Aisling Keegan leads the commercial business for Dell EMC on the island of Ireland. Here she discusses with Owen McQuade the scale and scope of the technology giant’s operations in Ireland, her passion of advocating women in leadership and how digital transformation has evolved.
Aisling Keegan is Vice President and General Manager for Dell EMC’s commercial business on the island of Ireland, north and south. She formally took up the role earlier this year: “It’s perfect timing to assume a leadership role from a country perspective with the newly merged company being in its first year of operation.” Dell merged with EMC on the 7 September 2016 to form one of lreland’s largest employers. The role consists of “driving the commercial business, both public and private sector organisations”. Keegan is also a member of the Ireland Strategic Forum a body which governs Dell EMC’s business across its three main sites in Ireland.
Keegan offers a detailed description of the size and scale of Dell EMC in Ireland. The technology giant is one of the largest employers in Ireland with 5,500 employees over three core sites. In Dublin, there are 1,200 employees in services, sales and support and in addition there is Dell Bank, a fully functioning bank regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. A centre of excellence is located in Cork offering enterprise support to customers across EMEA and also manufacturing and supply chain facilities. The third site is in Limerick which has been in existence for nearly 30 years and hosts one of the company’s two Internet of Things (IoT) labs and has also finance and functional support units. The IoT lab is a solutions centre laboratory for customers to test out IoT solutions.
Keegan comments: “We have quite a sizeable footprint in Ireland and although it is a relatively small country it has the largest number of employees in any country within Dell EMC’s EMEA region. With that profile Ireland is a strategic location for not only supporting enterprise customers in Ireland but also supporting customers across EMEA.”
As one of the few female leaders in the large technology company sphere, Keegan is a passionate advocate for women in leadership and hugely supportive of promoting gender diversity. “50 per cent of my management team are female and that has been the case for the last eight years across different parts of the business,” she explains.
Keegan is not only a passionate advocate for women in leadership but also of female entrepreneurship. Dell Technology has a Dell Women Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) which has chapters across the globe. “We set the programme up in Ireland three years ago. It is a community to support female entrepreneurs. Dell has also had an entrepreneurs network for some years but started a network specifically for women because when we looked at the funding of start-ups 90 per cent of venture capital goes to male-led companies internationally.”
“Digital transformation is essentially about helping companies to effectively change.”
Dell’s focus on supporting small start-up companies is a key facet of the company’s business strategy: “In light of our own heritage with Michael Dell being an entrepreneur, we believe that these small start-ups are the future.” One successful start-up company that is part of the Dell women entrepreneur network is Trimedika which was started by two female entrepreneurs from Belfast. The company creates non-touch IR thermometers that help with infection control and also reduce cost and wastage. This approach fits well with the company’s own businesses in the same sector. “We support and enable public sector customers in areas such as health and education and then also support small start-ups that look to support those same citizens.”
One clear benefit Keegan sees in supporting start-ups is that it helps maintain an entrepreneurial spirit within the company: “If you look at our mission statement; it is to enable human progress.”
Michael Dell started the company 30 years with its mission to make technology “accessible, affordable and open to anybody anywhere in the world”. That was his initial thinking and that hasn’t changed. It is still our mission and that mindset continues today.
“When we look at enabling customers, either public or private sector, we see that progress for the citizen lies at the intersection of technology and humanity and when we partner with customers we are always focused on the interaction they have with their customers, patients or students.
“We started a network specifically for women because when we looked at the funding of start-ups 90 per cent of venture capital goes to male-led companies internationally.”
“I feel privileged to be working for a company whose mission is to enable others. That strategy and that lens has never changed. Although the company looks very different from the one I joined 18 years ago, the culture and underlying sense of value creation hasn’t changed.”
Keegan has travelled around the country speaking to customers. This interview takes place in the environs of the Annual Northern Ireland Economic Conference in Armagh and it is Keegan’s ninth visit to the North since taking on the role. She highlights one theme that has emerged: “Our customers don’t always appreciate the breath of the capabilities of the newly combined company.”
Dell combined with EMC and its federated companies in September 2016. Dell had the PC, X86, storage business and its core competency was in servicing the mid-market, although its businesses ranged from large enterprises and federal governments to the consumer.
Keegan outlines the structure: “Michael announced two years ago that we were going to combine with EMC and its federated companies. As a result of that we formed Dell Technologies which is a unique family of business that provides the essential infrastructure for organisations to build their digital future, transform their IT operations and protect their most important asset their information.
The company consists of the Dell Client Solutions Group which focuses on workforce transformation, Dell EMC Infrastructure Solutions Group which focuses on IT transformation and Dell EMC Services as well as three strategically aligned stand-alone businesses: Pivotal (which is an agile Software development service on one cloud independent platform), Secureworks (a managed security offering) and VMWare (leaders in virtualization for DTs, the DC and applications).
In additional Dell Technologies also comprised of two wholly-owned businesses RSA (a premier provider of security risk and compliance solutions) and Virtustream, (an enterprise class cloud software provider).
“While individually we specialise, collectively we transform. With the combined capabilities across these seven companies we offer a range of technology services that is second to none.”
Keegan sees digital transformation as only the end point and that three “pillars” underpin the transformation process. “The secret of success of getting to that end point is what lies beneath the overall process: transformation of IT; the security posture of the organisation; and how you enable your workforce to serve customers better.
“Digital transformation is essentially about helping companies to effectively change. The transformation occurs at the application or software layer. Applications are the life blood of any business and all applications and software need to run on world class infrastructure. We see IT transformation and digital transformation as two sides of the same coin, delivering business transformation which is ultimately what all, governments, education institutions, private companies are all about delivering better outcomes, better patient care, better educational experiences and better services to customers. IT transformation involves modernising your data centre, automating the services and transforming people and processes.”
“With the combined capabilities across these seven companies we offer a range of technology services that is second to none.”
Keegan believes that there is no such thing as a traditional CIO anymore because the decision making around IT and transformation are no longer confined to the specific CIO role. “Decisions are now made across a number of functions. The role has changed across a wide range of sectors – agriculture, healthcare, public sector, private sector – the role is now more of a ‘chief digital officer’.”
She also emphasises that the definition of digital has evolved. “The traditional definition of digital was about becoming paperless and it then evolved into being online, developing ecommerce platforms and then cloud computing. Now digital is something that is much more fundamental. For the public sector, it is about maintaining relevance and being one step ahead of the curve and constantly innovating to deliver better citizen services starting with e-health and e-government initiatives.”
One observation from the market place Keegan makes is that digital transformation in the private sector is not mutually exclusive from what is going on in the public sector. She gives this example: “In recent discussions with one of our clients in the transport sector we can see how autonomous cars will impact public sector services. What is happening in the automotive industry is impacting on transport policy and urban planning.”
This is part of a bigger move to the “ideas and sharing economy” and a shift away from ownership of fixed assets. Thus, impacts on the car insurance industry, the planning system and transport as a service are coming. Keegan sees this as part of a wider “and inevitable” collaboration of ideas with the public and private sectors becoming ever more interconnected.
Ailsing Keegan is Vice President and General Manager for Dell EMC’s commercial business on the island of Ireland. Dublin born she lives in Portmarnock and is “a proud Northsider.” Aisling studied languages at University College Dublin and has a Master’s degree in Business from the Michael Smurfit Business School at UCD. She has been with Dell for 18 years and previously worked for a wireless technology company. The biggest change she has seen in her career has been “the pace of technological change and the value of emerging technologies to medicine, education, manufacturing and government. It is an exciting time to be around”. Interests outside work include trekking, mountain climbing, interior design and spending the weekends with her family: “I love walking along the beach from Portmarnock to Sutton with my family.”