Sync NI Magazine Summer 2021

Page 1 Summer 2021 Puppet 14 PA Consulting 30 FinTrU 40


 I truly believe that the future

holds unlimited potential for NI’s world-class technology and talent  Kevin Holland

CEO, Invest Northern Ireland

Start-ups, Scale-ups and Giants Meet the leaders and CEO’s driving NI’s technology boom 10 Version 1: ‘An incredible journey in uncertain times’

16 Allstate NI’s John Healy says ‘don’t wait’ for your tech career to begin

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Welcome to the summer edition of the Sync NI magazine Foreword

Kevin Holland

CEO, Invest Northern Ireland


t is my pleasure to welcome you to this edition of Sync NI Magazine and to share perspective on the economic importance of the technology sector.

As we look today to building economic recovery, it is clear that technology will play an important role in Northern Ireland’s growth and the Sync NI community plays a key role in realising the potential. Our tech sector has demonstrated extraordinary resilience despite the challenges of COVID-19 and uncertainties around the EU Exit. It has also seen significant growth, as firms have responded to the unique circumstances with exceptional levels of innovation and a breath-taking adoption rate of digital transformation. Indeed, the importance of the tech sector on the local economy has been repeatedly highlighted over the last year. TechNation reported that tech firms in NI raised a record level of venture capital investment in 2020, totalling £45.6m, beating the previous record of £30.4m set in 2018. Belfast holds accolades as one of the best UK cities to work in technology and the best place to work as a software developer. A position earned through the hard work, talent and business friendliness of the people that make NI’s tech teams such a joy to collaborate with. Throughout this issue you will gain first-hand insight from those at the helm of such innovative companies. At Invest NI, it is our mission to support the sector: helping the companies in it to create talent, build effective teams, deliver growth strategies and achieve success that builds our global reputation of expertise. Our tech sector’s recent proven resilience has been a key selling point to new potential investors in Northern Ireland. We have welcomed several new inward investments in the sector in the last year – such as PEAK6 and ScreenCloud. They join a significant cluster of established international investors such as Rapid7, Allstate and Aflac.



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 Editor Niamh Campbell Editorial Phone: 028 9082 0944 Email: Advertising & Partnerships Phone: 028 9082 0947 Email:

This mix of resilience and talent has also attracted re-investment in NI from international and indigenous companies alike. Anaeko is expanding its team’s footprint across Belfast and Enniskillen, while AquaQ Analytics has doubled its workforce in the last year and is now investing in its people’s skills development. Codec and KPMG have both re-invested in their NI operations to grow their teams here. Most recently, we announced PwC’s new Advanced Research and Engineering centre in NI. This £40m investment in a strategic R&D programme is the latest outcome of our decade-long relationship together and will lead to the creation of almost 800 new jobs. SMEs are also investing and growing in the tech space. Syktek, Locate a Locum, Whitespace, Elemental Software and Overwatch – the list goes on – are investing in areas of Insurtech, Medtech and AI to drive future innovations in technology. We also helped early-stage

companies such as Haru, Cloudsmith and QUB spinout Sonrai Analytics to secure seed funding to bring their innovative ideas to life through our Access to Finance investment funds. At the heart of many of these businesses is innovation. It is also a key element of the Department for the Economy’s recently published ‘10X Economic Vision’. It recognises the importance of innovation to drive economic growth and the fundamental transformation underway to see NI amongst the elite small advanced economies of the world. It is also why innovation and commercialisation are two of the eight economic drivers that form the core of our 2021/22 recovery plan, providing a solid foundation to build a pathway to recovery. I truly believe that the future holds unlimited potential for NI’s world-class technology and talent and our thriving tech sector plays an essential role in driving NI’s competitiveness and growth.

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 08 Sync NI Spotlight: ESO’s Russell Beggs 09 Finally getting back on track in a new post-pandemic world

20 The reputation of a team plays a key role in hiring, but team character is essential to retain the best people… 22 Aflac NI - Putting people at the heart of success

10 Version 1: ‘An incredible journey in uncertain times’

24 How Danske Bank's focus on its people is paying dividends

12 Q&A with Bazaarvoice’s Seamus Cushley

27 STATSports - The NI company revolutionizing the sporting world

14 Building leadership around problem-solving, having a family and taking on many roles 16 Sync NI Spotlight: Allstate NI’s John Healy says ‘don’t wait’ for your tech career to begin

28 Unosquare: The 5 F’s of leadership & success 30 PA Consulting’s Neil McKeown on breaking tradition in consulting







32 How Synergy Learning’s Roy Kerley builds winning teams

40 FinTrU’s Emma Pollock talks career advice, bravery and being passionate about people

32 iManage’s Ian Raine: Proud to call NI my tech home

41 Sync NI Spotlight: Kainos’ Russell Sloan

33 Peter Russell: From the rugby pitch to the boardroom

42 'You can get more of everything else, but you can't get more time' - Hubflow's Gary McCausland on flexible working's future

34 ‘Increasing women in STEM careers begins with education, with both public and private sectors needing to take responsibility’ 36 Sync NI’s Leaders & Innovators - Cormac Diamond 38 Tech Trailblazers: Esri Ireland’s Adam Glover




44 In for the Long Haul: David McKnight, Applied Systems Europe 46 ‘Our broadband network has never been more vital’







Sync NI Spotlight

ESO’s Russell Beggs

Russell Beggs is the Vice President of Engineering at ESO, a US based software firm with offices in Belfast that aims to improve health and safety through the power of data


ussell always knew that he wanted to make a difference in the world through technology. From a young age, Russell was fascinated by how things in the world worked and how he could make an impact. He realised that technology is the key to driving change and dedicated his education to the study of computer science. Russell started his career at Kainos, which spun out Meridio and in turn expanded internationally, offering him the opportunity to work in Australia, the Asia-Pacific region, and North America. He next spent several years at Deloitte Digital, solving problems for the finance and public sector industries using technology. In 2019 Russell moved to ESO, a health technology company that develops innovative, user-friendly software to meet the changing needs of EMS, fire and rescue services, and hospitals. ESO, a U.S.-based company, had identified Belfast as its first location for global expansion due to the wealth of software engineering talent in Northern Ireland. Russell admittedly took a risk

when he moved to ESO, leaving a role he enjoyed for a company where he would be the first employee in a new office. But as he met with executive leadership and other colleagues, Russell noticed a common quality that assured him that he was in the right place — everyone was there to make a difference and support ESO’s mission of improving community health and safety through the power of data. Two years later ESO’s Belfast office has grown to more than 50 employees under Russell’s leadership, and he now also runs ESO’s software engineering teams globally. While ESO’s rapid growth has presented some challenges, Russell notes that the mission-driven work attracts people who want to make a difference, which keeps everyone focused on a common goal. ESO’s recent acquisitions of Emergency Reporting, a fire records management solution, and Medusa, an electronic patient care reporting solution, have expanded where ESO software is being used globally. “The work that we’re doing locally is making a global impact – being able to see that impact in our own communities makes it even

more meaningful,” says Russell. “As ESO continues to grow, it’s more important than ever to stay focused on the mission so we can help providers deliver the best care possible.” For those interested in starting a technology-focused career, Beggs offers a few pieces of simple advice. First, be flexible and teachable. The software engineering landscape is constantly changing, so being agile and open to change is key. Do not hesitate to ask questions or ask peers for guidance. Second, know that having an education in computer science does not limit you to being a software engineer. There are many different paths where a computer science education can lead, from QA engineering to working in infrastructure or risk compliance. Ultimately, however, Russell encourages those pursuing a career in technology to put happiness first. People who are happy tend to be more creative and successful in both life and career. Individuals should assess what inspires them so that they can find a role at a company with a mission that aligns with their passions.



Finally getting back on track in a new post-pandemic world Paul Black’s Alpha Group, from its Belfast roots, has grown into one of the UK and Ireland’s leading office design and office furniture specialists. In this article, he reflects on the unpredicted path the local business world now faces


s we emerge from the Covid pandemic, we are as business leaders challenged in different ways from where we would have been prior to 2020. We have a whole new world of issues to contend with as our teams, colleagues, families and friends get ‘double jabbed’ and the new normal presents itself for us to accept and deal with. In the early days of Covid, the scale of what we were facing was clearly unknown. The initial lockdown, coupled with balmy spring days and the promise of a quick return to normality was embraced by everyone wholeheartedly. Working from home was discussed as the new future of working, and many companies saw productivity levels at least stay level – if not increase – provoking the mindset that ‘the future of the office was in question’. Almost 18 months after Covid was about to visit us, we have moved so far along a path that few could have predicted. Thanks to medical expertise we have seen the country move to a position where we now discuss adjusting and living with Covid. Thankfully as a result

 Author

the notion of ‘the office is dead’ is destined to the bin, and we now are looking at collaborative ways to engage our teams, and create destinations for people to return to work. Flexible or fluid workable rotas allow for less occupancy and more space for people to work differently, and engage with each other. The vital statistic that was frequently overlooked when people ‘dissed’ the office was the impact on peoples wellbeing and social engagement through the workplace. There is no doubt that people can work from home, but the absence of interaction with colleagues had a much bigger blow on

teams during lockdown. At Alpha 1080 we pride ourselves on the fact that our teams regularly drive change throughout the business. It is their appetite for change and development that demands we encourage collaborative working, and the absence of this saw our business lose something during the early lockdown. Someone once told me never be afraid of change as it would happen naturally. I try to encourage change, as it is good for any organisation to evolve – particularly through its people who are driving the change. We continually look at best practices, and see how we can grow and

Paul Black

Chief Executive, Alpha Group

improve, both for our people and our clients. We embrace outside influencers, and look at what works best for our customers as well as our own teams. The Alpha Group celebrates its 50th year in business this year, and has faced numerous challenges during that time. It would be wrong to suggest any challenge was greater than others, but suffice to say our focus and determination to succeed and deliver the best we can to our clients prevailed at all times, and kept us on the right path. The aspect of client satisfaction sits high on our company’s list of priorities, and helps to steer us on the right course.



Version 1: ‘An incredible journey in uncertain times’ Version 1 has had a rollercoaster of a year so far. In June, the company announced its acquisition of digital services firm, Neueda. The purchase is the 12th for Version 1 to date and will help it become one of the largest expert technology businesses in Northern Ireland


few weeks prior to that, the multinational IT services provider revealed it is investing more than £1m in its Belfast operations and creating 180 new jobs. Expanding wider into Northern Ireland, the organisation is also creating more roles in the North West, with a range of roles already open for applications. Lorna McAdoo is Director of Operations & Business Development at Version 1 NI. Here, she sums up the past 12 months for her business, with insights into what the future holds for what will potentially be, one of the region’s top tech giants. “The last year in Version 1 has been quite typical of many tech companies here. When the pandemic struck in early 2020, it created a lot of uncertainty and insecurity. Gone was the traditional working day – travelling to and from the office and working alongside your peers. Over the past year in Version 1, there has been a huge emphasis on ensuring that our customers were okay and supported. The feedback from

our customers and staff through our quarterly surveys has been fantastic with some of the highest feedback scores yet. “In Version 1, we have onboarded over 70 people, and a lot of the focus has been on making sure that new joiners felt at ease and connected to the rest of their team. We have continued to deliver staff engagement events and develop our community initiatives which many of our new people have got involved. “It has been an incredible year in a very uncertain time but, as we continue on the journey out of the pandemic, we are more certain than ever that the principles that we live and work by will continue to drive the success that we are hungry for.

‘Be a leader by listening’

“My top tips for being a leader in the tech industry are probably that of any leader – listen, support, encourage and take risks. I have worked over 35 years in the Tech industry for some of our best tech companies here in Northern Ireland and more recently in Version 1.



“My leadership style has always been to listen very closely to what my customers are saying – their needs, challenges, and vision. I also listen to my team and help to guide, support and mentor where they need it. Any leader in Tech is only as good as the team around them and, I happen to have a fantastic team here in Version 1.

The future is bright for Version 1 and Northern Ireland

“Version 1’s growth over the last 10 years in particular has been incredible. The success has been a result of how we balance our efforts to achieve Customer Success, Empowered People, and a Strong Organisation, underpinned by a commitment to our six Core Values. This approach is known as our Strength in Balance, our strategic triangle, which is the foundation for everything we do here. We believe this is what makes Version 1 different. The future success will continue using these principles to underpin everything we do and ensure that our customers get access to the best technology and people so that together we can continue to drive success for our customers. “Version 1 NI’s growth will continue to drive towards being one of the top IT organisations here in Northern Ireland: The Best Place to Work for our people and an organisation deeply embedded in our communities across Northern Ireland. Our focus going forward will be to engage, employ and work with communities in all areas of Northern Ireland. Having come from Fermanagh to go to University, it is important that in the future, you don't have to live in Belfast to be successful in the Tech Sector. The opportunities should be readily available to everyone no matter where they live. The pandemic has made everyone realise that working from home can be achieved and still feel like you belong to an organisation.” Remember to check out Version 1’s latest job opportunities on Sync NI’s Jobs board at



Q&A with Bazaarvoice’s Seamus Cushley Seamus Cushley is one of the most prominent figures in Northern Ireland’s tech community. He is currently the Site Lead and Vice President of Product Development at Bazaarvoice Belfast, the Texas-headquartered company that provides global product reviews and user-generated content (UGC) solutions. Seamus is known for his work ethic, passion for technology and leadership skills. Here, he discusses with Sync NI his career to date Where did it all start for you Seamus?

in everyone, and the real challenge is bringing out that passion and magnifying their potential.

I left Ulster University in 1999 with a Business Studies degree, and a solid understanding of the fundamentals of business operations. I was keen to explore the opportunities in the tech sector. Instead of going down the Master's route, I applied to the Rapid Advancement Programme (RAP). The programme gave me an accelerated learning path in software development. It allowed people from a non-technical background to bridge into a career in technology. My initial roles were technically focused, allowing me to gain an in-depth knowledge of software development and architecture.

How did you come to be where you are now?

Today I’m leading the growth of the Bazaarvoice Product Development Hub in Belfast. I joined Bazaarvoice because it's an exciting innovative company with true high growth potential. It has a long-term business model and a real opportunity to scale globally. The people here are smart, tech-savvy and very passionate. The team in Belfast is creating business-critical

How would you describe your leadership style?

I think my leadership style has probably evolved over time. Today, I think very simply in terms of helping people. I’m a firm believer in trying to empower my team and support their career growth.

products that directly impact how some of the world’s best brands run their businesses and interact with their customers.

What does a typical day look like for you?

One of the fundamental questions of leadership is “how to bring the best out in the people you’re responsible for and really unlock their potential?”. So each morning that is where I start, what is important and how do I make sure the correct person understands and takes responsibility. The nature of my job means I get the opportunity to work on everything from longterm strategy. At the heart of it all is our people, from finding the right people to join the Bazaarvoice team, to supporting the people we

have to ensure they have the room and the environment to thrive. Working closely with a number of teams worldwide on a range of projects ensures no two days look the same.

What have you found the most challenging during your career so far?

Earlier in my career, I’d have answered - technological challenges that face every high-tech company. But my biggest challenge, and any business’s biggest challenge and opportunity is our people. No one is perfect, humans are messy and flawed and complex, and each person is very different in what drives them. But there is an underlying passion

I believe that by focusing on the individual, and establishing an environment where learning and growth is at the heart, our overall performance improves. It’s a balance between equipping my people to grow and staying close enough to the projects to offer guidance and direction. I don’t believe in micromanaging the details. It’s about empowering the team to own their role fully, and challenging them to look at things differently.

What piece of advice would you give to a 20-year-old you?

Say “Yes” to new opportunities, and work out how to do it when you get there. Not knowing is an advantage because you look at things differently, ask questions and learn fast!



Building leadership around problem-solving, having a family and taking on many roles Puppet is an automation software firm with a (very cool) Belfast base and an NI team full of software engineers, directed by Sinead Heverin. She talks us through her career history and being not only a woman in tech, but a female leader


rom a young age I enjoyed problem solving and STEM based subjects at school, and with an older brother following a path in Computer Science, I took his advice and decided to go the same route.

I come from a farming family, so I was used to rolling up my sleeves and helping out where it was needed. There was no gender bias at home, you just had to get the work done. I think this influence contributed to me not feeling out of place as the only girl in school to study Computer Science GCSE and the only female on my degree course. I found something I loved in Computer Science, and I realized it was a world that would allow me to work in any industry - it was a world with little constraints. After I completed my study in Information and Communication Technology at Queen’s, I accepted a Graduate Software Engineering role with Vision Consulting, which was an Irish owned company with offices in Dublin and Belfast. The company gave me lots of opportunities to work with big clients such as BNP Paribas and JP Morgan - I worked predominantly on Trading systems.

 Author

Sinead Heverin

Director of Engineering, Puppet

At this early stage, I also realised what a great passport an IT job was for getting opportunities to travel. I spent a significant amount of time working in London with these clients but also



had the opportunity to work in their Tokyo and Paris offices and in future endeavours will travel to Boston, Singapore, San Francisco and Portland.

Assuming responsibilities and delivering innovation

Gradually, I decided to take on more leadership roles, with the first one being with HBOS as a Technical Lead. I loved it because I could still be heavily involved in the design and development phase of our products and services but slowly I was able to take on managerial responsibilities like helping others with their career development and bigger picture planning. It was a brilliant team to be part of and a great platform to start to learn more about the importance of having good people and good leaders around you. We delivered some really innovative banking products which are still used today by Corporate and Retail customers in the UK. After HBOS, I moved to Liberty IT working as part of the Personal Insurance team and eventually CyberSource (Visa) to support the delivery of new Payment and Settlement systems progressing to a Director of Engineering, before joining Puppet, where I am today. I am part of the Puppet Research and Development Team, which is responsible for evolving our core Puppet Enterprise product for Infrastructure Management, bringing new products in the Security and Compliance space to market, supporting the career development of the team and growing the site. I am now Director of Engineering and Site lead for the Belfast office. During all of this time, I also got married and had two children. Work isn’t all of you and I think it’s important that as we build our careers -- especially for those of us that want to have a family -- we need to talk about this as well. Too often when a family comes along people have trouble balancing their career and their family; this is a really common refrain for women in

technology. I’ve luckily had a supportive partner and the privilege of working for companies that allowed me to have the flexibility I needed as my life commitments have grown and continue to grow in my career. I think it’s imperative for companies to push for this to keep great talent and important for us as individuals to recognise, we can’t do everything all the time.

Leadership means ensuring your employees know they are valued

A good leader in any organisation needs to have integrity, an enthusiasm and passion for what they do and show empathy towards their team - this is essential no matter what industry you are in. Having all of these components creates an environment where people feel valued, are excited by what they are doing and feel a strong sense of purpose. These are all critical attributes to hiring and retaining top talent. Oftentimes, people in leadership feel

they need to solve everything and if you are looking to grow your business, I always say “it takes a village”... not one person. To lead with a team and growth-mindset, you need to show your vulnerability and at times say, “I don’t know.” This opens up the opportunity for the team to step in and say, “I can help.” This is key in driving successful delivery and helping to build a diverse, healthy, happy productive workforce. It's been an amazing industry to work in, full of challenge, creativity and great people. I have travelled to some amazing places because of my job and made some incredible friends along the way. Northern Ireland is well-positioned to be a global technology leader thanks to our resilience, talent, and collective vision for the future. It is a growing industry that is ultimately trying to make lives better, so my advice would be get curious and get involved in our local tech sector as soon as possible!



Sync NI Spotlight

Allstate NI’s John Healy says ‘don’t wait’ for your tech career to begin

 Author

Niamh Campbell Journalist, Sync NI

Sync NI had an in-depth conversation with Allstate Northern Ireland’s managing director, John Healy, about his career journey, his top tips and why NI’s tech sector is the place to be


with a machine and get a result,” the now-managing director at Allstate NI said.

Back in the 1980s, John Healy went to his career’s teacher, who looked at him and said, “Healy, you're good at maths and physics, you'll be doing engineering.”

“On my graduation day, I promised myself I wasn't going to work a single day as an engineer. I went right back to do one of the very earliest conversion courses, an MSc in Computer Science, and I got myself onto the path that I probably should have chosen from the get go.”

hen looking at today’s tech leaders, it can be hard to imagine how it all started for them and what exactly took them on the road to success.

And so that’s what John did at university - and he absolutely hated it. It wasn’t even close to what he wanted to do you, which was computing. He dabbled in programming throughout that decade and loved it. “I loved the fact that you could work

This lack of guidance or compass to help John get into his desired sector is a problem he says he still sees today, and thus the MD is now passionate about raising the IT industry’s



technology, one in which John has never looked back. “The thing about technology is that it is so fast-changing and as you're coming through university and those early careers, you gain skills for what will become a lifetime of continuous learning,” he told Sync NI. “That was true then and it is even more true now, in terms of the pace of change of technology and the range of problems that we can tackle today using it – things that were just in people's imaginations 20 years ago have become reality or formed the stepping stones to even larger transformations.” In relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, John referenced the amazing advancements in tech being used to sequence the virus’ different variants, or drive contact-tracing apps or even rapidly accelerate the ecommerce industry to help businesses and individuals survive. awareness within schools and families. With two degrees under his belt, John applied for his first graduate job with a well-known telecoms company, but was shocked to not get it.

investment bank in London. I wanted to apply for the job but I didn't understand half the words that were in the ad, so I had to go and look up all these finance and banking terms.

“I'd never failed at anything in my life, and I had to take a long hard look at myself and say ‘what am I going to do?’” the Derry native laughed.

“I just knew that they were looking for computer programmers to come and solve business problems and that's what I'd always wanted to do.”

“I was looking through the job section in the newspaper one Sunday, and there's an ad with all these really exciting words in it. It was for a job with an

A trip to London and one new suit later, and John had secured that job - with JP Morgan – in what would be the beginning of an illustrious career in

“I love technology because it is constantly changing and means that we have to be constantly learning and making sure that we are at least keeping pace - if not trying to stay ahead - of where technology can take us.” From a global perspective, he believes we are currently living in the most exciting time for tech. “We’re solving problems that we have today and building towards the



I think you should always remember that you've got to keep doing your job really well. Be sure that you're doing it to the absolute best of your ability and make sure that you are maximising that contribution, either to the company you're working for or the company that you are in. “I think the biggest skills that any of us can have is the ability to work in teams. In so much of your early life, it's all about your own individual excellence in school or wherever it happens to be, but whenever you hit the world of work, it's totally about the team,” he continued. problems of tomorrow, tackling climate change with GreenTech and so on, and so it's an exciting time for somebody who wants to join a company like Allstate or is interested in maybe setting up a company of their own. “My number one piece of advice is don't wait,” he urged. “Don't wait to set up a new company, don't wait to join a company, don't wait to push yourself forward - to learn those new skills, to go for that next job, to build a portfolio of skills that are going to make you successful. “You definitely want to get going and make sure that you are maximising the opportunity, but while doing that,

“It doesn't matter whether or not you're sitting in my seat, where people would say to me ‘oh my goodness, you have such a big organisation, how do you do it?’ Well actually, I've got a great team. And it's the team that makes it all work. “Whenever we're recruiting people to come and join the business, qualifications, skills and attributes are great, but what we're really testing at an interview is, will you fit in? Can you work as part of a team? Can you be part of this great organisation and be able to function as part of what it is that we're trying to do? “I'd say that ability to be able to work in a team and to be able to play your part

is what makes businesses successful and technology businesses in particular, where it takes a lot of different people with different technology skills to come together to actually create the product.” Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is coming into so many different aspects of Allstate’s modern practice, and the firm is presently working with local universities and colleges to develop an even stronger pipeline of tech and IT graduates than the region already has. “We have a super further education infrastructure in Northern Ireland, and I see those institutions working in a partnership among themselves and with business in such a positive way,” said John. Allstate has recently collaborated with Ulster University to drive innovation through AI, and has been looking more in-depth at emerging technologies such as 5G, through Queen’s University’s Institute of Electronics Communications & Information Technology (ECIT). John concluded: “It's a really exciting time for us. There’s a lot of challenges out there. Challenges require technology solutions, and we've got the technologists to do it.”

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The reputation of a team plays a key role in hiring, but team character is essential to retain the best people… Fergal Downey, Vice President of Engineering at Rakuten Blockchain Lab, writes from his own experience, about how to best establish a good company reputation


hen you set out to grow your team, your task is to convince people to leave their current jobs and come join your team with the expectation of something better. Prospective employees don’t take this decision lightly and with so many open positions for software professionals right now, you need to help them visualise what they can expect

from a role in your team. The reputation of your team within the relevant community is therefore of critical importance. Before you can have a reputation however, you need to establish an identity and create awareness of your team with the technical community you are targeting. Whilst the approach you take to building this awareness differs between different kinds of organisations such as


widest and most diverse audience. Social media, such as LinkedIn is pretty much entry level, but it is only as good as the content you share and can be difficult to engage a large audience. You and your team members need to join, present at and host local technology meetups; you need to have a stand at the university career fairs, give guest lectures to undergraduates, hire placement students and sponsor final year projects; you need to publish relevant articles in local media channels (such as; you need to nominate your company or projects for local tech awards; and you need to participate in and/or sponsor local technical conferences. These promotional activities help to create your team identity and reputation, making it easy for everyone representing your company such as your current team members and employment agencies to deliver a consistent message.

 Author

Fergal Downey

VP of Engineering, Rakuten Blockchain Lab

a start-up versus a Belfast based engineering team for a well-known multinational brand, some elements are common. It is important to establish a local name. This might seem obvious to the startup as this is key to the identity of the company, but not so obvious for a remote engineering team. A local name such as Rakuten Blockchain Lab, Aflac NI or Liberty IT helps to demonstrate your local investment and reassure candidates about your future plans for the team. Once you have established your name, you need to get it out there. There are numerous channels available, and a combination of channels will reach the

Having a good reputation however will only help with the hiring. Reputation is how others perceive those things about your team, whereas character revolves around what is truly important to the team and he moral fibre that determines what it is like to be part of that team. The number of open positions and the diversity of roles available in the local market and beyond (with remote working now a reality) makes it increasingly difficult to retain the best people in your team. If the character of the team does not align with new team members, then they are unlikely to stay. I believe that for the most part, people leave your team when they are not happy with their current situation for some reason. This happiness is different for everyone and may be different for the same person at different times in their lives. I would like to a suggest a model that infers happiness for software engineering professionals as the intersection of


technology, relevance, and environment. Software engineers like to be working with modern programming languages & technology stacks. They like to be working on projects that are relevant and meaningful. They like to work in a pleasant and rewarding environment. Environment is very broad and includes, compensation and benefits, the physical office and flexible working arrangements, but also less-tangible things such as team culture, support from colleagues and management style. All three attributes are required for the happiness that keeps your team together. For example, the environment might be great, and the projects are relevant, but if the technology is legacy, then sooner rather than later, team members will look elsewhere. Similarly, if the technology stack is modern and the projects are relevant, but there is a toxic culture or one where new members find it difficult to have an influence, then again, people won’t stay long. Getting this balance right is not easy as there will always be legacy technology to deal with, there will always be “support” projects and there will always be a new company in town offering more money and a pool table in the cafeteria. You must know your team members well and know when things are out of balance for them. You must find growth or diversification opportunities such as team leader for the legacy project, trouble-shooter for processes slowing down development or opportunities for people to get out of their comfort zone and take on a new role. When a team member is offered an opportunity outside of your team that aligns with their own career objectives that you are not available to offer, then be happy for them and hopefully their time in your team played some part in them securing this opportunity.



Aflac NI

Putting people at the heart of success Contrary to popular belief, tech transformation and success is all about the talent and the people behind it - not the technology itself, according to Mark McCormack, Aflac Northern Ireland’s Head of Technology, who says employees are the true growth drivers


n the fast-paced world of digital technology, the rate and pace of change can be incredibly exciting, often challenging and sometimes complex.

However, all these factors continue to be a big draw for quick-thinking, creative problem-solvers keen to hatch out a flourishing career in this exciting arena. With a mission of developing software and engineering teams within Digital Services for Aflac, we’ve been growing exponentially since we established our company in Northern

Ireland in 2019. With a busy team of more than 100 staff— and plans to add 50 more in the year ahead—we’ve been creating something different while making a splash on this side of the pond with our iconic Aflac duck. Supporting our US parent company Aflac, a Fortune 200 company providing supplementary health insurance to 50 million global customers in the United States and Japan, Belfast is front and centre for delivering innovative tech solutions. We help people when they are sick or hurt, calling on our brand when they need us most. We’re also learning new


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skills and new technologies as we work. From building customer solutions using Pega to delivering world class web and mobile apps used every day by our sales agents and policyholders, our Belfast teams also have a strong focus on data science, cloud computing and artificial intelligence. We’re very proud of how far we have come in such a short time in NI, solving some of the most complex problems in the insurance industry. However, as anyone knows, success doesn’t come easy and despite the perceptions, tech is a truly peoplecentred business.

Mark McCormack

Head of Technology, Aflac Northern Ireland

Our focus on our teams and each individual employee's development and wellbeing is a top priority, and the supportive culture of our workplace, means everyone shares in our success—and we work hard to make sure everyone enjoys every minute. Since we established our global tech hub in Belfast, we’ve been hiring some of the best and brightest in the industry and bringing in new talent in the form of career-changers experiencing their first role in the digital space. Once a start-up, we’re now focused on scaling up.


Despite the pandemic and the restrictions involved, Aflac NI has put our teams front and centre, ensuring that everyone stayed connected and immersed in our day-to-day teamwork. At Aflac Northern Ireland, we embrace the maxim advanced by our founders back in 1955; if you take care of the employees, they will take care of the business. Among the many people initiatives we have introduced, our new ‘Organisation 2.0’ programme is making waves. Recognising our growth in size from a start-up to a flourishing mid-size tech company, we sought feedback from our teams about the kind of organisation they want to be and empowered them to come up with ideas that would help us retain our nurturing ‘small’ start-up feel. The process was a revelation. With great input, ideas and insights, our employees delivered a series of recommendations which we’re now actively introducing, including the creation of a brand new ‘Engineering Coach’ role, which combines elements of tech leadership, hands-on coding, mentoring and coaching. As part of this, we also pivoted our Digital Services team into three newly defined engineering practices— Pega, Data and Web & Mobile. Working together, we’re thrilled that this dynamic process means even more opportunities for our teams. Everything we’ve done in collaboration with our employees has also allowed us to scale up while continuing to deliver high-quality digital products for our customers. A true win-win for our teams and our customers. At Aflac NI, we believe that when an organisation manages both its talent and culture well, the synergies created unlock a wealth of opportunity and real impact. We’re also really great ‘quack’!



Sync NI checked in with Caroline van der Feltz, Danske Bank’s HR Director, to find out about how the bank is helping colleagues adjust to the new world of work and why it has been named one of the UK’s best places to work q Hi Caroline. There has been so much written about what the new world of work is going to look like after all COVID-19 restrictions ease. What is your view? It’s a big question that I’m not sure anyone has the answer to yet. There have some headline-grabbing announcements by companies about when, where and how they are going to allow staff to work, but I think the fundamental shift will take longer to be understood as employers and sectors work out what’s best for their people and their business.

What’s clear is that flexibility and choice has become a key issue; organisations will lose people if they don’t offer an element of choice and invest in training and developing skills for people to thrive in a less static work environment. Firms must find a balance between the old and new ways of working. The challenge is balancing employee flexibility with operational efficiency and there is no blueprint. Moving forward is as much an exploration for employers as employees. You can’t predict what will work long-term so it’s better to say ‘let’s try this and see how it goes’ but with an opportunity to say you’ll change things if it doesn’t work, it’s not set in stone.

How Dansk focus on its paying divi

ke Bank’s s people is idends



What is clear is that the pandemic has influenced employee priorities and employers need to collaborate more than ever with their employees to shape what is right for them. The shift to home working has been very positive for some but we must also appreciate this is not the case for all.

q Many of your frontline

staff, such as those in branches, have been in the workplace throughout the pandemic. What approach are you taking to bringing others back? Yes, for over a year now we have been working together to keep each other, our families and our customers safe from the virus, whilst continuing to provide a first class service.

Primarily we want to ensure people are healthy and happy. Our Better Ways of Working framework is based on colleagues doing at least one day in the office, two days at home and the rest is up to them. We wanted to allow the opportunity for people to reconnect with their teams and have changed how we’re using office space to allow for greater collaboration. There are aspects of work that are better achieved by spending time together, however there are also productivity benefits realised in concentrated time working from home and employees are more than capable of making those decisions in choosing how and where to work. One of the challenges with home working can be



achieving separation between work and life. We want to maximise the benefits flexible working has highlighted in terms of diversity and inclusion, for example when it comes to encouraging people back who are parents or carers. We don’t want people to work all of the time, we need them to disconnect and will step in if we can see from their working patterns that they aren’t doing that. We have reiterated this commitment in our Right to Disconnect Charter addressing healthy work boundaries and the human need to switch off.

worked with Women’s Aid, the PSNI and the Men’s Advisory Project to launch a domestic abuse policy for our colleagues and are training our People Leaders to help and direct colleagues to safe places and to recognise the signs of people who are suffering abuse. It is a fundamental right to be safe and it is important that we ensure that we are doing all we can to both raise awareness and support our people.

q There is still some nervousness around new variants of Covid. How are you addressing that?

I’m very proud that we achieved a 2 star accreditation in the Best Companies survey which means we’re an ‘outstanding’ place to work. Placing 10th in all sectors in Northern Ireland and 21st in the UK Financial Services listing is a fantastic outcome for our first entry in the survey. We were one of only two companies in the NI Top 10 listing that is actually headquartered in Northern Ireland and in the financial services list, we were the only Northern Irish company listed.

The health and wellbeing of all our colleagues is fundamental; we want them to feel safe in the workplace and we have a responsibility to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. ​​ We’ve been providing PCR tests for some time and around 850 colleagues have had antibody tests We’ve also been accepted on to the Department of Health’s Rapid Testing Programme which will involve offering twice weekly rapid lateral flow testing to all colleagues. We are also encouraging colleagues to get vaccinated if they can and are making a donation to our charity partner, AWARE, for everyone who gets both doses of the vaccine.

q People have other reasons to want to be back in the office too – tell me about the work you are doing on domestic abuse? The stark reality is that one in six men and one in four women suffer from domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, with 90% of incidents happening in front of children. The impact of working arrangements during the pandemic has contributed to increasing the risk for those at risk. As a responsible employer we want to provide support for colleagues when they’re at their most vulnerable. We’ve

q Have initiatives like this contributed to Danske Bank recently being named as one of the Best Places to Work?

Colleagues rated our approach to responsible business, wellbeing and quality leadership highly, which are all integral strands to our people strategy in Danske. We want them to feel that they are part of an organisation with a strong social conscience, part of something bigger. Because it comes from employee feedback, it’s an accolade that is really helpful when recruiting talent, especially as we move into recruiting for new roles in Great Britain as we explore pockets of opportunity for growth in that market.

q The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards digital banking, what does that mean from an HR perspective?

Digital is now fundamental to making banking easier and exceeding customer expectations. We’ve recently created

a new technology and digital focused business unit bringing together all of our customer journey squads, automation and data teams and the IT infrastructure and security team, under the leadership of a Chief Information Officer - another role that didn’t exist for us a year ago. It also means the skills we’re bringing into the business are different, and when we recruit for data or automation roles for example, we’re competing with both tech and non-tech companies. The benefit is we can hire people for some of these roles from anywhere, but the flipside of that is that organisations anywhere in the world can also hire people living in NI. We’re addressing this by growing our own talent through partnerships with Queen’s University and Ulster University through our TechFutures apprenticeship programme. Reskilling existing employees previously in non-tech roles will also have a huge part of play in meeting our future needs. The pace of change means the job you’re hired to do may be very different over time. That requires a shift in mindset to make people comfortable that roles will have a shorter lifespan and new skills development will be a constant. It’s a change that requires good leadership and new approaches to managing people. We’ve seen a more empathetic, human-led type of leadership emerge, where leaders are thinking more holistically, not just about qualifications. It’s an additional challenge on top of adjusting to managing teams virtually. The ability to lead dispersed teams, to thrive in a hybrid environment will be the defining leadership characteristic going forward. Those organisations that move through the change with purpose and intent, accepting and responding to the need to equip employees with the skills to succeed in the future will undoubtedly prosper.



STATSports – The NI company revolutionizing the sporting world Paul McKernan is the managing director of Newry-based fitness tech firm, STATSports. He shared with Sync NI what he thinks helps build successful businesses and brands Career Pathway/Snapshot

The team need to be clear on what is expected of them but more importantly why and how it contributes to the overall business. It is also imperative to focus on the team not just hiring individuals, they have to fit and ‘make the boat go faster’.

Paul McKernan has worked at some of Northern Ireland’s fastest growing companies over the last 20 years since graduating from the Jordanstown campus of Ulster University. As Head of IT at Westland Horticulture in Dungannon he implemented two ERP systems at a time when the business grew at a staggering rate.

Delivering growth strategies

At STATSports, we straddle both B2B and B2C markets so it’s not a ‘one size fits’ all process. Each strategy is quite nuanced.

At Chain Reaction Cycles the world’s largest online cycling retailer - Paul operated as Head of Trading, helping a team of buyers and merchandisers meet the challenging daily sales and margin targets with a focus on people and data. Now, as Managing Director of STATSports, Paul is helping the business to continue its phenomenal growth trajectory whilst also managing the many challenges this brings. The exciting business on the B2B side work with teams like Juventus, Liverpool, Ireland Rugby and many more while on the B2C side offer amateur athletes the ability to use the same tech as these elite teams.

Attributes to leading a successful company Without sitting on the fence, it’s a melting pot of characteristics. There

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is no one trait that takes precedence over the others. Having good interpersonal skills, being detailed and organized is obvious. You won’t get far managing anything without each those. But collaboration is important. Without it, teams are working in silos. And while that may still be effective, it’s not optimal for maximum productivity and innovation. You need to facilitate a situation where there is always crossdepartmental activity and new ideas are given oxygen to grow. This has never been more important as people work from home through

Niamh Campbell Journalist, Sync NI

covid and as the business grows, we need to ensure this remains a priority. Trust is also vital. There’s no point having talented people working for you if you’re constantly micro-managing their workload. Believe in their abilities and allow them to flourish.

Building effective teams

Ultimately, it’s about having the right people in place, as the business scales you cannot be in every meeting or conversation and hiring the right people in senior positions, then allowing them to build their team has really worked for us.

In 2020, despite the many challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented, we still managed to grow our core end of the business significantly year-on-year, with 75% recurring revenue. While on our consumer channel continues to have triple digit growth. 2021 has been another year of exponential growth for us and that’s down to both strategic investment and fantastic work from the entire team at STATSports. Best in class product, retaining long-term clients and locking in new global partnerships are key drivers, while activating 360 marketing campaigns allows us to reach every potential customer across the world.



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Giancarlo Di Vece CEO, Unosquare

Unosquare: The 5 F’s of leadership & success

Giancarlo Di Vece is leading Unosquare, a 750-person global technology nearshoring company, as it expands throughout the Americas and Europe


s modern philosophers including Simon Sinek, Adam Grant, and Daniel Pink recommend, we follow a people first approach, priortizing the people in our organization above all else.

This approach coupled with a vulnerable and transparent style of leadership yields trust, and trusting teams – along with a solid purpose and vision – are made up of high performing people. We have discovered what we call the 5 F’s: Fit, Family, Freedom, Fortune and Fun, a framework for conveying a clear message of our vision to our entire group. We constructed this framework with guidance from Who: The A Method for Hiring written by Geoff Smart and Randy Street combined with a compilation of our values and vision. My recommendation is to seek a thoughtful blending of the pieces that work for your organization to engage with your

entire team. Fit - Ensure a match between our company vision and the candidate’s values The best candidates are looking for roles where they can be A players. We want our people and our company to be a good fit for each other because when our people are successful, we are successful. Family - Be a name and not a number, be seen, heard and recognized We want every employee to feel supported and appreciated. We encourage referrals from existing employees of their friends and family because those networks strengthen our company, culture and community. Freedom - Trust and the capacity to make decisions A players don’t like to be micromanaged. They want to be left alone to feel productive and excel. We are confident

in our people and we understand the mutual benefit of extending the hand of trust to them. Fortune - Confidence in our future An A player will not be satisfied only by compensation. Aligning our vision and values ensures that our people also see the value of a stable company with a commitment to long term employment and growth. Compensation based on performance attracts the best people because they know they can deliver. Fun - Create an engaging work environment We spend more than a third of our lives at work and that’s too much time to waste in a miserable environment. Fun means doing something you love, with people you share values with for a company that respects and values you. Follow Unosquare Visit online Start Planet NI

   @unosquare



It's a new world ready for your new skills. Our purpose – to build trust in society and solve important problems – is more relevant than ever. PwC is committed to helping clients and communities address current and future challenges. Developing our people is central to this mission and to our inclusive culture. We need talented people with a breadth of experiences, who can harness their human difference, bring new ideas and fresh perspectives. We empower our people to learn new skills for the digital world, fulfil their potential and reimagine the possible. Developing our people. Accelerating our digital transformation.

Visit here to find out more: PwCCareersUK PwC UK Careers

PwC UK pwc_uk_careers


Valuing Difference. Driving Inclusion.



PA Consulting’s Neil McKeown on breaking tradition in consulting PA’s digital expert Neil McKeown writes about what attracted him to come and work for the transformation firm


A Consulting is different in what it does, and even more in how it does it.

It is an innovation and transformation consultancy that believes in the power of ingenuity to build a positive human future in a technology-driven world, and for me one of the most impressive things that it does is to create opportunity from complexity. In my short time here, I’ve been really fortunate to work with diverse teams of experts who combine innovative thinking and breakthrough use of technologies to progress further, faster, and achieve enduring results for PA’s clients. PA is the only firm I know with the range of expertise – strategists, innovators, designers, consultants, digital experts, scientists, engineers and technologists – to offer end-to-end innovation under one roof, helping clients seize the incredible opportunities of today’s rapidly changing world. That’s why moving to PA was an easy decision – the breadth of services it delivers is incredible and really impacts how people live for the better. PA has designed cosmetic applicators for people living with Parkinson’s, revolutionised cell and gene therapy with automatic, compact manufacturing processes, replaced plastic packaging with dry-moulded fibre, and built a new cloud platform to accelerate urgent health studies.

In September 2018, PA enhanced its global digital expertise by investing in talent in Belfast, and plan to grow to 140 people by March 2022. Combining PA’s global value proposition with local skills and expertise, the team in the PA Digital Hub in Belfast has an outstanding track record of helping organisations to adapt and transform to achieve enduring results through technology. From Belfast, PA delivers ingenious technical solutions for customers such as Rentokil, The Home Office and the National Health Service – using market-leading cloud technologies to deliver solutions including a number of digital citizen services that many of us use daily, an award-winning Internet Of Things (IOT) platform, and a digital twin solution for a leading nuclear operator. I was delighted to be asked to join PA Consulting in Belfast in February 2021 to lead the next phase of growth for the Digital Hub here. The story over the past (almost) 3 years has been incredible – growing from zero to almost 80 brilliant people, acquiring an enviable portfolio of customers, delivering ingenious digital solutions every day, and maintaining a vibrant start-up culture. The next step on the journey is to significantly scale our headcount, step out into new market segments, and deliver the full breadth and depth of our digital capability from Belfast – all while maintaining that culture and attitude that


makes PA in Belfast such an inspiring place to work. During my career I’ve been fortunate enough to work for – and learn from – some of the world’s leading consulting and technology organisations, along with a local start-up which became one of Belfast’s most recent success stories. But it wasn’t always straightforward – I came back to Belfast from university in Southampton in 1991, and my degree in Electronic Engineering wasn’t much defence against a crippling recession. So I decided to think laterally and broaden my skills, studying for a post-graduate certificate in management before joining Courtaulds Textiles as a graduate entrant in 1993. Here I got my first experience of Information Technology (as it was known back then) and – most importantly – how it could be used to benefit customers and end users. I enjoyed working in IT so much that I decided to make a career of it – working for two of the ‘Big 4’ professional services firms (Deloitte and PwC), the biggest technology company in the world at the time (Microsoft), and most recently as Head of Digital Transformation for a local digital solutions start-up (Neueda) that successfully scaled from 10 people to over 300 in the space of just 5 years.

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Neil McKeown

Managing Consultant, PA Consulting

From each of these experiences, I learned, refined and reinforced my


own personal ‘rule of three’ that has helped me to build effective successful teams and deliver business growth. I use these three things as the foundation for everything I do – they are: 1. It’s all about people Hire brilliant people, set out what you need them to achieve, and get out of the way. Sure, knock down obstacles for them if you need to, but don’t micromanage or tell the talented people - that you yourself have chosen to hire - how to do their jobs. 2. Walk in your customer’s shoes Never lose sight of who you are delivering for, and how delighted they’ll be when you deliver something amazing. Put your customers at the heart of every digital solution. 3. Focus on outcomes, not ‘cool technology’ Remember why you are doing what you do. It’s to deliver business outcomes, improved services, or cost efficiencies for your customers. Cutting edge technology – though fascinating – is only an enabler, it’s not the main event. It sounds simple – but over the past 25 years the single most important thing that I have learned is that a laser focus on these three areas is absolutely fundamental to successfully growing any business. Your team, your customers, and delivering results – that’s what it all boils down to.



How Synergy Learning’s Roy Kerley builds winning teams Roy Kerley talks to Sync NI about preparing the Synergy Learning team to lead the way in the new era of hybrid learning Pandemic driven closures of schools, universities and businesses have caused widespread adoption of digital-first learning strategies.

from finance management to healthy eating or mental wellbeing.

Speaking as founder and CEO of Synergy Learning, the provider of world-class learning technology to a global customer base, Roy Kerley tells Sync NI how he builds winning teams to help customers thrive. “Synergy Learning is built on foundational values that prioritise the individual in our collective effort to be one innovative, passionate, committed, fun team,” says Roy. “These values are central to how I work, as I want my team to thrive, both personally and professionally. “I’m a huge advocate for trust and openness in the workplace, and I admire when people have interests outside of their careers. My strength as a team builder stems from these facts, as they’re so deeply ingrained in our company culture that our team expects to see these qualities modelled from the top

down. Culture isn’t just a buzzword we shout about during recruitment, it’s something we’ve been committed to since Synergy Learning’s conception. By prioritising the needs of our team for the sixteen years we’ve been in business, I believe that Synergy Learning provides an ideal environment for productivity and development. Our People strategy is driven by the fact that individuals do their best work when they have harmony across all areas of their lives, so we have support networks in place for everything

“Our most recent strategic development saw Synergy Learning transition to a remote-first business model, which allows each individual team member to tailor their work around their personal life. Thanks to the versatility of the technology we build, it was incredibly easy for us to make this change, and this efficiency allowed us to focus our attention more fully on building excellent learning technology solutions for our customers, all whilst keeping our team happy and healthy. Our goal at Synergy Learning is to continue to build winning teams that accelerate growth for both us, and our customers. We have always tailored our offering to the increasingly sophisticated needs of our partners, but as online learning continues to boom with a forecasted revenue in the education technology industry of £7 trillion by 2025, we plan to continue our model of scaling and adapting alongside these businesses by equipping our team with each and every tool they need to succeed.”

iManage’s Ian Raine: Proud to call NI my tech home Encouraging more new IT enthusiasts into the right jobs within Northern Ireland I moved to Belfast from Scotland back in the 1980’s lured by innovative work that a company called Software Ireland was doing at the time with the Unix operating system - it was unparalleled in the UK and Ireland and moving over was an easy decision for me. 35 years later I am still amazed by the level of innovation and creativity exhibited by local companies and I am proud now to call Northern Ireland my home. In those 35 years I have built complex enterprise software solutions and led large engineering teams and am currently Belfast site

lead for iManage, a company that is the industry-standard technology partner for law firms and other professional service firms globally. Having worked in multiple roles, in both large and small companies, in companies who had deliberately set up in Northern Ireland and those who had acquired companies with an established base here, what would my advice be to someone who is just starting out in the industry? The key thing in my opinion is to build a solid foundation for your career, whether that career takes you into people management or a deep

technical role or even into starting your own company. Spend your formative years in a company that gives you that good foundation – one that provides excellent mentoring, one that uses interesting and modern technologies, one that gives you the chance to take ownership when you are ready and one that lets you advance at a pace that reflects your capabilities and not one that is built around number of years of tenure. Working in iManage and thinking of the placement students and graduates who have started and then grown with us, I can see the huge difference that getting the right foundation makes.

We are at a point in time where there are more IT jobs available than there are people to fill them. It has not always been like that and undoubtedly the pendulum will swing the other way in times to come. Take your time and chose carefully – the right choice and the right foundation will set you up for wherever you career takes you in the future.



Peter Russell: From the rugby pitch to the boardroom Peter Russell is the Managing Director for Ireland at CANCOM UK&I, which has recently been acquired by Telefónica Tech for almost €400m. Sync NI takes a look at the career that led someone who once played rugby for Ireland against the All-Blacks, to heading up one of the island’s most prosperous tech firms


t one early stage in Peter Russell’s career, he was working full time at one of the largest local banks, playing rugby for Ulster, and studying for a degree - in which he achieved 1st Class Honours - all while he and his wife were raising their young family. So, in many respects, you could say he was well prepared for a busy career in the tech sector.

But it wasn’t until a few years into life with Northern Bank that he was actually working in any kind of tech role. That’s when he moved into the bank’s computer operations department, and there he stayed until leaving the business after 17 years to join what became Steria. There he rose from project manager to the role of General Manager for Northern Ireland and after seven years was headhunted for a senior role in Microsoft. After four years as Microsoft’s Ireland Head of Public Sector Peter, moved to BT as Head of Business and was then Managing Director of BT in Northern Ireland. Following this, he joined Neueda, a fast-growing and agile tech company with its eye set on

international growth. It was here that Peter experienced the need for speed and agility to compliment corporate business, and he played a central role in expanding Neueda’s sales and marketing, leaving after four busy years to set up his own company. And that’s when CANCOM came calling. CANCOM had recently acquired Novosco, and as it was integrating the former Novosco operations with its other UK businesses to create CANCOM UK&I, it needed a senior leader to take forward its business on the island of Ireland. Peter was appointed in January 2021, and he has a threeyear plan for significant growth, with a big focus on the health market and value propositions focusing on cloud transformation and cyber security services. It’s no doubt a challenging brief in a competitive market, but it’s one for which the man who once played rugby for Ireland against the All-Blacks is well equipped. Offering advice for those hoping to develop a career in the tech sector, he said: “When I joined the bank, it was seen as a job for life; and for many people who joined at the same time as me, it was. But I think the days of

a job for life are now gone. I think when you start out on your career today you have to view it as a series of journeys. You should progress your career with an open mind and be prepared for changes – particularly in the tech industry. Do your best, have the right attitude and really develop an ability to work with people. Having good emotional intelligence is more important now than ever before.” “In fact, I think that’s what I really focus on most as I’m not actually a technical person. In CANCOM I have tech people around me to complement my skills, and I see my role as getting the best out of the team. My approach is to provide a clear strategy and vision, to be realistic, open and honest with people. Taking a structured approach, being disciplined, and having strong execution is also something I have relied on throughout all my career and would definitely recommend to others.” “These are the key principles I have followed throughout my career and the blueprint that I have always used. Anyone who takes a similar approach through their career shouldn’t go too far wrong.”



‘Increasing women in STEM careers begins with education, with both public and private sectors needing to take responsibility’ Prof Kristel Miller is a lecturer specialising in Strategy and Innovation at Ulster University. She details to Sync NI the steps she feels are necessary to improve the uptake of females into science and technology roles within society


have always been interested in technology from a young age. My earliest memory relating to technologies is when we first got a Sega Mega Drive around 1991 and the whole family, including my mum, used to fight over time slots to play it!

Coming from a working class family, I was not afforded the latest technologies, which only further fuelled my educational choices to explore further into technology and innovation. Despite having largely male lecturers during my computing and technology modules within my degrees, it was only during my PhD years (2008-2011), when I was exploring university technology commercialisation, that I really realised the gender imbalance of women entrepreneurs within STEM fields. Out of the 32 academic entrepreneurs I interviewed, only 1 was a female. Whilst this was not a representative sample, it demonstrated that there was a significant disparity and

visibility of females within these fields. Within universities, the gender balance of female entrepreneurs in STEM-related fields is improving, where for example, 40% of inventions in the past three years from Ulster University had a team involving a female or sole female inventor. Some of these improvements are driven by changes in the academic ecosystem and funding landscape which now more explicitly encourages and supports diversity and has had female targeted interventions. However, these numbers are not reflective of the wider technology related sectors overall. Recent surveys suggest that just 19% of tech workers are women. Depending on what subsector of the technology sector, between 5 and 22% of leadership roles are held by females. Alarmingly, the percentage of females in technology sectors has not changed that much in the past 20 years, despite the growth of


and Northumbria University on female STEM entrepreneurs highlight the visible and invisible challenges. Visible challenges can range from meetings and networking events taking place at times which are not suitable to those with childcare responsibilities. There are many stories of female STEM entrepreneurs being visibly treated differently, where they can often be overlooked as being the director if they are with a male colleague, and report that they are often faced with different questions and having to prove themselves more in investment and business situations than males. The invisible differences relate to elements which may not be seen by which are felt by female STEM entrepreneurs.

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Dr Kristel Miller Senior Lecturer, Ulster University

technology related sectors and increased awareness of the gender disparity. There is a strong business case for more diversity within technology related sectors, where studies have illustrated that increasing the diversity of leadership teams will lead to increased performance and revenue. Furthermore, males and females think differently and bring a varied range of cognitive capabilities and social and emotional skills. As seen over the past 18 months of Covid-19, these types of skills are imperative for organisational resilience and the future of work. However, the stark reality is that women within STEM related sectors still face more significant challenges than their male counterparts. Recent research that I conducted with colleagues from Ulster University Dublin City University

These can include their perceptions of self which can be the result of being a ‘visible minority’ within technology related fields. This then can result in self-doubt, fear of gender-based stereotypes and feeling the need to change various elements of their self, such as attitudes and dress to ‘fit in’ to the more traditional masculine cultures and behaviours prevailing within STEM related sectors and organisations. Many STEM females report that they often feel the need to portray a different identity in order to be deemed a legitimate female STEM entrepreneur. With the growing cumulative disparity of gender within STEM sectors, there is a need for conjoined and transformative interventions across all regional stakeholders in order to overcome ongoing challenges and challenge the status quo. Therefore, short and medium to longer term strategies are needed. In the short term, there needs to be more awareness of the continued visible and invisible gender-based challenges within STEM and the value a more gender diverse workforce can bring should be promoted. Furthermore, greater knowledge and communication


is needed of the vast opportunities available within a diversity of roles within technology related sectors in order to encourage more females to pursue these sectors as a career path. This should be coupled with strong interventions to increase the visibility of female role models within STEM. This can help normalise more diversity in relation to how a typical STEM or technology sector worker/entrepreneur looks and behaves. In the medium to longer term, I believe education is really the key at multiple levels. This should start at as early as possible, where it is widely acknowledged that parents, teachers and wider social networks all play an important role in females occupational choices. Upon reflection, I think my mum’s interest and natural skill for beating all of us kids at video games could have normalised my interest in technology! Therefore parents and teachers should be made more aware of the opportunities within technology related sectors for females. The future of work is deeply embedded within technology, therefore technological skills should be deeply embedded within all levels of the formal curriculum. This is slowly happening, where Covid-19 has helped to rapidly progress this however, many secondary skills still face challenges with access to technology and skills of teachings which then limits the availability of subject choices related to IT. Therefore, more public sector investment is needed in teacher training and technological resources for schools. However, the private sector should also play a key role with outreach activities to inspire females to pursue certain career paths from an early age. Furthermore, upskilling and bridging short courses can be very valuable educational interventions to help promote technology related sectors as a future career path for the current female workforce.



Sync NI’s Leaders & Innovators

Cormac Diamond Sync NI chats with Cormac Diamond, the Managing Director of The Bloc Group, the Magherafelt-based organisation that has recently invested £600,000 in the launch of a new spinout company – Bloc Labs – to design, test, and develop consumer technology products and experiences for global markets


ormac’s original business, Bloc Blinds was also recognised with an Innovator’s Award last year from Belfast’s Catalyst, for pivoting from manufacturing blinds to the design and production of face shields during the Covid-19 pandemic, a move that enabled it to bring all of its workforce back from furlough and employ a further 200 local staff.

q Having worked at Bloc Blinds for nearly 16 years can you tell us a little about your journey and how much the business has grown and evolved during this period?

I’ve always tried to think outside the box, or at very least to see things from a different angle. Whilst I trained as a mechanical engineer, I’ve always positioned myself as an innovator, coming up with new ways of solving simple problems. The Bloc Out Blind is a great example. We all need a good night’s sleep so we developed a system which effectively blocks the light, is safe and stylish, and ultimately enhances our lifestyle. When we established Bloc Blinds in 2008 we employed a handful of people in my fatherin-law’s shed. Today we operate from our purpose-built factory employing over 250 with headquarters in Mid Ulster and divisions in Belfast and the Netherlands. And the journey continues, with Bloc Labs

and our other spin-out businesses – each fuelled by innovation and ingenuity.

q How much do you think having an engineering background has contributed to this growth in terms of scaling the business?

Engineering is often misinterpreted or misunderstood, with some even describing it is dull! At its heart engineering is a mindset which I prefer to think of as ‘can do’ because it’s all about evolution and progress. It has enabled me to be curious about everything and ask myself ‘how could we do this better?’ It’s about identifying the problem, categorising the risk, trying, failing, tweaking, trying again…and eventually bringing the idea to life. That’s incredibly fulfilling, and, if you can run a business offering employment and opportunity to others along the way, then it’s also very rewarding.

q Can you tell us about how the Covid

pandemic impacted your business from a manufacturing point of view as well as from a sales and logistics standpoint, and how quickly were you able to adapt? It forced us to think quickly, innovate and collaborate with other likeminded companies, resulting in the re-purposing of our workspace to support the production of PPE for healthcare workers. The journey in 2020 was taken at speed, yet you could view it as part of Bloc’s natural evolution as we are constantly re-evaluating our processes and



who have worked tirelessly to achieve this most sought-after seal of quality design.

q Despite all your success, if you could go back and start again, what advice would you give to the 16-year-old you?

I was still at school at 16, and desperately wishing I could escape to work on my uncle’s farm. I would tell my 16 year old self to be aspirational in his thinking, to always look forward, and to never accept the norm.

q Bloc Blinds is constantly innovating and evolving for the future - can you tell us a little about your future plans and global ambitions?

We will continue to push boundaries in everything we do. We were first to respond to the USA’s legislation changes in child-safe window coverings and that continues to be a key market for our blinds’ operations. Going forward our focus will be on designing products that meet the everchanging needs of the consumer who ultimately wants to feel safe and do the best they can for themselves and their family. Bloc will continue to design products and services to meet those needs on a global basis.

our purpose. The launch of spinout Bloc Labs is a great example but it’s only the start There’s so much more to come.

q Engineers are often considered some of the best CEOs, given they are trained to assess and mitigate risks perhaps better than other disciplines – would you agree with that stereotype and how much influence do you think your background has when it comes to diversifying into new product lines such as PPE?

No person is an island. It all about bringing together the best people and creating teams of innovators, designers, problem solvers and marketeers. Bloc is

successful because our teams are fluid thinkers, agile and are never afraid to give it a go. This combination of quick thinking and team expertise was what helped us be the first to respond in the pandemic and it will continue to drive us forward as a business.

q You must have received many industry accolades over the years, but how proud were you when you won a Red Dot Award this year for quality and outstanding design? I’m beyond proud of Red Dot as it validates our mission to foster worldclass design and firmly positions Bloc Blinds on the global platform. It’s a fantastic accolade for all our team

q What do you think are the most important attributes of a successful team and what characteristics do you look for when hiring? Talent in all its forms. Fresh thinking. Curious minds. Enthusiastic about possibility. If you tick these boxes than Bloc is the place for you.

q What advice would you give to an

ambitious start-up who wishes to scale in today’s environment?

Try and try again. Don’t be afraid to fail. The best lessons are learnt from failure. Northern Ireland is an excellent platform for start-ups, what with our expertise in tech, design and manufacturing. Focus on the potential and stay resilient.



Tech Trailblazers Esri Ireland’s Adam Glo Adam Glover is a Solution Architect at Esri Ireland. Growing up, he was encouraged to try as many new things as possible, to explore his interests fully and to discover his true passion. This is a habit that followed him into adulthood


n 2007, he graduated from university with a BSc in Geography and Environmental Management. In his own words, at the time he had a questionable hairstyle, a lot of enthusiasm and was ready to begin his career.

Selecting the topic from his degree which most interested him, Adam took a position with a local authority to work as a technical assistant in the field of Geographic Information Science. While it is easy to draw a straight, upward line between ‘Adam the graduate’ and ‘Adam the Solution Architect’, to do so would

smooth over 14 years of accomplishments and failures. There were many moments of pride coupled with moments of disappointment, and feelings of being underqualified followed by the need for a bigger challenge. Through it all, Adam learned a valuable lesson: that finding a company with similar goals and ambitions as his own was key for a successful, fulfilling and happy working life. During his early career, Adam held positions with the local authority and the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service, before establishing his own limited company. Through the course of his work, he gained a huge appreciation of Esri Ireland, the market leader in Geographic Information Systems



has been provided the opportunity to grow and develop his career in a way that matches his interests, and has helped him to realise his ambitions and travel the world. Working with Esri compliments Adam’s keen focus on IoT and real/near-real time data and how it can be visualised and analysed spatially. He has progressed over the last seven years from Consultant to Senior Consultant, before becoming a Lead Consultant. Now a Solution Architect, Adam works closely with customers to design cutting-edge solutions using Esri’s world-leading location intelligence technologies.

over (GIS). Esri’s technological capabilities and “work for good” ethos impressed him massively. Here was a company he could empathise with completely, so it was a natural progression that his goal would once again evolve, and he would set his sights on working for Esri Ireland. It wasn’t the recognition that comes with working for the industry leader that Adam was seeking, rather the opportunity to work for a company that inspired him through their technology, and their research and development strategies. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring “success” using job titles or salary (though both have a place),

neither can ultimately guarantee job satisfaction. Adam saw that in Esri Ireland he had found a place of belonging, or professional “home”. He would encourage anyone to identify what is important to them as an individual and, like Esri Ireland is for him, find an employer who is a good fit. Adam recognised that Esri Ireland had a unique company culture; that there was a tremendous sense of pride amongst the team at large. An important attribute in any successful company, according to Adam, Esri Ireland had created an environment where employees feel valued. Since joining the team in 2014, Adam

Every promotion was a direct result of the experience and knowledge he had gained since he first joined Esri Ireland. Each position represented an increase in personal responsibility for projects, something that offers Adam a huge sense of job satisfaction. His progress up the career ladder was supported by a nurturing environment. At Esri Ireland, employees are listened to and advice is readily available. The company is currently in the process of implementing career development paths and programmes, something Adam keenly participates in as an advisor to others who are on their own career trajectory. He is described among the team as an inspiring leader who embodies many of the qualities that led to Esri Ireland winning a Great Place to Work Award for the past two years. Now with 14 years’ experience in the industry, Adam feels that his career can be divided in two. In the first seven years, he wasn’t satisfied that he had arrived at his final destination and was looking for new opportunities. But since he joined Esri Ireland seven years ago, he has settled; since he found an employer whose words and actions align with his own values and passions. He feels both challenged and supported in equal measure and this has helped his professional development to reach levels he had never considered possible before joining Esri Ireland.



FinTrU’s Emma Pollock talks career advice, bravery and being passionate about people Emma discusses her job values and the steps she took on her career, that led her to becoming the Chief Technology Officer at one of Northern Ireland’s largest homegrown fintech firms


got into software by accident. I studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering at QUB and as part of the course was introduced to software development.

I was immediately drawn in by the frustration and satisfaction of solving problems by writing code. During my time at university, I completed two placements, one in electrical engineering with Randox and one in software, based in Japan with Horiba. This practical experience really helped me pick the right fit in terms of career. After graduation, I worked as a software developer and then a technology leader. Here I tackled problems across IPTV, cloud storage and capital markets in companies of all sizes. These ranged from small local start-ups to large multi-national corporates like Citi and BT and now FinTrU. A significant part of my career has been spent in capital markets, building products for large financial institutions which process incredibly large volumes of data at high speed, e.g., in NYSE building market data systems handling millions of messages per second. My approach to career development has been to

success and failure. You can build the best technology in the world and not have a good product because it doesn’t fit the end user’s needs. At FinTrU we work hard to create that client intimacy and our culture overall is very entrepreneurial, with decisions being made at all levels of the organisation, not just in management. For us the result has been innovation and rapid growth. pick things I am excited about and to always be open to trying out new things. That’s how I ended up working in Japan for three months despite not speaking any Japanese! Organisational culture is incredibly important to me, and I was initially attracted to my current role by FinTrU’s organisational values of People, Passion, Professionalism and Partnership. As I learned more about the role and FinTrU I was thrilled to discover a unique opportunity to work with a great team, creating brand new products which solve difficult global-scale problems, and as a locally run company there is no waiting for America to come online to make key decisions. To be a technology leader you don’t just need to keep up with industry and

technology trends, you also need to be passionate about building teams and growing leadership skills within them. The best teams have a common purpose and share a bold, forwardlooking vision of the future they want to create. I encourage my teams to always ask “why” they are doing something. If you don’t know how it contributes to our goals, then you should find out before you do it. I also believe that to be successful in technology you need to know your clients and be enthusiastic about solving their problems. As CTO at FinTrU, I sit at the intersection of people, process and technology for both our Internal Solutions and our External Product Offerings. Understanding the interaction between these three elements of a solution and getting the balance right is the difference between

FinTrU is a Sunday Times Fast Track 100 and FT EU Fast track 250 RegTech company established in Northern Ireland with offices also in London and New York. Alongside working with investment banks around the world, we have a set purpose to provide highquality employment and to put local talent on the global stage. Our Digital DNA Best workplace 2021 award and Silver Diversity Mark are two recent achievements we are particularly proud of. My final advice for anyone thinking about a career in technology: q Fall in love with the problem space not the solution q Don’t be afraid to try things out q Find a company which embraces you for everything you are – or as we say at FinTrU “Be Unique”!



Sync NI Spotlight: Kainos’ Russell Sloan Russell Sloan is the Digital Services Director at Kainos, a FTSE 250 company employing more than 2,000 people globally


stablished in 1986 as a joint venture between QUBIS and ICL, Kainos provides digital transformation services for customers across its two specialist business divisions, Digital Services and the Workday Practice. Russell talks about his career and experience Describe your career pathway?

I joined Kainos 22 years ago in 1999 as a graduate software engineer, having completed a degree in Electrical Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast. I became a team leader quite quickly and I realised that managing the skills of a diverse team to meet challenging deadlines was something I really enjoyed. As the company scaled in the early 2000s, a new business unit to provide application support was formed and I was given the opportunity to lead this. In 2013, I was challenged with driving forward and growing our fledgling digital business which had started to provide digital transformation services into the UK public sector. Starting with a team of just 35 people, I have grown our Digital Services business to over 1,200 people today, who deliver projects for our commercial, healthcare, and public sector customers throughout the UK, Europe, and North America.

What does your work cover today?

Our work primarily focuses on delivering organisational change through digital transformation, and we work in partnership with clients across commercial, healthcare, and the public sector. For example, as a combined team with HM Passport Office, we transformed the paper-based passport service to a

fully digital service, avoiding the need to visit the Passport Office or local Post Office to submit an application and reducing the time to completion from 6 weeks to 6 days. We remain focused on innovation alongside our established business areas and have a range of specialist practices including data and artificial intelligence, cloud services, and intelligent automation.

What do you believe are the important attributes to leading and building effective teams to deliver growth?

I’m fortunate that I work with so many talented and motivated individuals who thrive on big challenges. Kainos has a very open and collaborative culture and we very much put our people at the heart of what we do. In essence, we have great people who deliver great work with our clients and we recognise and value all that they do.


What advice would you give to anyone who would wish to build a career in a technology company in Northern Ireland?

I believe my role is to create the environment and space for our people to flourish. Good leaders need to provide both support and challenge whilst allowing their teams to have the autonomy and freedom to do their jobs and produce outputs in a way that best works for them. Trust is a key enabler for success and I have found that when people are motivated, their capacity for problem-solving increases and a growth mindset develops. This brings both results for them as individuals and for the business as a whole.

First, I would say that it’s a thriving sector to work in and there are plenty of opportunities with great companies in Northern Ireland. My advice is be prepared to work hard and embrace opportunities as they come along even though you may feel they are really stretching you. My role has changed considerably over the years whilst remaining with the same organisation because I was open to taking on new challenges as they emerged. Generally, be curious and interested. I would say that applies generally in life rather than just a technology career!

At Kainos, we like to encourage our people to just have a go as learning comes from both things that go well and things that don’t go so well. Sometimes the best learning we ever get is from our failures rather than our

And finally, believe in what you can do and achieve. Companies and people from Northern Ireland compete at the highest level on the world stage, and that’s something we should be proud of and confident about.



'You can get more of everything else, but you can't get more time' - Hubflow's Gary McCausland on flexible working's future Gary McCausland is a businessman, property developer and more recently, the co-founder of Belfast’s newest flexible working space provider, Hubflow


e believes the future of work was edging towards a hybrid model even before the impact of Covid-19 hit.. Admitting that the pandemic did accelerate this occurrence, he said “we're going to have to come up with solutions that help people have a faster flexible sort of work experience. “People will want to have more control of their lives and more control of their time, because ultimately – time is the most valuable resource in the world.” One of Gary’s own main drivers for beginning his own business, was to gain back management of his own time. Working a corporate job in London, he spent “every hour God sent”, getting up at 6am to be in an office for 7.30am, then not leaving again for another 12 or 13 hours. “That’s why I started my own company,” he told Sync NI. “Forget about making more money or all of that stuff. The key

was to free my time up.”

The world is a smaller place now

Another factor for furthering a different approach to the traditional 9-5 lifestyle, is the fact that the world is now just “one big global village”, as Gary phrases it. Especially in Northern Ireland, so many technology FDIs have set up here in recent years, meaning employees have to work around various time zones. “Why should they sit in the office when their marketplace doesn’t open until one or two o’clock in the afternoon (in UK time),” Gary continued. “They might want to get in and do some prep work, obviously it goes without saying they’ll then have to work later, but they can do that from a hybrid office solution that we offer. “Offices are expensive. Why would companies waste



pyjamas two days a week. She was just hanging around on Zoom calls and she said she needed something to motivate her. “Now she's actually stepped up to go five days a week, because she enjoys it so much, but the point is, it is not healthy to be sitting at home all the time. “And these companies that have sort of, in a way, forced their employees to do that - we're actually filling that gap.”

 Author

'Growing a community' With two south Belfast facilities already established on the Dublin Road and Adelaide Street, Hubflow wants to attract more fintech firms into these flexible working spaces, which is around the new Belfast transport hub.

Niamh Campbell Journalist, Sync NI

spending all that money to give somebody a permanent desk, that they're not going to use all the time?”

anxiety and 83% said having tech/audio problems and not knowing how to fix them was their biggest stress trigger.

Hubflow currently hosts some staff of Silicon Valley-based businesses, who pop in and out during different periods of various days, and they also have a few workers, whose employers have moved to full-time remote working because of the pandemic.

Of course, these virtual tools have been vital to keep workers connected throughout the coronavirus crisis. But, as we edge further out of lockdown, Gary believes more human contact will help with people’s overall mental health and wellbeing.

“There are companies that made a decision, that all their employees should work from home, but employees don't want that. They want to get into an environment where there can mix and talk to people,” Gary explained.

“It's not healthy to be sitting at home all day on a computer. You need to be liaising with colleagues, chatting about what happened at the weekend, and just general human behaviour that we need to sort of embark on, just to have a sort of healthy mental life.

Improved employee mental health

A presentation design agency called Buffalo 7 recently surveyed 2066 remote workers to find out the impact online meetings through Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts have had on them throughout the last year.

“You cannot be cooped up in a room all the time. That's why we came up with one of our packages, Hubflow Lite. It offers people working from home a desk for two days per week, with full benefits and business support, for £75 per month.

73% admitted to having suffered from Zoom Anxiety over the last 12 months, with 67% saying not being able to read a caller’s body language caused

“We just recently signed up this lady who started her own company. She said to me the main reason she took out Hubflow Lite was to get out of her

There are strict social distancing guidelines still in place during the ongoing pandemic, and Gary said desks are well spaced out and cleaned every day, with sanitising stations throughout the offices. “We’re also going to be opening Hubflows in London and Dublin over the coming months, and a third in Belfast as well,” he concluded. “The bottom line is – we’re not about selling desks, we're about creating a community and a membership, and ultimately helping people be successful. We exist to help entrepreneurs, freelancers, SMEs and FinTech companies be successful. “That is our goal - to help them grow, help them be successful and be part of our community, and that's what we're about. For more information on Hubflow, or to book a free ‘no obligation’ tour of its facilities, with complimentary barista coffee from Koffee Hub, interested parties can go to www., call 033 0088 7358 or send an email enquiry to



In for the Long Haul: David McKnight, Applied Systems Europe Applied Systems delves into the career of its Regional Director, David McKnight, to show the benefits of sticking with a job and a company you’re passionate about


n a competitive labour market like the one we have today, it’s unusual to see employees stick around for more than 20 years.

A founder may stick around for the long haul, furious with passion to see his livelihood succeed, however, it is far less common to see a person begin in an entry-level position at a small company, rise through the ranks and eventually lead his home region of an international organisation. Stories like these should be encouraging, not only to young professionals and entrepreneurs, but also to executives. Of course, it takes perseverance and a positive attitude to make your way up the corporate ladder; however, it also takes the trust and opportunity given by leaders. David McKnight, general manager of Applied Systems Ireland, is a prime example of an employee who believed in his organisation, worked for success, and is now leading an industry through digital transformation.

Before diving into how David is enabling independent insurance brokers to transform their businesses through technology, let’s take a step back to how David began his career at Applied. David studied Mechanical Engineering at The Manchester Metropolitan University in the late 1990s. Like many young people, after graduating University he didn’t have a clear picture yet of his future. In his humbled words, “I did not excel in education. However, like a lot of things in life, an unexpected opportunity arose for me to study computer programming which resulted in me getting a job at Relay.” When he started his first role as Technical Support Analyst, there were roughly 70 employees at Relay. The company was in its beginning stages, but was already making waves in the insurance industry. Relay was, and still is, technology that enabled independent insurance brokers to manage their business more efficiently and profitably. David worked in Technical Support, serving customers and sorting issues, then eventually moved to Application Development. “I missed



So, what makes David successful? When asked what he thinks are important attributes to leading a successful technology company, he said, “You have to believe that what you’re selling is in your customers’ best interest.” While this answer sounds simple, it is critical to taking a company to the next level. Acting in your customers’ best interest is key for longevity. Many of Applied’s customers have used the system for more than 10 years. Having started in a Support role, David understands the importance of a Support Technician who is well versed in many areas, including the products, the industry and common issues. Investments in Support are a high priority for Applied, which last year launched 24/7 support for Applied customers, enabling them to talk to an Applied support staff member anytime.

the day-to-day engagement with customers, so the decision was quickly taken to move me into a sales role,” he said. “I loved selling what I truly believed was the best product in the market.” David worked in various sales positions, working his way up the ladder, until becoming Business Development Director, a role he held for more than 15 years. He worked alongside the Managing Director at the time, both trusting each other’s decisions and growing the business to take the large majority of market share in Ireland. In 2016, Applied acquired Relay and two years later, David became General Manager of Ireland for Applied Systems Europe where he and his team have maintained a revenue growth of over 8% each year while investing heavily in new talent across Ireland.

Support is just one piece of the puzzle of what makes Team Applied successful. When asked how he builds effective teams, David gave several pieces of advice. He stresses, “There must be complete trust across the whole team. As a leader, you have to be transparent and encourage all other leaders in the organisation to do the same. If there is open dialogue and clarity in your teams’ roles, the entire team can work effectively towards a common goal.” He added, “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We need to listen more.” Team Applied has seen this commitment to communication, especially while working remotely due to the pandemic. Applied leaders across the organisation have worked to break down silos by sending weekly update videos and holding more frequent business update calls. Twoway communication has also been encouraged by adopting communication technologies such as Slack and Zoom. So, while all Applied employees continue to work from home, many

 Author

David McKnight

General Manager Ireland, Applied Systems

would say (including this one!) that they are actually as informed or more in-the-know with company initiatives and goals than they were before the pandemic. For his last question, David was asked to provide advice for how to deliver growth strategies that result in success. “Make goals attainable. Set weekly, monthly, maybe even quarterly goals,” he said, “When you set annual goals, especially in operations, people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the process to get there.” He goes on, “Once you have set those goals, implement processes that are repeatable. The only way to scale is to minimise effort so you can handle more.” In the five years that Relay has been a part of Applied, the team has shown significant strength in its teamwork and leadership. Many companies may see acquisition as the beginning of the end, but Applied Ireland has a different story. It continues to hold market share and champion the needs of its broker customers. While there are sure to be challenges ahead, David and the Applied Ireland team have the attitude, experience and perseverance to deliver the powerful technology that enables Ireland’s insurance brokers to protect what matters most in people’s lives.



‘Our broadband network has never been more vital’ Garret Kavanagh talks about his new job as director of Openreach Northern Ireland (NI). With demand for online services continuing to increase, he says “the role of Openreach in keeping people connected has never been more important.”


n his new role as director of Openreach NI, Garret Kavanagh is in charge of building the next generation of broadband across Northern Ireland.

This involves replacing the copper network, which has served Northern Ireland’s telephone and internet needs for more than 140 years, with a fast and reliable gigabit-capable network that is already playing a key role in accelerating the region’s digital economy. The ambitious roll out programme aims to bring Full Fibre broadband to 700,000 homes by March 2022, equating to over 75% of properties across Northern Ireland. This Ultrafast Full Fibre technology will mean people can enjoy broadband that’s 10 times faster than the UK average – that’s the same as a car with a top speed of 120mph suddenly reaching speeds of 1200mph.

building Ultrafast Full Fibre broadband to, as well as an additional £30 million pound investment in the overall infrastructure bringing the total investment to £130 million. It’s an incredible project to be a part of,” he says. Reliance on broadband has expanded beyond normal expectations during the pandemic with the trend set to continue for years to come. Garret adds: “What we are doing at Openreach has an important impact on the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland. Broadband is becoming much more of a core utility as time goes on. We have gone from the internet being a source of information to it being the primary conduit for communication, work and education. All our staff take great pride in being involved in building the network that keeps our communities connected today and into tomorrow.”

Garret, who joined the company as a graduate engineer in 2006, took up the job as director earlier this year, replacing Mairead Meyer who stepped down after five years in the role.

Openreach NI’s ambitious Full Fibre broadband programme is also central to Northern Ireland’s digital future and economic growth.

“The digital future of Northern Ireland is extremely positive,” Garret says. “We’re already the most connected region in the UK and have recently announced 17 further towns and villages that we will be

Garret says: “This Full Fibre technology will open up endless opportunities. It will allow for the set-up of new businesses, initiatives, products and services that we can’t even imagine yet and it will support



economic and social regional rebalancing as people don’t have to live in the centre of cities to have the right level of connectivity. “It will also support a sustainable future with more people able to work flexibly leading to less congestion and lessening the other associated impacts of mass commuting on our environment.” Keen to live out sustainable values in its own business, Openreach has also pledged to convert all of its diesel fleet to electric by 2030. With these vans necessary for essential work every day, reducing their carbon footprint is a big focus. “We understand the need to act on climate change and we are committed to reducing our operational impact. It’s important that we pay back to the communities we live in,” Garret says.

Along with its build programme, Openreach NI is continuing to recruit in all areas and add to its already 1,000-strong workforce across Northern Ireland.

This Full Fibre technology will open up endless opportunities. It will allow for the set-up of new businesses, initiatives, products and services that we can’t even imagine yet and it will support economic and social regional rebalancing as people don’t have to live in the centre of cities to have the right level of connectivity

 Author

Garret Kavanagh

Director, Openreach Northern Ireland

“Working at Openreach is fantastic. I’ve been part of the team for 11 years now and it’s always so wonderful to welcome new members to our family. Recruiting apprentices has been a big focus and something we are extremely proud of. I’m delighted to say that recent recruitment initiatives have led to an increase in the volume of women applying for apprentice engineer roles and that’s something we want to continue,” Garret says. It is clear that Openreach is determined and well on its way to building a better, faster and more connected future for everyone in Northern Ireland.

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