EMC: IT is for the greater good

Posted on 4 Jan 2012

Breaking down silos in traditionally function-oriented businesses can be both practically and culturally challenging. But, as Jane Gray discovers it can free-up unrealised potential and amplify an organisation’s ability to exploit existing capabilities.

The relationship between IT and other business functions, including manufacturing and engineering, has become  frustrating for many. An experience which was no different for data management and analytics company EMC.

EMC is a global organisation employing around 48,000 people worldwide. It is a complex business offering an immense range of services as well as software and hardware solutions for businesses across industries and from large enterprise level into the midmarket. Solutions range from its traditional data storage capabilities, through, data analytics, infrastructure consolidation and optimisation, backup and recovery, security  and more.

EMC manufactures and configures to order a diverse range of technology products at sites in the US and Ireland. Given that the delivery of effective IT infrastructure is what EMC is all about, it might be assumed that the organisation has always been a shining example of technology exploitation for efficient and effective manufacturing. But a visit to EMC’s international manufacturing facility in Cork, Ireland, reveals that the company has endured many of the same challenges in aligning knowledge across functional silo boundaries as its manufacturing peers in others sectors.

Since 2010, IT and manufacturing staff at EMC’s cork site, which is also a Centre of Excellence (see box) for mature management approaches, have been battling to break down traditional silos in its business. They are now uncovering innovative ways to collaborate, utilising many of EMC’s own solutions and a ‘private cloud’ approach to IT Service Delivery for its manufacturing operations.

What is a Centre of Excellence?

  • EMC has seven Centres of Excellence (COEs) around the globe
  • A COE is defined as “a capability or competency centre” with a heavy emphasis on people as the greatest asset
  • A COE will be a hub for pilot projects and research initiatives around a defined ‘excellence’. A COE will build a team with expertise to promote the use of best practice in its ‘excellence’ across the business
  • EMC’s site in Cork is a COE focused on supply chain and mature management approaches with a number of the business unit leads taking on Global or International roles.
  • Cork is the only EMC COE which is also a manufacturing site. It was  awarded COE status in 2010
  • Benefits of being a COE include; collaboration across business units, greater understanding of site ‘value’ and purpose within EMC corporation, better access to global business investment for development and pilot business improvement projects and enhanced employee career opportunities

Now and then

Explaining the baseline from which the IT-manufacturing relationship has progressed Ian Fitzgerald, senior manager EMEA, private cloud and data centre operations at EMC, says “We have around 40,000 internal users. There are five data centres and around 500 applications or tools in operation. Or at least that is how many we knew about in 2008 . In fact there were  many more  ‘make-do’ applications which people had either built for themselves or gone to external companies to provide because they were frustrated with long lead times and ‘red tape’ of IT.”

Back then, Mr Fitzgerald says IT had an introvert, project-based mentality which focused on costs and efficiency. “We were unsure of our ability to meet the demand if we advertised what services we had the capability for,” comments Fitzgerald. “The company had doubled in size over the past decade and had heaped in complexity thanks to numerous mergers and acquisitions.”

The potentially critical nature of some of the impromptu applications springing into life necessitated a transformation in IT. “These ‘shadow IT’ applications were potentially a real headache for us,” says Fitzgerald. “The longer they stayed in place, the more likely it was that they would become business critical – but they were outside our control for monitoring,” infuriating for a company which provides the very best in data security, recovery and information management for its external customers.

“We realised we needed to change our view of internal customers,” comments Fitzgerald, “and over the last year we have reoriented to become service focused rather than project focused. We now have SLAs with all different areas of the business and, although we are an internal provider, we see ourselves as being in a competitive landscape – and so does the business.”

The capability IT has leveraged to make this transformation possible has largely been from EMC’s cloud and virtualisation portfolio. This has removed the need to raise tickets for many IT requests, putting power into the hands of users to create the capability they need for short term IT requirements or additions to their infrastructure. An internal application called Cloud 9 provides the user interface for this – largely created using tools from VMWare, part of the EMC family.

Fitzgerald explains, “In the past it would take an IT engineer upwards of 90 days to get the simplest provision in terms of applications or servers in which to create a ‘sandbox’ environment for testing code. Now they can access that in a matter of minutes – and it is all self service. Automation – we couldn’t deliver our new IT services without it.”

Collaboration for innovation

Having achieved this internal improvement in service delivery employees at Cork started to look for even more ambitious ways in which to use its marketed capabilities within the business. Manufacturing has been the first port of call and John Carmody, senior manager in test engineering at EMC, Cork, is full of enthusiasm for an innovative new virtualisation project, Cumulus, which is bringing a range of benefits to manufacturing by putting process control equipment capability in the cloud.

“It’s one of the most exciting projects I have worked on for some time,” says Mr Carmody, “by partnering with IT we have been able to leverage their best practice for what would traditionally have been a test engineering role. There are so many levels at which manufacturing benefits – agility to support change (scaling to fit product line changes), software and hardware maintenance, asset capitalisation, security [a virtualised system is at lower risk to viruses, non compliant software or even to possible data removal through peripheral devices like USB memory sticks]”

As the test servers disappear off the shop floor valuable space is opened up, allowing for manufacturing capacity and flexibility to increase. But more than that, the Cumulus project will also enable far reaching improvements in the manufacturing process itself through leveraging the capabilities of other EMC acquisitions.

For instance, integrating capabilities from the newly acquired analytics company Greenplum will help bring new understanding to manufacturing data. “It means we can pool far more data back from the testing, in real time, and run analytics on it,” says Carmody, “We will be able to make discoveries about performance problems a lot faster and start our investigations sooner,” ultimately improving quality and reducing variability and waste. According to Carmody the Cumulus pilot project is expected to deliver business savings of $3m through hardware virtualisation, power savings, facilities footprint reductions and labour savings.

The next big challenge for IT and manufacturing at Cork is the implementation of a new SAP ERP system – a notoriously challenging process. The newly collaborative team are viewing the challenge with enthusiasm however. The implementation will be 100% located in EMC’s private cloud and the ambition is to keep it completely ‘vanilla’. “It is an opportunity for us to work with manufacturing to review and completely understand their processes,” says Cathal Holland, IT business consultant at EMC and IT Site Lead for the ‘Propel’ ERP project.

Sitting with a gathered team of engineering, manufacturing and IT professionals who all seem at one with one another’s needs and confident in the structures now in place to service those requirements, it seems as though EMC has reached an ideal situation. Not so, says Fitzgerald. “It’s all part of a journey and we have much more to come,” he comments. “It’s about our need to be agile in responding to business needs. We have taken a lot of cost out of the business so far and we have gained a lot of efficiency. But agility is the most meaningful measurement for us.” We watch with interest for the next innovations to this end.