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CIO50 2020 #26-50 Ben Waterhouse, Coates Hire

  • Name Ben Waterhouse
  • Title Chief information officer
  • Company Coates Hire
  • Commenced role April 2018
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 60 staff, 6 direct reports
  • Coates Hire’s chief information officer, Ben Waterhouse, led his IT team’s move from a traditional waterfall project delivery model to an agile (scrum) framework when it created a new service management application.

    With more than one million assets available for hire, repairs and maintenance is a significant percentage of the ongoing operational costs within the business.

    The MyFleet App, built by Xamarin, uses an iterative development approach in order to simplify and streamline complex business processes, and has helped the organisation increase productivity by 30 per cent.

    Waterhouse says that a key contributing factor to the success of the app has been the ‘business-led’ IT culture with strong product ownership from within the organisation that bridged the gap between the tech group and the rest of the business.

    “With the new delivery model proven, our customer-facing digital transformation began. Responding to customer demand last year, we started building Coates’ industrial internet-of-things (IoT) solution, Waterhouse says. 

    The equipment industry faces many challenges around IoT, says Waterhouse.

    “Customers are demanding this capability while not necessarily wanting to pay for it nor knowing how to use the data once it's made available to them. Although technologists present big benefits with the obvious predictive maintainance use case, the question is: 'How do you actually generate predictive models for a fleet with 20,000 make models, let alone action these alerts if you don’t have the service operations to back it?’” he asks. 

    The final hurdle is the cost exercise to enable tens of thousands of pieces of equipment coming from hundreds of manufacturers, with their own telemetry solutions and portals or no solution at all.

    “And once you have access to data, how do you consolidate it to be useful?” he asks.

    Under Waterhouse’s leadership, Coates worked with three customers in the Pilbara in Western Australia to conduct a real-life evaluation to test multiple theories. The first one was to get a real understanding of what customers wanted out of the data. The second related to access of the data and whether or not a ‘data as a service’ model was viable. It relies on the capture and management of IoT data by a partner with very specific equipment hire requirements.

    Coates has since prototyped its own data platform, defined a new model to procure equipment and retrofit devices – with a new device being tested to reduce installation costs – and how to offer telemetry data and additional services to customers.

    “We are now working on a solution called RIIoT, which is embedded in the customer portal, and includes a data platform flexible enough to accept any kind of telemetry data next to other business data to enable machine learning for more advanced use of the data,” he says.

    Waterhouse has also created an innovation technology lab which have resulted in new capabilities around technologies like robotic process automation being introduced.

    Shifting mindset

    Waterhouse understand the nuances of an organisation that is more than 135 years old and he has fostered a mindset shift across the board and wider organisation to better-understand the benefits of iterative development and continuous improvement.

    When COVID-19 hit, Waterhouse and his team transitioned staff to work from home within seven days, including shared service functions that previously didn’t have the capability to work away from the office.

    “Long-term organisational success needs a collective understanding that IT systems can no longer be thought of in isolation. Projects no longer have a start and end date, but are products which will continue to evolve with Coates as part of its DNA,” he says.

    Byron Connolly

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