Technology Chiefs Interview Feb 2018

What are the top three priorities in your role?

That’s a good question.

When I’m working with a client in a leadership capacity I think of the three main things in the moment.

The first one is around how can we provide additional capabilities to the organisation in forms of revising the IT strategy or third-party management or being able to bring forth things that they’re not currently doing. Looking at the way they’re building on what they’ve currently got as opposed to just tweaking what’s already in existence.

I find a lot of organisations spend a lot of time just focusing on the capabilities they have currently got in place but not really thinking about how they’re going to grow themselves going forwards. And that’s actually the key thing with IT. It’s looking at how can you make things work even better? How can you automate other business functions? How can you bring out new product lines? How can you have a key effect on the bottom line?

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The second thing that’s vitally important when we’re thinking about strategy inside organisations, is security. There is an increased focus on security at the moment and by putting in place modern processes and practices it will help secure the data inside the organisation. But security is much bigger than just IT and so it means educating the whole company in best practice and in information governance.

The third thing is how can you drive up the service levels of IT while still being able to maintain great quality service and also reducing costs? I think that’s really the magic bullet that many people are looking for – how can you improve but at the same time reduce the cost?

Which previous role had the biggest impact on your career?

That’s a great question and I think that would be the divestments of BUPA hospitals by Spire Healthcare. This was a pivotal role for me because it’s where I really transitioned from being a technology delivery agent into actually becoming a technology leader.

This was a year-long project with high stakes for everybody involved:- from the credibility of this newly created Hospital group to potential financial losses for the firm or for the venture capitalist we were working for, and of course, the potential of loss of life or other serious medical impacts if things had gone wrong.

So back in 2006, this was pioneering work we were doing in the early days of the private cloud.  When we pulled it off it provided a great service for patients and consultants alike and I was really proud to bring the project in on time and under budget for such a transformative piece of work.

How do you see the role of the Technology Leader changing?

I can see the role of technology leaders changing because we all know that keeping the lights on is no longer enough and the pace of change is accelerating.  The only constant of change is the acceleration of change. Previously, major transformations used to occur maybe every five years.  Yet now in most organisations I am working with, I find they’re having these come yearly or with even less time than that.  We need to be aware of this in our role in driving the business forward through the delivery of new capabilities so that we change the story from being “lights on” as being the norm to “transform” as being the norm.

When you consider the pace of change that consumerisation of IT is bringing to everybody, it’s making every armchair dweller an IT expert. The role of the IT Leader and change maker is only going to get more difficult because of this. As organisations still try to cling on to what they had before, these are becoming more dated methods of working.

It’s harder to get the results they’re looking for with things like digital transformation and how that is affecting organisations. It means that our role has to change as digital leaders. We are no longer in the happy place of having a mandate for everything. I think in some cases we have to bite the bullet and take the risks and lead things through that change.

What are the most important issues confronting the technology industry?

I believe there are two important issues confronting the technology industry today.

The first one is the belief that everyone can do anything and technology leaders need to understand what’s really going on inside the organisation otherwise they are in danger of being caught out by fragmented solutions.  There will be things getting done in corners which shouldn’t be done and there’s no visibility of these. These things don’t end up driving a company forward but actually hold it back, as it ends up costing more time, more money and, in fact, a higher degree of lost opportunities and potentially a lot higher risk.

Because when these little solutions are created in various different corridors of the organisation they are not visible from an IT point of view, or a risk point of view or even a data management point of view.  Then when something goes wrong, something is lost, something’s attacked etc we could end up having a bigger problem or a bigger situation.

The second thing that we all need to recognise is increasing risk from a security potential. We all know now that it’s not a case of if we’re ever going to get hacked, it’s a case of when we’re going to get hacked. That whole change of approach means that we need to change the mindset not just from the technology perspective but across the entire firm. If you’ve read security materials or ISO materials you will realise that you are contractually liable for any data loss.

This can mean that those fragmented technology architects or solutions they produce are creating these little tiny pockets, these little data islands all over the place with no centralised control. Getting this wrong could mean that you end up losing information and then you could end up paying a significant penalty. This is starting to be seen as we’ve seen GDPR come into effect and other EU regulations around this.

What technology trends are you most excited about and why?

So many great things are happening in technology. I just love it. It’s one of the key reasons why I stay in the field. For me, the two biggest things that are happening at the moment are around the IOT (The Internet of Things) and 3D printing and that whole manifesto of small-scale manufacturing. These are things that catch my imagination because of the potential applications. Despite the rhetoric around job losses/the downfall of the human race as we know it etc if there is “the rise of machines”.

I firmly believe that as technologists we should be looking and encouraging a more utopian view of the future and not this dystopian one.

Everybody can find problems, everybody can find risks, but it’s going to take real technology champions and leaders to really push things forwards and actually make the changes and strive to get things better.  At the same time, making sure that we put those fundamental controls in place so we don’t put ourselves too much at risk.

So, my gut feeling is that these technologies are just a stepping stone into the future and a way of encouraging others to think big and to have a bigger difference in the world.

What product or company is having the biggest impact?

That’s a really good question and I think that obviously is very hard to answer from a global perspective. If I was looking specifically at two or three of the clients I work with at the moment, I would probably say Microsoft Azure and the tooling that goes around it.  That’s why things like office 365 are really starting to make a big difference and I believe small and medium-sized global organisations are really starting to leverage this because they don’t have money to burn.

Every single pound counts and as such you need to have flexibility and the organisation behind you that help you to be able to deliver these and with office 365 and Microsoft Azure you get that support. I think they’ve got a really good process set around it and some really good tools at a really good price. So, at the moment they are probably one of the biggest companies that are having some of the biggest impact.

What mobile app do you use every day?

Well, there’s Outlook obviously. Email is still quite prevalent and keeping in contact with people is essential so is being able to have my contacts there and the calendar. I live and die by my calendar. You’ve probably heard it said before, “If it isn’t in the diary it doesn’t get done.” I’m a very firm believer in managing my diary in this way. For me Outlook is a really necessary tool.

I also think Skype for business is a really good tool that helps me to be able to communicate with other organisations and people within the organisation that I’m working with. Communication is one of those things that comes up on every ‘lessons learnt exercise.’ So the more we can communicate the better.

I think, outside my own personal role, there’s a number of different tools that I find really helpful and useful so, for instance, I like Feedly. It helps me stay up to date by aggregating lots of different blogs, data and news feeds into one good location so that I can consume it as I’m on the go and doing whatever I’m doing.

I also think Facebook is starting to come into its own when it comes to communicating with people outside the organisation. It’s starting to get to the point now where you can have more business-related conversations on Facebook.  It is no longer just about what your best friends had for dinner and how the dog’s looking. LinkedIn has also become a really good tool as well for communicating and keeping in touch with people.

What 3 skills should an aspiring Technology Leader look to develop?

Top skills that I think an aspiring technology leader should look to develop would include selling and public speaking. You may not think you are in sales but the reality is you are.  You need to get your idea across. You need to get your team onboard, your industry, your suppliers etc. They need to be listening to what you have to say and you need to have an influence on them to get them to change their mind.

You need to get them to see the utopian view and then really move towards it. So being able to get them on board and to see what’s in your mind and believe it – is one of most important things to do.

I think the second thing is developing great leadership skills. This builds on a whole variety of different things not just the traditional coaching or management skills you need to look at because I find that most workforces are changing. All workplaces are not just populated by in-house members of staff anymore but a collection of all sorts. There are contractors or consultants or other third parties. There are little bits of outsourcing and little bits of insourcing and leaders are having to manage that kind of world where you don’t just have everybody sat in the same office. Everyone is not an employee but they’re all trying to go in the same direction to achieve the same goal.

In this new world, it is really important to have great leadership skills.

It reminds me of Peter Drucker when he said, “You know managers do things right, but leaders do the right thing.”

The third skill is one that a lot of leaders forget about sometimes and that is to work on yourself, your own personal development skills. Not only to work on them, but to diversify them. Because in today’s world, there is more technology, more ideas, more ways of working and they are all building blocks and it’s how you put those building blocks together that creates something new.

So, if you look at things like the iPhone, for instance, the iPhone doesn’t have a lot of fantastic new technology in it. It is an amalgam of a number of great bits of technology. Apple didn’t invent the Ip3 player. Apple did not invent the digital phone, but by combining all these different pieces together they’ve created something that actually changed the world ten years ago. So, if you really think about it, if you are trying to be a technology leader you need to work out how you’re going to pull all the bits together so you can change the world.

Where do you look for trusted technology information & inspiration?

When I’m looking for trusted information or inspiration about what should we do next then I reach out to my network of peers. I am really lucky to know and trust a number of very respected people who I consider to be my friends rather than my colleagues. You have to be careful especially when you look to the internet for information because the Internet is very much a one-dimensional source.

You need to look around and really round off your viewpoint and do some fact-checking before you do make any moves if you do use the internet for information. For me I tend to look in my friends’ list first, maybe look at Feedly to see what’s available on things like the Information Age or The Economist or HBR, Business Insider etc and that tends to be a really good way of finding information. I tend to scavenger about two and a half thousand, three thousand RSS feeds any one point in time which again really helps to give me more of a rounded view of what’s going on.

What books should someone look to get on in their technology career read?

I’m not going to give you the traditional ones because you’ve probably already read those. So, for me, what I’d recommend is something slightly more left-field. One to have a look at is The Sparks Blueprints Marketing for Local Trades. This will give you a really interesting viewpoint actually of how you can do marketing and sales locally within your organisation.  This is a book written for electricians to market their businesses but these skills are not necessary just for an electrician.

If you look at the skills, you can use these techniques in being able to improve the communication within your own organisation for a fraction of the cost.

The other one that I recommend is Outliers. Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant book about success and what makes successful people successful.  It discusses the point that just having technical skills doesn’t necessarily lead to success, and in other scenarios, people that you don’t think have the skills, make it big.

So, it gives you a real infusion to just go out there and do something new. Do something different. Realise that you have the opportunity because you are you. There’s nobody like you in the entire world so that means you have the opportunity to shine.

And the last one would be my own book, The Digital Transformation, the significant seven imperatives for successfully delivering change in complex IT projects. This is a really good practical book that gives you insights about how to improve your business through digital technology and how you can make sure that those digital technologies are implemented successfully.