Diligent It Adoption For Maximum Gain

By Patrick Quinn, CIO, Acuity Brands Lighting

Patrick Quinn, CIO, Acuity Brands LightingEvolving with IT Advancements in Cloud, Mobile, and ERP

Cloud-based services, especially Platform-as-a-Service are relatively new trends that are now having a significant impact on concerns about security; cost, performance, and ease of management have been largely addressed. Acuity has been taking advantage of many Software-as-a-Service platforms for the last 5 years, but it has only been very recently that we have seen significant benefit in moving our heavy-transaction business systems out of our datacenter and into the cloud.

Of course, mobile productivity apps continue to be a major trend. We now design all our applications to be mobile friendly first-which makes us think hard about what features and functions truly provide benefit to our customers, and also forces us to develop user interfaces that are intuitive and have fast response times. A combination of HTML5 and Java script is the development ‘language’ of choice, especially for business systems, as we can develop one code-set and it will (for the most part) run on any modern platform, mobile and desktop. New toolsets such as Kendo from Telerik are making it easier and easier to develop cross-platform applications.

One more trend I am seeing is less desire to purchase ‘all-in-one’ ERP platforms. IT leaders are looking for ‘best in class’ solutions that focus on enabling a specific set of processes, and are robust and open enough to integrate into an enterprise platform that is made up of a set of solutions that are purchased and home-grown. For example, we are in the process of deploying a new system to enable our product engineering processes from design to manufacturing. We are utilizing a software system that was developed by the vendor specifically for enabling those engineering processes, and are integrating it into our overall Acuity Business System. This engineering platform, when fully rolled out, will replace the tools that our design and manufacturing engineers currently use, and that are a part of a larger ERP system we deployed in the last decade.

“We do a lot of proof-of-concepts to determine the usefulness and viability of new technologies, not always necessarily with a production project in mind”

Keep Track of Your Data in the Cloud

Software as a Service providers have developed many terrific tools that our associates can quickly acquire, learn how to use, and increase their productivity/capability without involving IT, especially if they are (and many are) ‘free’. The difficulty is the management of company sensitive information such as intellectual property, pricing, financials, strategies, etc. This information has the potential of being spread across many locations in the cloud, and IT has no idea where the company’s data truly is. We currently rely on policies to manage where company sensitive information is stored, but it would be nice if there were some solution for helping to track a company’s data no matter where it is stored.

Putting the Best Foot Forward in IT Implementation

As mentioned above, controlling the use of Software-as-a-Service providers for business purposes where company sensitive data is created/stored while not getting in the way of associates ability to take advantage of many of the software tools out there today. In fact, our associates find them and deploy them much faster than IT can.

We always have a backlog of project work that is greater than the resources we can bring to bear. It is important to understand the business and its needs at a level deep enough to make the right decisions on what to spend our limited resources on. It can be difficult to obtain and maintain the interest of other leaders in the business in engaging in meaningful discussion on what IT priorities should be, especially if ‘table stakes’ are already met-transactions are flowing, email is working, etc.

It is important to not get complacent and to continue to improve the capabilities of the organization. On that note, attracting and hiring the next generation of IT leaders continues to be a challenge.

Building a Passionate and Skilful Workforce

Every new project is an excuse to question the tools and technologies that we are using and determine if there is not a better way. We do a lot of proof-of-concepts to determine the usefulness and viability of new technologies, not always necessarily with a production project in mind. We are not afraid to fail - especially when following our project delivery processes, as we tend to fail fast and not have too great an investment. We look for, attract, and hire associates that are passionate about staying current and relevant with their skill sets. For example, a typical developer in our organization codes as a hobby at home as well as for work. Every project we do is a team effort. Every team member can influence the project from concept through delivery and has opinions that are valued. Read every day, network with colleagues outside our organization to share ideas and best practices, and attend a couple of industry trade shows a year.

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