by Julian Goldsmith

LGC’s Gideon Kay on big company experience

Oct 31, 20115 mins
CareersIT LeadershipTelecommunications Industry

See also: CIO Profile: LGC’s Gideon Kay on business under laboratory conditions CIO Profile: LGC’s Gideon Kay on tech supporting science activities

LGChead of IT Gideon Kay’s remit includes bringing the IT strategy more in line with the company’s convoluted business offering.

This alignment with the business is made easier by the make-up of the IT team, which Kay says is populated by many former science academics.

This gives him a huge bonus in getting engagement with non-IT staff. IT staff as a whole have a greater understanding of the criticality of the processes that go on within LGC.

However, Kay plans to bring staff in from outside the science services industry to complement that domain knowledge.

“I’m a big proponent of the value of working in different industries. There is a huge amount of innovation outside the world of pharmaceutical science and we need to tap into other communities of interest to acquire better skills in knowledge management, being more commercially-driven, negotiating with suppliers and stakeholder management. The customer portfolio is going more towards the commercial sector and these people will help that,” Kay explains.

Kay himself studied computing at Birmingham University, graduating in 1993 and taking a role in sales at IBM. He worked in pre-sales as a demonstrator, showing potential customers high-end Unix systems. He says it provided a good insight into what top-end IT could do for businesses at that time.

Kay says the highlight of that role was being involved in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. IBM was hosting a website for the event, which he says was one of the first dedicated sports sites created. Unfortunately, the site itself was hosted in Connecticut, but he values the experience of being an observer with the responsibility for reporting back the lessons learned from the project.

In 1997, Kay went to work for consulting firm Arthur Anderson. He was involved in setting up centres of excellence and exploring the possibilities of a new sort of application platform, ERP. While at the consulting firm, he was heavily involved with setting up the infrastructure to support Sky’s online activities. Again Kay values his time there for the lessons he learned about setting up IT infrastructure.

Around the same time as Arthur Anderson became embroiled in the Enron scandal, Kay moved across to the user side and joined construction giant Balfour Beatty in 2002 as IT director of its facilities management unit. “This was a big lurch for me. I was the first IT director there with a seat on the divisional board,” he recalls.

By the age of 30, he had a staff of 90 people. Five years later this expanded to 150 when he was asked by Balfour Beattie’s divisional CEO to add health and safety and logistics to his responsibilities.  This was a boom-time for construction and the company had grown too, from £180m a year turnover when he joined to £650m. Staff had grown six-fold.

“It was a role that was very much sat in my lap. I prepared myself by using some of my consulting skills. I spent time with customers and staff understanding the issues and took some advice. Linking technology with other responsibilities was a great opportunity. I had to remember that I was a member of the board and I was there to drive the business rather than as an IT function,” he says.

Building experience Kay stayed at Balfour Beattie for eight years before moving to LGC in 2010. It was another leap in terms of domain experience, but there are comparisons between the scale of his previous employer and where he is now. LGC is very much an organisation with its eyes on the future, and Kay says the drive and pace of the business was a big attraction for him.

“This is a knowledge-based business and there are a lot of intelligent people here. The leadership table has a lot of heavyweight brains and skills. It is a young business with a youth and vitality, 57 per cent of our staff are women and as the IT lead I am often challenged by non?tech people about the way the IT strategy should go.”

Given the staff demographic, social networking has a natural place in internal communications. Kay started up a company blog shortly after he joined.

Kay recognises the learning curve he has ahead of him, but is convinced the role allows him to transport skills he has learned in other industries.

The key, he says, is to keep an open mind and take the signs you see on board quickly. At Balfour Beatty, he was expected to visit as many sites as he could and this is something he has continued to do at LGC.

“It’s giving me an understanding of the stakeholders and where they’re trying to go. It’s important in making sure IT is competent enough to promote those stakeholder goals,” he says.