Taming the Knowledge Towers

With a diverse business unit portfolio that includes direct mail, call centres and electronic document management, Salmat CIO David Hackshall is working hard to instil a culture of collaborative knowledge management at the company and turn innovation into efficiency.

Salmat is an Australian-owned outsourced services provider specialising in targeted customer communications solutions. “Technology is our business and we are an innovative company,” says Hackshall, who presides over some 400 IT staff. “The trick is to get the skill sets signing like a choir.”

Hackshall says it’s not Salmat’s style to restrict people’s contributions simply because they have expertise in one area and not another; rather, the company is developing forums around topic centres like virtualisation, .Net and Java, with the goal of developing shared ideas across the business.

“It is important to get people understanding what else is going on and have management discussions from a port-folio perspective,” he says. “We want the right level of cross-pollination between business streams for staff to tap into peers and collaborate, which will lead to more efficiency.”

The company has adopted a “One Salmat” approach to knowledge management. One Salmat acts like an internal social media service and fits into Hackshall’s strategy of evaluating tools for knowledge management in both a formal and informal capacity. “The real innovation happens informally,” he says.

The majority of Salmat’s IT staff are in the applications space, with about 120 in service delivery for corporate IT. “We employ talented people and we can’t ignore that talent and not share that talent,” Hackshall says. “No one has the market cornered on a good idea.”

Hackshall believes collaboration is often overlooked and usually doesn’t happen well in organisations that grow rapidly. “One of the tricks to being a CIO is effectively tapping into the knowledge underneath you and leveraging it,” he says. “People are important to us.”

“IT must act as one; IT strategy must equal business strategy,” Hackshall says “Creating knowledge clusters in Salmat groups is important for our success.”

On staffing and retention, Hackshall is pragmatic: “You employ people for their expertise so treat them with respect.”

“Experts are part of the fabric of who we are,” he says. “It’s not an environment where opinions are ever shunned or ignored.” An accountant by trade, Hackshall moved into IT because he was eager to learn how to better analyse data. Formerly CIO of investment bank Babcock Brown, Hackshall started at Salmat in November 2009.

Salmat is not a household name, but Hackshall says apart from the federal government, few other organisation engage with Australians with as much frequency.

Founded in 1979 as a small catalogue delivery service, Salmat has since grown into a global business with over 7000 employees working in eight countries.

The company specialises in one-to-one communication on a mass scale and assists clients in contacting their customers via a range of communication channels, including voice, online, print, electronic and mobile.

Salmat operates three divisions: Business Process Outsourcing, which provides services for large corporate clients to communicate directly with customers via mail, e-mail and online; Customer Contact Solutions, which operates 60 contact centres in Australia and overseas and engages in over 100 million conversations for clients annually; and Targeted Media Solutions, which delivers some 4.5 billion catalogues and brochures to Australian homes each year.

Salmat’s BPO business has evolved to include business process outsourcing solutions which are delivered via a range of integrated SaaS solutions. Three of the four big Australian banks, for example, have customer statements managed by Salmat.

“Innovating is a key part of our vernacular, and it is a key component of our board’s thinking right through to our staff on the floor. It’s how we drive our future,” Hackshall says. “The vast majority of [IT] staff are directly driving client outcomes, but all staff support the Salmat business.”

Knowledge and Infrastructure Consolidation

Hackshall describes Salmat as a company with “a lot of moving parts”, and because of this he is determined to leverage as many operational efficiencies across the business as possible, as well as foster better collaboration and knowledge management internally.

“There is an opportunity for consolidation, but it needs to be balanced,” he says. “We have the ability to be innovative, but we want the best economies of scale across the group.” With virtualisation spread across Salmat’s data centres, Hackshall is working to bring the infrastructure to a point where the group can leverage more services, reduce complexity and increase utilisation. “Elastic infrastructure is good because clients require change all the time,” he says.

Hackshall says Salmat is poised for growth through acquisitions and new business, and he is looking to extend the group’s portfolio to different markets and geographies.

“Cloud makes sense, but we need to tread carefully,” he says. “It would be unwise to ignore it. We could potentially become a cloud provider.”

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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