“One of the issues CIOs have to contend with is how to bring the data story together while doing this other stuff around the tech,” says Young.

“We’ve deliberately made our IT transformation process a move to simplified architecture rich in collaboration tools with one provider – Microsoft – to allow us to tap into the simplified data architecture that gives us,” he says.

The hub, which is based on Cloudera, has a service-oriented architecture and allows the firm and its clients to analyse customer data and adapt their marketing strategy to boost sales.

The hub hosts global applications that are available to all clients, connecting them to the big data system, and allows use of a statistical model called “R”, allowing on-boarding, cleansing and analytical insight, all in real-time.

“That’s very different from just making data look visually appealing; this is about drawing insight from core data really quickly,” says Young.

Young uses Home Depot as an example of a client which could benefit from the hub, as it could analyse weather patterns so the hardware shop can arrange in-store marketing to place high selling items in the best area at the right time to drive sales.  

Centralised collaboration

Dentsu Aegis used Microsoft Sharepoint to allow the fast launch of its intranet and collaboration system Neon, which acts as a central hub for members of the business to keep up to date about company information and news.

“All of the brands have their information on there and all of the internal departments have their information on there. [Neon] has been a real beacon in working out what everyone’s doing and how we might talk about certain things in the business,” says Young.

“This wasn’t the case 18 months to two years ago. We had something in the region of 28 or 29 separate intranet sites, now we’ve just got one,” he adds.

The firm also uses Microsoft Lync company-wide for file sharing, video conferencing and chat, helping to unify the separate brands and regions.

“With 27,000 employees across 110 countries, [there is] inorganic growth because you continue to grow through mergers and acquisitions,” Young says. “You’ve got to find a way of getting the employees you bring in through that process on to your platform as quickly as you possibly can.”

In 2014, the firm incorporated 25 more companies and is planning to take on the same, if not more, in 2015.  

“We’re constantly reinventing the way the brands work and that brings a push coming from the other side,” says Young.

“You don’t get bolted on here; you become part of the family,” he says.

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