Sync NI Magazine Spring 2021: The future of NI tech in a post-pandemic world

Page 1 Spring 2021


Signifyd 08 Puppet 18 Allstate NI 24

 Our region has enviable strengths upon which to build an innovation-led approach  Dr Jayne Brady MBE

Belfast Digital Innovation Commissioner

The future of NI tech in a post-pandemic world 06 Health & Wellbeing at Version 1

16 Finding out more about Global Payments

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Welcome to the spring edition of the Sync NI magazine Foreword

Dr Jayne Brady MBE

Belfast Digital Innovation Commissioner


s Digital Innovation Commissioner for Belfast, it’s my pleasure to introduce this edition of Sync NI Magazine.

My first year in the role – 2020, has been one of fundamental change for business and for wider society. The Covid pandemic forced governments, businesses and individuals to wrestle with challenges well outside of our everyday experience. Amidst the tragedy of Covid, the sheer diversity and ingenuity of the response gives us cause for hope. And the nature of the response offers interesting pointers to the future. Just look at how Covid has forced many organisations to embrace digital innovation in ways that even a few months earlier seemed unachievable. We’ve seen organisations rapidly making the switch to remote-working. The technologies have been mature for the past few years, but the motivation has been hampered by organisational inertia and fear of change. Now we’ve done it, the consequences are likely to be much more profound than we probably realise. Remote working is likely to impact on urban commuting patterns, the demand for office space – how organisations organise themselves and manage their employees. Business has been forced to adapt at speed. A recent McKinsey global survey highlighted that Covid has encouraged many companies to accelerate the digitalisation of their customer and supply-chain interactions by as much as four years. And that funding for digitalisation has increased more than any other aspect of their business. In many ways, the crisis has only accelerated wider trends. Changes predicted for the coming decade are instead happening today. We’ve therefore no choice but to radically expand our thinking on digital innovation and its impact on the wider economy and society.

We need to plan for AI will impact on business and our planners and policymakers need to think about how they can adopt Internet of Things or Digital Twin technologies to re-imagine urban transport, health services or energy systems. And our appetite for innovation must extend beyond traditional policy areas. Digital innovation will have far reaching implications for the classroom and the reskilling our workforce. Finland has a radical plan to reskill a large percentage of its workforce for the growing AI economy, predicting a 3% increase in GDP per annum and a 5% increase in employment over the next decade. Here in NI, we’re certainly well placed to seize the digital innovation opportunity. There’s strong evidence to suggest that targeted investments nurturing digital innovation across our economy can have a transformational effect in addressing some of our most persistent economic weaknesses and in driving post-Covid recovery. That’s why we’re focusing over £350m of the game-changing £1bn Belfast Region City Deal on Digital Innovation – facilitating translational research, challenge funding for businesses and public bodies, and investment in strategic enabling infrastructure to accelerate our ambition. Our region has enviable strengths upon which to build an innovation-led approach; a deep history of research excellence in our universities, a grassroots tradition of hard work and entrepreneurship, a highly skilled workforce, investment in digital infrastructure and a flourishing knowledge economy sector that’s punching well above its weight at national levels. Who knows what we can achieve when we’re working together.

About Sync NI Sync NI is proud to be the voice of Northern Ireland’s vibrant technology and business sector. The Sync NI website and magazine brings readers the latest tech and business news, views, jobs and events in Belfast and beyond. Sync NI Contacts Editorial Phone: 028 9082 0944 Email: Advertising & Partnerships Phone: 028 9082 0947 Email: General Enquiries Sync NI Rochester Building 28 Adelaide street Belfast BT2 8GD Phone: 028 9082 0944 Email: Online: Copyright No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyholder and publisher. Sync NI accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of contributed articles or statements appearing in this magazine and any views or opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Sync NI, unless otherwise indicated. No responsibility for loss or distress associated to any person acting or refraining from acting as a result of the material in this magazine can be accepted by the authors, contributors, editors or publishers. Sync NI does not endorse any goods or services advertised, nor any claims or representations made in any advertisement in this magazine.



Inside this edition 06 Health & Wellbeing at Version 1 08 Signifyd: As business accelerates, so must employee wellbeing 12 Attracting more girls into technology & engineering 15 EY: Using data to help the Department of Health during the pandemic 16 Global Payments: Future of fintech and Centres of Engineering Excellence

18 Puppet: What does the future of work look like? 22 The digital future: Necessity breeds innovation 24 Education and bridging the digital skills gap 28 1080: Back to better 31 Esri Ireland – a ‘Great Place to Work’ and a great help throughout Covid-19 32 BT: Supporting people through the pandemic








Health & Wellbeing at Version 1

 Author

Amanda Kelly

Employee Experience Partner, Version 1

Version 1’s Employee Experience Partner Amanda Kelly discusses how the firm rolled out a successful digital wellness strategy for employees


t Version 1, Health & Wellbeing is at the forefront of everything we do – from physical health, mental wellbeing, financial management, social connections and creating a sense of purpose, it is built into our everyday language and our culture. Given the challenging year we have all had with restrictions and lockdowns, our focus on wellbeing is now more important than ever, ensuring that our employees are continuously supported while we all continue to work from home. If we can take one positive outcome from Covid, it’s that the way in which we work will be forever changed. For us at Version 1 that means a hybrid approach to work such as combining home, office and client site working when it is safe to return. To support this new working environment, earlier this year we launched our Becoming Naturally Digital Strategy,

whereby we not only act and think digitally but think and design digitally. This has required us to review our ways of working, our people practices and the technologies we use. The first initiative we rolled out as part of this strategy was WellTech, combining the best wellness thinking with digital technology to allow us to deliver the best remote working experience for our employees in Version 1. We aim to:

q Give our employees freedom to move from their desks while working. q Encourage more movement throughout the day. q Provide our employees with enhanced ergonomics – improving the comfort and design of their workspace for their long-term health. q Provide our employees with the digital tools and equipment to promote their physical health and mental wellbeing.



Through listening to employee feedback and their overall needs we developed an internally built WellTech App with a dedicated intranet site which focusses on four key WellTech Pillars: 1. Ergonomics We encouraged all employees to complete an online ergonomic assessment and training, allowing them to assess their current home working environment. Through our WellTech App, employees could easily order desks, chairs, monitors, Bluetooth equipment to enhance their at-home workspace to best suit their needs. To date we have had almost 4000 items ordered and over 2000 ergonomic issues resolved through our App! 2. Movement Essential to WellTech was allowing employees to decouple from their desks to enable greater movement throughout the day. I know I have certainly been guilty of taking call after call and not moving or taking breaks. To address this issue, we provided everyone with tips & tricks to encourage more movement, such as walk & talk meetings, setting reminders to move and doing a “fake commute” walk in the mornings and evenings. We also set up weekly online lunchtime exercise classes with our partners at FitVision to get people off their chairs! The fake commute was great for me, I do a quick 15 minute walk each morning and evening. Not only does it set me up nicely for the day, but it has also allowed me to switch off in the evenings. Each evening I shut down my laptop, put it away and then head out for my “fake commute” walk. The 30 minutes break each day has made a significant difference to not only my physical health but my mental health too. 3. Smarter Working Given the challenges we have all faced over the past 12 months, the productivity and excellence delivered

by our people has been phenomenal. However, we were conscious of digital fatigue and we needed to ensure everyone was being smart with their time. A key emphasis for us was to ensure people had flexibility with their working hours, whether that was giving people time in the day for home schooling or taking some time to simply get out for a walk. We encouraged people to use their diaries and be flexible where possible, schedule focus time so that they were not inundated with back-to-back meetings, use the “do not disturb” feature on Microsoft Teams and limit their notifications to help maintain concentration and reduce distractions. 4. Connections While we continue to work from home, keeping a sense of connection is vital. Many of us are missing catching up with colleagues face to face for a coffee or going for after-work drinks and meals. To combat this, we continuously have digital engagement and wellbeing events, both at a company-wide level and local level, which are communicated through our quarterly employee

experience calendar. Events have ranged from poker nights and quizzes to online murder mystery nights and escape room challenges. Recently we also set up social clubs such as gaming, photography, books, football and cooking to support our people to stay connected and to give people the opportunity to break away from their day-to-day work and get connected with people who they would not ordinarily meet with. As we move forward, it is crucial to us in further developing WellTech that we are continuously listening to our employee feedback, whether that be feedback following a team meeting, survey feedback or ideas from our digital suggestion box. Acting on this feedback is vital as we look to enhance our employee experiences, allowing them to create better working from home habits as we continue to build Version 1 as the best digital workplace. If you would like to know more about WellTech, contact Amanda Kelly, Employee Engagement Partner at Amanda.Kelly@



Sync NI chatted to Matthew Hamilton, Signifyd’s Senior HR Manager. He is responsible for establishing and developing all aspects of the HR function for the company's UK operations in Belfast and London


ignifyd is a global ecommerce fraud protection firm that started out as a remote company. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, the US firm reached over 100 UK employees in February of this year and in March reached 300 globally.

Matt talks about the hyper acceleration of the ecommerce world during the pandemic, which in his words, “hasn’t really slowed down”. “Whenever I started [with Signifyd] I think we only had about 180 or so people, so it's been massive growth over 2020,” he said. “With Covid, everyone's shopping online so there's going to be people who inevitably take advantage of that as fraud increases, so we’ve been really busy. “We definitely saw a spike that would be the equivalent of the Christmas holidays or Black Friday spikes, and that was sustained. What we saw was a massive progression to online shopping that we wouldn't have expected to happen for another five years. It's sped up the online shopping movement, where maybe people have never shopped online before and now are doing it for the first time. “More people as well were shopping

Signifyd: accelerate employee

As business es, so must e wellbeing





Prospective progression is key

online two or three times a week where maybe they've only done it once before, so we definitely saw that kind of trend, and it was very interesting as well.

In terms of the future of work, Matt added his belief that a lot of companies “just need to be a lot more progressive”.

“One of the things that we've been really proud of is the Diversity Mark we’ve recently been awarded,” he commented.

“There's lots of articles about it on our website, and it was really interesting to see the types of markets that really boomed. There’s less of the luxury brands but more things like homeware and more casual consumer sectors started to pick up. I mean obviously toilet roll was one! “A lot of retailers that didn’t previously have ecommerce offerings have been exploring new things as well. In the US, we've seen a lot of curbside pick-up, so you order online and pick up curbside, and here in the UK a lot of restaurants are now doing takeaway services, but obviously to place those orders, you're doing them through an online platform. I think that's something that's probably going to stay with us for the foreseeable future as well. “We've been really lucky because Signifyd was actually built as a remote company so we've always had remote workers. From my perspective, we’ve always trusted our teams so because we have that trust, there was no major issue for us switching to full remote work.

Minding staff mindfulness

Speaking about the future of work as we (hopefully) begin to plan a postpandemic transition over the coming months, with decreasing R rates and increasing vaccinations, Matt said that from Signifyd’s perspective, “if people continue wanting to work from home or they want greater flexibility, then that's definitely something that we're going to look into.” His key focus throughout the interview has been on mindfulness and staff wellbeing, which he believes is the stance all employers will have to take even after the lockdown.

Matthew Hamilton Senior HR Manager, Signifyd

“Things have changed and they probably have changed in some ways permanently going forward,” Matt continued. “Over 2020, I was very cognizant of a lot of societal change in both the US and the UK. We've had so much of this change going on and it's caused a lot of anxiety for a lot of people. “I think employers are starting to wake up and realise that actually, they need to be really mindful of all of these sorts of societal changes that impact on their staff and they have to be very aware of what is happening. I think COVID definitely pushed it to the forefront. “Whenever COVID hit one of the things we started to do was have one-to-one calls with our entire employee team. “HR set up meetings with every single person to see how they were and it wasn't a check in to see how many hours you were working or how your work was going; it was, “Are you OK? Are your family OK?” to see if there’s anything that you need. “I think a lot of people really appreciate that. So yeah, I think that's the main thing for me; employers are just going to have to spend a lot more time focusing on the health and mental wellbeing of their staff.”

“We took 2020 to really work on a lot of internal projects and one of those was the launch of our new diversity, equity and inclusion programme. We've really utilised the fact that we're all working virtually to deliver seminars, guest speaker sessions and lots of learning webinars to try and build our company culture and bring people together. “This has taught companies as well that even in crazy times there are opportunities to bring your teams together and develop company culture. I think it's been great because I think probably for a very long time remote workers have often been overlooked or other firms have not necessarily engaged with the remote working teams in a very effective way. “There's lots of things that we've been doing online, between virtual comedy sessions with stand-up comedians, live quizzes for the UK team and virtual yoga and tai chi too. It's definitely been an opportunity for us, even though it's been a very difficult period.” “We're still looking at ways we can augment the mental health services we provide our teams and I don't think we'll stop looking at that, as well as our online learning. “We’re just going to continuously develop and continuously work, taking the opportunity to see how we can make the most of that. You just have to keep going forward and keep doing new things.”

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Attracting more girls

into technology & engineering Rakuten’s Cera McArdle delves into the forces at play in attracting women into tech careers and actions that can be taken in the workplace and throughout the education system


t present, 50% of our population are being underrepresented in technology and engineering. When I was approached to consider what could be done to attract more young girls into Technology and Engineering, I analysed my own journey to becoming a software engineer. I wanted to get some insight into the forces that shaped that journey; considering both the positive forces that helped me on my journey and the negative forces that might have derailed my journey. I found it instructive to think about the issue in this way, as it perhaps reveals a framework to action change – how can we use our influence to maximise positive forces and blunt negative forces at play. We all play multiple roles in life: manager, mentor, interviewer, teacher, parent, coach, colleague. In each of these roles, we have opportunities to

exert our influence at various stages of the journey.

Action in the Workplace

In order to attract more females into Technology and Engineering, we need to ensure that when they reach the end goal – a career in Technology – that this is a career they actually enjoy. The fundamentals of this: a) a level-playing field where individuals are judged on merit, not on gender and b) a culture which is equally inclusive of females and males In the Decision-maker role, the Gender Pay Gap in technology companies is a straightforward issue to resolve, provided the appetite is there to recognise and resolve it. Examine the average pay of men and women at the same level of the organisation, analyse the results and adjust benefit packages accordingly. In the Recruitment role, everyone

 Author

Cera McArdle

Senior Staff Engineer, Rakuten

selecting or interviewing candidates should be educated to understand their own Unconscious Bias; so that they can take steps to ensure that it does not affect the recruitment process. As Colleagues, there is an onus on everyone to ensure that the activities engaged in and language used are not unwelcoming to one gender or another. A company with a ‘beer-culture’ is typically going to deter females from


we avoid possible bias including gender bias.

Action in University/Post School

In my experience, the culture in university technology courses can be quite ‘nerdy’ and often male-dominated. In the relatively uncontrolled melting-pot that constitutes university life, it is difficult to control some aspects of this, but there are a few critical touchpoints. In my own university experience, I found the best mechanism for combating this was having a fair assessment system. I worked hard and the results I achieved through an equitable assessment system were the vehicle for getting recognition at university, and obtaining a great graduate job. In the Assessment role, everyone should be educated to understand and combat their own unconscious bias. Where possible assessments should be done blind – i.e., without the person’s name on the work being assessed. This is the only way that students can be judged on merit. joining the company. Where inappropriate language or events does emerge, it is the responsibility of all of us to challenge this. For more senior people, we should be ‘riding shot-gun’ in the day-to-day operations stamping out cultural issues and ensuring safe passage for more junior female employees.

In the Mentor role, I feel responsible for encouraging the development of capability and confidence of engineers just starting out. A key aspect of this is to be able to intimately understand and communicate their progress. In this way everyone can be judged on competence instead of confidence, and

In the Course Director role, it is vital to showcase career opportunities in Technology and Engineering for both genders by bringing in individuals from tech companies to speak to the students. It is particularly important that the females invited to speak to the students include those working in very technical


roles, to combat the unspoken but common bias in tech companies that women are great at managing but not so strong at programming. One pivotal point in the student’s development is their work placement. A great placement can be the start of a really fulfilling career; a poor placement can be difficult to overcome. Placement opportunities should be made available in an equitable way. They should not be allocated on a who-complains-least basis where the most ‘agreeable’ students get the leasteffective placements. This impacts more on young women as ‘agreeable’ characteristics tend to be nurtured more in girls than boys.

Action in Post-Primary Level

The Teacher plays a critical role here in building capability and sparking enthusiasm in the students, especially in the key STEM subjects. My own Maths teacher at school was incredibly passionate about the subject, and this love of Mathematics has stayed with me. My Physics teacher ran a computer club at lunchtime - at a time when no-one had a computer at home. This gave us the opportunity to write Basic programs to do fun things – I still remember the picture of the Mandlebrot set! In the Tutor and Parent roles, the subject choices for A-level and GCSE are vital, as dropping some subjects can



close the door on a career in Science and Technology. For example, some IT companies will not consider applicants who have not done A-level Mathematics. To that end, subjects should be chosen on the basis of opening doors to careers instead of being chosen as it is easier to get good grades. In my experience female student are much more resultsfocussed than male students at school, so choosing subjects to maximise exam results may impact more on female students. It is also worth reflecting and challenging the Hidden Curriculum within the school setting, which plays a role in persuading young women to pursue traditionally female subjects like Home Economics at the expense of subjects like Design & Technology – again closing doors on potential careers in Technology at a later stage. The Career Advisor role is also pivotal. When I was at school the running joke was at the individual interviews, the career of ‘nurse’ was suggested to each girl in the class and the career of ‘doctor’ was suggested to each boy in the class. So my mum, knowing my mathematical inclinations, sent me to talk to my cousin who was in Trinity in Dublin studying Computer Science, to see if it might be for me. This antiquated version of career guidance is longgone, but I do think that some schools may be more inclined to encourage female students into the traditional solicitor, accountant, dentist routes, pushing Technology

and Engineering careers down the list. I think there is a perception that unless you are obsessed with computers and glued to playing video games, that a career in Tech is not for you.

Action at Primary Level

Principals and Teachers have been making efforts to establish extra-curricular activities such as I.T. classes and coding clubs – this is certainly welcome. The anecdotal evidence is that even in these clubs, the participation rates are higher for boys than girls. As a parent I observed subconscious bias at play within the I.T. realm; the girls

were directed more towards creating digital art whereas the boys were directed more towards construction activities such as using Scratch. This re-enforces gender stereotypes at a formative age. As you would expect, moving earlier up the age spectrum the role of Parent is increasingly influential. The messages we pass on are subtle and subliminal but have a profound effect on our children. When choosing toys for our daughters, do we choose a play kitchen or a construction set? Do we choose a colouring set or a logic

puzzle? These seemingly innocuous choices speak to expectations around the place of females in the world and the workforce. Parents are uniquely placed to reward intellectual development over appearance, encourage innovation over replication, independence over compliance. Competence, innovation, independent thinking – these are the building blocks that can propel young girls to have a wide variety of career choices. In my own family experience, I was fortunate to have parents who instilled these values in me, and ultimately led me to an incredibly fulfilling career in Technology.



EY: Using data to help the Department of Health during the pandemic Viktor Crothers is a Senior Manager in Data & Analytics at EY. He authored the below article to show exactly what a day in his life at the firm is like, which involves supporting the Northern Ireland Department of Health throughout Covid-19


ike the vast majority of the world, the typical working day has changed radically within the last year.

I eventually applied for a Data Analytics Academy through the Assured Skills programme and the rest is history.

I have two young children at home, and I start the day by dropping my oldest off to nursery which gives a nice break between downtime and the start of the working day. I will then typically spend a couple of hours catching up with my teams on the various projects I am leading, before working through my daily list of tasks.

I have a real passion for supporting our clients to address their challenges and business requirements through the adoption of Data and Technology, which makes work more of a hobby. In addition, working within Data & Analytics at EY also provides unrivalled experience across industries, clients, people and technology. No single day or project is the same, each providing their own challenges and learning experiences.

 Author

The day is full of variety with tasks including client calls, management of delivery teams/projects and hands on coding and development of Data & Analytics solutions. A large proportion of my day is spent on zoom calls, I find blocking time in the diary for regular breaks ensures I can remain focused on the task ahead and avoid ‘zoom fatigue’.

Driving decision-making with the Department of Health through data

I have been supporting the Department of Health NI with the COVID-19 response since March 2020, working across a number of projects, all of which are utilising Data & Analytics

Viktor Crothers

Senior Manager in Data & Analytics, EY

to drive decision making. I assisted the Department with the development of the COVID-19 Public Dashboard which provides daily updates on key COVID-19 information such as testing, deaths and hospital admissions. This has been a fascinating project and I feel very privileged to work alongside the Department in their mammoth efforts to combat COVID-19 in Northern Ireland.

industry, as the expectation of travelling across the UK and Europe had impacted my work-life balance. I was hesitant on returning to consulting, however the attraction of working for one of the fastest growing Data & Analytics teams across Ireland, along with the level of investment and support EY dedicate to personal development and career growth made the decision easy.

Working for one of the fastest growing Data & Analytics teams across Ireland

I bustled my way through school and studied Business Economics at Queens University Belfast, without ever really having an idea of which industry I wanted to carve out a career from.

I started my career in Big Four consulting, however I left to pursue a career in

Now is the perfect time to begin your tech career! There has been no better time to start a career within technology, particularly within Northern Ireland as we continue to see investment from professional services firms, start-ups and large global organisations setting-up technology hubs across the region. The technology landscape and opportunities are wide ranging, with investment in roles across Data & Analytics, Machine Learning, Software Development, Artificial Intelligence and many more.



Global Payments: Future of fintech and Centres of Engineering Excellence US-card processing firm Global Payments has offices in Belfast and Foyle that are recognised as Centres of Excellence. Sync NI spoke to the company's Senior Director of Product Architecture, Katrina Barr, to find out more about the business q How does your role help shape Global Payments?

"I direct the Product Architecture function at Global Payments. The Product Architect role is a key differentiator attributed to our success. My team ensures that the business gets the best out of our products and our collective architecture talent, while eliminating churn for engineering teams. We make sure our engineering teams are directly contributing to something great by ensuring they are working on the highest value solution at any point in time. That solution must fulfil our business needs; adhere to the highest standards of security, architecture, and quality; and fit together seamlessly when delivered by multidiscipline and globally-distributed engineering teams. Product Architects harness the combined talents of our Engineering organisation, driving delivery of the highest value work aligned with our product and business vision. Recently we have been working on exciting new features like Delayed Consumer Payments and innovative ways to increase

the distance at the checkout for enhanced COVID safety. It is the epitome of job satisfaction to take a real business need and solve it with a solution harnessing innovation and good practices.”

q What does the future look like for Global Payments?

(in terms of good news, flexible working, what is the Belfast office like? etc)

“As a Product Architect, I also take great personal pleasure in seeing our continued Product and Services improvements pay off. Our great Net Promoter Score gives us insight into how well our customers perceive us, and shows that we are punching really highly against other financial institutions. Regardless of how this pandemic pans out, working life has permanently changed. Our engineering function took to working from home during lockdown, as only a workforce of computer engineers could—it was seamless in fact. The voice



of our people has been really important to how we shape the future of working at Global Payments. As a result of the feedback that we received we have enhanced our flexible working policy to better support our people, who have adapted well to working from home. Now our people will be grouped with team members who follow similar work patterns, whether that is located mostly in the office or at home. We have a wonderful office. Sometimes I’ll dial into a call with someone new and they will remark “WOW!” look at your view; there goes the first five minutes of the conversation! The fact that our coffee machines were swiss-made and selected by taste test probably sets the office tone. We want to make sure that people have that option when the time comes to get back into the office to socialise while still maintaining flexibility.”

q What makes the Belfast and

Foyle staff stand out? (chosen as Global Centre of Excellence/ Innovation centres?)

“It would be easy to think that in a massive company like Global Payments, our Belfast and Foyle offices would get lost. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We are very much at the forefront of engineering, with much of the strategic future of our products and platforms being designed, delivered, and managed from our two key sites here in Northern Ireland. We’re lucky as we understand that this is a pretty unique position to be in when you’re part of an organisation of this magnitude. Belfast and Foyle offices are a Centre of Engineering Excellence and, as a consequence, now lead the development of the Global Integrated Payment Gateways and our strategic Genius payment product. We have earned that reputation of excellence for good reason. We have been able to demonstrate how we can quickly adopt an approach of reliable high-quality development with new products and

Katrina Barr

Senior Director of Product Architecture Global Payments

technologies. The thing that makes us stand out from the rest is how we operate as a unit. From project inception right through the development lifecycle, we’ve honed and simplified the process so that everyone has a job to do that they can excel at without churn or chaos; and make a difference. We are incredibly disciplined; with Engineering working as one, the reward is more opportunity to lead major initiatives with more innovation.”

q Why is Global Payments a great

place to work?

"When recruiting we look for intelligent and capable individuals that work well in a collaborative, fast-moving environment. As a result I can genuinely say we have offices full of lovely people, which gives us a relaxed atmosphere. We follow the lean methodology that is there primarily to help our engineers be successful and focused on delivering value. Growing our own talent is key to our success; we have a great history of promoting from within. If I was starting out again as an engineer, Global Payments would be a great place for opportunities and also to learn what success looks like."

q What are your thoughts on Hyper Acceleration of Technology and Digital Transformation? "Across all sectors, customer

convenience is key, and for that we are investing heavily to ensure we meet expectations. We immediately observed changes in customer buying habits and market trends as a result of COVID. The last year has significantly accelerated a trajectory the world was already on. From simplified integrations for our partners to innovative ways to pay at speed and at a social distance, we have been relentlessly pushing the boundaries with our solutions. Digital transformation cannot just be delivered with shiny features. The key is enabling change at speed while maintaining stability and reliability. That means optimising our products to ensure maintainability, security, simplicity, and state-of-the-art testing - all those fundamentals that must be right for us to fully embrace innovation."

q What is your advice for anyone thinking about working in the fintech industry?

"The world of financial technology is undergoing a revolution. Where change is afoot, that inevitably makes it interesting. It is an industry that everyone can relate to as we have all been the customer. I hadn't imagined there would be so much to fintech—one minute we are looking at payment card chip communication specifications, the next we are working with industry-leading wallet brands or defining mobile solutions. Change in the fintech industry is accelerating and there is something there for everyone."



Puppet: What does the future of work look like? Sync NI spoke with Sinead Heverin, Director of Engineering within global tech firm Puppet’s Belfast operations, to discuss the question that’s been on everyone’s minds basically since the pandemic began


ow do workplaces change as companies decide to go back to work?

We sat down with Sinead Heverin, Director of Engineering and the Belfast Site Lead at software company Puppet, to get her answer to this pressing question. Sinead joined Puppet four years ago as a Senior Engineering Manager after 4+ years with Visa as a Director of Engineering. As Site Lead in Belfast, she leads product development teams in the location.

Puppet’s products are used by some of the biggest companies and government institutions on the planet. The company is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, USA, but has offices all over the world, with Belfast being one of its leading engineering think tanks. Puppet has always operated as a hybrid-remote workforce, but Covid-19 has encouraged the company to rethink how they can be even more effective going forward. The company



own, feeling isolated from others.” Puppet’s global workforce has always included permanently remote-based employees even prior to the pandemic, with 37% of its overall personnel hired as full-time remote employees. “Because we’re distributed across global time zones, there’s been a lot of investment in the tools and technology to be able to work disparately from one another,” Sinead said. “Some of the practices already instituted have meant that the transition to being fully remote-based has been relatively easy for those of us that once went into the office. In addition, Puppet very generously set up a home office allowance program last summer to support employees who were not equipped to work from home after temporarily closing our offices,” she continued. The people of Puppet used the home office allowance to buy an ergonomic chair, a desk or a new monitor whatever met their personal needs.

A new approach to the physical office environment - employees’ opinions matter

believes a hybrid-remote structure provides an incredible amount of flexibility, and is the ideal approach for its global teams once the time is right to safely resume onsite work.

Rethinking the workplace and the flexibility factor “Ultimately, there’s a strong desire for Puppet to continue to be hybridremote but with some changes,” said Sinead. “We’re trying to find the balance between team productivity and individual productivity, and how

our spaces at home and the office can evolve together to meet this. “It’s been a privilege to be able to work from home during the pandemic, but it has brought some challenges. “It exposes our personal lives and our constraints. You’ve got people in different circumstances. Some are balancing family life and care-taking responsibilities. You have people living in shared accommodations, with limited outdoor space, or people living on their

Once we are in a world with fewer pandemic-related restrictions in the workplace, Puppet will first evaluate how team members want to use the office space then think creatively about how to make design changes to optimize utilization. For example, some may prefer collaboration space over heads down space. The determination will be done with Puppet’s workplace team and employees’ feedback. It is worth noting that Puppet’s Belfast office in Linenhall Street is nothing short of lively. It’s full of books, games and toys, and is definitely a contender for the city’s most fun work space. Sinead observed that “this time away from the office gives us the opportunity



to reimagine what our future workplace looks like. “Our space is quite modular, so we have an opportunity to think about how we want to optimize space utilization. Some potential ideas that come to mind are to look at creating more open team space, where we can get those vital coaching sessions face to face and have more collaborative team space.” This all being said, the rollout to reopening the Puppet office will be thoughtful and methodical. Initial re-entry to the office is focused on getting people in who need it the most. Puppet understands that things won’t be back to normal like it was before the pandemic. Its priority initially is reliant on team wellbeing and on those whose health and wellbeing will be elevated in an office setting.

Health & wellbeing needs to continue to take center stage

Sinead told us that “Puppet has been very tuned in to the overall health and wellbeing perspective, from leadership all the way down.” The organisation has meditation for half hours every Tuesday (two options to cross global time zones), and everyone was given four days extra annual leave last year to “support the extra hours they felt they were doing or just to support the general fatigue of the whole pandemic.” “That initiative has been renewed so we already have another two extra days this year so far,” she affirmed. A rule has also been implemented within some departments around “no meetings for anyone in any region on a Friday afternoon” to give people space to unwind and get through the last of their week’s to-do lists so they can finish their days at a reasonable time and avoid taking work stress with them into the weekend.



Remote onboarding & staying organised with hybrid remote

As someone who is hiring and onboarding new staff members remotely, Sinead noted that “although some have never stepped foot inside the office, they don’t feel any more disadvantaged because of it.”

Sinead Heverin Director of Engineering, Puppet

“Face-to-face contact is obviously missing, but a lot of the content can be delivered through automated learning and online tutorials. We have a pretty robust 90-day onboarding plan that was already in place before the pandemic. It’s just where we would have met people in person, we’re now doing it over Zoom. “Within each of our teams, we’ve encouraged efficiency in terms of calendars and general meeting etiquette. We strive to have an agenda and objective set for the meeting, and we encourage our teams to be clear on boundaries for their individual calendars. “If there are times you need to block out because of dependence or because of how you’re feeling and you just need some quiet time, work with your manager to do that. “There’s a tool called Clockwise that many of the team uses now to try and block out focus time where people can get their heads down and not be interrupted.” In probably the most important takeaway when considering the future of work, Sinead concluded: “We’re encouraged to connect with people individually, as a team and also to reassure people it’s OK to not be OK.” This is always top of mind and will be a focus of this year’s Mental Health May, during which time Puppet allocates conversation time to hear from one another about the challenges and opportunities surrounding mental health, and reinforces resources provided by the company, including time away from work, employee assistant programs, and an open door philosophy to foster a culture of wellbeing. Stay connected, stay safe and stay positive! Puppet is still hiring for a multitude of tech careers. For more information on the firm, check out their website or find their hiring offerings on Sync NI’s Jobs page.



The digital future: Necessity breeds innovation What does the future of work look like after the pandemic? David McKnight from Applied Systems examines the promise of truly digital workplaces


irtually overnight, the pandemic changed the way companies in every industry do business, challenging businesses large, small and everything in between to re-evaluate their processes and their paths forward. The strategies that worked before may not work best today or in the future. In the current climate, companies from all industries are looking to technology to innovate, to optimise operational workflows and ensure premier customer experiences. As we look to the future, it is important to remember lessons from the near past that can help guide us. In 2008, we saw the start of the Great Recession triggered by a global financial crisis. Global GDP went from 4.3% in 2007 to -1.6% in 2009. While the economic upheaval was a global crisis, there were positive aspects that resulted. Companies had to find new, lower cost ways to run their businesses and as a result, the world saw the birth of cloud computing. The old way of doing IT was expensive, rigid and slow-paced. The economic crisis spurred demand for a new way to access computing power. This paved the way for Rackspace, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and others to pioneer novel and less expensive ways for companies to digitise and quickly scale their businesses in the cloud.

Cloud computing unleashed unprecedented innovation, creating new business models and reinventing old ones. Millions of jobs were created and unemployment quickly declined to less than 4%. Productivity gains increased significantly as people learned to use technology to do more in less time. Shares of leading cloud companies became more valuable, driving a record bull market. Ultimately, cloud computing – and the cloud platforms we rely on today – brought the power of at-scale R&D investment to main street companies that couldn’t do it on their own at an affordable price. Out of the initial fear and economic devastation that started in 2008, came world-changing innovation and digitisation that made businesses more:

q Productive: Lowering the cost to produce, market, distribute and sell. q Intelligent: Capturing the power of data to compete more skillfully. q Simple: Knowing customers better, simplifying the customer experience. q Valuable: Growing more profitably by meeting more of your customers’ needs. Digital adoption today

In 2020, the pandemic spurred a similar digital inflection. Within a matter of months, companies accelerated their


digitisation strategies in what would have taken years pre-pandemic. According to a McKinsey survey, “responses to COVID-19 sped up the adoption of digital technologies by several years – and that many of these changes could be here for the long haul.” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella confirmed this sentiment. At one of the company’s quarterly earnings calls, he shared that Microsoft saw “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” Like so many other industries, insurance is at a technology turning point. Insurance brokers have had to speed up digital adoption timelines in order to create new digital experiences for both staff and customers. Investing in digital technology has enabled brokers to:

q Build stronger bonds with customers q Equip employees with the tools they need to work more intelligently and productively q Build more resilience and value into their business Today’s winning brokerages offer the digital experiences their customers are accustomed to. If they don’t, they risk losing that business to another that has invested to create simpler, more convenient experiences. Technology can lower the overall cost of growing and operating a company, making the business more profitable and valuable – and the numbers prove this in big ways. Data shows that digital brokerages generate 156% higher revenue per employee compared to brokerages that are not digital. Another recent study from McKinsey that examined the opportunity for technology-driven productivity within the insurer side of the ecosystem echoes this research, showing that the benefits of adopting modern technology include a 40% reduction in IT costs, a 40% increase in productivity, more accurate claims handling, increased profitability and reduced churn. Clearly, technology investment, when


done wisely, creates strong returns.

Three principles for digital transformation

For insurance brokerages, the time is now to take the necessary steps towards becoming a digital broker. Applied is enabling brokers to optimise operations and deliver exceptional customer experiences through technology that is defined by three principles: openness, velocity and user experience.

q Openness: The days of closed

systems are coming to an end, and technology must become more open and “integratable,” creating flexibility for insurance brokers to harness its power to support their business as it evolves and changes over time. Software built on component-based architecture with open APIs creates simple ways to integrate the management system with other critical business applications, and quickly gets information in and out of the system of record. Technology must work for each broker, allowing business processes and workflows to change at the increasing pace of innovation happening in our industry.

q Velocity: One of the most beneficial outcomes of using open and modular components is velocity. When technology solutions are built on flexible API-based architecture, more frequent real-time updates can be made to core software versus an annual or semi-annual update. This means new capabilities focused on specific roles or functions within a brokerage are released faster and are less disruptive to businesses while creating incremental value. q User Experience: Among the many reasons people love the brand Apple so much is because they make products that are extremely intuitive and easy to use. Apple’s mantra was simplicity, and fervently preached by Steve Jobs, “Let’s make it simple. Really simple.” In addition to Apple, companies like Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and others have redefined user experience (UX) and the bar is high.

 Author

David McKnight

General Manager Ireland, Applied Systems

No business should be bogged down by software that’s complicated and frustrating to use. The UX of your brokerage software should be simpler, with fewer screens and clicks, and should eliminate redundant data entry. A clean, elegant interface across all devices improves productivity, simplifies training and on-boarding of new team members, and overall creates happier employees. By adapting to the new norm and adopting the digital technology necessary for digital transformation, brokers build stronger bonds with customers, equip employees with the tools they need to work more intelligently and productively, and build more resilience and value into their business.

A promise for the digital future

While 2020 was a year like no other, we can conquer adversity to make the insurance industry better. As the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” We saw that ring true following the last global crisis and we see the opportunity today to be even greater. The insurance industry is a unique community of great people with a strong mission to safeguard and protect what matters most. It’s up to us to put lives back together, restart businesses, rebuild communities, and make new realities – guided by technology. Working together, we can make the change of yesterday an opportunity today for a stronger tomorrow.



Education and bridging the digital skills gap Sync NI chatted with Allstate NI’s John Healy and Paul Cassidy about the organisation’s onboarding and upskilling through the coronavirus crisis, and their thoughts on how Northern Ireland can address the ongoing digital skills gap in the future


00 people have been onboarded by Allstate Northern Ireland throughout the pandemic, with 45 coming through the Early Careers programme.

It is a mixture of graduates, apprentices and higher-level apprentices. “We connect with the universities and further education colleges such as Belfast Met,” said Paul Cassidy, Global Senior Learning Manager who himself joined the company remotely during lockdown last year. He added that “Employees that join our early careers programme receive a six-month targeted onboarding programme, which is a mixture of

focused technical skilling and business integration.”

Skills: What is NI doing right?

This acceleration in technology training and ambitions for an advancement in digital skills is a focal point in what Economy Minister Diane Dodds believes will help kickstart the economy postpandemic. Speaking during a recent debate in the Assembly on her Skills Strategy, she told MLAs that it has “a key role to play in addressing not only the short term challenges arising as a consequence of Covid-19, but also in addressing the long term weaknesses within our economy. “Our economy is changing very quickly,

with automation and digitisation transforming the workplace. It is essential that employers and individuals recognise the need to invest time and money in people.” John Healy, Allstate NI’s Managing Director wholeheartedly agrees with this sentiment and delved into it further with Sync NI. “I think the kind of standout advantage that Northern Ireland has is that we are small enough in terms of being able to get together and talk about the issues, and yet we're still big enough that the powers that be, want to listen to us,” he said. “That combination means that we can actually get things done. We get


 Author


Niamh Campbell Journalist, Sync NI

together like a sectoral partnership where employers sit down with the universities, colleges and government and talk about what they see as the demands and where the stresses are common, and we get that opportunity to effect change. “I think that is really powerful in terms of being able to influence right from the get-go.

moving fast enough, we haven't got enough people coming in at the bottom and you hear Paul talking about the 60 people that we're bringing in. “That's a huge number, and it’s a huge number because there's such great opportunity for the sector in Northern Ireland. So, we need to continue on all of the good work that has been done and get more capacity into the system.”

“We've been seen over the last 12 months to be as resilient as we have been, and as we come out of this, you have the Economy Minister Diane Dodds, talking about how technology will be central to the recovery and that's a great place for us.

Upskilling & Re-Skilling

“Now, the flipside is that we're not

350+ employees globally last year

Paul pointed out that “one of the things Allstate is absolutely superb at, and will only continue to get better at, is our development opportunities around upskilling and re-skilling targeting critical skills.”

availed of such opportunities within the organisation. “It's about the willingness, it's about the aptitude, it's about the commitment,” Paul went on. “We see our programmes oversubscribed, employees are keen and willing to develop and gain huge benefits in key areas. “In 2020 close to 100 people in Allstate NI re-skilled and upskilled enhancing their performance and growing their career in areas such as full stack engineering, which is phenomenal. “We also have superb programmes which give people a different opportunity, such as Evolve. Evolve focuses on developing future technical leadership capability, building a great



Paul Cassidy Global Senior Learning Manager, Allstate NI

talent pipeline supporting diverse career opportunities.” Having a particular skill is fantastic in Allstate’s perspective, but its internal programmes are designed to expand the breadth of those skills across different areas.

getting them back into the workplace.”

Ireland and is constantly growing.”

John also hopes that in a post-Covid world, people will see the benefits of having more space or easy access to Northern Ireland’s scenic surroundings, and those who maybe once left to build their careers in the likes of London or other big cities will come back to Northern Ireland and develop tech leadership positions.

John echoed this, saying “there's never been a better time to experiment and to exercise some of that curiosity.”

“Maybe those people are now seeing the limitations of living in a small apartment and having to travel to their place of work by tube, and we should really think about how we can tap into that Northern Ireland diaspora.”

“You can go out and get yourself a cheap piece of hardware; something like a Raspberry Pi and play around with it while learning some programming. “To encourage any young person that is thinking about a career in technology, I would say start exploring tech to exercise that curiosity gene and see whether or not it is for you. We put a lot of effort into schools in terms of encouraging computer science and there’s all sorts of research that

Paul added that the diversity focus within the firm “is one of the biggest things” he’s proud of, with females making up 30% of Evolve nominees. “We are focusing on supporting diversity throughout all our programmes year on year, while also focusing on attracting talent into the organisation which is fantastic,” he commented.

Attracting back the NI diaspora

As well as internal programmes, Allstate NI is running many external initiatives too, in which they try to attract back into the tech sector people who have dropped out of it. The Returners programme attracted an equal number of men and women “who had stepped out of the technology world and who wanted to get back in again but were completely daunted by the changes in tech” John explained. “Technology moves so fast and they were concerned that with a couple of years out, would their skills still be relevant? “It's not just about entry level people, it’s about those mid-career as well, and

John Healy Managing Director, Allstate NI

Creativity & Curiosity

Paul said that a phrase he uses a lot when encouraging young people into the tech sector, or when chatting to parents of A-level students at organised events around careers, is ‘creativity and curiosity’. “People believe there’s this barrier or list of requirements that you need to have, and actually you can just strip it right back to those couple of things,” he continued. “Be innovative and challenge your thinking. If you've got those types of characteristics you can apply them to any industry, and I would encourage people to explore the actual plethora of opportunities that are in IT and tech. It's one of the largest sectors in Northern

states the potential lifetime earnings of somebody with a computer science degree is pretty high, but computers aren't for everybody. “You should only do it if you actually have an interest. Go and play around and seek guidance from people who are in those roles. There are plenty of ways to engage with the sector and as the sector, we’re very keen to engage with you. There are plenty of materials out there for people to see what it actually means to be in this buoyant sector.” Find out more about Allstate NI’s various opportunities at the web address below. Allstate NI

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Back to better

As we all embark on a gradual journey to a post pandemic world, we at the Alpha Group are having to learn and understand the ever-changing needs of the workplace


e must also be able to proactively manage the space that our clients have, making it a welcoming, collaborative and safer environment for employees and visitors alike. Some aspects of the workplace environment as we know it may have changed forever. In this regard, and in order to support a transition back to the workplace, the Ten Eighty team within the Alpha Group will be creating tailored and

bespoke destinations for all of our employees. Destinations that will be vibrant and engaging whilst recognising the precautions and social distancing guidelines to which we have all become so accustomed over the last 12 months.

Changing expectations of the office environment: Steelcase Global Research 2021

As part of the Global response to the pandemic, Steelcase, a long standing Partner of 1080 and the Alpha Group,


they want and expect to see in the workplace going forward. The majority of workers will return to the office and their work from home experiences will provide the guidance for a new, better work experience.” Whilst it is perhaps unreasonable to assume that we will see a 100% mass return to the workplace during 2021, businesses do need to take this opportunity in advance to be proactive about understanding employees’ concerns, embracing new modes of working and reflecting many of the positive experiences that staff have enjoyed over recent months. In global research, incorporating 32,000 participants across 10 countries, Workplace experts at the world’s largest office furniture manufacturer, Steelcase identified a number of key factors that employees will need and moreover will expect from a post COVID working environment.

have provided valuable insights into the evolving office and workplace environments. “The pandemic has reshaped many aspects of our lives, including where and how people want to work,” said Gale Moutrey, vice president of workplace innovation at Steelcase. “Their experiences working from home, and what they face when they return to the office, have influenced what

q 97% of respondents want to return to the workplace for some or most of the time; q 8 out of 10 countries ranked the lack of commute as the top benefit of working from home; q 77% of UK employees reported that they would prefer to adopt a hybrid working model; q 54% of UK employees would like to work from home 2 days per week within a hybrid model; q 23% of respondents in the UK feel they are less engaged while working from home; q 22% of respondents are experiencing a worsening speed of decision making; q 18% of respondents are experiencing a drop in productivity; however, at a time when there is an increasing focus on mental health awareness:

q 10 out of 10 countries ranked isolation as the biggest challenge of mandatory work-from-home.


With these key findings in mind, organisations will need to design workplaces that are compelling enough to encourage workers to commute, however with some element of hybrid working likely to continue we will also need to improve standards for home working as well as office spaces.

Recognising employee needs: Five principles for our workplaces

Synthesizing these studies uncovered five overarching employee needs in the overall work experience and lead to new ways of planning and designing offices.

q To be safe and feel safe: people will make decisions about where to work based on a new set of safety standards to help prevent transmission in the office. q A deeper sense of belonging: people’s top reason to return to the office is to connect with co-workers. People want to feel a sense of belonging at work, which is not only good for their wellbeing but it also helps business results — feeling a strong sense of community is the top indicator of people’s productivity, engagement, innovation and commitment to the organization. q To be productive: people’s desire to accomplish something meaningful, has only heightened during the crisis. While some experienced “panic productivity” in the early pandemic days, most simply want to be of value and feel their work has purpose. q Holistic comfort: during the past year many people had to improvise and work from sofas, kitchen tables and even beds. Pain, distractions and stress have caused people to yearn for a broad interpretation of comfort. They need the ability to work in a range of postures, change settings and to move throughout their day. q Greater control: people want to choose where to work or to adapt



spaces based on the task they’re doing. While some people feel working from home has allowed them to navigate their day and avoid distractions, nine of 10 countries rank a “quiet, professional environment” in their top five reasons for wanting to return to the workplace. Teams also need control over the level of privacy and the flexibility to move things around to best suit their work.

Creating better work experiences: A new set of design principles

A new set of design principles that will enable organisations create a better work experience, delivering on what people need now and in the future. q Me + we: equally support individual and teamwork. While some believe the primary reason, people want to work in the office is for group activities, people say they also want the ability to focus and work in a professional environment. Relying on home offices to support individual work isn’t viable for an inclusive organization, because various factors — such as limited home space, distractions or commute time — make it challenging for people to always do

individual work from home.

q Fixed to fluid: design planning in the past often relied on a more formulaic approach, with a mindset toward permanent architecture and office settings. The new realities of how people and organizations need to

worked in enclosed conference rooms, prefer to be in more open settings, both for a sense of safety and the flexibility to expand and contract and adjust their space easily based on their activities.

q Braiding digital + physical: remote collaboration is here to stay. Designers

Like almost everyone else, I don’t think we will see a 100% mass return to office working in the short term. I think that what COVID has shown us, is that we’ve been doing an exceptional job creating collaborative and flexible workplaces for our clients over recent years. Collaborative and flexible spaces which will only increase in relevance over coming years, and we look forward to working closely with all of our clients on their own return to the office and their “Back to Better” journey Paul Black, Chief Executive Officer, The Alpha Group

become more agile requires designers to plan spaces that will regularly morph and change as needed.

q Open + enclosed: more enclosed “me” and open “we” spaces. People, who often did individual work in more dense, open spaces, desire more enclosure or shielding to control privacy and safety. Teams, who frequently

need to create solutions for individual and group video interactions that are not constrained to laptops or phones. Steelcase’s partnership with Microsoft, for example, provides solutions that enhance the human experience through technology. Sensing technologies will need to be embedded to support increasing data-driven or artificial intelligence-guided experiences.



Esri Ireland – a ‘Great Place to Work’ and a great help throughout Covid-19 Esri Ireland, the firm that specialises in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), has been named the Best Small Workplace in Ireland 2021 for the second consecutive year to develop a real-time interactive map which visualises and charts the spread of the coronavirus across the world.


lthough the majority of employees across the island of Ireland have been working from home over the duration of the pandemic, Esri was still recognised at the 19th annual Great Place to Work Best Workplaces in Ireland awards which, for the first time, took the form of a virtual broadcast.

This is the company's fifth consecutive year to be named as a top Irish workplace, which is assessed through Great Place to Work’s robust ‘Trust Index’ employee survey and a thorough ‘Culture Audit©’ assessment of their policies and practices. This recognition follows a positive year for the company in Ireland, which enjoyed its most successful year ever in 2020.

Speaking about being named as the Best Small Workplace in Ireland for second year in a row, Paul Synnott, Managing Director at Esri Ireland, said: “This is down to our fantastic team who have shown great resilience and adaptability during a tough year for all. Esri’s technology helps customers record where things happen and analyse why, with the aim of providing insight and helping them to make better decisions. As Esri's official point of presence in Ireland and Northern Ireland it has, since 2002, partnered with both the public and private sector to help them understand the impact of geography on their business. The company has continued to provide essential services to these sectors throughout the coronavirus crisis. It helped set up an interactive online dashboard, - Ireland’s Covid-19 Data Hub applying its digital mapping services to track Covid-19 activity across the nation. The digital mapping experts even partnered with the

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council in August 2020 to create interactive info resources for the community throughout Covid-19. Built using Esri’s digital mapping software ArcGIS, the council launched an interactive Open for Business map, which shows what shops and services are available to the public throughout the borough. When the pandemic first hit Northern Ireland back in March 2020, Esri also launched an online hub to provide authoritative information, maps and resources about the COVID-19 response in the region. On a global scale, John Hopkins University in Maryland, USA used Esri Ireland’s GIS platform

Paul Synnott Managing Director, Esri Ireland

“Our Great Place to Work team have worked tirelessly to drive our company culture of inclusiveness, collaboration and support throughout this time. Coming on the back of our most successful year to date in 2020, this award is a fantastic recognition of the hard work and dedication of our entire team.” Esri Ireland was also named one of the Best Workplaces in Europe last year, and is part of the Esri Global Network, a billion-dollar privately held software company with nearly 10,000 employees worldwide.



BT: Supporting people through the pandemic The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on small businesses across Northern Ireland, and BT been working support people and businesses throughout the year


he ongoing coronavirus pandemic has meant that the last year has been a very challenging time for all of us, as we adapt personally and professionally to working from home - while juggling homeschooling and the lack of social interaction.

The pandemic has also fundamentally changed the way we use technology, forcing businesses to fast-track the

development of their online presence in order to survive. This has helped to keep the economy moving despite tremendous challenges. I am proud to work for a company that is continuing to work hard to keep Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK up and running. As a critical enabler and investor in Northern Ireland, BT Group has generated £655 million total GVA impact locally



already connected to Openreach’s gigabit capable full fibre broadband. When combined with EE’s extensive 5G mobile network, this digital infrastructure will help drive future economic growth. In the past year alone, BT has been at the forefront of helping to enable the UK economy to function and keep people digitally connected. I’m immensely proud that we have also provided access to free Wi-Fi and mobile connectivity for children and young people, including those in rural settings, who may not have had access to digital technology. This has enabled thousands of people to work from home, whilst juggling the challenge of online schooling.

Developing digital skills

And as working from home continues to become our ‘new normal,’ and businesses need to become digital in order to succeed – they also need support to build their digital skills. Northern Ireland faces a digital skills gap. The rapid pace of change is leaving people behind – as many as 11.3m UK adults and 10% of the UK workforce lack basic digital skills. This digital skills gap is costing the UK economy an estimated £63bn a year.

and we support more than 7,200 jobs here. BT is also at the forefront of driving technology change and securing the UK’s digital infrastructure, investing £632m in innovation in the last year.

Investing in BT’s digital infrastructure

As connectivity is more important than ever before, BT Group’s investment in broadband and mobile infrastructure has been key to connecting businesses across Northern Ireland and with the rest of the world. Northern Ireland is the most digitally connected region in the UK, with more than half of premises

At BT, I’m proud to say that we are supporting people by giving them access to the best technology and training through our Skills for Tomorrow programme. These free sessions are part of a major new programme, temporarily being moved online, designed to empower 10 million people across the UK by giving them the skills they need to flourish for the digital future. We have collaborated with leading digital skills organisations to collate the best courses and information, in one easy to navigate place ( ).

Small Business Support Scheme BT has also been at the centre of introducing a new action recovery

 Author

Paul Murnaghan

Regional Director, BT Enterprise NI

plan for the 124,000 small businesses across Northern Ireland to get them better positioned for recovery and growth following the pandemic. Our Small Business Support Scheme is now offering an unprecedented package. This includes a commitment to pay our 4,500 small business suppliers within 30 days of being invoiced, helping firms fund the cost of ultrafast business connections, as well as access to free resources such as business mentoring, digital skills, marketing tools and mental health support. Last month, we also introduced free one-to-one expert coaching sessions for small businesses here. Looking to the future, BT has and continues to support customers through these changes, continuing to adapt to their needs in the everchanging world around us. Importantly, BT remains committed to our ongoing investments in Northern Ireland, which remains a strategically important region for us, helping to sustain jobs and support the local economy.

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