When you’re overtaken by events: from interim information manager to dismantling the IT division
At Transition Experts, we can look back on a good partnership with GLT-PLUS that has lasted for many years. After a number of successful projects in 2015 and 2016, our colleague Dirk joined GLT-PLUS as interim information manager in 2018. He got straight to work implementing some major plans and a whole series of improvement projects. Just eighteen months later, however, the IT division had to be dismantled because GLT-PLUS itself was to be wound down. Quite a turn-around!
Let’s start at the beginning. GLT-PLUS (GTL stands for Groningen Long Term) was a consortium that included Stork, Worley (formerly Jacobs), Siemens and Yokogawa Europe. It was responsible for maintaining and adapting the installations that ensure the required level of gas production in the Groningen gas field in the northern Netherlands. GLT-PLUS had one customer – NAM (Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij), formed by Royal Dutch Shell and the Exxon Mobile Corporation.
Our relationship with GLT-PLUS goes back quite a long way. In 2015, GLT-PLUS and Yokogawa asked us to provide support for transferring internal IT systems and processes and the associated organization to Yokogawa. Our colleague Dirk van Sichem successfully completed that transition, and in 2018 he was asked to oversee a number of further innovations and improvements as interim information manager.
But what he did not know then was that the new project would quickly turn into a completely different job…
A conversation with Dirk van Sichem, partner and transition manager at Transition Experts
So Dirk, how did this project start?
“I was hired as an interim information and programme manager in 2018, and my job was to make improvements to the way in which data provision was organized. My previous experience and expertise meant that I was able to get started quickly, and I’m well-suited to a role as interim information manager or interim CIO. The first step was to begin working on some improvement projects that had been on the shelf for a while. We had quite a long timeframe in mind: GLT-PLUS was supposed to be active until 2030. At that time, we had no idea its lifespan would be shortened – first to 2024, and later to the end of 2020. Initially, the finish line was set at 2030. So I began by tackling some outdated environments in which security risks were gradually emerging.
We migrated all the virtual servers from VMWare to MS HyperV. All the Windows 2008 R2 servers were upgraded to Windows 12 or higher. We replaced the Windows 7 workspaces with Windows 10 Modern Workplace and we migrated SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint Online from M365. We also tackled a number of other projects.
Actually they were very standard programmes, projects, migrations and transitions, just like those I’d encountered at many other organizations. Then, at the end of 2019, it became clear that GLT-PLUS was going to be wound up in the near future (at the end of 2020), partly due to the phasing out of gas extraction in Groningen. Initially, GLT-PLUS was supposed to continue its activities until 2030, but that suddenly became 2024. And soon after that, at the end of 2019, we heard that NAM wanted to terminate its contract with GLT-PLUS on 31 December 2020. They no longer thought it necessary to keep the consortium up and running, and they wanted to do the maintenance work themselves. Inevitably, that led to a slow-down in our activities.”
Now that we have the benefit of hindsight… did all that work go to waste?
“Yes and no. In retrospect, you could say that some of those improvement processes were unnecessary. But actually that’s not really true. We simply didn’t know that we were already getting so close to the finish, and NAM was only able to tell us that at a late stage.
But on the other hand, suppose that we’d known all along that GLT-PLUS would be over by the end of 2020. We would still have had to do something about the outdated environments. Doing nothing is a risk, especially when it comes to security. You can see it as a calculated risk – so, we might have enhanced security in other ways, which could have adversely affected ease of use. In this case, NAM made a conscious decision to invest and make sure that everything was up to scratch right until the end. That only required a relatively small investment for them, and it also prevented a lot of awkward political questions. And in this context, that was certainly valuable too.”
And then at the end of 2020, the plug had to be pulled. How did that go?
“It was quite a strange feeling. The world can change very quickly. We were doing some great work. In 2018, I started a whole series of improvement projects – really useful work. And eighteen months later you find yourself taking everything apart again. Quite a turn-around!
But as a transition manager, I was already used to that. It’s also an exciting feeling when everything has to change suddenly. It was a shame that we weren’t able to finish what we were doing in all cases. But on the other hand it was also interesting to work on dismantling the IT division. I had actually never done that before. I’ve worked on some radical transition projects, but I’d never been asked to dismantle an IT division before. Quite an interesting project, to be honest, and I learned a lot from it because we don’t do projects like this every day.”
What made it so different?
“When you think about it, any IT division is intertwined with all kinds of organizational processes and techniques. Just think of the contract management. And of all the contracts that GLT-PLUS had – not one of them happened to expire on 31 December 2020, I can tell you! Then there are all the employment contracts, insurance, suppliers, licenses, software, hardware maintenance. So we had to sort out all of that, of course, and handle all the negotiations to terminate contracts earlier or later, and so on.
And there were a lot of difficult moments too, like saying goodbye to colleagues. We had to arrange for information to be archived – things that have to be retained for thirty years for tax purposes. And we had to clear out the paper and digital archives. Emptying the data centres, destroying certain data. There were so many different jobs to be done.”
What did you learn from it?
“It is quite a challenge to bring a complex organization to a standstill from a process point of view. The activities of GLT-PLUS for the NAM formally came to an end on 31 December 2020, but some processes just had to continue for some time afterwards. Bank accounts, for example, and financial administration. Invoices continued to come in, and the accountants had to complete the annual accounts. Many things could not just come to a halt on that date. Even now, eighteen months later, there is still a small digital archive environment to handle the last administrative tasks.
To be honest, from a professional point of view it was a wonderful assignment. In some respects it was an unfortunate period, but the core of my work over that final year was just dealing with whatever was thrown at me. That is true of every transition, in some respect, but even more so in this project. Of course, we see situations like this with mergers, acquisitions and partnerships, but this assignment was unique. Winding up an organization completely just isn’t something that you do very often
In December 2021 there were 250 employees at GLT-PLUS, and by mid January the building was virtually empty. A strange experience, but it didn’t last for long. IT has a special role in that sense. Together with the Finance division, we had to tie up all the loose ends and turn the lights off as we left.”
“Well, GLT-PLUS is now offline and the organization has been fully wound up. As I said, there are still a few small things to do, but that’s only a matter of time, and all the necessary arrangements have been put in place. After about six years of working with GLT-PLUS, the project is now finally complete. GLT-PLUS was a great client, and I always enjoyed working with them. And it really got me thinking about change processes, mergers, partnerships and takeovers.“
Transition Experts has been a continual partner for GLT-PLUS in recent years. It has always been a good partnership. Dirk van Sichem guided our organization through a complex phase in its existence. We have benefited from his knowledge, experience and outstanding strategic insight and It has also been great to exchange ideas with him and the rest of his team. Transition Experts brought us substantive knowledge in every area, and that was just what we needed. They also brought us expertise and manpower for various projects, from advice to technical implementation. They are able to source the right people for every position. It’s fantastic to have that kind of total package, in practice.
Would you like to know more?
• CIO as a Service as a component of the Modular Digital Transformation
• View our references from GLT-PLUS and Yokogawa
• Previous interview with Dirk van Sichem: CIO as a Service: an experienced, committed and flexible expert on call for your organization
The basics of data-driven working: 5 steps to success
Data-driven working: the key to faster and more accurate decision-making. But that’s only if you manage to get it right, because there are quite a few pitfalls along the way. This blog post tells you about the five steps that you have to get right if you’re planning to automate business processes using data. Read more.
Why cyber security deserves more attention in Operational Technology (OT)
Where Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) used to be clearly separated worlds, these two are getting more and more connected and intertwined – it is called Industry 4.0. Unfortunately, we regularly see that insufficient attention is paid to the consequences of this interweaving in the field of cyber security. Read more.