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In-source leads way for fast acquisitions: Programmed Group

Programmed Group chief information officer, Michael Disbury, opts to in-source staff in order to standardise and better document consolidated IT applications
Programmed Group CIO, Michael Disbury

Programmed Group CIO, Michael Disbury

While some companies may be rushing to the cloud or to outsource as much IT possible in the enterprise space, one company has bucked the trend.

Maintenance services company, the Programmed Group, has an annual revenue of $1.2 billion, services over 7500 customers and maintains roughly 11,000 staff in both full-time and contractual employment. It also operates 45 offices in four countries, and has acquired a new company almost every 18 months. Its' most recent acquisition was for IT services company, KLM Group, a $28 million bid which saw Programmed Group obtain a 92.31 per cent majority shareholding in the company and 700 additional staff.

Yet, despite the fast rate of acquisitions - and the difficulties in maintaining and transferring a growing list of applications - the company's chief information officer (CIO), Michael Disbury, is focused on in-sourcing the majority of IT support and maintenance.

"I get to keep that intellectual knowledge in-house," he told attendees at the CIO Summit 2010 this week. "We're more responsive and over all I feel it costs less."

Disbury conceded that the tendency to in-source services meant he generally had to employ more full-time staff; one that he noted was counter to the likes of Qantas' budget subsidiary, Jetstar, which maintains five staff including the CIO and outsources almost all IT. However, Disbury said the ability to insource, meant the company could document its IT practices properly and better consolidate applications.

"In an ideal world you'd want to start afresh, but we don't have that luxury," he said. However, even if afforded that ability, Disbury told attendees at the Summit that he didn't think it would work "for our particular company even if we did start from scratch".

The Programmed Group spends in excess of $1 million on maintenance fees and maintains 70 applications, "some of which we have no idea what they are until they fail or are switched off".

Under Disbury's leadership, the company has tried not to "be disruptive" in consolidating IT systems. His vision is to consolidate to 30 applications, but he said he wasn't sure if the company would ever reach that point.

The Programmed Group works on a three-year lifecycle on individual applications rather than subscribing to a "rip and replace" sensibility. It attempts to standardise operating environments where possible, using off-the-shelf applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint, as well as FastTrack, Maximo and ZenWorks, the latter of which Disbury uses for IT asset management.

"We can acquire a company and as long as the two networks are connected we can roll out any application or eliminate another automatically," Disbury said.

The CIO warned that in-sourcing was not apt for every company: "Where you don't have the time or the skills, outsource immediately.

"But make sure they document everything before they leave."

(See the CIO Summit 2010 in pictures)

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More about: FastTrack, KLM, Microsoft, Qantas
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