For Lindsay McGranaghan the last few months have been a baptism of fire.
Not only has she stepped up to her company’s country leadership role at a young age in what is still seen as a male-dominated industry, but she was only in post a few months before the pandemic struck and all of the business’s plans had to change almost literally overnight.
McGranaghan became one of the youngest people to hold such a senior position in global IT when she was appointed head of CGI’s Scottish operation in 2019 at the age of 36. Five months into the job the coronavirus arrived.
“They call it Sod’s Law, it’s been a real test of my mettle,” she says. “It’s been a very interesting year and, of course, every business will say it’s not the year that any of us expected or planned for.
“We did have a reasonable amount of good foresight I would say as an organisation – we took early action to move a third of our workforce out of offices, effectively three or four weeks ahead of the official announcement of the UK Government.
“We provide a huge amount of services across the UK to national critical infrastructure, so business continuity is hugely important to CGI for obvious reasons – because we are trusted to deliver very important services, whether it’s in Ministry of Defence, central government, the council, work that we do across Scotland in particular.”
Though early action was deemed essential, it brought massive challenges – but McGranaghan seems unfazed by the scale of those she has faced and is facing.
“I am the type of person who adapts quite well and likes the urgency and immediacy of when things are particularly difficult,” she says.
“So actually this year for me – putting aside everything to do with the pandemic which has been absolutely awful – has perversely been an incredibly enjoyable year for me in terms of growing the business, and having to be agile and think about how to respond and support our customers as things accelerate and how we pivot our members into new roles. There have been so many problems that we’ve had to solve.
“I have enjoyed it – which it is difficult to say in the current climate because I haven’t enjoyed anything around it – but the role itself and the complexities and the challenge it’s posed and problem solving around that has been really enjoyable.”
The early decision to have a third of CGI’s 500-strong Scottish workforce – or ‘members’ as CGI calls them – move to home working to reduce the risk of spread of the virus was “well received both by our clients and our members”.
McGranaghan says: “It was a bit of a risk at the time because obviously there were quite a lot of sceptics as to how the whole situation was.
“So we had to take a bit of a leap of faith that it was the right thing to do to protect our clients and our members and we have reaped the rewards on that, both in terms of the continuity we’ve been able to provide, but also to our members.”
Thinking of the company’s employees as members is a key part of Canadian business CGI’s culture, McGranaghan explains, having dropped the term repeatedly into the conversation.
“It’s so in our DNA that I forget,” she says. “We run a three stakeholder model within CGI: we measure our clients’ satisfaction; and, as you can imagine, like every other organisation we manage our shareholders and our financial outturn, but the thing that makes us unique is we also measure the satisfaction of our staff and we are incentivised or otherwise as leaders as to how happy our members are.
“So, we call our staff members, it is just as a helpful aide memoire; we call it ‘the John Lewis of IT’.
“We are a family-run business, our founder is still the chairman, Serge Godin, who founded the business over 40 years ago – albeit we’ve now got 77,000 employees from a company that he started in his garage.
“Every single member can own part of the company – they’re entitled to share options every month. Serge has a saying that ‘you don’t wash a hire car’, so if you own a little bit of the company, you take better care of the company because you own it, and you want to it to grow and develop and do good things.”
More than 96% of CGI’s Scottish members are part of the share participation plan, a fact that McGranaghan believes drives a different level of commitment from their people.
This goodwill was evident, she says, in the nine months from the start of the first lockdown to the end of the year when our interview took place.
She said it was key in supporting CGI’s largely public sector Scottish customers which include Glasgow City Council, The City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish Borders Council and rural economy directorate of the Scottish Government.
“We’ve had a huge amount of work going on in the central belt and Borders in terms of really stepping up to support that critical service that the local authorities have had to provide over the last nine months, particularly for the frontline workers.
“That’s meant that we’ve had to adapt services, we’ve had to help the councils transition how they interact and engage with citizens.
“So, their contact centres, for example, have had to work remotely; we’ve had to help them mobilise all of their staff to be able to work remotely in the space of a week to allow the citizens still to interface with the councils themselves.
“We’ve had to accelerate the rollout of devices to key workers, to health and social care in particular, to make sure that they had the IT skills and provisions to do the very vital jobs that have been absolutely needed.”
The closure of schools and move to home-based learning for school pupils also meant a ramp-up in activity for CGI on the Empowered Learning programmes it provides for the Glasgow City and Borders councils. The programme includes the young people being provided with iPads to learn both in school and at home.
McGranaghan says: “We were part-way through the rollouts both in Glasgow and Borders and, for understandable reasons, we had been asked to accelerate significantly the deployment of that.
“Scottish Borders have now completed the rollout many months ahead of schedule and they’ve been really benefitting from that blended learning approach because the IT was in place, regardless of the socio-economic backgrounds of the young people across the Borders region and similarly in Glasgow.”
That’s been a real enabler for both Glasgow council and Scottish Borders to continue as much as possible to deliver seamless education over the period, she noted.
“So we’ve seen a real ramp-up in work over the last nine months – we have continued to recruit because we are seeing increased demand particularly from local and central government – although that’s not to say that other parts of our business haven’t been impacted.”
One of the specific areas in CGI’s Scottish operations that was hit was work it did with the oil and gas sector in Aberdeen. It saw projects being stopped as soon as the pandemic hit.
“What we were keen to do was to not take furlough, we firmly believe that furlough was not set up for organisations such as CGI, but we wanted to protect all of our members, so we rapidly set up what we called ‘boot camps’ to retrain our members who have skills in a particular area into a new area of tech where we’re seeing demand, whether it was local authorities or another part of the UK.
“We had individuals in Aberdeen rolling off projects, some of which had been on those projects, my goodness, for maybe 15-plus years.”
Following the boot camps, the employees emerged with new skills in areas such as software engineering where there is current demand.
“They are now gainfully employed in a new client in a new profession that they didn’t have pre- pandemic, so we haven’t had to do any redundancy, in fact we have been growing our business and taking the opportunity to accelerate retraining and redeployment for our members, which has been a really positive outcome of the last nine months.”
It has meant some individuals swapping working on oil and gas in Aberdeen to working on the City of Edinburgh IT contract, with one even transferring to the HM Courts and Tribunal service down south.
McGranaghan says: “It’s been a very difficult period for many different reasons but it’s very important to me and the organisation we claim every single good thing out of this and make sure we maximise it and carry it forward.
“I think examples of the retraining we’ve been doing, the support and the trust we’ve built up through the pandemic in supporting the clients, has been hugely important and of course the benefits have started to come through of the flexible work-life balance.
“We have been virtual and as a result our member satisfaction, which we measure every quarter, ironically is the highest it’s ever been, at just over 90%.”
She believes that the different ways of operating because of the pandemic will lead to lasting changes. “I think it will be a blended model when we go back, which will be good in terms of the working from home and the flexibility that provides people, but I also think the connection … I don’t think I’ver ever felt closer to my members because I have a much more immediate connection with them virtually.
“I can post things on Teams chats, I can do a video conference to the full team and they can interact with me – before, I was having to travel round all of the offices, it was a much more static environment, so our members are seeing the benefit of that connection through technology.”
During the last few months CGI has signed a contract with Borders council which will see it become its primary provider of IT services until 2040.
“It generally provokes everyone to ask themselves what they’ll be doing in 2040, that’s most of the feedback,” McGranaghan laughs. “I feel like I might still be around.”
The length of the partnership, one of the longest in CGI’s history internationally, she says, gives the company a “great runway to be able to do some really special things with Scottish Borders”. The ambition is for the Scottish Borders to become the UK’s first “smart rural region”.
McGranaghan says: “As part of the extension deal that we agreed there was a significant amount of upfront savings to support the council in terms of the financial budget challenges that now, more than ever, they’re going to be facing over the next couple of years as a result of the Covid impact and further spending reviews etc.
“That was a key element of it but there was also within that programme a significant amount of commitment from the Borders council into transformation and specifically with the focus on the rural smart community.
“There are a number of projects and programmes we are commissioning that we’re really excited about and they include things like incredibly effective and automated workforce management and scheduling, much like we’ve implemented in the Borders in terms of health and social care management, housing repairs management – which is far more manual than we would like – to get that digitally transformed.
“Similarly we’re looking at the success of our Inspiring programme which is an offshoot of Empowered Learning – the iPad in the schools programme that I talked about.
“Now that’s been delivered, and has had really exceptional results, we’re working with them on commissioning what we’re calling Inspired Care, which is effectively the deployment of iPads into care homes across the Borders area.”
She says that this will continue to be needed even with the vaccination campaign. “That’s about how we better connect up the older individuals within our population but also introduce them to, and get them better connected with, technology.”
The contract will also include rationalising the council’s estate and the deployment of automation across the council and its functions to make savings, including using internet-of-things technology in areas such as bin sensors and housing sensors.
“There are programmes that will be run under the £34m transformational spend over the next three years that are towards the Borders becoming one of the smartest rural regions, which, as I say, is an incredibly ambitious aim.
“We’re delighted to be able to support them on that journey with some of the expertise in IT that we’ve got from around the world.”
She adds: “The other key element about the Borders is attracting industry. Making sure that we’ve got a very connected, rural environment that allows IT or other big industry organisations to continue to invest in the Borders is going to be a huge part of the programme that we’re pulling together – so that they can attract organisations in the same way that big cities do currently. I think there’s a real opportunity from that.
“Again out of the back of Covid we’re going to be seeing a lot of organisations looking at a more devolved and more dispersed way in which their workforces work.
“Having offices across multiple sites, rather than the big monolithic HQs, I think is probably going to be the way of the future and that can only lead to economic generation in areas such as the Borders.”
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