Tricon - Success through efficient IT and Partnerships
Craig Wood believes in Pedal Power. That efficient use of energy driving a cyclist’s legs and converting their movement into the most effective, economic momentum of the wheels.
Earlier this year Wood took time out from his role as Director of Infrastructure and Security at Tricon Energy to endure a 740km cycle ride through the sweltering heat and endless seas of corn in the state of Iowa. Not only completing but surviving such a gruelling challenge was all about the super-efficient use of resources.
Craig Wood is keen on what he calls ‘leanness’. That’s all about running a business with no unnecessary fat on the bones - just a lean machine. Something a devoted and passionate cyclist would understand.
Tricon Energy is also a ‘well-oiled’ super-efficient business. That’s largely down to Craig Wood’s approach and how he has navigated this company through the even more challenging landscape of the digital age.
Tricon Energy is a Houston TX-based leader in the global trade and distribution market. Its technology ensures its clients can trade commodities such as chemicals, plastics, fertilisers, and unprocessed dry bulk materials efficiently and in real time.
Underpinning this commodity trading is Tricon Energy’s commitment to utilizing the very best IT and the most rewarding business collaborations.
Craig Wood has a reputation for innovation in the way he manages technological change. He’s been developing leading-edge technologies to get the most effective interaction between businesses and their clients throughout his career. So, how much store does he place in this experience in his role at Tricon Energy?
“I think it's been of a very large contributor,” he says. “I come from a small managed service provider. This is where I really cut my teeth with IT services. That was where I learned how to use IT effectively and the importance of recognising the differences between vendor relationships and true partnerships.”
REALLY UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF RISK
“With Tricon being a very lean organization, especially regarding IT services, we have spent a great deal of time identifying and building partnerships to propel us forward in our annual growth and innovation towards digital transformation and risk mitigation of cyber threats, which are evolving rapidly and constantly.
“This has led us to adopt a strong industry toolset which educates and informs employees of potential risks to both Tricon and our clients and partners so that we can respond appropriately in today's IT threat landscape.’
But according to Wood the key to success when detecting and combatting cyber threat is not just about using the best IT for the job. That’s only part of a bigger picture.
Wood says mitigating risk is often down to understanding and anticipating simple human nature. ‘No solution or tool is 100% effective to the daily threat evolution, so the first line of defence needs to be employee awareness and diligent communication.
“Artificial intelligence catches a good 97% of most phishing threats but that risky three percent can shut down an enterprise and cost millions of dollars, for that reason, awareness is one of the company's greatest assets.”
THE LEAN, MEAN MACHINE
Wood attributes much of Tricon Energy’s early success to what he calls its ‘leanness’.
‘Effective IT tool sets can help a company become lean and efficient companies can use those tool sets more effectively. Leanness and using the right technology go hand in hand.’
Wood says matching tool-sets to employees is a balancing act many businesses fail to understand. It’s a movable feast which should be continually under review.
‘I think this has an absolute effect on the technologies you use,’ he says.
Why? Because, he argues, there is always a trade-off between the technology you use and the employees you engage to run them. Wood believes that CIOs often face a dilemma - almost a law of diminishing returns.
‘I believe a CIO’s efficacy it goes up until you start spending a certain amount of time on your tool-sets…then you have negative returns.
‘The more time the CIO spends working at that level with the tool-sets the less effective they are in their job and their tasks.
‘The greater than number of tool-sets you have, the more complex the environment, so you either need more employees or the more highly skilled employees you have to have.’
Wood says this is the challenge all CIOs face. ‘If you don’t get the ratio right, you face a fall in efficiency. He says the real skill is learning to meter out the tool-sets you have and know how to measure what your staff can support. You need to ensure that you're seeing what the optimization and the value in those tools are. Just having them isn't enough.’
WAVING THE I.T. MAGIC WAND
Wood says he is passionate about getting the relationship between the Board of a business and the CIO right too. “It’s absolutely key,” he says.
“It’s interesting,’ he says. “I recently heard someone say that, to the board of a company, technology is magic; the CIO is a wizard.”
“The board says: ‘We say we want this outcome’ and the board hears wizard say: ‘I've got a magic wand, and this is what's going to fix it for you.” Most often regardless of what the CIO actually tells them.”
“But if you can't deliver actual outcomes to demonstrate and recognize where there's risk and say ‘hey it's doing this good of a job here…but we have additional risk that needs to be addressed.’ If you don't communicate that to the Board then the Board is going to be surprised, and if that surprise is ransomware that's the CIO’s fault and you wear that burden for a while.”
But according to Wood, that’s only half of the equation. The other half is all about looking beyond your internal assets. Again, he stresses that balance is everything. What you can’t get from that ‘well-oiled’ internal employee mechanism you need to complement with partnerships.
“Partnerships are the backbone of building a business such as Tricon Energy,” he says.
So how much input does Wood have in Tricon Energy’s partnership strategy? Answer: A lot.
“Yes, I’m not just an influence around that process, I’m a decision maker, as far as our partnerships go for technology.”
“This is critical. It is very important who you partner with when you're going to run a efficient organization and many would argue that every organisation, as far as IT goes, is ‘lean’. It’s often considered a cost centre. One company may see it as a red line at the bottom of the general ledger, another company may see it as a black line and as an aid to empowerment to the business.”
“Either way,” says Wood, “IT still has a job to in the partnership process.” And, it is partnerships which Wood champions. He is not a fan of vendor relationships.
“The partnerships you make are going to determine whether or not you end up with vendor relationship - which I do not believe in - or you have a partnership which you're growing together.”
Wood is sceptical of vendor relationships. He says they tend to miss opportunities and lack true commitment from both sides. If you have a real partner and a real partnership they're engaged in your benefit versus their benefit.
“The problem with a vendor is the vendor is one to say “what are my margins? Is this a good account?” They won’t feel the true value of the relationship and determine what tool-sets to use and how to best manage them for the betterment of the business rather than the vendor margins.”
“Yes, you're going to have to have some partnerships that are less strategic than others, because you need a ‘widget’ to work, but the core partnerships have to have the core relationships.”
“With a true partnership you're addressing the situation's together that you're encountering and you're both working to be good custodians of the business.”
Wood cites Tricon’s partnership with Long View Systems as a good example of how this relationship should work.
“I have that with Long View Systems, who is our managed service provider, and we work very closely together and I include them and a lot of decision making an input into what we do.”
Wood says working within a company such as Tricon Energy requires a very different approach to the old days when he was a consultant. It’s about trust and equality in a partnership.
“With Tricon we've got a motivation that is driven by efficiency and innovation, and we have a subset of tools that I have to stay within that help Tricon. Having to pare down what tools we utilize limits my field of vision, as far as what technologies are developing, how they are used, what their impact is. So, my decision-making capacity is limited in that regard. This means I must rely on my partners to give me good information which is not biased towards them.”
Craig Wood describes himself as a Servant Leader. He says trust and collaboration is everything.
“I believe, very much in educating my staff and helping them grow. I do a lot of work to ensure that they can progress. They are the only reason I’m successful and so I make sure I put that first. I empower my employees, so that they can educate and grow and have a clear line of succession.”
Wood says this approach is how he can take sleep at night, take vacations and even take time to cycle across an entire state in the heat of Summer.