An interview with Maggy McClelland

January 2010

Maggy McClellandMaggy McClelland, Head of Managed Services at Colt, recently spoke to Justin Richards about managed services, virtualisation, project management, women in IT, and service management.

Can you give us a potted history of yourself?

I’ve have been in the IT sector since the mid 80’s when I joined British Gas as a business analyst; I was working in the management development function. One of the managers was looking for a user project manager, to manage pretty much anything needing HIT development.

I actually did my systems analysis training with BCS, (the systems analysis and design training), in the days of LSDM and SSADM. Then British Gas decided to centralise all of their IT, so I ended up managing the systems development team, which was aimed at cradling one unified set of applications to support a unified British Gas.

I eventually left British Gas and joined the Computer Sciences Corporation. I did lots of interesting things there and then went to IBM Global Services on their Industrial Sector.

I then joined Integra, which was a sub division of BT. and a couple of months after joining Integra they decided to integrate Integra into big BT, so I found myself back in telecoms. I left BT last year, after five very good years there, and joined Colt in December to head up their managed services division.

How would you define managed services?

I think that’s a good question because people talk about IT managed services as if it’s a new phenomenon, but it has been around for along time, in a lot of companies like IBM, CSE and EDS who, for many years, have been selling managed services. There are both managed services and managed hosting and they tend to get linked together under the heading managed services.

Typically IT managed services would seek to take over the responsibility for managing and monitoring a customer’s IT infrastructure. You could call that infrastructure out-tasking. The client retains ownership of the infrastructure, but they seek third party support for the management and monitoring of that infrastructure.

Another part of managed services is where the client procures infrastructure from a third party and that third party will support the infrastructure on behalf of the client and the client will run their applications over that infrastructure. So in that instance the supplier is making the capital investment and the customer is buying the service and broadly they kind of incapsulate the IT managed services proposition.

So you become an integral part of your client’s business really?

Yes, and I think the recognition that one is an integral part of the client’s business is part of the cultural and mind set change that we, as an organisation, have to go through, because in a traditional telcol product company, the customer procures circuit. For example, we order it, we provision it, and we set the service live. It’s a very transactional process.

The social services that we are offering to our IT managed services business are closely aligned and integrated into the customer operations, so if we fail to deliver service the customer will immediately see degradation in their business performance. There is a much closer linkage between the operation performance of the business and the services that we provide than is typical in a more traditional telecoms product environment.

We have recently signed a contract with a customer, a media firm, and they don’t want to be distracted managing their IT infrastructure, but their IT infrastructure is an integral part of their ability to serve their customers. The state of their IT infrastructure means that it requires significant investment to upgrade, and that is a distraction not only from a financial perspective but also from a management perspective as well.

So what they’ve said is ‘we don’t want to do this, we want to focus on being a really good media company, so we need a partner who will take over our current server environment and, over the next few years, refresh that server environment, virtualise it, take the cost out of the environment and actually increase its efficiency and effectiveness.’ That’s a classic example of an IT managed service.

So you are taking over the IT bedrock so they don’t have to worry about it?

Yes, they can then concentrate on their core business.

Another example would be where a customer would need to make a significant investment, for example, in their office applications, including Microsoft Office. But rather than do that they would buy a hosted service from us.

In that first example, where the customer says please manage my infrastructure on my behalf, upgrade it, maintain it, make sure its forward compatible, we’re dealing with the infrastructure and in the second example we’ve got a customer whose saying ‘I don’t want to have to invest significant capital in buying lots of Microsoft licenses, I just want to buy a service’, so they will buy an office service from us and we will provide that on a subscription basis, meaning that the customer pays for what they use and doesn’t have to make the capital investment in the infrastructure or investment in people to maintain that. And we have seen that that’s becoming an increasingly popular proposition.

The IT industry is very good at coming up with labels for things, cloud computing is one. I think there are 33 definitions and rising. But if you think about it, from a business perspective, it’s offering the opportunity to buy compute resources on demand, that I can flex up and down depending on need and that I can pay for on a per usage basis. So conceptually you can see why CIO’s find that very attractive.

Do you think the current popularity of cloud computing and virtualisation will continue?

I think a couple of things have happened. One, the economic climate has created a greater imperative to look for cost efficiency, cost effectiveness and more effective use of capital. If you can avoid increasing your fixed cost space, if you can avoid making large capital investments, it’s an attractive proposition. I think also the technology’s just matured. It’s continued to mature; so has virtualisation.

We have spoken to many CIO’s and over 75 per cent of CIO’s are either implementing their own virtualisation projects or considering implementing their own virtualisation projects. The impact of virtualisation means that you get a better performance out of your assets, so there’s a cost advantage there. But that same technology is enabling service providers, like us, to offer third part services, which give CIO’s a broader range of choices.

However, I think the reality is that these models are not binary. I don’t think there will ever be a case where a CIO buys everything from a third party; neither do I think it is feasible for CIO’s to do everything in-house themselves. So we’ll probably see the three models you know co-existing, where an element of your IT will be DIY, an element you will procure from a managed service provider, and there will be an increase in demand for things like software as a service (SaaS).

What do you think the big challenges are for companies like yourself and other people in your sector?

I think CIOs will be concerned about procuring third party services, especially these cloud services that we talk about. It’s about control, about security; where is my data, who has got access to it, what are the policy controls that sit around it, how do we ensure that my data’s been managed and maintained in a secure way, to know where it is?

One of the big questions that we had at a recent CIO conference was what should stay and what should go, and if it goes, where does it go? It’s going to be interesting to see how companies like Amazon, who are increasingly offering Amazon Business services, (ABS), address those concerns. Because it’s argued that whilst CIO’s may accept the idea that an application, like, is provided over the public internet, they are not going to be as comfortable taking those decisions when it comes to more business critical applications, where you are talking about very sensitive data and the big concerns about security and policy.

What would be more challenging at this moment is to provide that enterprise class of service, at all levels and all elements of the solution. They are the key things front and centre of CIO’s mind; policy, security, and data protection.

What are your green policies and how are you looking towards the future in an environmental way?

We are conscious that it’s an issue for us, as a firm, and it’s also becoming increasingly a consideration for CIO’s as they buy services from third parties. We have developed an approach to building our own data centres which reduces the carbon footprint quite significantly. We are very excited about the technology that we have developed.

It enables us to build data centre capacity on a respond to demand footing, so we can build out data centre capacity in smaller units. It’s much more energy efficient, both in terms of powering the IT equipment and in terms of cooling, because cooling is one of the biggest challenges and consumes massive amounts of power.

I think green issues are really important. It is one of those things that require corporate ownership.

The number of women in IT is quite low, hovering around the 19-20 per cent mark. Why do you think that is?

I think you’d find a similar demographic with engineering in general. IT, I think, is seen as an engineering career; it is technical. Some people think that you have to go through the technical routes, that you are going to do a technical bias degree and that you are going to be a programmer, or a team leader, or architect. I think traditionally those roles haven’t appealed to women, although that is changing.

I was involved in an initiative last year with the government about encouraging people that wish to change careers to actually look at science, maths and technology teaching as career alternatives, and I think we are seeing many more young women doing science-based careers.

I think it is very easy to sit in a position of senior authority and say well I don’t know what women are moaning about, because it wasn’t an issue for me. I’ve worked since my children were young. My children are now 23/24, so I’ve bought up a family and done all of the usual stuff. If I speak at women’s networks, and quite often the question will be ‘what was the key to your success’ and you sit rattling your brains, and you know what, it’s hard work, and the idea that you can have it all is complete nonsense in my view, and has done women a great disservice. I certainly haven’t had it all, I’ve had to sacrifice and I look back at my children’s lives and there were times when I wasn’t there when I should have been.

I think we do need more role models; they should probably be more visible. I think some of the female role models do tend to not comply with most women’s view of working life, i.e. they tend to be very glamorous and beautiful and haven’t had children. So I think finding women who have got up every morning, done the breakfast, changed the nappies, commuted to work, worked hard, sacrificed various elements of family life and still made it, whatever that may mean, (because it is a personal definition), is difficult.

Talking about role models, is there anyone who has inspired you, particularly in the IT side of things?

Well there was the lady who was running Sandon. She was very inspirational. I think she also coped with an illness. She came across as very pragmatic, very hard working, as a very approachable individual, who didn’t get wrapped up in the glamour of this thing called success.

When I look at people that I admire in business, I think leadership is one of those terms that is overused and underdelivered. I think there are very few good leaders. There are a lot of successful people, but are very few good leaders, and by that I mean people who are motivated, less by personal ambition and personal success and more by what is the collective opportunity that they can give, rather than what can I take. And that is probably not a very popular match.

Do you think that the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ still exists for women?

Again, I’m conscious of projecting my own experience and saying ‘no’, but for a lot of women, I’m sure, the answer would be ‘yes’. So do ceilings exist? Yes. Do they apply purely to women? No. I think that historically women have been the ones that have had to make those choices, and that just plays out as the percentage of women that have reached senior positions. I think if you ask any person, male or female, trying to juggle a successful career and family and all of the other things that make demands on our time, you’ll find they are all struggling with the same choices.

What are your views on professionalism in IT?

I think there are enough qualifications in the IT industry; people do degrees in computer science all the time. I think it depends if you are going to pursue a technical engineering career, in which case qualifications are all part of the process of learning your trade. If it’s more of a management and leadership career path, personally I don’t think you can sit and do an exam in leadership. I think a lot of it is about your own personal values and beliefs. A hell of a lot of it is about experience, and I don’t think you can sit in a classroom and learn those things.

Do you think that the government should get more involved?

I think it would be a disaster to get the government involved. I would be very nervous about getting government involved in those things.

I know lots of good CIOs that have got no technical qualifications at all. But what they have is the ability to surround themselves with the right skills and right people; they take ownership and responsibility for the competency and value that their functions have.

What are your own personal thoughts on the dos and don’ts of project management?

Having been a project manager I think one of the key things is to be very, very clear about what is it you are being asked to deliver. I think quite often there is a lot of pressure on project managers to deliver things faster, cheaper, better. If you do the root course analysis on failed projects, I suspect that somewhere in the mix; there will be ambiguity around what was required. So you need a solid base line against which you align expectations.

I think that the most successful projects are delivered where there’s a sense of partnership, of joint ownership. Quite often we end up in a situation where there’s a buyer and there’s a supplier, and it’s a very transactional relationship. If you can bridge that gap and actually create a partnership, that’s important. What do I mean by that? In a partnership, I guess there are three sets of objectives, there’s yours, there’s mine and there’s ours, and I think probably in many failed projects the lack of definition of ‘ours’ is a contributing factor to failure.

I think the IT industry, to a certain extent, has done itself a disservice. The consumerisation of IT makes it all seem so easy. We all go home and we’ve got all these wonderful bits of technology that we use in our daily lives, that are all very easy to use and very attractive, and I think these have led us all to believe that IT is easy.

So if I can go home and log on to Facebook and communicate with my son at the other side of the world and look at his photographs, use Skype to have a chat, why can’t I come into the office and find collaboration tools that enable me to do the same thing with a colleague at the other side of the building? So we kind of impose our consumer view of IT on to our enterprise view of IT. Our expectations are, therefore, are sometimes unrealistic.

What would you say are the biggest changes in the IT industry within the last five years?

I would have to say the convergence between IT and communications, which gave birth to that wonderful phrase ICT. The conversions around IP, as a communications technology, have opened up the market for telecoms companies to cross over into the IT space, but also for IT companies to manage a greater percentage of the overall ICT stack.

Do you use a service management template, like ITIL?

Yes, we are adopting the ITIL framework. We are transforming our current approach to service management, which historically has been, I would say, more about incident management.

A customer has an incident, raises a trouble ticket, we may classify it as a P3, P2, and meanwhile the customer can’t operate their business. So shifting that mind set away from responding to the technical problem, rather than the business problem, is a big part of the service management transformation. If I go and talk to a CIO about service management and I don’t know what ITIL is or why we are not adopting ITIL as our framework, then my credibility and my team’s credibility is pretty low.

Service management is front and centre of the service transformation that we are undertaking.

Quick questions

Blackberry or Smartphone?

Open source or Proprietary?
Open source.

Apple or PC?
I think Apple for personal use and PC for business.

Wii or Playstation?

Would you ever describe your self as a Geek or Nerd?
Not personally no; I aspire to be described as a geek or a nerd though.

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