Justin Mallgrave – Evoqua Water Technologies
When a company is spun off from or sold by another larger entity, a sense of cautious optimism is to be expected. With new ownership come new opportunities—and a chance to become indispensable.
That was certainly the case for Pittsburgh-based water technology company Evoqua Water Technologies when, in 2014, it was sold by its global parent company to a U.S. private equity firm. Long considered a global leader in industrial and municipal services, Evoqua was optimistic that its latest incarnation would be the most dynamic to date—and one with increasingly global ambitions.
But the deal also exposed some significant blind spots. The company had grown through numerous acquisitions and was then acquired and sold by large multi-national companies multiple times. As a result, its IT and infrastructure had become a patchwork of systems and processes.
So when Justin Mallgrave joined the company as its new director of IT in 2017, the challenges—and the opportunities—were as clear as a glass of water.
“Our mission is about transforming water and enriching life,” Mallgrave says. “But IT needed a refreshed approach to develop a truly global support model, and that’s where our team came in.”
Back to basics
From the start, Mallgrave’s goal was twofold: rebalance the company’s IT team and infrastructure (and its legacy systems in particular); and lay the groundwork for standardization across the organization—mainly to support its own growing portfolio of global acquisitions.
One of the biggest steps Evoqua has taken since 2018 under Mallgrave’s direction, has been a push to modernize the ERP platform, and with it, uncustomize many of the core operations. By standardizing all of its core processes into one platform—everything from sales and distribution to accounting, logistics and real estate management—the company hopes to drive process discipline and create greater alignment to the business strategy across the organization.
That, in turn, allows Mallgrave and his team to drive global benefits and integrated reporting, leading to better decision-making.
“It’s critical to understand quality constraints around decision-ready information. Companies struggle to understand the difference between operational reports and financial reports, but you need both,” Mallgrave says. “Once you understand the threshold for a decision, everything beyond that is irrelevant.”
As 2020 turns to 2021, Mallgrave and the team are focused on strengthening their business partnerships by continuing to drive toward an improved ERP system. Moreover, Evoqua’s recent growth has given the company an opportunity to develop its own set of best practices and processes to chart its next phase of growth.
As part of a shift in 2020, Mallgrave is focused on a new initiative: a self-service model that will reduce the number of touchpoints between Evoqua employees and the IT department.
“The goal is to provide better access to company systems, while also protecting the information they need to do their jobs,” says Mallgrave. “It’s important to recognize that in this situation—between changing workforce demographics and the quarantine most of us are now in – there are no hallway conversations, so streamlining communications becomes as important as streamlining systems.”
Around the same time as the start of the ERP modernization effort—and in keeping with its efforts to streamline the organization’s technology stack—the department began working to consolidate and automate backend processes to create more scalable solutions across the environment: things like master data transfers, platform operations, support services and so on.
As a result, the company has been able to continue to expand its hybrid cloud model, which allows Evoqua to focus more on its core strengths.
Another 2020 initiative that proved particularly timely was the launch of Microsoft Teams, a communications platform that includes file storage, chat, video and application integration functions.
“What we wanted to do, more than anything else, was to improve collaboration across the company,” Mallgrave explains. “Using Teams was an opportunity to change the way we communicate. That’s a good thing regardless of what’s happening around you. But it proved to be extremely crucial.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early March, the networks and infrastructure Evoqua had put into place throughout its various facilities proved not just helpful, but indispensable.
Even though most of the company’s employees worked at job sites or in any one of the company’s facilities, many were able to work remotely—thanks in no small part to the work of Mallgrave and his team.
The upgrades haven’t just been a boon to the company’s remote employees (for whom Teams has become the go-to platform); even on-site engineers and maintenance teams are experiencing better communication.
“If you can reduce the amount of time scheduling meetings and logging in and turning it around from, say, an hour to 30 minutes—that’s significant,” Mallgrave says. “You extrapolate that out across the company, you’re talking about enormous time savings.”
Whether it’s treating wastewater from a city or town, providing reliable high purity water for hospitals and medical labs, or helping companies make the drinks that quench our thirst on a hot summer day, Evoqua is the very definition of an “essential business.”
Indeed, even the above descriptions don’t fully capture the complexity of Evoqua’s offerings. Wastewater treatment that converts organics in the water into new biomass; cleaning water for reuse with reactivated carbon; ultraviolet disinfection systems that can support tens of millions of gallons of water a day—just to name a few of the company’s critical services.
It’s the kind of work that most of us take for granted. But as Mallgrave and his team have proved, without a strong foundation in place, not even the most technologically advanced of companies will be able to take their operations to the next level—let alone weather a global pandemic.
“A lot of people go into IT wanting to work for the technology companies,” Mallgrave says. “Here, we get to work with technology for a company with a mission: Transforming Water. Enriching Life.”
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