The connected campus: why connectivity is key to creating high quality jobs in regional locations

Business, Technology | Tue 27 Feb | Author – Business & Finance
Pramerica-Gerard-Grant
Gerard Grant, Vice President, Technology, Innovation and Support Services at ‎Pramerica Systems Ireland

Gerard Grant of Pramerica tells Business & Finance connectivity is key when it comes to creating high quality jobs in a regional location.

Partner content in association with eir

Whether staff are in Pramerica’s impressive Letterkenny, Co Donegal campus, or working remotely, connectivity is at the core of what they do and how they work.

Pramerica, the software development and shared services division of US-based Prudential Financial, opened its doors in Letterkenny, Co Donegal with just eight employees in 2000. At the time they were operating with two 512 kb frame relay connections to the United States. Over the years Pramerica and other FDI companies in the region have pushed the agenda about the need for high speed and high quality connectivity.

We spoke to Gerard Grant, Vice President, Technology, Innovation and Support Services at ‎Pramerica Systems Ireland, about the link between connectivity and creating high quality jobs in an outlier region.

“Connectivity is really important to us,” says Gerard. “And it’s the core of everything we do in terms of our business. A generation ago Donegal was largely a manufacturing employment region the raw materials came in and out by road, air, sea, land. Today our raw materials come in over fibre-optic. Our work product goes back out over fibre-optic. Inbetween that there’s collaboration and talent.”

“That connectivity on campus – everything from high-definition video conferencing, high-definition audio, the ability to collaborate over Skype, OneDrive, Office 365 – is critical so that we can provide the maximum amount of service to Prudential back in the US.”

Pramerica is the largest private employer in the region, with over 1,500 people providing over 50 functions to Prudential in the U.S., from technology, software development, QA testing and and a range of professional shared services that include high end services including data science, actuarial, legal and accounting. Their campus is home to a diverse range of staff, from over 35 countries, attracted to Donegal by the great standard of living, proximity to the beach, and short commute, not to mention high quality jobs enabled by connectivity. As well as the 1,230 staff on campus, they also have nearly 300 people working from home.

“Fibre-to-the-home, eFibre and high-speed broadband products are critical to allow us to extend the campus services out to the home so they can participate as richly as the people that are on campus and there’s no difference in the experience for them or the customers,” says Gerard.

“’It’s important that our customers don’t see a difference between somebody in the office and somebody working from home, that the experience is the same, the performance is the same, the connectivity, the reliability and the security are all the same.”

According to Gerard enhancing the customer experience allows Pramerica to do more high-value work for the customer.

“We need partners that we can work with who understand what we’re trying to do in that space,” he says. “Having a trusted partner like eir and having people who understand that from the desktop to the data centre to the regions to the people working from home, that the experience – the quality of that experience, the reliability, the service – is absolutely critical to the way we do our business and really important to our customer as well.”

“The network, the connectivity, the services and support are key to delivering that overall end-user experience and how that end-user experience translates into the customer experience.”

DESIGN THINKING

In 2014 when Pramerica decided to build a new campus in Letterkenny they did a comprehensive survey of all staff to see how they worked, and fed this feedback into the building design. What came out of this was a cutting edge building, using technology and connectivity to create a modern workplace that works for its users.

“We figured out our key modes of work – which are focus, quiet, collaboration, learning and socialisation -and those five key modes of work were then put into the design of the building,” says Gerard.

The building was designed around this concept with spaces for small, medium and large staff gatherings, individual and collaborative work, and rooms for stand-up meetings to support agile project management practices.

Cutting edge technology has been designed into daily life, including an app to order in advance and pay for food in the self-service cafeteria.

“We have thousands of sensors in the building that measure everything from heat, humidity, light, temperature, and work to learn about the building on the best way to use all the energy in the building,” he reveals.

“We’ve an array of solar panels on the roof that provide up to 16% of our electricity during nine months of the year and we also use those solar panels to power our e-charging stations for electric cars which are free to all staff to use.”

INNOVATION LAB

Pride of place, in the heart of the building is the Wave Innovation Lab, which is a space dedicated to innovation, as the name suggests, with facilities to encourage collaboration with customers and high speed connectivity to the Cloud to develop and road test innovations.

“We’ve collaborated with the local Letterkenny Institute of Technology to bring some Design Thinking principles to the practice that allows people very quickly, over a couple of days, to understand an idea for a technology product or service, really think it out and at the end of the couple of days come up with a Minimum Viable Product that we can bring to the next level to talk to customers and our business partners about its viability,” says Gerard.

“The whole idea behind the lab and the practice is to invite customers in here to tell us what they are thinking of doing. That’s a really important conversation we have to have with the customer. It allows us to get involved earlier in the journey on product development, earlier in the journey on technology development so that we have an input into how products and services are designed in a very collaborative way. We’re not looking to lead this effort but we really are looking to facilitate it through the space, the location and the team we’ve put in place.”

It’s clear from the impressive set-up you don’t need to be in the heart of a tech hub to be at the cutting edge of innovation. Donegal, at the farthest reaches of Ireland, now has a powerful networking landscape, with Pramerica and other companies able to avail of multiple gigabit connections to the Internet and Cloud, with a vast range of products and services allowing them to continually innovate and create high-value employment in the region.