Nestled in acres of beautiful parkland in rural Bedfordshire sits Tempsford Hall. Built in 1769 for Sir Gillies Payne, the house has subsequently been sold, burnt down, rebuilt twice, and used by the Special Operations Executive as an agent reception and preparation centre during World War II.
It’s a slightly curious, but undoubtedly picturesque choice for a major corporate headquarters. “In the summer you can open your window and hear the cows lowing across the fields,” says Duncan Stott, CIO of construction firm Kier Group, Tempsford Hall’s current owners.
The construction industry was hit hard by 2008’s economic downturn, but it has been one of the first sectors to emerge from the recession. This is strongly evident in Kier Group’s figures, which show revenue jumping around £1bn from 2013 to 2014, and profit rising 54 per cent in the same period.
While Stott would never complain about his firm’s rude financial health, he does point to some IT challenges the upturn creates.
“There’s more work than the UK industry is able to manage, so the challenge is no longer trying to win work, but trying to win the right work and deliver it. It’s a nice problem after the rigours of the recession,” he adds.
Stott says that CIOs need to be aware of the challenges that growth brings. Part of this is around employing new staff, all of whom need IT equipment and training in how to use it.
“Ten per cent more recruitment doubles the number of new users that companies normally deal with, so IT needs to scale up quickly. The biggest challenge is about enabling volume and scale quickly, enabling a company to grab hold of the opportunities that recovery suddenly offers,” he says.
Stott speaks from personal experience, with Kier Group currently undergoing a massive recruitment drive within IT.
“We’re recruiting as fast as we can,” he explains. “We’re recruiting 250 staff now, and 70 of those positions are in IT.”
The technology vacancies are varied, including developers, programmers, project managers, and the support staff to handle the other new users being recruited.
The UK house building industry hasn’t got enough bricklayers, says Stott. When the recession hit and demand for their skills suddenly disappeared, many retrained and now work, for example, in call centres. Now they’re needed again, but many have moved on. And it’s the same story in IT.
In a bid to avoid staff shortages in future, Stott is implementing a graduate programme “to ensure an annual injection of new talent in IT”.
“But because of the urgency of the business need, we’re recruiting experienced talent too, especially at project management level,” he adds.
Another way to deal with a sudden growth in demand is by outsourcing, something that Stott explains works in some situations, but not others.
“We’re outsourcing commodity services to people who can enable volume quickly. But it’s difficult to outsource specialist roles, and that’s why we’re recruiting. We’re outsourcing the supply of PCs to [strategic outsourcing firm] SCC, as that supply needs to more than treble from 30 per week to over 100. That demand has been created purely by new starters, that’s the level of growth we’re dealing with,” explains Stott.
With these demands placed on his department, prioritisation has become more important than ever.
“Our business colleagues identify opportunities where IT development can help them grow, and we need to keep that within the constraints of the IT budget, so we prioritise harder than ever before. Right now we’re implementing a new Oracle ERP solution, a new SharePoint implementation and new front-office operations system,” says Stott.
The fact that these three major projects are all currently under way explains why there’s so much recruitment happening right now at the firm and why Stott is so focused on prioritisation.
Stott explains that Kier Group was previously using an ERP system called Coins, which although fairly common across the construction industry proved insufficient for his firm’s goals.
“As Kier has world-class ambitions, we determined it was essential for us to have a world-class back office. We assessed SAP and Oracle as part of an 18-month procurement exercise. We eventually chose Oracle for commercial and sector-specific reasons, as they’re the ERP provider for much of our industry in the UK.”