by Rodney Fletcher

CIO100 2017 #31-100: Hannes van Zyl, Hawkins Group

Mar 29, 2017
Big DataCareers

Hawkins Group has completed two of the three phases of the ‘Step Change’ project, which is altering the way it provides data services to company employees on construction sites.

“Phase one was a change from provisioning the typical WAN connection, to provisioning an internet connection with minimal hardware (UPS; Firewall; Switch),” says Hawkins Group CIO, Hannes Van Zyl.

“The change in hardware and line charges resulted in both a cost saving and improved performance. We can now provide wifi on site. This allows access to the internet for our subcontractors and consultants as well, and the printers on site can now be used by those third parties reducing their costs to the project.”

He says the previous configuration of a WAN link was slow to get provisioned and often had poor performance due to restricted capacity. The new design means the service can be provided almost immediately the building site has been established and connected to power.

“Phase two was moving the large volume of documents needed by the project teams from our file servers (Shared Drives) in the data centre to DropBox Business (Enterprise). This, combined with Office 365, means the teams on site can access all their documents and core applications over the internet.”

This move has resulted in a much higher level of collaboration, as documents can easily be shared with subcontractors and consultants, he states.

Success has been measured by the significant cost savings, the increased level of staff satisfaction with the new service and the buy-in from the subcontractors and consultants. This has resulted in a closer working relationship with those third parties.

“These changes meant a new mind-set was required for our service desk staff, who are now dealing directly with our business partners and their service desks. Our IS staff now realise that site services also affect all people on the site, Hawkins and third parties,” says Van Zyl.

One of the biggest issues for the construction teams was the delay in provisioning a traditional WAN connection to site, and the poor performance of that connection, he says.

As such, the objective of the Step Change project was to improve services to the project teams on site, with the strategy to now be 100 per cent cloud-based.

“We are not just picking up systems and moving them, but looking at what changes can be made to improve the services at the same time. We are moving away from legacy platforms and moving to platforms as a service, for example from on premise AD to Azure AD.

“Instead of drawing the security boundaries around Hawkins and the staff, we are redrawing it around the Hawkins intellectual property. Instead of controlling the hardware, we are moving more towards controlling processes and policy.

He says Phase three of Step Change is underway and involves decommissioning of their datacentre, and saving more than $1 million in hardware, licensing, and support.

“This year we have introduced the Microsoft Hololens for visualising drawings in 3D, which is improving on-site engineers’ ability to eliminate design errors ahead of construction and is significantly reducing costs. It is also used as a marketing tool to help the construction owners visualise what their building will look like once completed.

“We are also trialling a biometric access system at one of our large construction sites. This uses fingerprints to validate identity and control access to the site. It stores data of who is on site and when, so becomes part of the Health and Safety controls and provides an automated method of gathering statistics.”

The company has recently launched a BI Initiative which will produce near real-time reports/dashboards across all the projects conducted in the business.

Van Zyl says this will significantly improve the company’s ability to manage and control the various construction projects, and enable timely intervention when specific elements get compromised.

“It will drive consistency of business processes and significantly reduce the time involved in producing manual reports. The various key performance indicators cover finance, risks and opportunities, health and safety, programming (scheduling of tasks), communications (internal and external), and quality.”

He explains each section of Hawkins Group’s IS budget has funds allocated separately for research and development on new systems and devices, versus the BAU operations.

“Once the move to the cloud is finished and we have completed the decommission of our data centre, we will free up the $1 million budget and significant operational resources that can then be assigned to new projects.

“We constantly review the roadmap and reprioritise the projects based on the value they provide to the business, and the funds and resources available.

“Our head of technology is someone who likes to think outside the square and is constantly looking at new technologies and advancements.

We currently have 2.5 FTEs focused on research and development, which is a huge commitment out of a team of 11, but it has significant rewards.”

At Hawkins, the IS Steering Committee (ISSC) and IS User Group (ISUG) meet each month.

The ISSC sets the direction and defines the strategy, while the ISUG discusses the day to day problems to be solved, he explains.

The ISUG is a breeding ground of ideas that are the building blocks to guide the strategy

“The visibility of the business problems allows us to get some quick wins and leads to some of the innovation projects, like the Hololens and the biometric access control system,” says Van Zyl.

The CIO is represented on the Group Leadership Team (Executive) which meets monthly. Major business decisions are discussed and agreed at this level, and he says the CIO has direct input in this forum.

Van Zyl also conducts an annual roadshow where the IS strategy is discussed and debated.

“We prefer to use a wireframe design or a ‘Proof of Concept’ phase for all new developments, where possible, to prove their business benefit before committing to the full initiative.”

Service Desk statistics and project updates are provided to the business each month, in a report published on the Intranet. For day to day issues, the service desk gets feedback on user satisfaction via the resolution response emails, using a Net Promoter Score (NPS). The current NPS score is more than 85 per cent.

“In IS, we are always looking for the best fit for the role and the team, regardless of race, age, gender or background. We currently have four women, five nationalities, and a span of 30 years in age represented in the team of 11. We also provide a generous annual training budget.”

The CIO and the Head of Technology have worked together for several years and both have an in-depth knowledge of the business and the processes deployed.

The Head of Technology has developed the necessary skills to fill in for the CIO when required. The Service Desk Manager is fully capable of deputising should both the CIO and Head of Technology be unavailable, Van Zyl says.

Rodney Fletcher