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CIO100 2017 #16: Brian Northern, Fulton Hogan

  • Name Brian Northern
  • Title Group CIO
  • Company Fulton Hogan
  • Commenced Role October 2011
  • Reporting Line Group CFO
  • Technology Function 37 IT staff in New Zealand, 10 overseas
  • Related

    Fulton Hogan’s two most significant business transformation projects over the past year were both centred around digitising the systems for their remote workforce.

    “Our most significant was the development and rollout of our electronic daily job record (eDJR) to our field staff in New Zealand and Australia,” says the company’s Group CIO, Brian Northern.

    These forms contain information about plant, material, labour and subcontractor work on a site, on a daily basis.

    “This solution had a custom-developed mobile interface over our Salesforce.com platform. The custom user interface was extremely important to enable buy in from our field users, by ensuring it was intuitive and easy to use.

    “With more than 200 sites, it wouldn’t have been possible to visit and train at every site. However, to ensure its success, we sent trainers to our larger sites and projects, to train ‘super users’ on how to use the app.”

    There were two objectives of the initiative, to reduce the amount of paperwork and to only record information once, he explains.

    As such, the original thought of ‘one app one task’ was replaced with a more sophisticated application, meaning multiple data is entered into the one app but the data is only entered once.

    “Utilising our backend Salesforce application, has meant the core business process has been significantly improved through this automation,” says Northern. “There is more timely and accurate data entry, along with the ability for our office-bound managers to see multiple crews daily records that they can then approve. This information is then automatically interfaced into our financial application.

    “The project’s success (or adoption) has been measured with the number of eDJRs that have been submitted this way and though the online feedback functionality. We also receive feedback through our social media application.”

    Digital vision

    Over the past year, his department has been looking at various technologies to help the business innovate and provide operational efficiencies.

    "One such initiative under investigation is utilising the internet of things to take readings from remote road locations via sensors to accurately predict when ice is due to form on roads so preventative corrective action can be taken as opposed to reactive action. This helps make the roads safer in winter and is less disruptive to the public” says Northern. "A further innovation is to place tilt sensors on our rollers to provide early warnings to the drivers for potential tip overs."

    The areas of interest for Fulton Hogan at present are virtual reality (for realistic training, but avoiding the risks around training in live situations – such as around bitumen handling), wearables (for improved health, safety and wellness of staff) and sensor technology (for real time information to be used for predictive analytics).

    “Our innovation comes from two main sources. First off is collaboration with our strategic vendors, who we meet with quarterly for innovation sessions.

    “Secondly, there are ideas from our staff. In order to facilitate the capture of these ideas, we have created an internal innovation application that is accessed via our intranet.

    “Our strategy for innovation is for an IT representative to be on the innovation idea project, to assist and ensure the framework is being adhered to. However, the innovation is driven by the business.

    “Our internal IT staff then have a mix of operational improvement, operational stability and also innovative thinking, as part of their job descriptions. Our motto for innovation is to ‘be brave’,” says Northern.

    His team outsources a lot of the day to day checking and running of its environment, which allows them to be more connected with the business and innovative where possible.

    “We never outsource the accountability or risk, this is managed by our IT staff. We have a mature and sophisticated vendor management framework, to ensure those critical vendors are receiving the right amount of governance.

    “It allows for a degree of innovative thinking and solutions, by each individual in their particular area. Our business is complex, with Fulton Hogan running a number of different businesses supported by one IT function. As such, that complexity puts additional effort on the day to day operations at the expense of IT innovation,” he says.

    Northern has regular meetings with the company’s group executive and country executive, where he discusses IT strategy, new innovations and strategic IT trends, both globally and within the local industry.

    “I also have regular slots on our company’s board meetings with the same agenda, namely the strategy and trends for IT and the applicability to our organisation. In addition to this, we present via our IT team the same message (albeit tailored for the audience) to the managers in our larger regions.

    “This ensures consistency of communication and allows us to also manage communication from this group, to the executive level of the organisation.

    “Outside of this group, we also have IT representation on the various industry groups within the company. It allows for a more detailed discussion on a particular focused industry group.

    “Finally, we have started to introduce show and tell at the six-monthly senior manager conferences to demonstrate a new technology. For example, 3D printing and how this could be applied to our industry.”

    In terms of engagement with the whole company there is, in his IT team, a role that has a portion attributed to communication (approximately one-third of an FTE’s responsibility). That person sends out targeted communications such as emails, posters and social media posts.

    “Every quarter there is a printed and emailed quarterly update to the senior managers throughout the organisation, with a high level overview of application enhancements, digital innovations and technology changes within the organisation.

    “The success is measured informally by the number of comments coming back about the content. Our communications person also updates our internal social media feed with news articles and updates.

    “We also conduct, at the larger sites, ad hoc lunch and learn sessions to help our staff with technology in their personal life that transpires to the work environment.”

    He says there is a relatively low turnover of IT staff, and those that leave are generally replaced by millennials who are mentored by a senior IT staff.

    “Each of us in the senior management team are responsible for mentoring someone that is not a direct report and we have found this to be an effective way of developing our staff. In addition to this, we have the usual annual succession planning process.

    “We also run in house ad hoc soft skill training courses for our IT team and utilise the training put on by our corporate learning and development teams to put our staff on courses such as presentation skills, conflict management and so on.

    “This year we are starting a summer university programme, to employ students (at PHD and undergraduate level) for specific projects,” says Northern.

    “All IT staff, including contractors and students attend our quarterly IT update sessions that help galvanise the culture," he says. "This is especially important as the team members work in different locations."

    Rodney Fletcher

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