Technology as an Enabler: Aecon’s CPIO Paula Palma Leverages More than 20 years of Technology Expertise in Building Business Cases for Future Success


To say the role of the technology decision maker has evolved over the years would be a huge understatement. No one knows this better than Paula Palma.

Toronto-based Aecon has a storied reputation as one of Canada’s premier construction and infrastructure development companies. After five years of strategic growth, the company reorganized into four operating segments.  Within the industry verticals of Infrastructure, Energy, Mining and Concessions, the diversified company is responsible for delivering a broad range of services and projects for its private and public sector clients – including large scale transportation projects, pipeline, utilities, and nuclear work, as well as complex mining installations.

As Aecon’s Executive Vice President and Chief People and Information Officer, Palma is responsible for strategically leveraging technology best practices for business success and aligning Aecon’s people with performance.  A McGill MBA alum and INSEAD Global Executive MBA graduate – and also an expert Six Sigma practitioner with extensive experience in IT/IS and management consulting – Palma is currently tasked with guiding the organization through a wide range of projects designed to improve internal operations and customer service. Palma’s approach is driven by raising the standard for safety (Aecon’s first core value), stronger connectivity for remote sites, and greater collaboration across an extensive range of services.

The company’s IS strategy has revolved around partnering with the business, she said, adding that this includes working with technology partners and investing in technology and solution provisioning tailored to project and workforce requirements. Given that today’s shareholders seek to hold organizations more accountable than ever before, it is vital that technology decision makers ensure businesses get value for every dollar invested, she added.

She notes being a technology leader involves much more than boosting productivity or cutting costs, rather, it is in building a business case for how new hardware and services can improve sales and the bottom line. “The guiding principles are around ensuring that any technology investment makes the business more efficient, less risk-averse and delivers a single source of truth,” she explained. That said, Palma’s overarching IS philosophy lies around holistically delivering both business value and end-to-end technology that extends and automates the organization.

In light of its current technology and business goals, Aecon considers working with a technology enabler such as CDW Canada to be a strategic one, particularly for recent projects around its storage and PC management challenges: “We needed to provide seamless information sharing across the organization, while maintaining a requisite level of security and integrity of our systems.”

For example, faced with the limitations of the company’s previous storage management solution across multiple sites, Aecon’s storage team worked with CDW Canada to develop and deploy a 3PAR storage architecture that would help resolve the limitations and set them on a path to meet future project goals. This storage refresh would serve as the “transformative infrastructure” foundation for rolling out enterprise-wide unified communications and leveraging hosted cloud services such as the Microsoft Office 365 productivity platform. In the case of handling the challenge of asset management within remote locations —provisioning, imaging, deploying and managing the complete lifecycle of thousands of desktop and notebook computers across the organization — Aecon worked with CDW Canada to implement a proof of concept of CDW’s Zero Touch solution. Working with CDW Canada on the Zero Touch installation helped the organization ensure a more hands-free deployment of Windows OS across the business with seamless integration into Aecon’s IS team. The Zero Touch solution was subsequently rolled out across the organization.

In the company’s quest to develop an integrated system for BI, financial, project management, HR and supply chain needs, projects such as storage and Zero Touch initiatives play a pivotal role in Aecon moving to a single technology platform that “speaks the same language across all industries in our business,” she said. “Any partner is an extension of the internal business and IS team. CDW Canada was excellent in terms of the imaging and the provisioning, which helped us in facilitating our costs around the remote sites.” This process involves procuring the hardware, imaging the asset and adding it to Aecon’s asset management database while ensuring that any additional applications required for each specific user is installed as well, she added. CDW Canada also helped by deploying a technician to migrate data and ship the old assets back for reclamation.

“From our perspective, working with CDW Canada enables the IS team to focus on core activities that drive initiatives across the business. It enables us to hold true to service level standards and acts as an extension of the service provisioning that we give to our own clients.”

“The guiding principles are around ensuring that any technology investment makes the business more efficient, less risk-averse and delivers a single source of truth.”


BY: Ryan Patrick