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CIO Interview: Grant Hodgkinson, Mimecast

CIO and vice-president of digital operations at the email security expert explains the importance of electronic communication in the modern business environment

As organisations have become larger and more flexible, there’s been an increase in collaboration software, offering employees alternative ways to communicate.

However, as Grant Hodgkinson, CIO and vice-president of digital operations at Mimecast points out, email will always have its place amongst businesses, as there is no way to determine if external contacts will be utilising the same software.

“Inside of business I think email is certainly changing and we’re embracing some of those technologies ourselves. If you look at rapid communication there are technologies that are certainly offering value – instant messenger comes to mind ­­– and those internally are very interesting use cases,” says Hodgkinson.

“I think when you’re collaborating externally you’ve got to focus on what is the lowest common denominator.”

Use cases for email

Many firms have now adopted collaboration tools for working internally, for example Mimecast uses Slack. But, Hodgkinson points out not every firm will be using the same software.

“If I could engage people externally using Slack, maybe that would be possible,” says Hodgkinson. “However, I don’t have a level of assurance that every single one of my trading partners is utilising it, so I have to move down to the lowest common denominator, which today is email.”

Hodgkinson also points out that firms are increasingly sharing digital versions of documents such as invoices and contracts – something email helps to properly monitor.

“You’ve got to have something that can be tested in a court of law. You want to be able to prove deliverability and email is unique in that it has certain aspects – people can use it communicate digitally and it can also be tested legally,” says Hodgkinson.

Hodgkinson also highlights that email can be used in more formal conversations to keep track of threads, as more collaborative tools tend to reflect informal conversation, making it difficult to find where different topics were discussed and with whom.  

“Email is very useful in that almost every single email has a subject line, so if you have multiple threads ongoing with a particular collaboration partner, having a subject line per thread means that you can compartmentalise the different conversations you’re having,” says Hodgkinson.

Services for a service provider

Mimecast uses NetSuite’s OneWorld cloud platform to run its financial and ERP processes, but NetSuite also runs its email security through Mimecast, giving the two firms a mutual relationship.

“We help people secure corporate email and we provide archiving services for corporates, but we’re still a business so we need accounting management software, business management software,” says Hodgkinson.

“NetSuite is a business, it has email, so it needs to secure its email, so it just made sense to have a symbiotic relationship,” adds Hodgkinson.

Although Mimecast is responsible for providing services for other firms, Hodgkinson explains that using software from providers to run some of its internal processes is still a more viable option than making its own.

Especially where finances are involved, firms “don’t want to take responsibility” for building and maintaining their own internal systems, says Hodgkinson, and auditors “aren’t going to be thrilled” by the prospect of firms who have gone down that route.

Mimecast originally adopted OneWorld eight years ago as the business scaled globally, using the software to consolidate its customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms.

Finding IT talent

According to Hodgkinson, Mimecast has had little trouble finding IT talent, but he claims this may be because of the firm’s decision to focus on an individual’s passion rather than specific skills.

“I think there are two things you need to look for when you’re hiring people. One is skill and the other is passion,” says Hodgkinson.

“If people have the right passion then we can give them the skill. It’s very difficult to do it the other way around. So we tend to focus on people that are passionate,” adds Hodgkinson.

Hodgkinson claims putting in place mentorship helps organisations equip applicants with skills, just so long as employees have passion for technology and the business.

Hodgkinson also claims the more modern “IT geeks” do not necessarily fit into the old stereotypes and people without some social skills can often be moulded to fit the roles they are needed in.

Projects of the future

Although Mimecast has been a NetSuite customer for eight years, the firm is now looking at the possibility of implementing the new NetSuite Billing offering to handle its billing and subscription management processes.

Over the next 12 months, Mimecast hopes to implement a technology such as this to become more agile, and the firm is also looking to streamline some of its services already offered by NetSuite.

“Over the last eight years the NetSuite team has just responded to business requirements and we’ve ended up with a very customised environment of NetSuite. The team up until now has just been responding to that,” says Hodgkinson.

Although this customised version of NetSuite has met Mimecast’s business requirements, the firm has used the last 12 months to look at its global operations to ensure the solution fits what is needed in every region, as opposed to single employee’s needs.

“For example, you could see a sales person in the field who does not speak to another sales person in another geography and you end up with conflicting requirements,” says Hodgkinson.

“The NetSuite team has become the diplomat to resolve those issues. That’s not a great place to be, so putting in the right structure and the right conversations with senior leaders in our organisations about how we will transition this has been very useful.”

However, Hodgkinson explains where he has found the most value in Mimecast’s relationship with NetSuite is the ability to build upon the standard offering and partner with NetSuite’s partners and customers.

“The value of NetSuite isn’t about what you get out of NetSuite – it’s also about what you get through the partner community,” says Hodgkinson.

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