The CIO 'born and bred' in the IT department

The IT Leader Interview: Peter Dew, CIO of multinational gas company BOC claims he is one of the few people to have risen to the position from inside the IT organisation

Peter Dew, 44, is unique amongst his CIO peers for an unusual reason. He has an IT background.

Becoming a CFO with no financial experience is unheard of but the same doesn't go for the top of the information technology tree. The role of chief information officer is often awarded to individuals for their budgeting skills rather than for any inate technical ability. Not so Dew, who worked his way up the IT management ladder to its most senior position — taking on responsibilities along the way that on paper were beyond his range.

Now head of a multinational IT department, Dew is wrestling with many of the technology and business challenges confronting his peers such as the danger and opportunities posed by open source, the ability of RFID to transform the supply chain and generally keeping up with the rapid advances the tech sector is habitually exposed to.

ZDNet UK sat down with Dew to discuss how he rose through the ranks and the technology challenges facing his company and the IT industry as a whole.

BOC's technology challenges
Open source software is one of the key technology areas that BOC is interested in due to its potential to drive down TCO, according to Dew. BOC continuously evaluates an open source software stack in a purpose-built lab (For more click here.)

Path to the top
Dew, 44, has worked at BOC for the last 21 years, working his way up from project manager to CIO. "I'm one of the very few people who've been born and bred, and come through the ranks of the IT organisation to be CIO. This makes me unique among my peer group of FTSE 100 company CIOs," says Dew. (For more click here.)

What is the BOC Group?
The BOC Group is one of the largest gas companies in the world, employing over 43,000 people and with sales of over £4.5bn in 2004. It was started in the late 19th century by two brothers, Arthur and Leon Brin, who commercialised a way of chemically extracting oxygen and established the company. (For more click here.)

Key technology issues
"We have a lab that runs a LAN of open source technologies — there is no proprietary technology there at all. We run it to see how well it operates and look for areas that we can deploy it across the organisation," says Dew. "Would we see an SAP replacement in open source? If we see competition that's valid we would use it."

But Dew does not envision a future where open source supersedes proprietary software. "We would never see a world dominated by open source," he says. "A pragmatic approach is needed — we will continue to need and desire proprietary software."

A move towards a fully open source desktop appears unlikely at BOC, as Dew is a self-confessed fan of Citrix. BOC uses Citrix's software extensively to serve up Microsoft, SAP and other applications onto thin client PCs. It has, however, tested one potential replacement for Microsoft desktop software — Sun's office productivity suite, on which the open source OpenOffice.org productivity suite is based.

BOC completed an evaluation of StarOffice six months ago and the application has been used on 100 PCs in its Indian office since then. Dews says the evaluation proved that it is interoperable with Microsoft software, but the company has not yet decided whether to extend this deployment.

RFID
Another technology area that BOC is interested in is RFID tagging. The company is considering the application of RFID to uniquely identify the 7 million cylinders that it uses worldwide. It is currently trialling the use of barcodes on cylinders in Western Australia, and is likely to trial RFID tags later, according to Dew.

Already, BOC lays claim to the world's largest RFID implementation in the retail sector — its logistic subsidiary, Gist, worked with retail firm Marks & Spencer (M&S) to trial RFID tagging of food products.

The trial, which started in 2003 at Gist's Barnsley depot, has tagged around 3.5 million M&S food trays with microchips that store information about the product, according to information on the BOC Web site. The product information in a stack of trays can now be read in about five seconds by merely wheeling the stack past a RFID sensor, rather than the 30 seconds it used to take to read the information using hand-held bar code readers scan.

Sarbanes-Oxley compliance
Dew says that BOC has spent a lot of time making sure it is compliant with the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance regulations. BOC is "getting towards the end of the first phase" of bringing in the company into compliance and is now working out how to sustain Sarbanes-Oxley into the next financial year, according to Dew.

Since ZDNet UK's original interview with Dew, the BOC Group has admitted that the costs of complying with SOX have been higher than expected, with the company expecting to spend around £20m over the next two years to bring its financial reporting and internal controls up to scratch.

Security
Dew was unwilling to speak in detail about it security strategy, but said that BOC's spend, commitment to and capability in that area of security have increased over the last two or three years. BOC's biggest areas of concern are DoS and virus attacks, he says.

"We have a global network and operate in a number of countries, including countries where virus attacks emanate from. We can see the spread of viruses across the global network. We're aware of it and have plans and technology in place to prevent it impacting us," says Dew.

Peter Dew's background
Dew has worked at BOC for the last 21 years, working his way up from project manager to CIO. "I'm one of the very few people who've been born and bred, and come through the ranks of the IT organisation to be CIO. This makes me unique among my peer group of FTSE 100 company CIOs," says Dew.

After he completed a computer science degree in the UK, Dew decided to move to South Africa. "I'm not a great fan of living in the UK so when I had the opportunity I went to live in South Africa," he says. It was not long after he arrived there that he was recruited to work for Afrox, a South African subsidiary of BOC.

"I joined Afrox as an overrated project manager — I was taken on in a role that was five years ahead of my capability," he says.

He worked there for six years as a project manager, systems development manager and finally as a departmental manager. In 1991, at the age of 31, he was asked to take on the role of systems development manager in the UK, managing a department of around 90 people.

"When I greeted the room just about everyone was older than me," he says, describing his first day in his new role. "The IT department had become disconnected from the business — it had its own strategy not linked to business strategy and was a little too expensive."

Only a couple of years after starting this role he was asked by the Australian business to direct a project to implement SAP across Australia and New Zealand. After the project he stayed on until 1998 when the CIO of the BOC Group resigned. He was offered this role, which he accepted on the condition that he was given the remit to bring together the IT departments across the organisation — at the time much of BOC's infrastructure was fragmented, with countries independently managing disparate networks and systems.

Dew has pursued this vision since 1998. Today, BOC runs a standard version of SAP in its global data centre that supports most of the organisation's worldwide SAP work. It has a telecoms network that spans all operations worldwide and uses offshore partners to provide IT services as well as using the technical skills of its employees in its global centres of excellence in South Africa and Australia.

Through these measures the organisation has reduced its global spending on IT, including a halving in staff numbers, from between 850 and 900 full-time employees in 1998 to around 400 in 2005

History of a Gas Giant
The BOC Group is one of the largest gas companies in the world, employing over 43,000 people and with sales of over £4.5bn in 2004.

It was started in the late 19th century by two brothers, Arthur and Leon Brin, who commercialised a way of chemically extracting oxygen and established the company, then known as Brin's Oxygen Company. In the early years, one of the main uses of the oxygen was for limelight — the creation of light by directing a hydrogen or oxygen flame at a cylinder of lime. At the time limelight was in widespread use to light stages in theatres and music halls. It was later replaced by electric lighting, but the phrase "in the limelight", that referred to those on stage, is still used to describe someone who is in the public eye.

Over the next few decades progress was made in the extraction of oxygen, which led to today's main method — the liquefaction and distillation of air. Over the years, new markets for oxygen also emerged, including the use of oxygen combined with acetylene in the welding industry. BOC claims that its oxygen had a vital part to play in the manufacturing effort for the First World War, where the new welding technology was used to build munitions, tanks, vehicles and ships. BOC also started producing other gases, including hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

BOC's first factory opened on the Horseferry Road, a few streets away from the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. The company spread first over the UK and then across Europe and the US. It now operates in six continents and makes the majority of its turnover in the Asia/Pacific region.

As well as its industrial gas activities, the BOC Group has a specialist division, called BOC Edwards, which supplies ultra-high purity gases and associated equipment to the semiconductor industry — gases are used in almost every stage in the production of semiconductors as any impurities can reduce the quality of the device. The Group also includes Gist, a logistics company, and Afrox Hospitals, which owns and manages over 60 hospitals and clinics in South Africa.

In the last hundred years that company has changed its name a number of times, to the British Oxygen Company, BOC International and finally the BOC Group. It has been a publicly listed company since 1981 and is listed in the FTSE 100 index