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Centralisation, cloud systems and clear billing are top of Smiths Group’s CIO’s wanted list
25 February 2014
What does the CIO of a large corporate user such as Smiths Group want from its telecoms provider, in this case AT&T? Alan Burkitt-Gray talks to CIO Stuart Beesley about how telecoms is central to the company’s strategy
Stuart Beesley: We’re starting to create social
Smiths, so the network is vital. We are creating communities of
people, to connect engineers together. We’re
trying to push the
innovation agenda, to get people talking to each
| A voice for the
industry’s corporate customers
For most of our 20-year history, Global Telecoms Business
has interviewed the senior executives of the
world’s leading telecoms operators and of
selected vendors. We have no plans to change that. In GTB
you will continue to read interviews with the men and
women who decide the future of the industry.
But now, we plan to start talking to a few of those
people who are responsible for providing operators with
most of their income: the corporate giants.
In each issue from now we will be interviewing a CIO of
one of the industry’s leading corporate
customers. What do they expect from their telecoms
providers? What are the challenges they face? What will
they want out of them in the future?
This interview with Stuart Beesley, CIO of one of the
world’s big engineering groups, is the first
of what we hope will be a successful series.
Stuart Beesley is centralising all the systems that global
technology group Smiths uses. "Everything we’re
doing involves moving to more globalised, centralised
solutions," he says. "The network is absolutely vital.
It’s like dialtone. It’s just got to
Smiths is a £3 billion engineering company, based in the
UK but with more than 50% of its business in the US, a quarter
in Europe including the UK and the rest in emerging markets.
"We’re active in 400 locations in 53 countries,
and our business is changing significantly with the shift to
emerging markets," says Beesley, the interim CIO at the group.
The company’s tagline is "bringing technology to
life to make the world safer, healthier and more productive"
and its key divisions include John Crane, Smiths Medical,
Smiths Detection, Smiths Interconnect and Flex-Tek, which makes
engineered components that heat and move fluids and gases for
the aerospace, medical, industrial, construction and domestic
Smiths Group has been working with AT&T for around six
years as its worldwide communications provider. The two
initially signed a five-year agreement to support
Smiths’ business transformation programme and help
the corporation to make the most of its global scale,
delivering improved productivity and cost reductions across the
group’s five business divisions.
Back in 2008 Smiths said it expects to achieve annual savings
of at least $5 million on its IT and related communications
Two years later, well before the expiry of that initial
five-year deal, the two signed a further contract, this time
for six years. That 2010 agreement was designed to allow Smiths
to take rapid advantage of new and emerging technologies, such
as cloud computing and unified communications, and meet its
extensive mobility requirements, while being able to reduce
AT&T and Smiths valued that contract at $150 million. Today
Beesley won’t give detailed costs, but says that
telecommunications accounts for 25% of the group’s
The network drives all of Smiths’ enterprise
resource planning systems, which use SAP and Oracle, as well as
electronic trading systems and collaboration worldwide.
"These enable us to work global processes. A customer support
person needs access to ERP. We have real-life trading and need
the ability to move files around," he says.
"And we’re starting to create social networks in
Smiths, so the network is vital. We are creating communities of
people. As you would expect in a big technology organisation
the idea is to connect engineers together. We’re
trying to push the innovation agenda, to get people talking to
each other. We are trying to create a culture and an identity
so people can communicate easily."
The company is using Microsoft Sharepoint already "and we are
exploring Yammer", a social network system designed for
businesses. "And we are looking at Jive," another
enterprise-focused social network system.
That is all putting a lot of pressure on the corporate network.
"As these services become more mainstream the network becomes
more critical," says Beesley. At the same time, security and
privacy are vital. "We have deals with governments. Security,
privacy and data protection are paramount."
Centralisation is also central to Smiths’ plan.
"Over the years we have gradually moved to central systems and
storage. We are leveraging AT&T’s data centres
on the network and we get value from being together." And
Smiths is looking towards private cloud service.
Five years ago all IT was managed within each division, but in
2009 — the year after the first deal ws signed with
AT&T — the company started "looking to leverage
solutions across the group", he says. "We can now share
capacity across all of Smiths."
There is a centralised contract with AT&T, he says. "That
gives us greater spending power and greater leverage. As a
global IT organisation we can manage that for the benefit of
AT&T is the main provider, "but we always try and keep
everyone on their toes so we benchmark them and make sure they
But there are benefits in getting most of the service from one
provider, he adds. "We want the best partnership and that means
with as few [suppliers] as possible. AT&T carries the vast
majority of our traffic."
There are places that AT&T doesn’t reach
— especially, he notes, the emerging markets where
Smiths is focused on expansion. "But that is a challenge for
all global corporations trying to move into emerging markets."
Smiths’ expansion plans are focused on "on the
BRIC countries", says Beesley — an abbreviation
meaning Brazil, Russia, India and China — and he adds:
"India, absolutely China and a bit of Russia."
So what are his gripes? "I’m finding that 4G is
much slower to develop in Europe than in the US," he grumbles.
"We are seeing our consumption of bandwidth increase. Our sales
people are seeing the benefits of using tablets. Their
consumption is going up and they want it faster."
And he’s finding it irritating that his staff see
more advances in their consumer life than at work. "As
consumers they can see the developments faster and quicker.
They are saying they can do things at home. I would suggest
that telcos should worry about making services more like
He’s also worried about complexity in billing and
reporting. "It’s hard for people to understand
what they’re consuming." Some users will use wifi
when they’re travelling, but others use 3G
roaming. "How can carriers make it much simpler for individuals
AT&T manages the mobile contracts for Smiths and the US
"and we use other phone companies outside the US, but we try to
keep it as centralised as it can be". Smiths tries to manage
local mobile phone contracts through the IT group. "We may have
a local contract in a specific country, but we try to manage it
Even though there’s a mobile workforce, the
service inside buildings is important, "and we are moving to
more managed solutions", he says. "We want AT&T to manage
the local area network as well as the wide area network."
That ideally means being able to give AT&T relatively
straightforward instructions — "For example, put wifi
in that location" — and the company will do it as a
project, without Smiths’ local teams having to get
involved in the detail. "That’s starting to work
well for us."
The reason behind this is that Beesley’s IT team
doesn’t "have the reach to be at every location in
the world", but AT&T should have the ability to look after
"I would like to see a more horizontal network service, so we
just say we need a network, and they deploy it."
But he’s hampered by the quality of the internal
networking in many locations. "Home users experience very fast
broadband fibre, and we’re finding
it’s difficult to get that into the office." The
company does not have a specific policy to encourage people to
work from home, "but from an IT perspective we want to
implement technologies so that it is a lot easier to work from
outside the office".
His unit needs to handle the technology for that, "but
it’s up to the divisions to set the policy. The
trend is going that way." The system "has to be accessible
outside the four walls of the office. The perimeter
isn’t Smiths, the perimeter is the world, and we
need our telecommunications provider to help with that."
And what are his frustrations? "Not specifically with AT&T,
but generally we get stuck with older technology. The phone is
dead. I want to be able to talk to people on my laptop.
"We’ve deployed [voice and data messaging
technology] Microsoft Lync and it has just gone viral.
It’s an absolute phenomenon. We are shifting phone
calls to data."
But meanwhile the old technology is still there. He still has
to worry about voice-only PBXs. "We’re
leapfrogging whole generations. We were moving to IP telephony
but I’m starting to question that.
We’ve moved to Lync globally. It makes you
question your entire strategy. How do we keep current and not
invest in dead-end technology?"
And that’s a question telecoms operators as well
as their corporate customers ask all the time.