PODCAST SEPTEMBER 8, 2021
S P E A K E R S
Lucy Hallam, Colin McCarthy, Sumit Kohli
Driving technology transformation at scale and speed is difficult no doubt. But if companies stand still, technologies stagnate and processes remain untested, the IT leaders behind them stall, too. From chaos comes clarity, let's listen to how our changemakers got started!
Narrator: Technology has changed the way we live our lives.
We chat with friends and family on Zoom. Our phones buzz with live news alerts. We date each other; not in cafes and bars, but through apps. YouTube chefs show us how to cook, and fitness influencers teach us how to stay in shape.
In a single generation, we’ve gone from all-analog to digital native.
At work, it’s the same story… well, almost.
Whether you’re a doctor or a designer, a teacher or translator, your work probably relies on tech.
Email connects you with the outside world.
Cloud storage secures your information.
Chat apps and video tools help you collaborate with your coworkers.
But all this stuff is… clunky.
While the hardware and software in our personal lives is cutting edge, our workplace tech lags behind. It’s cumbersome, unintuitive, and archaic.
Lucy Hallam: There was substandard reporting, there was poor communication option. There was no performance management capability as well, and it also had the inability to access the system from off premise.
Narrator: That’s Lucy Hallam, Service Desk Manager at the Croydon Health Services NHS Trust in London.
Narrator: That’s Lucy Hallam, Service Desk Manager at the Croydon Health Services NHS Trust in London.
She’s been with the NHS — that's the National Health Service, the UK’s Government-run health system — for more than 20 years. During her time there, she’s seen first-hand how technological innovation can slow down.
While the rest of the world was racing forward and introducing new cloud service desks, Lucy’s team was stuck working with a dated platform.
Lucy Hallam: The system that we used was called Track-It!, I think we'd been using it probably for about 12 years…
Lucy Hallam: It had a ticket system and it had reporting, but it didn't have scheduled reporting. So, that was a lot of work for me to draw up reports every month when they were required, but there was no knowledge based, there was no automation, the self service was very poor and not many people tended to use it.
Lucy Hallam: There was no performance management capability as well, and it also had the inability to access the system from off premise, in case of like any major incidents or disaster recovery scenarios.
Narrator: Lucy’s experience isn’t all that unusual. Business leaders often stick with what they know works, rather than risking stability on an untested replacement. As they say: Better the devil you know than an unknown angel.
But even when there’s executive buy-in, there’s no guarantee of progress.
Collin McCarthy: Historically I've always generally reported into a finance director or CFO, I've never reported into a CIO or a CTO. And I would always say to them, “How am I doing? I see you're hiring these other, chief of strategy and chief of product, et cetera. Will you ever be employing a CIO or a CTO to come in above us?” And they would always say, “We currently have no need or intention or desire to hire above you.” And I've always carried on being able to do the job above me.
Narrator: Meet Colin McCarthy. He’s been the highest-ranking IT professional at media company Essence since… well… forever.
Colin McCarthy: The size of the IT team was about 6 foot and 190 pounds. It was me. I was the first full-time IT support person.
Narrator: This was back in 2010, when Essence was way smaller than it was today. It had just one office and around 60 employees. As the lone IT support engineer, Colin supported the whole company.
But Essence didn’t stay small for long. The media company expanded around the world, opening 22 new offices and hiring more than 2,000 employees. As it expanded, Colin’s role grew with it.
He took over as IT manager in 2012 and then associate director in 2015. In 2017, he took on a global IT role and just this year he stepped into a VP position for Essence’s parent company, GroupM.
But even though Colin had enough autonomy to drive wide-ranging changes, his technology looked a lot like Lucy’s.
Colin McCarthy: I could probably look it up in my email history, when I changed from people emailing me to emailing a group, I think I was going to go on vacation probably in 2011. I was like, "Oh, I can't have people emailing me while I'm on vacation for IT support. So, let's launch a group and … the emails will come to my account.
Colin McCarthy: And that worked perfectly, that email group worked perfectly there was me and this other guy. I mean, there was two of us, and then we brought on somebody else and it was three and it worked, and then we brought on a few more people.
Colin McCarthy: And over the years, there was sort of eight of us globally on that email group. And if people would have a problem and they would email it in and somebody would pick it up.
Colin McCarthy: And that was working when we had maybe I think 400, maybe 500 users in maybe five or six offices and there was eight of us. But then when we had a very large expansion of the company in 2018, and we went from 8 members of the IT team to 16 in a year, that email group just wasn't working anymore.
Narrator: As Essence grew, its systems stayed the same. Eventually, the cracks began to show. Requests would get missed. Engineers picked off easy requests, leaving complicated issues for later. Emails that arrived overnight would get buried by a flurry of morning messages. For Colin, who was trying to keep tabs on everything, it was a nightmare. He had no way of knowing what his engineers were working on or what stage any request was at.
It was frustrating, but not entirely unexpected. At high-growth companies, it’s more a case of when — not if — the business outpaces its systems.
Colin knew things had to change. And as the senior IT leader, he could pull the trigger himself.
But most Changemakers can’t kick-off such a large project on their own. In fact, sometimes they don’t have a say in it at all.
Sumit Kohli: I came back from the paternity leave and sat down. I was going through my inbox catching up on emails and my manager walks up to me: "Hey, Sumit." I said, "Hi, good morning."
And, we had a chat, and he said, "This is your first project, you need to find a help desk platform, and these were the ones that were actually looked at about a year ago. . So, this is the list for you to begin with, short list it, and we need to actually make it live with the opening of new Zurich office, which is in January 2019."
Narrator: That’s Sumit Kohli, Head of Collaboration Platforms at EF Education First.
Sumit knew that Education First had committed to a cloud-first transformation. But that he was to update the legacy support desk? That was news. And the fact he had just three months to do it? Yeah, that left him a little nervous.
But the Changemaker wasn’t phased. He’d spent the previous four years fighting with Education First’s old system. Not even a tight timeline was going to put him off.
Sumit Kohli: The product, actually, over the period of time, has grown organically. So, it meant that we needed the database, we needed the servers, we needed the infrastructures to support it. Which, meant that we need to actually have one dedicated person looking at the code, and then we need to actually have someone to look at the database, and maintain the physical hardware, which wasn't worthwhile.
It might not have been the setup he’d dreamed of, but Sumit owned the initiative. With the backing of his boss and management, he felt comfortable ripping up the rule book. He tossed out the old platform and introduced a multi-functional and scalable alternative.
He didn’t just transform IT.
He took his helpdesk platform to neighboring departments like finance and office services, too.
In some ways, having a project dictated to you is better. You have the authority and the budget to drive change.
To drive a transformation from the ground up, IT leaders first need to win over hearts and minds.
So what happened to Lucy, the Changemaker who endured years of tech stagnation?
The healthcare Trust she works for welcomed new management in 2017. They brought fresh ideas and different perspectives.
Overnight, the whole culture changed.
Lucy Hallam: It's exciting, because obviously they've got ideas, they've got experience from how things work outside the organization at different trusts. Because I think the management we had prior to the change, they had been within the trust for a long time. So, there was kind of no insight of how other trusts work, building relationships with local organizations.
Narrator: Lucy sensed an opportunity. With new leaders bent on transformation, she guessed they would be open to modernisation suggestions and initiatives.
But there was a problem.
Although she knew the service desk was woefully underpowered, she couldn’t prove it… because the tool itself lacked enough reporting capability.
With only her first-hand account for proof, her new IT Director, Leroy Adamson-Parks went in search of outside help. He commissioned the Service Desk Institute to undertake an assessment audit to benchmark the current service desk against industry best practice.
Lucy Hallam: At the end of this assessment, Croydon was only raised a 1.06 against the National Trust average of 2.36. So, we had the lowest score of any NHS service desk in the last four years. So, whilst this target review included policy, resources and processes, there were significant limitations that were highlighted with the current tool.
So, the tool was identified as a major obstacle to allow progression of service improvement within operational teams.
Narrator: The report was conclusive: Things had to change.
Lucy proposed a transformation initiative to rebuild the service desk. The Trust’s management rallied behind her. They told her, “You know the Trust. You know the service desk. Go fix it.”
And she did… but that’s a story for another day.
Franklin Roosevelt once said: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
That mantra holds true amid a sea of server stacks as it does on the open ocean.
If companies stand still, technologies stagnate, and processes remain untested, the IT leaders behind them stall, too.
But by building new systems and processes in a high-growth environment, Colin McCarthy flourished as a leader. By seizing a surprise opportunity with both hands, Sumit Kohli owned his small part of a company-wide cloud-first revolution. And by tackling change within an NHS trust, Lucy redefined what transformation can look like at large, bureaucratic organizations.
The most exciting thing is: these IT leaders are just getting started.
On the next episode of The Changemakers…
Prasad Ramakrishnan: So we kicked off what I call as a democratic process for software selection.
Prasad Ramakrishnan: We did is we did a bake-off between all the tools and I made it democratic where I had users and my IT engineers, both using the tool to try and see whether they like it from an end-user perspective, from an agent perspective, because what most people forget about is the tool that the IT engineer uses to provide service to the end customer matters.
Thanks for joining us.