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April 1, 2011

You may not need more tools, just need to use the ones you have better: Q&A with John O’Brien, Hitachi Consulting

John O'Brien is Hitachi Consulting's new Executive Vice President for the UK, just joining from Cap Gemini. CBR talked to him to ask him why he'd made the move

By Vinod

John O'Brien

Why did you jump ship and move to Hitachi Consulting?
It’s a fantastic opportunity. Hitachi itself is an incredibly important global brand, looking to better serve its global client base in technology with a more joined-up approach. So we are doing a lot of acquisitions, like our January acquisition of Sierra Atlantic, which has brought us huge US and Indian offshoring capability and really boosts our Oracle consulting reach at the same time. So I came here to help grow a company that I think has huge potential.

With respect, the name Hitachi Consulting wouldn’t automatically be on the same list of top consultancies as the other firms you’ve worked for. I imagine you came on board to try and change that?
You say we’re not that well known, which is true. But I do have to also say that despite being just a 300-strong operation in the UK, we have a surprisingly impressive track record in UK markets like the public sector, financial services and retail. We have names like John Lewis, Devon and Cornwall Police, BUPA, easyJet… So it’s not that fair to say we’re totally unknown.

That’s possibly down to what I understand is the legacy of the company in the UK, do you think?
Possibly. Hitachi has been growing its consulting business globally by acquisition, so your readers may in fact be more familiar with the businesses that have gone into the formation of the current company here, like Edenbrook, which gave us a lot of our technology solutions capability, and Impact Plus, which got us a string management consultancy basis.

In any case, what is Hitachi Consulting all about these days?
We provide a range of technology solutions, based primarily on the Oracle e-Business Suite but we also have Microsoft expertise, too, HR and Financials as well as CRM, a lot of Business Intelligence work on the same platform, and of course the management consulting, as in change consulting or lead management, plus all the managed services work we’re doing.

I wonder if you could give us an example of what you see as a particularly strong or representative Hitachi Consulting UK engagement?
Certainly. I’d pick what we were able to do at Whitbread, where we helped centralise its reporting capabilities across its different business lines to enable central, enterprise-wide reporting and detailed analysis of different data. We created a 1.5 Terabyte data warehouse to help it do that, comprising more than 1.5 billion rows of data across the company’s hotel and restaurant businesses, its Commercial Division, as well as its Labour and HR divisions.

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Let’s put all this together and perhaps drawing on all your years of enterprise consulting, what is your advice or challenge to the CBR readership – what do you see as the main things they should be focusing on for the rest of 2011, say?
Excellent question. I would challenge the CBR CIO reader to look at three things. First, have they got the desired ROI out of these initiatives to date? And if not, why not? Second, what will be their response to the disruptions caused by external factors, such as the Cloud? Third, how else can they generate business value and support business growth – not just reduce cost? We believe there is still significant work to be done in getting better ‘deliverability’ of large projects (where failures to achieve benefits are still all too common) and getting customers in the business to leverage the existing IT investment more effectively (i.e. using what you’ve already got better).

These items alone are more than enough to deal with – when you’re also tasked with keeping the lights on. For example, we’ve recently conducted interviews with some of the UK’s largest retailers. Every one of the retail organisations we spoke to has already deployed market leading Business Intelligence systems, and some are running four or five different BI Systems simultaneously in an attempt to keep pace.

The problem isn’t the tools, but rather the way they’re being deployed and used. In other words, they need to use what they’ve already got better. For retail in particular, success or failure depends on how quickly they respond to rapidly changing conditions, and coping with increasing levels of customer complexity. They don’t necessarily need more tools. They need to use them better.

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