Breaking up is hard to do

Echoing the words of Neil Sedaka, breaking up does not just leave a mess in love affairs, but in business as well. When the problem of Tata Steel’s UK business underperformance was first broached to us, it was first to state that selling us off was not an option – unlike Long Products in Scunthorpe, selling the South Wales business would create a competitor on IJmuiden’s doorstep, hence it was explained to us that it was a do-or-die situation: we had to pull through financially or be shut down.

That’s why the move of Tata at the end of March to try and find a buyer was such a surprise. Obviously, they did not want to have their name attached to the closure of major steel plant in the UK. Still, separation of operations rather than just closure brings its own problems. Just like the disentanglement of European joint ventures will be a headache following Brexit, there’s now so many centralised functions common to IJmuiden and South Wales that setting up separate functions will be a major operation.

One of the first things that happened when Corus was formed was the reorganisation of the Research & Development facilities, followed shortly by the closure of Welsh Labs. The drive to become one company became even more pronounced under Karl Köhler, when the plants would concentrate on producing and the centre on planning and directing. Centralising of Human Resources, raw materials purchase, Information Services, complaints handling, customer interface etc. etc. was well underway and was either completed or likely to be completed in the next few years. And more often than not this meant that these services were being centralised in IJmuiden.

In my case I was most exposed to the IT side of things. I had been working closely with Process Control, who are our local experts of handling the information flowing out of and into our production systems. However, with the formation of Group Information Services (GIS), it was decided that Process Control had overstepped its brief, and that they should restrict themselves to Level 1 and Level 2 computing (PLCs and systems directly related to running the plant). Process Control’s SQL servers and web servers came under the supervision of GIS, and plans were being made to migrate them physically to IJmuiden at the time that they needed upgrading.

Fortunately this hadn’t yet happened at the time of the announcement, but in the meantime there’s already enough systems depending on storage facilities in SAP systems and Oracle server parks to provide a major headache in extricating the UK side of the systems from the Dutch ones.

When I stated my intention to retire more than a year ago, my boss asked for a commitment to return for a few days a week should that prove to be necessary. This commitment I have given, but thus far there’s been no call on my services, either because everything is still working out fine, my replacement is managing OK, or maybe everything is on hold, awaiting the outcome of the sales process.


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