Business Breakfast

Godel holds technology leadership breakfast on “Delivering strategic innovation”

Manchester-based nearshore software development partner Godel brought over thirty senior IT leaders together over breakfast on Friday 22nd June for a morning conference focused on the topic of innovation. Mark Holt, CTO at Trainline, Andy Barrow, CTO at ANS Group and Jamil Khalil, founder and CEO at Wakelet each delivered keynote talks on their personal experiences in technology leadership.

The event was held with the aim of fostering discussion within Manchester’s community of technology leaders about how they can facilitate innovation within their teams and, more widely, their organisations.

The three technology leaders each spoke about innovation within the context of their organisations.

Mark Holt – Creating a culture of innovation

As CTO of Trainline, Europe’s leading rail and coach app, Mark Holt has driven the technological innovation necessary to make the company entirely unique within its marketplace -putting technology at the very core of Trainline’s business strategy. Mark has consistently ranked in the CIO 100 thanks to his ability to foster a culture of innovation across the entire company.

Mark’s keynote talk revealed how Trainline has implemented a culture where innovation can thrive. He covered their over-arching principles, as well as specific actions that IT leaders can take to innovate faster and more effectively; driving top-line as well as improving engagement and retention scores.

“Every single day, 127,000 people take a journey using Trainline. Andy spoke about growth – we’re a massively growing organisation. Our mission is to use technology and data to make global rail and coach travel simpler.” – Mark Holt, CTO, Trainline.

Trainline is implementing some of the most cutting-edge technologies across its services to improve their customers’ experiences – use of predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and voice control amongst the many innovations which Trainline is delivering.

“We talk about giving our customers superpowers – giving them the ability to know what’s going to happen – that’s really important. It’s all about giving our customers control.”

A lean approach to delivery ensures that Trainline is constantly improving its services at a rapid pace.

“We’re constantly iterating. In the last four years, we’ve gone from a place where we used to do one deployment every six weeks to doing 300-plus production releases a week, every single week. That’s really freeing for the engineers.”

Mark cites Trainline’s people as a vital part of the company’s success. “People – it’s almost all about people. If you haven’t got the right people, you are doomed from the outset.”

“Small cross-functional teams with short deadlines focused on measurable business outcomes – this is how we organise. In these teams we’d add analysts, designers, marketers, and all sorts of other people – into that team, so they can all run at the same problems.”

During his four years as CTO, Mark has been relentlessly championing culture and team autonomy at Trainline. “My job, along with our management teams’, is to create a context – a culture – and then get out of the way of the teams.”

“And then, once you’ve delivered once, keep doing it! Let the teams keep chipping away. Iteration and repetition – being able to keep chipping away at problems – is so important. Like James Dyson, for example – he made 5,126 prototypes before he managed to get his vacuum cleaner working – that’s a real example of chipping away.”

Concluding his keynote, Mark stated;

“Our job as senior managers is to create a culture, a process, an organisation that’s capable of doing amazing things. Create an organisation – and this was one of Andy’s points – that’s capable of constantly iterating and becoming more awesome, and constantly disrupting so the competition doesn’t overtake you.”

Quoting Mario Almondo, former Ferrari business leader, “You can’t methodically teach creativity -but you can provide an environment that nurtures it.”.

Jamil Khalil – Disrupting search at Wakelet

Jamil, founder and CEO of rapidly growing technology start-up Wakelet, delivered a lightning talk on how the company came to be, where it is today, and where it is heading.

“When I was trying to set Wakelet up, I got rejected by about 150 investors. But I had this voice inside me which was telling me to keep going, keep going, keep going.”

The idea behind Wakelet came to Jamil after, in his previous role, he struggled to collect and curate distributed online content for his suppliers.

“In one case, there were around 320,000 results. Finding articles from 2007 – 2013 was a huge task for us – the data was everywhere, it was so disorganised. We spent a lot of time piecing things together and putting all the information into a story. We created this word document with loads of URLs and sent it to them. Imagine sending a document with around 60 links copied in – it was kind of embarrassing.”

Jamil delivered a view on how Wakelet works for businesses by showing the audience examples from organisations including Airbus and Experian. He also explained how individuals are using Wakelet to share stories in a way which condenses large amounts of distributed content into one concise platform.

Jamil is continuing to drive innovative initiatives at Wakelet, with the mission to disrupt search with his team at the forefront of his strategy. “If we are going to compete with the likes of Google and Microsoft, we need to create an army of people who are passionate about this idea.”

Andy Barrow – The shift from profit to disruption

“The shift from profit to disruption’s something that I find quite fascinating. Income is playing second place to growth.” – Andy Barrow, CTO, ANS Group.

“How do traditional organisations compete in this new market, where the focus is on growth? The interesting thing that I like, is that if your organisation can be disrupted by a software company, then you are a software company – or you need to be.”

Andy’s keynote focused on a trend which has re-shaped the market in the past two decades, around how organisations’ strategies are now centred on disruption and growth rather than profit.

Disruption does not pop up out of nowhere, Andy states, citing the business case of Whatsapp. “It was nine years before Whatsapp sold to Facebook. It went through many, many, many failures and iterations before it got there. This notion that everything becomes disrupted by new, young companies just isn’t true. We can see disruption coming if we have the processes and culture in place to stay ahead of it.”

Andy has been ensuring that ANS Group stays ahead of disruption and change in the technology industry for nearly a decade. “So, what do we do about people and culture? ANS has gone through five generations of technological shift in the last fifteen years – virtualisation into managed services into cloud computing – you name it.”

“We have a process in place now to make sure we’re always bringing talent through because the hardest thing ever is making sure you’ve got access to the widest talent pool possible.”