by Mark Chillingworth

Cape engineering CIO improves information visibility

Aug 24, 2015
CareersEnergy IndustryIT Leadership

From the second floor of Dave Jones’ office you can see the remains of the colliery that was at one time the centre of industry and employment in Goldthorpe, a part of Barnsley in the South Yorkshire. Dave Jones is CIO for Cape, an organisation whose story is one that epitomises the story of UK; Cape too was once a heavy industry player in manufacturing. Today Cape is a specialist services business to the energy and petro-chemical industries. From its UK base Cape is a global provider of specialist access (think very complicated scaffolding in industrial settings), passive fire protection, linings and insulation; oil and gas storage tanks, heat exchangers and specialist coatings as well as environmental services.

“We provide specialist industrial services in 21 countries,” Jones explains at the company’s Yorkshire office. Cape is not only providing the raw materials for insulations, Cape has become a one-stop shop for specialist tools and skilled labour.

“So we are now involved in the construction through the full asset lifecycle management to de-commissioning,” Jones says of the specialist plants and structures Cape builds in the UK, across Europe, Middle East and down in Australia. Vertical markets served are major energy, power generation, chemical manufacturing, mining and even defence organisations; customers include Bechtel, BAE; The Bahrain Petroleum Company, Sabic, EDF, Shell, BP, Exxon, Scottish and Southern Energy as well as the Sellafield nuclear plant.

“The environment can be quite challenging for IT. North West Australia is remote, it is hit by adverse weather so it is not easy to get good solid IT infrastructure into plants, so we can end up with 150 contractors using a 100 meg link,” Jones says of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plants in the outback. “We try and keep as much as we can in our data centres or the cloud, but that is a challenge if the comms are not fit for purpose. We use Riverbed for advancing the bandwidth, but that is not the way you’d choose to have things.”

Not only is the geographical location of many plants a challenge, the plant itself is a unique environment. “LNG and petro-chemical organisations are very safety conscious, as you’d expect, so there are issues with taking technology on to the sites. Like a petrol station in the UK, you cannot use a mobile phone. Also, these destinations are highly secure, so they don’t like cameras,” Jones explains of the conservative nature and compliance structures Cape has to work within.

“We could do so much, but there are barriers that are difficult to overcome,” he says of his desire to use the latest range of networking, sensing and audio visual tools to improve business processes. But as we will see, Jones and Cape leap when opportunities present themselves and one-by-one customers could be won round.

“We are using mobile with one client as they wanted an efficiency improvement. We have developed processes that have cut the duplication and improved the transparency of the inspection,” Jones says. As ever, it’s not only the client that benefits: “We have realised that we can get more data. If we have five inspectors on site you can see if there are gaps in their processes or we can see if there are issues with the plant. That gives us intelligence and a communications advantage,” Jones says of the benefits to Cape.

As to how these translate with the client he adds: “It’s about building the stories with the client. We are investing safe tablets so we can win business and can show that it enhances processes, but it won’t be the deciding factor,” Jones says. Cape has to be careful that the introduction of technology does not cause safety or security concerns, but there is a growing desire for innovation in the sector.

Gas tanks and silos

For an organisation that has a wealth of knowledge in building specialist storage facilities for industry, Cape has been focusing over the last two years on reducing the number of silos that its information resides in. Connecting and Cape Management System (CMS) is the plumbing to ensure greater collaboration to ensure the organisation can be more efficient.

“There are now around 1,800 individual documents in the whole CMS system and it’s ready to go,”. CMS provides Cape with a single place to find 57 key procedures, 272 regional processes, 500 process maps and 989 forms teams will need.

“In the last 12 months there has been a lot of sharing of operational excellence and Cape Connecting is part of that strategy,” Jones says. “We are becoming a global organisation with good collaboration and a very strategic team. We are introducing centres of excellence so that our people can connect to specialists and their knowledge. Prior to Cape Connecting not everyone could be reached, it was very localised,” he says of the culture change that is seeing all the parts of the business work more closely together.

Cape Connecting has not only improved access to information, it is enabling Cape to improve its management of one of its most critical assets, the skilled people it hires (often self-employed) and deploys on projects. “The challenge for us is that a lot of our work is seasonal and there is an aging profile of the workforce. We are smartening up our use of ERP to handle the hiring process,” Jones says of the enabling role he as CIO is focused on. “We are focusing on the information about the workforce, so if a project is coming to an end we can move skilled people across, which will create savings as we do not need to carry out inductions if we are making better use of skilled people who already know our methods.”

Jones and his team has been standardising and simplifying the IT to enable that improvement in collaboration. “We had eight email domains, now everyone is on Office 365 and Lync. Office 365 was an easy change journey, it is very quick to get in if there is an acquisition,” he adds. With seasonal demands on Cape, Jones is keen to increase the use of cloud technology. “We are a fluid business and we do need to be as agile as possible. If IT is on-premises it increases the lead times of projects.”

Cape is an acquisitive organisation, one was going through when CIO UK visited and Jones and the IT team are now a key part of due-diligence and the acquisition process.

Next up on Jones’ standardisation strategy is the high number of ERP platforms Cape currently operates. “The ERP decision is massive as we have been in silos for so long and globally there are some very different processes. Here in the UK we are using a 12-year-old SAP and in the Middle-East we have examples of Sage.

“ERP is quite a challenge. In 2012 in the UK business we looked at a replacement, so now we would have been considering an upgrade by now. There is a bigger need for a new ERP now in some of our regions.”

Jones had not long returned from Australia before our interview. “It’s a global role and a lot of my time is in the regions. It is part of the leadership here to be visibly felt so we spend a lot of time on site.

“The visits are about learning the good things and picking up on the bad things,” he says of his comfort with being challenged. Jones has spent the bulk of his career in specialist engineering organisations having begun his career with the then nationalised rail operator British Rail. “That’s where I learnt my trade”, he says – while a series of engineering companies has given him “a good appreciation of what we do” says the father, and Leeds United and cricket fan.