The benefits of embracing cultural change

GCI Communications’ Mike Constantine and Adrian Thirkill explain how their own experiences are enabling them to help customers better meet the challenges of digital transformation

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 02 March 2018
The benefits of embracing cultural change

This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of The Record.

In July 2017, GCI announced its fifth and largest transaction in the space of just 18 months, acquiring managed IT services company Blue Chip: a 20-year pacesetter delivering end-to-end fully managed IT services to large SMEs, enterprises and public sector organisations. Since then, the company hasn’t looked back.

“The Blue Chip acquisition added a new core function to our business in the form of IT support,” explains Mike Constantine, the company’s chief technology officer. “This was the fifth pillar we needed, completing our existing suite of managed services covering cloud; unified communications; security and compliance; and network and infrastructure. These five pillars are designed to support our customers through every stage of their digital transformation.”

Acknowledging that the digital transformation journey presents challenges for the vast majority of businesses, Constantine believes that GCI’s through-the-line approach offers much needed peace of mind. “There’s a lot going on for our customers,” he says. “They often don’t have massive IT teams, so if they have to procure their services separately then things can quickly get complicated. At GCI, we can quickly understand our customers’ requirements and help them see the bigger picture. This really helps our customers meet the challenges of digital transformation, especially when it comes to demonstrating the return on investment to board members.”

Constantine says that GCI’s approach also helps its customers manage both the technical and the human sides of transformation. “If you don’t step back and look at the organisation as a whole then you end up with pockets of the business starting the transformation process and other departments resisting change. That’s part of the complexity of digital transformation, and something that we’ve had to resolve ourselves.”

This is something that Adrian Thirkill, the company’s CEO, is passionate about. “The technical side of things is easy compared to the cultural change,” he says. “At GCI, I like to think we’ve invested a huge amount of time and effort in practicing what we preach and developing a culture that actually attracts talent. This means nurturing a great group of people who feel comfortable working wherever they are because there’s a happy integration of work and home life. It comes down to being flexible and having trust.

“So, for example, I don’t mind if one of our employees is taking a call on the school run. Or if one of our workers in Devon takes a two-hour lunch break to go surfing. It’s about results at the end of the day – if they deliver results then I’m happy, and if they have the flexibility they need then they’re not going to leave the company. This approach also means we can attract talent from across the whole of the UK as we are no longer bound by where our offices are located. It’s win:win.”

Thirkill says that in the future there will be no place for companies that don’t embrace this type of cultural change. “Many business leaders fear that this type of approach takes away control, but the reality is that actually you’re taking the control and giving it to your people,” he says. “I guess it’s the model of the French Republic: empower the regions to deliver the results but make sure the steering is really firm at the top. With a light touch you’ve just got to let go. And even if there’s a negative impact financially at first, trust the fact that you will get through it and the people who don’t feel comfortable will work elsewhere and the talent that really appreciates the culture will stay.”

Thirkill believes that GCI’s own transformation has given it competitive edge when it comes to helping others. “Our customers can rely on us to manage services that will give their business the edge it needs to make it more accessible or make it a better place to work. This is teamed with our people knowledge and the HR skills we have to work with a big department. Ultimately, our customers aren’t just buying technology when they come to us, they are buying a way of working and a new approach to business.”

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