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IT Life: Putting Food On The Table

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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David Morris is the Head of IT at Nisa Retail, but he once wanted to be a footballer

David Morris is the head of IT at Nisa Retail, a nationwide group of independent retailers. He’s behind the IT that ensures you get your milk at your local shop, and for a price comparable with that of the larger supermarkets. He loves Apple, thinks Bill Gates is a tech villain and once harboured dreams of playing at St James’ Park for Newcastle United.

What is your company, how long have you been in IT and what are your areas of expertise?
I’ve been in IT for 21 years now across a couple of different companies. I’ve actually been with Nisa Retail, my present company, for 19 years. Nisa is an organisation founded 35 years ago based on the simple concept of aggregating independent retailers.

At that point, we were a buying consortium to enable independent retailers to buy at the same level as the multiples like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda. Over a period of time, the company has changed into a distributor. Just negotiating a price to delivering goods to a store was the next stage.

Latterly, the company has changed its business model again to become a retailer as we now have 800 retail stores across the UK. However we still distribute to between 3,500 and 4,000 independent stores.

Ground breaking online platform

What is your favourite project that you’ve worked on?
We delivered an online platform back in 2002 which was relatively new at that time to integrate independent retailers together online to allow them to order. In 2007, we refreshed the project totally with new technologies and we delivered an integrated online ordering solution to 4,500 retailers at that time to allow them to gather information from our business and populate their back office systems.

Now that was a fantastic project because an integrated online third party system was relatively groundbreaking and it delivered us the ability to control all of those systems at once.

What technologies were you using ten years ago?
Ten years ago we were collecting orders and providing product information to our retailers via modems and simple protocols. So things have moved on significantly since then.

What technologies do you expect to be using in ten years time?
I think in ten years time there’s going to be a lot more integration, certainly in our sector. So we’ll be controlling more of the remote stores. That’ll be via some complex logic and delivered by a plethora of mobile devices. That’s going to be our intention going forward anyway.

What’s your budget outlook going forward?
I think that changes as innovation comes along. We’re an innovative company and we’ll look at all options available to us if they can deliver benefits to our organisation and the business case stacks up.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for an IT department or company today?
The proliferation of IT suppliers who maybe cross over. In an ideal scenario, we’re looking for something fully integrated end-to-end and there so many players at the moment who make various claims. Things move so quickly and it’s a challenge to stay ahead of the game and to identify key suppliers and technologies going forward.

To cloud or not to cloud?
For our organisation, delivering Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions to our retailers over the cloud is fantastic. It’s a fantastic value for money of delivering software across a number of different sectors.

Do you have a tech hero and a tech villain?
Somebody like Steve Jobs would be my tech hero. What he’s managed to deliver in such a simplistic way is admirable. The independent retailers that we deal with are not IT people, so anybody that can bridge the gap between complicated technology but deliver it in a simplistic way has done a fantastic job.

As far tech villain, I would probably say Bill Gates. Controversial I know, but marketing has overshadowed quality and there are better applications out there than the ones you are forced to use from a Microsoft perspective.

What’s your favourite technology ever made and what do you use the most?
I can’t live without my iPad at the moment and all the information on it. I use that the most.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire the most and why?
I suppose Apple for their innovations.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I’m not going to say an IT manager! I suppose like every small child, I wanted to be a professional footballer, probably for Newcastle United. A young Kevin Keegan, if you will!

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