When Colin McCarthy joined Essence more than a decade ago, it wasn’t the global media and technology powerhouse it is today. The company comprised just one London office and fewer than 60 employees. (Compare that to 22 global offices and 2,000-plus employees today.) By contrast, Essence’s IT support team was even smaller.
“The team was around 6 foot and 190 pounds,” McCarthy says with a smile. “It was me. I was Essence’s first full-time IT support person.
But neither Essence nor its IT team would stay small for long. A few years into McCarthy’s tenure, the company sent a handful of employees to New York to open a U.S. office. Within two years, the enclave had grown to include 30 people, kickstarting a new period of rapid growth and success for the business.
McCarthy has stuck with Essence through its global expansion, The company’s leadership, he says, has never tried to hire over his head, allowing him space and autonomy to grow into a series of new roles: IT manager, IT director, and, today, VP of Global IT.
Just as this Changemaker has evolved and matured, so have the systems, technologies, and processes around him — including one particularly impactful IT service management transformation.
CHASING THE AMERICAN DREAM
Following the successful opening of its New York office, Essence offered McCarthy the opportunity to move stateside and head up IT in North America. He jumped at the offer and moved to the U.S. in the fall of 2012. Amid the company’s sustained growth, he says he adopted a more proactive and strategic mindset.
“Initially, in London, I would wander around the office and see what needed to be improved,” he recalls. “But after I transferred to New York, I started to get more serious. I created an annual budget and planned out projects.”
McCarthy celebrated a couple of early wins, including migrating antivirus providers across the company’s 200-strong workforce — a project he describes as deceptively complex.
But the bread and butter of his work was IT service management. At first, it seemed like a simple job. McCarthy had a public email address, and people emailed him for support: forgotten passwords, malfunctioning servers, and the like. Looking back, he concedes that the system wasn’t scalable, but it wasn’t the company’s rapid growth that convinced him to change. The trigger for change was, in fact, a vacation.
THE HARD PART IS FINDING A SOLUTION
Identifying the problem — Essence’s email group — was the easy part of the transformation, says McCarthy. Finding an alternative and rolling it out to an organization still in the throes of rapid expansion was the real challenge.
He opted against a rigid request for proposal (RFP). Having worked in IT for more than a decade, McCarthy says he knew the big players in the IT service management industry. Through conversations with his peers, he narrowed his choice to two frontrunners and requested demos for both. Using a list of necessary criteria as a yardstick, he evaluated the options and eventually selected a platform to run with: Freshservice. .
New platform selected, it would have been easy to try to improve everything at once, designing out every last process and system. But McCarthy resisted the temptation. He had seen change management initiatives bite off too much and end up in an endless cycle of design. He was determined not to make that same mistake.
“Change management projects often take so long to get off the ground because they think everything has to be minutely planned out,” he says. “While that’s right for some organizations, there's nothing wrong with just setting up a system and adjusting it on the fly.”
Instead of chasing day-one perfection, McCarthy launched Freshservice with his old processes. Once he had live data, he began making tweaks and changes. This approach unearthed ways of working that he would never have considered if he had designed the system on paper.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Essence’s employees shifted to remote work. Their professional and personal lives became intertwined, and requests began to pour in at odd times. Before the pandemic, an employee in the New York office would almost always submit IT requests between nine and five. But with people looking after kids, McCarthy realized they were logging on later in the evening to get a couple of hours of uninterrupted work.
In the old IT system, requests were handled by geography. New York engineers handled New York requests. But with east-coast employees submitting requests outside east-coast hours, that system no longer worked. McCarthy scrapped the geographical limits and restructured workflows around time. Now, if an employee in Manhattan asks for help at seven in the evening, an engineer in San Francisco, where it’s only four in the afternoon, can pick up the ticket.
“Those are the sort of gradual improvements we implemented as we went along, he says. We had the ability to learn and refine the product in a live setting, which we couldn’t have done in a hypothetical environment.”
NEVER COMPLETE AND ALWAYS IMPROVING
Going into his IT service management transformation, McCarthy never created an official success rubric or grade sheet. Instead, he based success on one question: How easy was it to improve his team’s workflow and allocate tickets?
Reflecting on his progress, the IT Changemaker is proud of what he’s accomplished. He overhauled the company’s ITSM with virtually no complaints or pushback.