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Wednesday, 17th April 2024
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Financial management in IT services Back  
Paul O’Brien is Finance Director at IT Alliance, an IT service company established in 1997 and now employing 250 people. It covers outsourcing, testing and consulting, and has partnered with technology companies such as Compaq and Netscape. He previously worked for Compaq and Glen Dimplex.
7:00am My time of getting up is always 7:00am, but the number of alarm calls I get throughout the night can vary hugely at the moment, thanks to my ten week-old daughter, Aoife and 21 month-old son, Connor. Breakfast is orange juice and I try to leave the house as quickly as possible to avoid getting anyone else’s breakfast on my suit! The drive to the office from my home in Ratoath on the Meath border takes 30-40 minutes. I tune in to Morning Ireland but often spend a lot of that time on the phone. For light relief, I occasionally listen to the Breakfast Show on Today FM.

8:00am The first half hour in the office is normally spent checking emails and getting the news online, i.e. keeping up with the latest events and monitoring the company’s portfolio of stocks.

8:30am Monday - My first meeting of the day normally starts at 8:30am. This would be with the company accountant and my projects manager. What we are doing here this morning is examining our objectives for systems implementation. Our key task at the moment is putting in a new internet back office and financial architecture for the organisation. As labour is our greatest cost, this is what needs to be most strictly controlled. We aim to have a web-based timesheet system, which can be accessed by anyone who is working for us in any location in the world. This allows us to keep track of all of the information at all times so that people get paid and clients get invoiced on time. Getting the right systems and processes in place is vital to allow us to maintain growth at the current pace. The output from the meeting is largely positive and we are on track until next week!

9:30am After going through responses to all pressing voicemails, e-mails and post with my personal assistant, I will normally sit down and review where we are financially for half an hour before meeting Philip Maguire, the MD. As with any company, cash flow has to be managed very tightly and this is one of the key metrics we review weekly.

10:30am A weekly session with Philip normally lasts about two hours. With all of our days now made up of back-to-back meetings, we have to make sure to stay extremely focused on the key issues, which means the style of our meetings is quite results oriented. Firstly, we review the minutes of our previous meeting to ensure all actions have been closed. The key issue this morning is setting up a forecasting template for the business. With a business growing at this rapid pace we need to maintain control and ensure that we operate in an environment without unnecessary surprises. This is a key challenge for any small company on the road to becoming a large entity. After updating each other generally on new business wins, we look at any potential issues, work out what action is required to ward these off and plan the time scales for any action decided upon. We examine the three divisions of IT Alliance in turn - outsourcing, consulting and testing.

After that, there’s an hour to get in some preparation for the meeting with our auditors. This does not go as well as planned as I seem to have a steady stream of colleagues looking for advice on various issues. This is pretty much the norm. I try to make time during the day to wander about the office and touch base with members of the team. This is where any issues with staff or customers often come to light. As a company, we aim to offer our customers creative business solutions through people, skills and alliances and to do this we source and support complete solutions from further afield and not just Ireland. With upwards of 250 people on our payroll and a further 350 contractors at any one time, keeping in touch is vital.

1:00pm Lunchtime finds me heading across town to meet with our newly appointed auditors to discuss year-end audit and tax planning for the group. After the usual struggle through city traffic, I will return to the office and grab a sandwich at my desk. As often as possible, we try to take the ‘Friday curry’ together with some of the team. This is usually in Hanlon’s, across the road from our new premises in Park House on the North Circular Road. Another favourite spot for lunch is the Hole in the Wall.

After lunch: I spend time preparing for a client meeting later in the afternoon. An interruption - which is now fairly commonplace! The management team are pulled together for photos in preparation for our office opening. However as IT Alliance becomes more and more high profile as a company, the range of duties for everyone here can now include things like attending press functions and photo calls and facilitating media enquiries in general. Flexibility is really the key to success in everything we do. To get the key skills and resources for our clients in today’s fast moving economy, the whole style of the organisation has to be based around this. Of course, balancing work with the family commitment is something that many people struggle with today and taking time out for a call from my wife to consult on holiday plans, for example, has to be slotted into the schedule.

3:00pm Having gone through any legal issues and drafted a final version of terms and conditions of a contract, I am ready to meet the customer. Today, I am meeting Compaq, our biggest client, and my background with them makes the relationship interesting. We can always begin with a bit of banter but quickly get down to the business of negotiating our contract for outsourcing. When issues arise, as they always will, an atmosphere of mutual respect and a no-nonsense approach gets us through. We get through most of the issue and agree that a final draft will be issued in the next twenty-four hours.

4.30pm Most of our customers are based in Ireland but we are establishing a presence in the UK and that’s were I’m off to tomorrow to meet with the finance manager of a prospective client. I spend the rest of the afternoon going through the pricing and preparing a response to the various issues the client has raised. Gathering all of the necessary documentation as well as drawing up a list of objectives for the meeting saves valuable time for both sides.

7:00pm I make a policy of leaving the office no later than 7:00pm each evening if at all possible. I generally don’t take work home so that I can get some precious time with my son, Connor, before he goes to bed. This is my favourite form of relaxation. The drive home is of course much more pleasant and relaxed than the morning one and I use this time to catch up on the sports news or think up holiday plans. With two small children now, we have opted this year for a week in West Cork in August, followed by a week at home. I admit I look forward to the luxury of taking time out for the simple things, like a game of golf or eating out at our favourite local eatery, Hudson’s bistro in Navan.

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