Removing IT as a barrier to doing businessJun 23, 2017
From Day 1, Andrew Lennox has focused on removing technology as a barrier to doing business at All Weather Windows. When he joined Canada’s largest privately-owned window and door company, the organization was experiencing constant network outages and IT issues. Legacy applications didn’t integrate well and manual processes led to frequent human errors. Additionally, hardware/network redundancy was lacking and software releases were not being managed using best practices.
Philosophically an entrepreneur at heart, Lennox recognizes the importance of considering the business outlook in IT decisions. As a result, he doesn’t view IT purely from an IT perspective. He recognizes that IT must be positioned in a way to enable the business.
“I was very clear about my mandate when I came to the company,” says Lennox. “If we had technology that wasn’t enabling the business, we had to remove or replace it. I met with resistance at first, but after time, I gained a reputation as someone who put the business, not just IT, first.”
Culture of innovation
Lennox believes that there is truth to the statement that every company should become a technology company. In the fenestration (windows and doors) industry, innovation primarily impacts manufacturing. Many companies are moving from manual labour to automation to build product. There is also a growing emphasis on data analytics in driving process and supply chain efficiencies.
Lennox has worked hard to position IT as a driver of innovation for the business. Currently, All Weather Windows is halfway through its IT innovation journey. Lennox has worked with his team (and partners like TELUS) to establish a strong IT foundation, including a recently deployed private MPLS network. In the current environment, eighty five percent of IT runs in the cloud, with most new business tools being cloud based. The transformation has led to a one-third reduction in the data centre footprint, energy savings and further risk mitigation. Now, the company’s network performance is solid, and Lennox is planning on implementing managed security for optimum protection.
“The cloud has been truly transformational for us. We now run our phone system (Skype for Business, powered by TELUS) and ERP in the cloud. Doing so has allowed us to improve internal and external collaboration as well as enable self-service for our clients for an improved customer experience. For builder clients, for example, not having to take time away from managing sites to do admin and paper work is a huge advantage.”
Outsourcing is essential
In Lennox’s view, much of IT has matured to the point of being a commodity. The decision then becomes whether to manage those aspects of IT in house or rely on a third party.
“Outsourcing the commodity pieces of IT allows me to refocus resources on innovation and strategic value,” says Lennox. “I am a fierce advocate of outsourcing anything that keeps the lights on and has matured to the point of commodity.”
For most companies right now, IT spend and staff resourcing are not increasing. It’s essential to find ways to use existing resources efficiently and redirect them. Lennox’s strategy centres on freeing up funds and resources out of operations, so that money and time can be funneled to, and repurposed for, innovation. In fact, Lennox has instituted “Innovation Friday,” when his IT team members get the opportunity to work on initiatives they feel will move the company forward.
“When you can show the CFO that IT has remained flat from a financial perspective, but still continues to drive value, it’s a huge credibility boost. Outsourcing allows IT leaders to get off the hamster wheel and drive progressive improvements,” says Lennox.
With 50 per cent of the innovation journey still to come, what is Lennox most excited about? He is most looking forward to ridding the environment of all infrastructure headaches – which means moving even further toward full outsourced management.
“My goal is to get to a point where my sole focus is on applications and using them to drive value in the business. I really believe that’s where IT needs to go to remain relevant, support the business and combat the growth of shadow IT,” says Lennox.
So what does he recommend to other IT leaders looking to drive innovation in their organizations?
First, outsource what can be outsourced to free up your resources and yourself. Innovation requires time and energy, which doesn’t exist if you’re immersed in keeping the lights on. The approach will be different for every organization based on the business model. Evaluate the business model critically to determine what’s most important.
When working with partners, make sure that they have a long-term focus and are looking to solve your problems rather than just sell you products. It’s also important that they share a similar forward-thinking mindset – breaking down old stigmas and ways of doing business internally.
“For me, an innovation mindset means removing IT as a barrier to doing business, while allowing IT to focus on areas where we can add more value. By choosing a strong network partner, moving to the cloud and outsourcing a large majority of IT management, All Weather Windows is in a great position to innovate and pioneer new approaches in our industry,” says Lennox.