Sync NI Magazine Autumn 2022

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www.syncni.com Autumn 2022

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 Picking up the pace

of digitalisation is a win-win for citizens and public services alike  Mark Owens

Managing Director, Civica NI

Technology: ensuring a brighter future for everyone 06 Civica welcome back NI Digital Awareness Week

16 Q&A with PWC’s Cat McCusker

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Welcome to the autumn edition of the Sync NI magazine Foreword

Mark Owens

Managing Director, Civica NI

I

’m delighted to welcome you to the latest edition of Sync NI magazine.

As a leading provider of public sector software here in Northern Ireland, across the UK and around the world, my company, Civica, has a unique insight into the transformative impact that technology is having all across our public services, from classrooms to courtrooms to councils. For NI public services, the journey of digital transformation has been underway for many years, but was, by necessity, turbocharged during the pandemic. With those dark days now thankfully behind us, citizens and communities of all ages and backgrounds have a newfound appreciation and very different expectations - where it comes to digital public services. Not very long ago, having public services available online was still something of a novelty. Today however, not being able to access vital services like your local GP or your council via an online portal or App, would be considered something of an oddity. The fundamental shift in citizen expectations might, at first, seem like a big challenge for our public services. But I’d argue they should instead see it as a major opportunity. With energy prices skyrocketing, a cost-of-living crisis getting steadily worse by the day and COVID backlogs in our health services, public bodies are going to be stretched like never before. They will have to do far more with less, and that’s not even taking into account global challenges like climate change. Digitalisation: a win-win for citizens and services For public services and citizens alike, accelerating the pace of digitalisation is a win-win. Digital technologies not only help to streamline costly, time-consuming functions and make them more efficient; they also help to make services more responsive and intuitive for citizens. But this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible. Two years ago, when my company got a call from Digital Health NI asking for urgent help to develop a symptom tracker mobile application for the public,

we went straight to work and within just 10 days we developed CovidCareNI. The App was published in the Apple and Google stores within 24 hours and available to every member of the public who had a postcode in Northern Ireland. Overnight calls to GPs dropped from 6000 to 1000. Just think about that for a moment. If life-saving software can be conceived of, developed, and rolled out to millions of smartphones in only 10 days, imagine what we could achieve in 10 weeks, or 10 months? Reinforcing NI’s digital potential We don’t need to imagine. We’ve got the people with the knowhow to develop these transformative digital technologies right here, right now, in Northern Ireland. We’re Europe's number one destination for FDI in new software development and around one in four jobs advertised in NI last year were digital tech roles, a higher number than anywhere else in the UK. The software sector alone employs over 30,000 people, earning more than the national average. But we won’t keep our edge without carefully targeted investment in our education system - in particular attracting more school pupils to take up STEM subjects. We also need to bring subjects such as Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning into mainstream education. These should be woven into every aspect of education, from teaching methods to the curriculum, to help foster positive attitudes towards digital learning from an early age. The digital revolution has already transformed virtually every aspect of our home and working lives and our educational environments should reflect this reality. The journey of digital transformation in our public services will continue, that much is a certainty. Virtually every other aspect of our daily lives, from shopping to banking has been digitalised to an extent unrecognisable to previous generations. Our public services must keep pace with this change, but by tapping into the home-grown expertise we’ve got here in Northern Ireland, they could even exceed it, and mark us out as an exemplar for the rest of the world.

About Sync NI Sync NI is proud to be the voice of Northern Ireland’s vibrant technology and business sector. The Sync NI website and magazine brings readers the latest tech and business news, views, jobs and events in Belfast and beyond. Sync NI Contacts Editorial Phone: 028 9082 0944 Email: team@syncni.com Advertising & Partnerships Phone: 028 9082 0947 Email: louis@syncni.com General Enquiries Sync NI Rochester Building 28 Adelaide street Belfast BT2 8GD Phone: 028 9082 0944 Email: team@syncni.com Online: www.syncni.com 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.


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Inside this edition 06 Civica welcome back NI Digital Awareness Week

27 Clare McKelvey on her journey as a Data Scientist at Allstate

08 Q&A with Version 1’s Honeybell Oke

28 Brian Craig and John Healy discuss hybrid working

11 A day in the life: Aflac’s Fiachra McVicker

32 Is it possible to close your digital skills gap?

12 Q&A with eir evo’s Clair Gheel

34 Garry Carpenter’s interview with Sync NI

16 Q&A with PWC’s Cat McCusker

36 Rakuten’s Marty Bell on DevOps and the Cloud

18 PEAK6 NI becomes Apex Fintech Solutions UK

38 Q&A with Liberty IT’s Jonathan White

20 What do you want to be when you’re older?

40 Laying the foundations for a cyber resilient future

22 Fintech academics enhance the work of a Nobel prize Laureate 24 Q&A with Civica’s Mark Owens

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Civica welcome back NI Digital Awareness Week Ahead of NI Digital Awareness Week Sync NI caught up with Aine McCaughey, Principal Software Engineer, and Rachel Steenson, Business Development Manager, at Civica NI q Why do you think there is a decline in young people considering careers in IT?

Aine: I think it really comes down to an understanding of what the jobs entail and what you can get out of them. I think there is a stigma that the jobs are really hard. I've been to so many events where students are saying they’re not “smart enough” to be in that role. It’s trying to get them to understand that there are so many different opportunities that require different skills and there really is a job for everyone. The core problem is that lack of understanding and if we can fix that we are really on the way to making a big impact. Rachel: Yes, I think it's that idea, or that perception, that IT is difficult and lack of knowledge when it comes to the many options available. There's still this perception that the only jobs in IT are coding jobs and they have an image of a guy sitting in front of his computer 24/7 in a dark room drinking multiple cans of Coke. Obviously, that's just not the case and you definitely don't have to be a coder to have a fantastic career in IT.

q What sort of opportunities exist for computing

students?

Aine: It's really anything you want as a computing or IT related degree doesn't just mean core software engineering. Yes, that's an area that a lot of people do go into, but there's so many other areas to the sector such as business analysis, product design, user experience (UX), DevOps, infrastructure, and they all require so many different skills. I have done several workshops with primary schools, where there are students that are really good at art and design, drawing and painting and it's about educating them to understand that they can use those skills in an IT career. For example, UX teams need to understand how a user behaves, and understand what they find appealing to design a user interface (UI) and things like that require real artistic ability. I've seen people transfer from literary courses into software, which only demonstrates how IT can be cross discipline, and how you can draw upon all kinds of skills for a successful career in IT. Rachel: The jobs that are available are not just sitting in front of a computer, it's working with customers, it's working with partners, it's about building relationships, understanding what

Aine McCaughey

Rachel Steenson

the problem is and coming up with solutions. After I completed my degree in Hospitality Management, I transferred to a Master's in Computer Science. I leverage skills learned through my Hospitality Management degree including working with customers, to help understand and delve into a problem, asking pertinent questions to understand what the customer is really asking for. You get to work across so many different areas. I've just come out of a meeting with our embedded engineering team who write code, the code goes on a chip that sits inside products like set top boxes that are then sold on to the end customer. This is bleeding edge technology. In IT you can be working on a component part that everybody's got on their phone. I know somebody who works for Apple who designs emojis, he's coding new emoji's that are then available on your phone, that's just so cool.

q What will students learn from getting involved in

Northern Ireland Digital Awareness Week (NIDAW)?

Aine: This year we've gone with the theme of IT in everyday life, giving students the opportunity to see how IT does, and can, impact their lives. We will be identifying what IT services are being made and developed by local Northern Ireland tech companies and showing them how they use it daily, maybe without even realising. Students will get the opportunity to engage with people that are working in the IT sector, to get an insight as to what their IT job is really like. Rachel: I hope what they will also learn from the schedule and breadth of speakers is that IT has a diverse workforce. The students will see someone that looks like them, or that they can relate to, and think ‘they've got this career I could do that too.’ Aine and I strongly believe that IT needs to be more diverse. It has been proven time and again that increased diversity leads to more diverse, richer thinking, contributing to innovative solutions.

q Should teachers and parents attend NIDAW?

Aine: Teachers and parents are probably the number one influencers when it comes to students deciding what they're going to do with the rest of their lives. My own careers teacher was the reason I decided to pursue a course in computer


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science and if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have chosen the course I did. You really can't underestimate how big an impact they can have, so if they're educated and understand the opportunities then they're able to share this knowledge of the sector with students. Rachel: This year we have one or two items on the agenda that are for teachers, and careers teachers, on the different pathways into a career in IT, so they in turn can better inform their students.

q What more can be done to encourage the uptake of computing courses?

Aine: Events like NIDAW contribute, however real momentum in uptake could be gained through an increase in IT education within schools. We need that buy-in from schools, helping them understand how important and valuable it is to have a good IT curriculum within the school. Currently IT teaching within school is not compulsory. We would like to see this change and from a government level it to be made mandatory. We live in a digital age, and we need as many young people coming into the sector as we can and the only way to achieve that is through education. I know a lot of schools, especially post COVID, are under increasing pressures to maintain existing exam standards including the standards of traditional subjects. But I also think there needs to be a real consideration given to the private sector. The technology sector is shouting for applicants to fill vital IT roles, however we don't have the workforce to fill these posts because we are not getting enough people through education, whether that's through universities or further education colleges. The only way you can get people to do that is to encourage as many young people as possible to take up the subject. We're doing our part, organising events like NI Digital Awareness week as a platform to inform

and get students to consider a career in IT, but I do think there needs to be more push from education bodies to see and value IT education for what it is and how it can contribute to the economy of Northern Ireland. Rachel: Last year, BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT set up the NI Computing Education Committee. Its main aim is to bring all relevant stakeholders together to discuss the issues around IT education. One key focus is the barriers to the uptake of computing in schools. Early this year we developed a short social media video to get students thinking about the possibility of a career in IT. Today everything is technical and digital, and if key roles in IT continue to remain vacant these roles will disappear, and Northern Ireland is going to be left behind. If you compare what we're doing in Northern Ireland to other countries, we are drastically behind when it comes to IT education. We need to be doing more and we need to be working with the IT teachers most of who have not worked in IT. IT is constantly changing so it’s different from teaching a traditional subject such as maths or history where it doesn't really change. There's always a new language, or a new skill, so there needs to be a better partnership between the private sector and the education sector to continue to ensure that students are being taught the most relevant subjects, whether that's language or information about digital technology.

q What advice would you give to people who are unsure about a career in IT?

Aine: My advice would be to reach out and speak to someone that works in the sector and engage with as many people as they can working in different types of IT roles. Reach out to local companies and ask them if they're willing to offer work experience. That’s something that we do well in Civica. We take on as many work experience students as we can to help give them practical experience and insight into what it’s

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like working in the sector, to inform their decisions for potentially a future working in IT. Rachel: In terms of reaching out, the Bring It On initiative is a fantastic resource for learning about pathways into the sector. I recommend going onto the Sync NI website to look at the companies, the jobs that are on offer, and seeing the individuals that work in the industry. Through these platforms you can approach individuals and ask if they can spare 20 minutes to explain what they do, how they got into the company and if they enjoy what they're doing. There's so much information out there and I don't know anyone that wouldn't help. Aine and I are lucky enough to work in this amazing industry. Most people in the industry that I talk to are as keen as we are in terms of trying to help people to get into the sector and develop their career.

q What really inspires you to get

out of bed and go to work in IT?

Rachel: For me, it's two things. One is getting to solve a problem for a customer. Working with a customer to come up with a solution, and knowing we did that together; I get a real feeling of accomplishment. The second thing for me is working in a company like Civica which is so innovative and leverages new technology. It's like wow I didn't even know that existed yesterday, and now look what we're delivering. That's what keeps me interested. Aine: For me, every day is different and like Rachel said there's always something new to learn. I'm lucky with my role that I'm afforded the opportunity to go and explore new technology, have a play and see what I can do, and find out if the new technology achieves what we need it to. I love that and I couldn't imagine being in a job where I'm doing the same thing in the same way for the next 30 plus years. I know for a fact that what I'm doing right now versus what I'm going to be doing in 10 years is going to be so different and I just find that very exciting.


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Q&A with Version 1’s Honeybell Oke Sync NI sat down with Honeybell Oke, Test Lead at Version 1, to discuss her journey at the company q Can you tell us about your career pathway and what brought you to your current role as Test Lead for Version 1 in Belfast?

Everyone dreams of doing something they love, right? As a kid I had this dream of being an astronaut and going into space because I love geography and I thought that is all you needed to know and off you go. My father wanted me to become a medical doctor. Back then, growing up in a traditional African household, there was a lot of emphasis on education and following a traditional career path like Doctor, Lawyer,

Accountant etc (unlike my son telling me he wants to be a ‘YouTuber’). I always smile when I imagine how that same conversation would have gone with my dad, but the world has changed and technology plays a significant role with so many career paths available. I soon realised that to be an astronaut you needed to be good at physics, chemistry, and maths etc and I thought ‘What? No! I am not interested in that.’ So instead, I went to university and studied accounting and then completed a MBA in finance.


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Obviously, the next big thing was to get a job and just do something that you liked so I worked in an accountancy firm for a bit before moving on to work in a bank. It was while working in the bank I stumbled into the world of IT when I tried to resolve issues that customers were having with their online banking. If I could not resolve them then I had to pass it to the back office. However, I am naturally a very curious person and so I wanted to understand how everything worked. I am the leader of asking stupid questions and I carry that with pride. I wanted to know how the back office worked, about their standards, and how they went about fixing things and getting things sorted. I got to know that there was something called software testing and it just went from there and eventually I decided that testing and trying to break things would be the next career for me and I have never looked back. I have been with Version 1 for almost five years now starting as a Technical Consultant, then moved to leading a team of testers within one of our pharmaceutical clients. Then progressed into being a test lead for other large accounts while supporting our quality engineering practice.

q Version 1 placed a fantastic 7th

of 61 large organisations for the Best Workplaces for Women 2022 by Great Place to Work UK. What do you think are the main reasons Version 1 scored so well?

I would say it is mostly because Version 1 really listens to its employees. As part of our Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) one of the things that resonates with me is the aspect of belonging. While a company cannot fix the entire world, being able to understand the things that we can change and how to add value is one of the things that Version 1 does very well through its core values and strengths. We survey our staff quarterly and change and

adapt how we do things based on employee feedback. One of the main things we did was to set up the ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) team. ESG in Version 1 has 7 pillars (Environmental Sustainability; Community First; Diversity Inclusion & Belonging; Women in Tech; Health & Wellbeing; Social Value and Education Collaboration). This year we recruited a Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Manager who was able to steer us in the right direction and put things into perspective as to where we wanted to go. Also, having a company-wide Women in Tech network where women can help, empower, and encourage each other within and outside the company. The group also supports and the DIB team when implementing changes in company policies. We also had to look at our recruitment policies to ensure that they were inclusive and resonated with everyone regardless of their gender and it’s important for our people to know they participated in making that change happen. Diversity & inclusion is important, but it is that sense of belonging that makes you stay, grow, and feel that you are part of a company that has your best interests.

q You lead the Global Women in Tech network. What does this involve and what do you hope to achieve?

How we first started the Women in Tech network stems from a group event we had some years ago. One of the ladies turned to me and said she felt lonely, I asked her to elaborate and she said “I am the only one here as my team is based elsewhere and you all have your own thing.” This really struck me because I had never realised that gap because I’m part of big team based in Belfast with about 20 people. A wonderful team with a strong bond, people that I have coffee with every morning, so I do not feel that way. We needed to have this group where we

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can communicate with each other as women. where we can empower each other, share our stories, develop each other and make an impact for the next generation of women. We started the Women in Tech network back in 2019 using Northern Ireland as a pilot group. One thing that we did not want was a group where we have fun without making a difference or impact. We wanted both, to make an impact while having the feeling of togetherness and collaboration. We wanted to see if we were able to achieve our objectives and create a space for us to develop, to let everybody know that we meant business. We signed up with Diversity Mark NI, they helped us create a framework and a structure and this helped to ensure we were moving towards a common goal. One of the first targets we were given was around gender balance, which was a good start. Now we have created this bond within the ladies in the NI group even extending to some of our clients and in late 2021 we knew we were at the stage where we could expand to the rest of the women within Version 1. It is a Women in Tech network, but it is open to everybody. Our objectives and our commitments are centred towards women but the way I see it if we can get it right for women, we can get it right for everybody. The group that started with 20 has now expanded to over 600 in the network across the company and is committed to making sure that Version 1 is a great place to work for women. Getting women into tech and developing our women through mentorship, networking, career progression, confidence and empowerment. We do that through inclusive recruitment, learning sessions, networking events, external partnership at a location/group level and making sure that we have women progressing to senior roles, because that is one of the things that the tech industry struggles with.


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q Version 1 recently hosted an event ‘Embracing the 21st Century Women in Technology.’ What were your main takeaways for this event that you would like to share with other women? What I took away from it was that we are still far from where we need to be to achieve gender equality in the workplace. One thing that resonates with me is that the global gender gap is not expected to close for another 136 years, we were 100 years away before COVID-19, but the pandemic has increased the gap, that is a revelation. Much has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic including a lot of people were made redundant. Women had to leave their jobs for a number of reasons such as childcare responsibilities. Yes, men as well but we know traditionally, women tend to carry more family responsibilities.

Another key area that was talked about imposter syndrome and building our confidence. As individuals, we are responsible for challenging and pushing ourselves, for getting to where we want to be and challenging the status quo. Your company/organisation/ mentor can only help you so far, you need to bring yourself to the table and if that means developing yourself then do that. A lot of women, myself included, go through imposter syndrome where we feel we need to check every box

before applying for a role or progressing in our career. When you are confident you should not be afraid to fail, there is no such thing as failure because it has created an opportunity to learn and enlighten your mind. So that was my take away from it. We are responsible for our own growth, but at the same time, companies, employers and even the education system still have a lot of work to do.

q How can we get

greater numbers of women into technology and what advice would you give to young women considering a career in technology?

I would say to companies to listen to their staff. Are they being paid fairly? What are the engagements that they get within the company? What benefits are you providing for them and are these benefits useful? Do these benefits cover the changing phases of the employee’s life journey such as maternity, menopause and childcare? Listen to what your employees are saying and then let your policies be developed from their feedback. At the same time look at market trends and compare your data. Do you have effective tools to measure gender balance, equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging? There are a lot of data and resources out there to help understand where the trends are going and companies should already have tools in place to monitor and plan. If the

market trend is saying that more women are leaving due to equal pay opportunities or family responsibilities, then perhaps having a more flexible working policy, such as job sharing could help with that. Reviewing your gender pay gap and support system for career progression, whilst offering things that people would not necessarily think about, for example, out of the box benefits tailored to suit different phases of life. After all we spend half, if not more, of our life span in the workplace. For ladies considering a career in tech, go for it- regardless of your age or experience go there are endless opportunities in tech. For the younger generation, one of the main fears a lot of people have is that they think they need to be very technical. However, the reality is that tech is so much more. When we attend open days, we find that even teachers think children need coding to get into IT. We need to educate the schools and mentors that yes, it is brilliant if you have students who love coding but at the same time don’t put them in a box. To say you only have to know coding or be technical to have a successful career in tech is wrong. The IT world has evolved and there are a lot of other opportunities out there, both technical and non-technical. I tell people if the opportunity presents itself, just give it a go and see

Honeybell Oke

how you get on. You might like it, you might not, but the beauty is that it’s all about skills and mindset. For interviews, I’m not only looking for someone who can test well, I’m looking for someone who is great at problem solving- meticulous, attentive to detail, with people skills who realises the importance of asking questions and isn’t afraid to say ‘can you repeat that again?’ At the end of the day, you might be an awesome tester but if you aren’t a good communicator then you may find it difficult. Finally, we need to shift the narrative when it comes to getting young girls working in our industry. Changing the narrative regarding career routes in our education system where everyone should be given an equal playing field with the resources to support the younger generation. Thinking one gender is more suited for a particular career path than the other is wrong. There’s a lot of education and unlearning that needs to happen and companies need to come together to break this cycle.


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A day in the life: Aflac’s Fiachra McVicker

Sync NI caught up with Fiachra McVicker, from Aflac Northern Ireland, to find out more about a typical day in his role as Engineering Coach What does your typical day look like? Starts with a coffee and a catch up with the team. Ensuring we have the time and space to plan out the day. My mornings are quieter in comparison to the afternoons when the US teams are online. The quieter mornings mean I have more time to really focus on development work. We also have 'Focus Fridays' where we plan and dedicate space in our week for learning and development. What are you currently working on? We’re establishing a new team here in Belfast to develop a platform which will act as the businesscritical glue between our world-class policyholder, agent, partner web and mobile applications and our core data, workflow, security services and systems. It supports our implementation of an Enterprise Data Model that is enabling us to modernise our underlying systems and software without impact to our web and mobile apps, as well as allowing us to build a new Event Driven Architecture. This enables Aflac to serve customers in near real time and helps our product teams to reimagine the experience for the customer. ​ The platform is based on a modern microservices architecture using API

and somewhere with great people to work with and learn from. Who inspired you to work in this field? I mentioned before but my Dad inspired me to get into tech and I’ve never looked back.

Fiachra McVicker

gateway technologies, Java Spring Boot containerised services, and a focus on migrating the platform to AWS. This team will set out the core technical architecture and engineering best practices for the platform as it moves to cloud. What inspired you to join this company in particular? Not long after Aflac NI launched in October 2019 a trusted friend who had recently joined reached out and told me all the amazing things about it – two and a half years later I haven’t been disappointed! Did you always want to work in the tech industry? I have an undergraduate in Civil Engineering, so no. However, my dad has a background in computer science, and I’ve always found it came quite naturally to me. When I completed the Software Development Masters in QUB it confirmed that this industry is where I want to continue to develop my career.

What’s your favourite part about your work? The culture at Aflac NI, the people, and the opportunities. I really can get involved in anything I want – which is both exciting and scary! Although Aflac in the US, a 67-year-old Fortune 500 supplemental health insurance business is extremely well established and very successful, here in Belfast we pride ourselves on being a nearly 3-year-old tech company. We say we have the agility of a start up with the stability of a Fortune 500 and I can say that feeling is true. What would you say to other people considering a job in the tech industry? Belfast is considered one of the main tech innovation hubs in the world which makes it an exciting place to be right now. The tech industry is buzzing, there are a wide array of opportunities and companies right here in Northern Ireland making it a competitive place to work

What do you consider to be the most important tech innovation or development in recent years? Mobile technology – for example, the ability to have information at your fingertips. Be that a location, a menu, a claims form, anything! 20 years ago, if you told someone you’d be at a certain place at a certain time you had no choice but to be there! How do you see this technology impacting on our lives? For me and my role at Aflac, it’s the progression and advancement in this technology that has enabled our agents in the field to meet the customer's needs in ways that weren’t possible before. Moving from a paper-based industry that was complex and potentially slow, mobile technology has enabled a customer or an agent to submit a claim in minutes, from a location that suits them.

What tech gadget could you not live without? I hate to say it, but my phone.


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Q&A with

eir evo’s Clair Gheel

Sync NI sat down with Clair Gheel, Business Development Director at eir evo, to discuss her role at the company and the company’s recent and future projects q eir evo has made a significant investment into

Northern Ireland. Can you tell us a bit more about your role as Business Development Director and what motivated you to join eir evo?

As most of our customers will know, we've been in the local market serving enterprise and public sector for 15 years. Our wholly owned fibre network, Belfast-based operations centre and a dedicated customer support and engineering team have been in place since 2007. In the past 18 months, we have completed a £10 million upgrade of our next generation 440km core fibre network that connects all major towns and our 3 data centres in Northern Ireland. Together with the acquisition of Evros Technology Group, we are making advancements not just in telecommunication solutions but with new ICT offerings into the market. This has really been a very exciting time as we build for growth and the sales team has grown 4-fold during this time.

really missed having camaraderie with colleagues and wanted to get back to team working again. Our position as eir evo in Northern Ireland is unique in that we have the agility and collaborative approach of an SME organisation but with the strength of a tier-1 operator. This has really given me the best of both worlds.

q As new digital technologies become ever more pervasive, the Telecoms industry has also been evolving at speed. Can you tell us about some of these developments?

In the last decade the main driver in our industry has been digitisation but more recently we've seen that accelerated by the pandemic. The need for people to work remotely has clearly skyrocketed and that hybrid environment has put pressure on all organisations, small and large, to embrace a digital-first approach. Everyone has had to enhance and develop their capability right from the ground up.

My new role as Business Development Director is just one development that signals our commitment to the market here, by becoming a key partner to Northern Ireland organisations and a key player in growing the local economy. My remit is specifically to drive growth in the local and central government sector, helping them to deliver on their digital ambitions and bringing together our significant expertise across the ICT spectrum to their advantage.

As a result, the solutions we design and deliver - from data networks and voice collaboration right up through the ICT chain to cloud and security – have become fundamental across all sectors. But the expertise and support we provide has become even more critical as organisations are forced to adopt new technologies or choose alternative solutions that they are perhaps unfamiliar with.

I have been working in the company for 5 years. Prior to that, I was working for myself as an independent consultant, but I

Areas like Cloud have become particularly important. For many organisations, legacy operations meant that everything


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our financial data, or HR data, it became incredibly important and at risk of leaking if it wasn’t protected. One big difference between now and decades ago is the rise in complexity of cyber threats. When computers were less sophisticated, the ways in which hackers attempted to break into them were also basic, such as emailing a simple executable malware file. Cybercriminals are now bypassing systems, deleting backups, and using automation to react to security responses. Thankfully, innovations in real-time security analytics help to identify incidents more reliably, firewall technology powered by cloud-based machine learning allows for previously unknown threats to be recognised automatically and software tools have helped replace many of the manual processes with automated detection and response.

Clair Gheel

was often still shared in an office environment and data stored on premise, it's now become much more important to share that information in the cloud. Furthermore, businesses need to put more focus on the employee experience and collaboration capability – the ability to work remotely, have virtual meetings and access applications from anywhere. That brings its own challenges, not just reliable connectivity but also robust security which now forms part of a much bigger

agenda for everyone.

q Why has cyber security become one of the main considerations for telecoms providers and how serious is this threat? As businesses, we have always been concerned with security. 20-30 years ago, we protected our valuable assets with door locks and intruder alarms. Then as reliance on data grew, it became the most valuable thing that we stored. Whether it be our identity,

There is also an increase in the volume of cyber-attacks every year. Frustratingly for businesses, technologies that have become intrinsic to their productivity – like cloud and hybrid working – have become a particular target. Whilst it’s hugely important for organisations to ensure that the threats are protected by locking down systems and managing identity and access, it's equally important to protect against human error and develop new processes to become more cyber resilient. A defensive or reactive strategy is no longer enough. Thankfully, growth in cyber security awareness inside organisations is helping to secure the newly adopted working models. Aligning their IT operations to a security framework is the next step for many.

q On the back of some significant business wins, what sectors of the NI economy, in particular, do you believe will benefit most from eir evo’s portfolio of products and services? In this year alone, we have had some major achievements and are proud to be serving core sectors of the economy


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including Northern Ireland Schools, Southern Health Trust, and Local Government Councils along with many of Northern Ireland’s indigenous firms such as Dale Farm, Hastings Hotels, and leading organisations such as Ulster University. Speaking about the area of the business I am committed to; we also have vast experience in central government, and we have extensive expertise which we can bring to the table. However, the reality is that there is no specific sector that will benefit most from our portfolio. Any organisation stands to gain from the advice we can offer to them on the different agenda items that they should be considering in their digitisation roadmap and the steps they should be taking. With our breadth of expertise and solutions across telecoms and IT, and our leading partnership credentials with the likes of Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, RedHat, Veeam, and Fortinet (the list goes on!), there really is no stone left unturned. For some of the smaller businesses and organisations, we have a real role to play handholding them through, explaining all the jargon, and helping them to understand which elements are right for their goals. Whatever the technology, whatever the sector.

q How does eir evo differentiate itself from other established providers in the market?

We're in a really unique position here with the agility of a market challenger, the commitment of a local partner, and the credentials of a tier 1 player. Ultimately though, our success has been built upon our customer-first approach. By that I mean our focus on delivering real opportunities for our customers through an intimate understanding of exactly what they're trying to achieve. We care about their business, their successes, and their struggles. Our customers know that and place significant value on it. Now we are also in a position to build on that with

a helicopter view across the entire ICT spectrum, with really deep resources and experts in areas like intelligent apps, cybersecurity, or cloud migration that we can draw on and bring to our customers. We have Gold and Platinum partnerships with many leading technology brands but most recently, we were awarded Microsoft Ireland Partner of the Year in recognition of how we go that extra mile for our customers and work with them to get value out of the technologies they use. That was a great acknowledgement of how we do things differently.

q What future developments within the telecommunications industry can we expect to see within the next 5 years? Due to the speed of change in recent years, organisations are now reinventing workflows and experiences they never intended to digitise. We will see cloud-first becoming the norm as organisations look for agility, scalability, and cost savings when developing new processes or adapting old ones. With the cloud, systems can be built piece by piece. Equipment, maintenance, and staff costs are lower and access to powerful software and platforms requires a lower initial investment. We are also starting to see a more coherent transformation of the workplace as organisations fully adopt and embrace hybrid working. In the recent past, many organisations have struggled with disparate, fragmented tools that often make the workplace more inefficient. A renewed focus on unified communications and the integration of toolsets will deliver significant improvements for businesses and their bottom line. Our customers are also seeking advanced capabilities and intelligence layers on top of their digital foundation their networks, unified communications, cyber security, and applications - to help

them become more efficient in their operations and reduce unnecessary complexities. Areas such as automation and control will become must-haves rather than nice-to-haves as their value is understood and realised and as the available technologies continue to evolve. For example, SD-WAN or softwaredefined networks is providing some customers with more flexibility and control, allowing traffic to be securely and intelligently directed and usage to be adjusted. Further optimisation using advanced technologies such as AI and ML will enable organisations to improve automation of tasks in network management. In the area of intelligent cybersecurity, technologies like SIEM (Security Information and Event Management), SOAR (Security Orchestration and Automated Response), and XDR (Extended Detection and Response) are helping our customers to step up their security game with real-time monitoring, user behaviour analytics and orchestrated response activities. In addition, hyper-automation - implementing business-wide automation to drive higher value, at a high quality, at high speed - is already helping organisations to advance their digitisation through the use of low-code apps. As these advancements in technology continue and the myriad of digital solutions expands, organisations will find it increasingly difficult to stay on top of their ICT estate. For most IT leaders, the decision will come down to how much focus they want to place on managing the status quo versus planning ahead to deliver innovation and continuous improvement for their organisation. For this reason, many will look to the experts and rely on managed services for the crucial components of their infrastructure that keep the business switched on and the attackers out.


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Is your biggest cyber risk the one you can’t see coming? At EY we help clients transform their cyber security posture to safeguard their digital assets and facilitate secure cloud enablement at speed, enabling them to keep their workplace and clients operating in a safe environment. We empower organisations to innovate and accelerate their growth with confidence.

Learn more ey.com/ie

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Q&A with PWC’s Cat McCusker Sync NI caught up with Cat McCusker, Regional Market Leader at PwC Northern Ireland, to find out more about her new role and her time at the company q Congratulations on your recent appointment as Regional Market Leader for Northern Ireland. How pleased are you to be returning home to Northern Ireland?

Having grown up and experienced many significant moments of my life in Northern Ireland, it is a huge honour to have taken on this role. I joined PwC as a graduate in our Dublin firm and more recently was the Education Consulting Leader for PwC UK. I also lead on Customer Led Transformation for our consulting practice, helping our clients across all sectors achieve responsible growth. In all of these roles I’ve worked closely with our team in Northern Ireland, and I’ve always been blown away by the passion, skill, and expertise they’ve brought to every project. Our people are what makes our firm - they are instrumental in delivering the positive experiences our clients have and the value we bring. So, taking up the Regional Market Leader role for PwC Northern Ireland feels like a natural next step in my career.

q People traditionally considered PwC as an auditing business, how has the company changed in the last 20 years since you joined as a graduate? At our core, we remain a professional services organisation offering a broad range of audit, consulting, deals, risk, and tax services but we have also seen an increasing demand for business transformation over the last 20 years. This includes transformation across the front and back office, technology, and people-led transformation. Our clients are seeking to adopt current and emerging cloud technologies, a shift in workforce strategy and transformation, as well as Execution Managed Services, where we support our clients in the delivery and running of large and complex business processes and programmes.

We have also dramatically changed ‘how’ we work. During the pandemic, we introduced ‘empowered flexibility’ which allows our people to decide the most effective working pattern for them - given their work commitment on any given day. That might mean starting early to finish early or working in blocks of time to allow

people to do something else in the middle of the day. Also, as part of our Deal, we have introduced a hybrid working model whereby the expectation is that most of our people will spend around 40-60% of their time co-located with colleagues in the office or at the client site. This not only works well for our people, but it also aligns with PwC's Net Zero commitment. This year, we also extended our summer working hours from June to August - which gave our people the opportunity to condense the working week so that they could finish early on a Friday. I am personally proud of the way that we have a focus on flexibility. I have spoken a lot about the importance of mental health and as an employer we have a critical role to ensure that our teams and our people have the right support and flexibility in place to be able to do what works best for them, particularly following such an extensive period of change and uncertainty.

q What sort of impact can digital transformation bring to our local higher education institutions?

The higher education sector is rapidly entering a new age – an age in which the effective implementation and use of digital technologies across universities is essential to attracting the right students and staff, promoting growth, and, ultimately, surviving. The impact of COVID-19, Brexit, changes to funding models, new technologies and evolving student demands are challenging universities to think differently. To succeed, they will need to reimagine the very nature of higher education. They’ll need to transform and become more flexible and more responsive to external demands. Perhaps most importantly, they’ll need to deliver services that are student-centric and adopt a digital approach across the whole organisation. But the focus needs to be on transformation, not change. Universities will need to think beyond developing digital strategies in reaction to demands for new technologies. They don’t need a digital strategy; they need a resilient


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This is something that I am particularly passionate about. I also see a real opportunity to accelerate the transition to ‘green’ skills and ‘green’ jobs; build on NI's position as a global leader in renewable energy production and invest further in sustainable transport. Technology is at the heart of everything we do and helping our clients with digital transformation - through a responsible technology approach that can help ensure technology works for business, people, and the planet - is a key part of our growth strategy.

q What new roles will be available for people wishing to consider a career in PwC and are there opportunities for those with non-STEM backgrounds?

business strategy that’s fit for the digital age to equip themselves for the long-term challenges ahead.

things and getting ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable’ - that is how you learn and grow as a leader.

q When it comes to people and organisation, what would you consider to be the main qualities that make successful senior leaders?

q With over 3000 employees in PwC’s

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many wonderful leaders and have been given the opportunity to grow as a leader myself. I am passionate about developing others, helping them to grow their skills and develop their careers. And you don’t have to be a CEO or in a senior position to be a leader. I see leadership qualities every day at all levels and grades in both PwC and with our clients. The qualities that I admire are courage, empathy and agility. You need to have courage to back yourself before expecting others to and to make those brave decisions, step up and have a voice. Empathy for what others are going through, and how that impacts them on a day-to-day basis - both in terms of their development and their wellbeing - is critical. Agility is also really important. I see the value of having a growth mindset, being prepared to learn new

merchant square HQ, what plans are there to expand this further?

I am personally really excited by the opportunities that the next few years brings for PwC, our people and our clients - particularly around the skills agenda, ESG and technology transformation in Northern Ireland. We are proud to employ over 3,500 people in Northern Ireland and to have our destination workplace Merchant Square - right in the heart of Belfast. We are passionate about working together with our clients and the wider community to create a positive societal impact for the region. Growth is a key part of this, and we will work with our clients to help them meet their needs and respond to the challenges they currently face. We want to help attract new talent into the NI labour market; do more to ensure skills meet the needs of local businesses; and intervene once and for all to ensure that every teenager leaves school in NI with useful, relevant qualifications.

We have really exciting opportunities across the entire business to suit a wide range of candidates and their career interests and aspirations. These include positions within Technology, Tax, Audit, Deals, Consulting, and within our Operate business. We’ve just launched our school leaver and student roles for 2023. There are lots of opportunities, everything from undergraduate degrees and apprenticeships for school leavers to summer internships, placements and graduate jobs for students. We also have many experienced hire roles available. Visit our careers website for all the opportunities: https://www.pwc.co.uk/ careers.html

In terms of whom we are looking for, at PwC we welcome applicants from all disciplines, in fact, we encourage it. We have many joiners who come from a variety of backgrounds, all bringing with them different perspectives and valuable skill sets. We have also removed the 2:1 degree classification requirement for all our undergraduate and graduate roles, internships and placements. The move is designed to open up opportunities to more people, increase the socio-economic diversity of the firm and support its efforts to improve social mobility.


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PEAK6 NI becomes Apex Fintech Solution Same great company... Brilliant new name

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t’s a movement reaching its pinnacle and a company reaching its Apex.

As of October 1, 2022, PEAK6 NI has officially become Apex Fintech Solutions UK. “As Apex Fintech Solutions UK, we’re merely tightening the definition of what a visionary technology company is all about,” explains Lisa Stevenson, Site Lead and VP of Engineering at Apex Fintech Solutions UK. “We’re still focused on the same tech-driven initiatives. We’ll always be recruiting top-tier talent. We’re simply identifying as a unit underneath the Apex name.” Apex Fintech Solutions, a PEAK6 company, is a marketleading, technologically independent software company that aims to provide safe, frictionless digital execution, clearing, and storage for the global universe of investable assets. What drives Apex is creating independence that produces ownership of the data used to build community, increases

financial literacy, and eliminates barriers to economic opportunities for the next generation of digital wealth creation. With the support from Invest Northern Ireland, it’s fitting that PEAK6 NI has updated its name to Apex Fintech Solutions UK. Through Invest NI, Belfast has developed a strong tech and financial sector with many Foreign Direct Investments. The City of Belfast has been a boon for the Apex talent lineup. On top of the pool of skills each member brings, the team in Northern Ireland helps Apex, based in the United States, bridge the “follow the sun” model. By having teams across global time zones, Apex keeps thought, innovation, and industry breakthroughs moving, extending a day’s operations from nine hours to 18. It’s also increased support for the business areas that need to be covered 24/7. “The Apex Belfast team enables our company to be market ready for our clients by leveraging our time zones,” says


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looking for something new, something better, something worth their remarkable talents,” says Stevenson. She curated a team who ultimately understand how to work as a crossfunctional team, are positive, collaborative, and possess a keen understanding of the latest tech stacks and technologies. In two years, the Apex Fintech Solutions UK staff has grown to almost 100, with more coming in. They benefit from working with their American counterparts — learning other cultures, exchanging energies, and traveling internationally.

ns UK Clark Litster, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist. “Apex technology powers more than 220 clients and over 22 million end investors. With that much at stake, we augment our U.S. team by up to one third by supporting all aspects of the Apex business. And because of the efforts by Invest NI, the competition for local talent is fierce. Apex needs to stand out in the market, and we do.”

Extraordinary individuals in remarkable communities Apex teams don’t look like your everyday tech and finance teams. They are margin analysts, client

experience middle office specialists, and operations specialists within banking, treasury, and wealth management. And, of course, they have the region’s leading coders, engineers, and developers. Stevenson was hired to build the Belfast office from scratch in March 2020, right when the pandemic shutdowns began. She hired and onboarded PEAK6 NI's first 40 people throughout the lockdowns. “We looked for people who weren’t afraid to disrupt the status quo. People

“Beyond the need to be collaborative, we’re a social group by nature; we enjoy each other’s company in and out of the office,” says Litster. “And we’re also very community-minded. One thing we immediately keyed in on with Apex was to contribute to the community in which we live and work. We support our local community by engaging in different activities throughout the year, and we’ve supported Action Mental Health, Macmillan Cancer Support, and Action for Children. We want our community to be strong for every generation ahead.” With nearby Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University offering renowned degrees in finance, computer science, and software engineering, Apex has tapped into these universities to access the

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latest expertise in next-generation development. Investing in Northern Ireland and the universities is crucial to enable people from all walks of life to invest in their futures and continue to build up Belfast's tech workforce. “We look for talented engineers with a passion for making an impact and who want to work with world-class technology,” Litster explains. “We work with large, distributed, high-performance systems developing in Java, Python, Go, JavaScript/HTML, and React. Our database systems include MS SQLServer, Postgres, Redis, and MongoDB. We’re also in the cloud across AWS and GCP, and we tackle tuning and scaling the applications you build using Docker and Kubernetes.”

What’s ahead At its core, Apex Fintech Solutions UK is a platform company. They work with companies changing the investing, advisory, and institutional worlds. They have a bright future in Belfast because so many talents are willing to collaborate and bring the best out of each other. Their commitment to Belfast and with Invest NI means they’ll continue to grow their footprint. Stevenson says they will keep hiring and growing in both tech and operations. And it’s crucial, she says, “that we retain our high standards, productivity, and remain an attractive place to work in the market.”


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 Author

Ross Hompstead

Site Lead at ASOS Northern Ireland Tech Hub

What do you want to be when you’re older? Ross Hompstead, Site Lead at ASOS Tech Hub NI, explains why we should never stop asking the question: what do you want to be when you’re older?

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’m going to be a lawyer.”

This proclamation was made by an overenthusiastic 12-yearold, in response to the question ‘What do you want to be when you’re older?’ in his first week of secondary school. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. In his mind, the answer was as close to a statement of fact as you could get.

we could explore many different aspects of this story (perhaps ‘Where did it all go wrong?!’) I want to focus on the question:

What do you want to be when you’re older?

As a father of a 4-year-old this deep and meaningful question is slowly becoming a natural part of our conversations, much to my delight.

The response must have been impactful, too. 12 years later the teacher who asked the question would recount, with a remarkable degree of accuracy, both the answer and gusto with which it was delivered. They also expressed, whether meaning to or not, a tangible disappointment that the statement did not end up to be true: -

Depending on the day of the week (or, more accurately, the last activity she was doing) the answer can vary anywhere from a ballerina to a health visitor. As cute as these responses are, the highlight to date has been: -

“I remember, clearly, the commitment with which you answered the question. I was sure that you would make it a reality and become a lawyer. So…you ended up in IT?!”

Now, I’m not entirely sure what a race car villain is but I intend to find out. I might even consider a career change myself…

In case you haven’t guessed, that 12-year-old was me! While

“Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a race car villain!”

While the variation in answer is often a source of hilarity, it’s interesting to think about the why behind the answers:


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Children use their imagination to come up with endless possibilities in response to this question. If they can dream it, they can be it. Children don’t place any limitations on themselves or back away from an answer because they are afraid of failing.

limited experience of the world never mind of work! I always enjoyed playing with and building computers, so I chose a degree in Computer Science. This set the trajectory for my life.

There is a lot we can learn from a child’s approach here. The reality is, we rarely get to think of the answer as the question isn’t asked.

Do we need to keep asking the question?

When do we stop asking the question?

We ask children this question frequently as they grow up, hoping to encourage them in thinking about, planning for and owning the direction of their future. When children get to the end of compulsory education, we expect them to make an ‘informed’ decision that will impact the rest of their lives by choosing a career path. We then stop asking this question, considering the decision made and direction set. Which brings us to the risk of placing such focus on the question this early in life then without keeping the answer under review. When we take this approach we create a sense of finality — make this decision now and stick to it for the rest of your life. For me, 16-year-old Ross had gone off the idea of a career in law. I didn’t really know what I was passionate about or what interested me. How could I — I had

The thing is, the world no longer works like that…

While previous generations would often have ‘a job for life’, this is no longer the case. In fact, it’s now an exception rather than the rule.

On one hand, the world continues to evolve bringing inevitable turbulence along the way. Economic pressures and uncertainty mean the days of starting a company and having employment guaranteed for the rest of your life have all but disappeared in most industries. Looking from another more positive perspective, the transferability of core skills across roles and industries is starting to be recognised and given weight. Diversity of thinking is rightly being recognised as a differentiator for companies that want to develop a culture of innovation. The embracing of people with different backgrounds and ways of thinking is helping companies succeed in everchanging and challenging markets. By continuing to ask the question, we are encouraging people to think about their careers not as a

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linear path but, rather, as a journey with multiple paths and routes.

Academies, supported by DfE, InvestNI and delivered at SERC.

Why should we care?

These are people from many different backgrounds, passionate about embracing an opportunity to take their first steps into a career in tech. This includes graduates from different disciplines, career switchers and people returning to work to name a few. Investing in this diverse, emerging talent is key to the success of the NI Tech Industry as we continue to grow.

On average, an individual spends 33% of their lives in work. That’s a long time to be doing something you’re not passionate about or simply don’t enjoy, all based on a decision you made as a child… We need to keep asking the question to challenge ourselves and encourage one other to embrace opportunities. Doing so sets us on a path towards a fulfilling life. As individuals, we can find what we are passionate about and pursue that. Asking yourself the question is a good way of focusing on the here and now as well as the future. When I think about this from the perspective of the Northern Ireland Tech Industry, we need to be asking the question to promote the opportunities available to those considering a career in tech. As the NI tech industry continues to grow, we are increasingly speaking about the ‘skills shortage’. While I agree with this in terms of senior talent, I disagree with there being a skills shortage when it comes to emerging talent. Over the past 12 months, since joining the ASOS NI Tech Hub, I have seen hundreds of applicants to our Assured Skills

What next?

In 2022 ASOS will have offered 80 people the opportunity to embark on a career in tech through 4 Assured Skills Academies. This is a large part of the reason I took my role with ASOS — it provides opportunity for people to start their tech career who otherwise may not be able to, while bringing ASOS significant value through diversity of thinking and also investing in growing the NI Tech Industry. I strongly encourage other companies to explore the options available and invest in the next wave of talent coming into the industry. As leaders, we need to be asking the question to everyone in our organisations: What do you want to be when you’re older? The challenge is then how we empower them to work towards the answer…


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Fintech academics enhance the work of a Nobel prize Laureate

 Author

Daniel Broby

 Author

William Smyth

The purpose of this article is to highlight an example of world-class research taking place in fintech, right here on our doorstep

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erhaps, the greatest misconception about fintech is that it is a niche field. This could hardly be farther from the truth.

laureate. That is what I and my co-author Professor Daniel Broby have received via our recent publication in one of the world’s top finance journals.

Fintech can be defined as the use of technology to enhance existing ways or to enable new ways to move, raise or invest money and capital. It is difficult to think of a single aspect of our everyday lives that does not involve moving, raising, or investing money or capital, either directly or indirectly. And as for the technology part of fintech, the relevance of technology requires no elaboration.

I have an advanced degree in mathematics and a PhD in theoretical physics. I am proud to say I completed both of these at Queen’s University Belfast, right here in Northern Ireland. As an early career researcher, I have published 14 peer-reviewed papers in leading scholarly journals. I am familiar with many techniques of machine learning (a trendy synonym for modern statistical analysis) and have strong mathematics and coding background. This combined with Professor Broby’s C-level finance industry expertise and experience has enabled us to form a formidable research partnership. In his industry career, Professor Broby was the

It’s not every day you get official confirmation that your research has enhanced and advanced the work of some of the best in your field. Even less so when one of them is a Nobel


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Chief Investment Officer of several asset managers, responsible for the discretionary management of billions of pounds. One of the flagship global funds that he was directly responsible for was rated five-star by the global rating agency Morningstar, placing him as a fund manager in the top performance decile. A team comprising leading US finance academics, industry experts, and one of the country’s top data scientists recently proposed a statistical comovement metric, the Gerber statistic, which is able to cut through the high levels of noise that often obfuscate analyses of financial market data. Its use gets to the underlying connection between assets. In other words, to ascertain the true relationship between the financial returns of various assets. Understanding the way stocks vary and co-move with each other is a problem that has challenged practitioners and academics alike since the introduction of modern portfolio theory. The first breakthrough in this earned Harry Markowitz the Nobel prize for Economics (along with Merton Miller and William Sharpe, the latter another household name from the field of finance). Professor Markowitz is a coauthor of the work we improved and we use the Sharpe ratio, proposed by Professor Sharpe, to demonstrate our results. The concept is mathematical but can be thought of as accurately establishing the connection (think correlation or co-movement) between two statistical variables. In this case, these are a series of asset price returns that facilitate the construction of diversified portfolios. The purpose of this is optimal portfolio diversification, and the process can be used to control the risk of mutual funds and suchlike. The Gerber statistic does this better than other common methods such as historic covariance or shrinkage. This gives a fund manager or investment analyst a potential

edge when it comes to building large investment portfolios where literally billions of pounds are at stake. Having analysed the work of Gerber, Markowitz, et al., we identified two ways in which we believed the Gerber statistic could be improved. After developing the necessary mathematical representation, the associated statistical theory, and coding it up for testing, both these modifications turned out to be effective. The Smyth-Broby enhancement, to which the modified statistic is being referred, outperforms the Gerber statistic a significant majority of the time. This result is exceptionally pleasing. To think that your research, the unseen part of which takes you into the small hours on very many occasions, has enhanced the work of giants in your field is a great source of pride and vindication. An especially pleasing aspect of our work is that the co-movement statistic we have developed has applications beyond the field of finance. It is not practical to list the full range of applications but there is a highly transferrable principle that clarifies its applicability across research fields and industries alike. Many variables of interest in industry projects and academic studies are intrinsically difficult to measure, or indeed may not be directly observable at all. However, what can be done to address this problem, is to establish a connection between the variable of interest and another variable that can be measured. Thus, critically, if the co-movement connection has between accurately identified, a measurement of the variable which is observable can be used to provide insight into the likely value for the variable which cannot be observed. The Smyth-Broby enhancement fits squarely in the investing money and capital branch of fintech. Classic InvestTech applications such as

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robo-advisors aspire to democratise investment. They take something that, until very recently, was the preserve of the wealthy few and make it accessible to billions of ordinary people worldwide. The algorithms underpinning roboadvisory apps rely heavily on the ability to correctly identify the co-movement connection between financial assets. We feel sure the Smyth-Broby enhancement to the Gerber statistic will have a real and lasting impact in the investment management industry. In fact, we have commenced collaboration with some of the original team involved in the Gerber statistic work to investigate if together we can answer one of the longest-standing unanswered questions in finance. Watch this space! Our work strengthens Northern Ireland’s standing in Financial Technology. The applications of FinTech are growing rapidly. Locally, thanks to the efforts of a wide range of stakeholders, including the FinTech NI Association we are changing perceptions about Belfast’s role in global finance. FinTech NI Board Member Alex Lee said: “The pattern of growth within FinTech in Northern Ireland is largely a result of the dynamic and collaborative ecosystem we have here. Our worldclass universities are a key element of this. The high calibre of research being carried out by academics at Ulster University plays a significant role in helping us maintain our position as one of the UK’s leading FinTech clusters. The Smyth-Broby enhancement brings specific value by improving investment portfolio optimisation and will go a long way in overcoming long-standing challenges and questions within the sector. This work strengthens our position in Financial Technology and is one of the key supporting factors that keep Northern Ireland competitive and in fact often rivalling some of the world’s leading FinTech hubs.”


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Q&A with Civica’s Mark Owens Mark Owens, Managing Director at Civica NI, chats with Sync NI about his career journey and the technology sector in Northern Ireland

q For over 30 years Civica has established itself as a global software powerhouse within the public sector. What projects are you particularly proud of that have made lasting positive impacts on our lives? There are a few examples that stand out for me. When I arrived at Civica as Managing Director, back in 2018, one of the first projects I got involved with was working with BT as the prime development partner for the (Northern Ireland) NI direct application. Civica also developed a critical application for Access NI, a disclosure and barring service, that protects vulnerable people and children in NI.

More recently, I’m most proud of the project Civica completed in response to COVID. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, GP surgeries across NI were suddenly inundated with phone calls with people saying they think they might have COVID. This placed a phenomenal amount of pressure on our GP’s, and nobody really knew how to deal with this increased demand. When we got a call from Digital Health NI asking for urgent help to develop a symptom tracker mobile application for the public, we went straight to work and within just 10 days we developed the COVID Care app. The app was then published in the Apple and Google stores within 24 hours and available to every member of the public who had a postcode in NI. Overnight calls to GP’s dropped from 6,000 to 1,000. As we started coming out of lockdown there were rules about accessing retail, food and beverage and travel services. Everybody wanted to get out again, but you had to show proof you were vaccinated. We spent around 6-8 weeks, working alongside several phenomenal teams, to turn around a COVID certification solution. This was quite a complex app with what it does on the back end, but also how visible it was to NI. Overnight we had 200,000 requests from people to get their certification status onto the

app and we were able to service that. So far, we have serviced around 1.2 million applications in NI from a population of 1.8 million. We were able to respond and get first-time correct certifications up to over 80%. These are success rates beyond all expectations. Even to this day the app is helping people to travel overseas once again. I was in Spain in July this year. Once we landed in Spain, I was asked to show my COVID certificate. I was extremely proud to use the app and show my certificate. It was scanned and I was welcomed into Spain. When I look back, I think we did ourselves justice in delivering a fully working solution under immense timescales, during extremely challenging times.

q Coming from a background in electrical and electronic engineering how easy was it to transition into working for some of the largest global consultancy companies?

I decided not to go down the university route and did a B-Tech in engineering at Belfast Met, which was the perfect foundation for me to understand how technology actually works, initially through hardware. I transitioned into the world of PCs back in the late 80’s when the first real computers in offices were large with lots of hard drives. I progressed into network and server technology, which was the next logical step, focused on building Novell and Microsoft Windows networks. I spent a lot of time in cold server rooms and data centres. One day I saw a SAP consultant sitting at a lovely warm desk on a laptop, and thought I've got this wrong here, and realised it was time to get into the software side. I completed SAP training and got certified. I loved the fact that this technology was being used by some of the biggest companies in the world. Soon after, I was lucky enough to meet a program director of Capgemini who I got on with very well and one day I got a call that said, “Would you like to come work for a very large consulting company?” So,


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have so much talent here, yet we just don't tell anybody about it.

q Belfast is establishing itself as a significant global technology hub with 30,000 people now working in the technology sector. What are the main drivers for this growth?

It’s about the talent we have here, and this is what attracts FDI's like Allstate and Liberty IT to NI, and has done for over 30 years. While 30,000 sounds like a lot of people, in my opinion this could be 50,000 people tomorrow, based on the need and demand in the sector. So, what are the main drivers? Digital transformation is on everybody's agenda and to be able to transform and move services online, or multi-channel, you need talented developers, business analysts and testers. So, all companies, whether they're public or private sector, in NI have a digital transformation agenda and we need to be able to develop the talent pool to make sure that we can service it. The growth in demand is here now and, I can tell you as an employer in NI, that demand is increasing every single day.

q As one of the most vocal proponents for developing the relevant skills for the 10x economy, what more can be done to guarantee the future growth of the sector?

the transition to that was quite easy because I was extremely confident in what I was doing with SAP. When I went to work in London for one of the big top five consulting companies, I felt out of place compared to the big consultants I was working alongside, when in actual fact I had a very good level of understanding. Within three months I was promoted. And a year later I was running the

SAP technology practice within the UK. Three years later I was the vice president running the SAP UK practice, which at the time had around 500 consultants in GB and another 1,500 in India.

I was very pleased to be asked to be involved in the 10x Digital Economy strategy paper, sponsored by the Department for the Economy, that was developed in conjunction with Allstate, Liberty IT, Kainos, Instil and GCD Technologies. While we might all be competitors in some shape or way, we all have a single goal which is to promote NI as a great place to work and show that we can grow our economy substantially in a vibrant sector.

In NI I don’t think we are very good at recognising how talented we are. Something I'm trying to promote in NI is to showcase, and shout about, how good this country is at what we do. We

Currently, for every seven jobs available in the tech sector in NI there's one candidate. While that’s shocking, it's also a great opportunity to tackle the big issue which is around building awareness


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and education in our industry. I understand there has been a decline in people applying to Queen's and Ulster University computer science degrees over the last three or four years. When discussing this with my network it seems that parents have a significant role in moulding their children’s careers and commonly encourage their children to explore careers in more traditional sectors such as medicine or law, as opposed to IT which is deemed a harder industry to get into. Also, when we look at post primary schools, unlike English and Maths, IT is not on the mandated curriculum in Key Stage 3. I think we need to change this. We need to make the teachers, careers teachers and principals aware of how vibrant this industry is. Most of the graduates in the tech sector get paid 20 to 30% more than any other graduates in NI. The reality is that the tech sector pays more and has available jobs, so it’s really important that as a sector we promote this and raise awareness in schools. Civica are running a Digital Awareness Week in October, for the second year running, and invite tech companies in NI to come along for 30 minutes, virtually, and offer their insights on the tech sector to all post primary schools in NI. Last year we had over 40 people provide insights across a vast range of subjects and topics including women in tech, AI as well as specific coding languages. The feedback from last year was incredibly positive. There will be some announcements coming out in the next couple of months about a new organisation that we're setting up to help to promote our sector and lobby government. Our customers included in this conversation include the Department of Education and Department of the Economy, I think they too can see the issues and understand they also need help from the private sector. We recently met with Minister Gordon Lyons, and he was very supportive of what we were putting to him around the opportunity and what

needs to happen to help grow the IT sector. I expect that 30,000 number to be somewhere close to 50,000 within the next year, year and a half, making the tech sector one of the biggest employers in NI.

q We often say that the youth are the future. Are we doing enough in NI to make sure children are equipped for the digital economy?

No, I don’t think we're doing enough as a collective and in my opinion awareness of our industry should be happening at an earlier age. Primary school children are intelligent, open and curious – they want to actively engage and be creative. Primary school children are very aware of technology, I’m sure many six- or seven-year-olds have a smartphone, with 30 plus apps. If we can influence the education authority here in NI to change the curriculum, and make computer science mandatory at year eight, nine and ten, then there will be a real chance children will want to do it for GCSE and hopefully A level. We have seen this first hand with our own outreach program, called “Coding for Kids”, where we teach school children basic level programming. The positive response from the principal, but more importantly the children, has been fantastic. Also, when looking at the demographics of the NI IT sector we have a real diversity issue throughout education. Right now, in our universities I understand that 20% or less of the computer scientists are female. This is a real problem. We need to attract females at an early age to come and discovery the opportunities available in the sector. I talked about the Department of Education and the Department for the Economy to help stimulate awareness, but we also need the schools to be aware of it as well. Every tech company in NI I talk to understands this is a big issue for them and want to help. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to grow those 30,000 jobs to 50,000 jobs by next year.

q If you had one piece of advice for somebody considering a career in technology what would that be?

Put simply, keep an incredibly open mind. The advice being given to young people in a career is very important, and the parent is probably the most influential person to their child's career. While many parents think they understand our industry the truth is that they don't. I think if you were considering a career in technology then I encourage you to reach out to technology companies and ask for a conversation to find out more. If I had an 11 or 12, year old call me tomorrow and say ‘Hi, I'm interested in this. Can you tell me a bit more about the industry’? I wouldn’t hesitate to invite them to meet one of Civica’s developers and explain the super things we do. Earlier you asked what I was very proud of, well one of Civica’s goals is ‘Transforming services, improving lives’ and that's what we do in NI, we improve people's lives in NI, not in another European country, not in the US, but right here in NI. For example, Access NI is a critical service that protects children and vulnerable adults. We develop the criminal justice sharing system for PSNI so a police officer has nine or ten different views of a citizen's identity or criminal record, so they can make an educated decision about that person’s risk. Our biggest challenge is getting school children looking at technology differently. We need the people advising them about their future careers to understand the huge opportunities available right now. To do that we need to raise awareness and enable children to make informed decisions about their education. With all the initiatives Civica is involved and invested in, I want to inform children how they can change the way NI and its citizens interact with digital services, here in NI.


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Clare McKelvey on her journey as a Data Scientist at Allstate Sync NI caught up with Clare McKelvey, Data Scientist at Allstate NI, to hear about her background, role in the company, and advice to other young women starting off in the sector

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riginally, Clare admits she was “really panicked” when her friends knew what they wanted to do in school and she “had no idea.” However, Clare was always interested in Maths, so she started off studying maths at university.

It was two years into her degree when Clare discovered that it was the statistics modules she enjoyed most and subsequently changed her pathway to maths with statistics. During this time, having completed several modules on data and machine learning, her passion for tech was heightened inspiring her to go on to do a master's degree in data analytics. Within this master’s degree, Clare completed a three-month placement with a digital pathology company where she was working as part of their AI and machine learning team. After this, she felt she wanted to work for a larger company where there were more people to bounce off and so she looked into Allstate and has been there ever since. Clare says one of the main aspects that attracted her to the company was Project Lightbulb. Project Lightbulb allows employees at Allstate to take 10% of their working week to focus on projects that are outside of their work. Clare explains: “If there are certain techniques that you think would be beneficial to either your learning and confidence within your job or say you're assigned a certain job to improve a model and there’s a bit of a time crunch. You might not have time to look into another method that you wanted, or thought might work, but you can do that in your Lightbulb time. Then if it is successful, you can bring it up to your manager and say why don't we do this? I have some results here that look really

focusing on learning and development and what we can learn from each other and possible collaboration.”

Clare McKelvey

promising. So it's just kind of giving people a bit more freedom.” Clare adds: “I really like that because I feel like certain companies expect you to do your own learning outside of work as well, and that can be quite daunting, especially if you have a nine to five, Monday through Friday, with the computer screen on all day only to finish up only to go onto another screen and do a bit more learning. That’s really quite intense. To be expected to do that can be a bit daunting, especially for graduates and people just starting out so that was all a huge plus point for me.” Clare has been part of the D3 team at Allstate NI for a year and a half. D3 stands for data discovery and decision science and is a central department that supports all areas of the company. This support includes statistics, machine learning, and applications that all benefit the company and customers. It also includes constant ongoing research and development into new methods to improve implementation within the company’s ongoing design. Another thing that drew Clare to Allstate was “a really strong sense of community” that she has experienced during her time within D3 “where we make presentations across teams,

Clare adds that this is “not just work but networking across teams, and making that sense of community because you've got friends actually across the globe. In my last team, we had quite a few team members that were in India and I just thought that was so cool and they were all so nice. I just love the sense of community and hearing about everybody's culture is interesting. It's just not something we're normally exposed to so it's great to get that whole worldwide culture, I think that's one of the best bits about the role.” In addition to this Clare is involved with the Women In Tech At Allstate. She tells us this is very “fun and interesting as a woman, to go into that and do the statistics for their equality and diversity awards and qualifications.” She adds: “to be involved and see how much effort and how much Allstate cares about making sure there is diversity and encouraging mentoring schemes and to make sure young women feel confident in going forward for promotions or even feeling confident in the roles that they're already in is great. I really love seeing that. I feel like it's so worthwhile and rewarding to be encouraging young women to go into STEM.” Clare says that her advice to other women who want to get involved in the tech sector is “don’t let a maledominated field put you off because there really is so much opportunity at the minute. Loads of large companies are pushing to close the ratios and make it more equal and get more representation. It’s not about your gender. It's just representation in the past that has kind of filtered down in this way. So now we have to represent our gender. Don’t let it put you off at all.”


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Brian Craig and John Healy discuss hybrid working

Brian Craig

John Healy

Allstate’s John Healy and Liberty IT’s Brain Craig discuss how Hybrid working has affected life within 2 of Northern Ireland’s largest technology companies q Does hybrid working actually work?

John Healy: I do think hybrid, and the new way of working is working. As we went through the pandemic, we as a business didn't really miss a beat and people were able to get home in pretty short order and were still able to maintain an exceptional level of service and delivery within the business. Now that's not to say that there isn't still scope for improvement. I am a firm believer that the Office has a place in terms of driving social interaction and networking that really helps to make the world of work, work. Now in terms of the actual hybrid model of having people in the office but not out of the office it's worked throughout the pandemic, and I think it's going to continue to work for us into the future. Brain Craig: I would agree, hybrid has worked well for us given we already had some experience pre-COVID and when COVID came along we were required to fully embrace it. We may have

had a leg up because we have offices in Dublin and in Belfast already so even when people were in their offices, they were still required to be remote from other parts of their team. And certainly, facing into the US, you're already working remotely from your customer, so we already had that experience of being in one office while our people were in another office, and then we all had home offices, so we were still remote from each other.

q Do you think the hybrid model was born out of necessity due to the pandemic or was it always an inevitability?

Brain Craig: It depends on the type of work you're doing. Some teams only do delivery or develop software that's required by the customer as opposed to the innovative creative stuff which is about getting people into a room. Now at times, I expect Liberty and other companies will require that and as


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such we're going to change our office so that people are coming in to meet with purpose. We're probably going to do away with as many desks in the building and look to create more collaboration spaces. We certainly have a need for people to come in but they're going to come in for an actual purpose as opposed to everyday Monday to Friday and I expect that concept will spread to other companies, particularly around the creativity and problem-solving aspect, as opposed to the hands-on keyboard just coding. That's the stuff that can be done from anywhere and we're seeing that happen. John Healy: I would say, we need to be careful that we don't think that the offices are just going to be about collaboration, it's also about socialisation and I think that there is a kind of a fallacy that says that collaboration begins with a meeting, it doesn't mean that and it's not the way we work in technology. I don’t want the office to be thought of as just a space for collaboration, I want it to be much more around socialisation, networking, somewhere you come to actually have maybe some of the crunchy conversations, you know, the difficult ones that you don't want to have through a screen but you want to have face to face. That's how I kind of imagined the office is going to be and we have invested in this approach. I think the office is going to be that hub for people to come together. As for whether hybrid working would have happened anyway. I don't think so. I think that there were huge inertial forces around the office as an institution and I think that the jolt that we all got with a pandemic has really made us think about things differently. Who would have thought that you could run big training programs from somebody's bedroom and be just as successful in terms of the outcomes… never, you all thought you had to be in the room with all the equipment in the room now and we've actually realised it really does suit the way that we work.

q Can hybrid working still foster a sense of loyalty if you're not actually in the building and meeting with your peers, your friends, and your colleagues on a daily basis? John Healy: I don't know what it's like in other businesses but what I see from my attrition data is that if you don't have that affiliation with the brand it’s just too easy for somebody who's joined your company virtually and been inducted to then leave for another company if they don't have that part of work that goes beyond just the delivery. It’s about the fun that we all have after work; the team building; the opportunities that we have in terms of giving back to the communities and working on social enterprises altogether. It’s these bits that actually make the whole company. People will leave and move on if they don’t feel that they're actually part of something substantial, helping to build the company and the company ethos.

Brain Craig: We refer to that as the glue, the stickiness of keeping somebody onboard, they'll come for the tech and the initial opportunities, but they'll stay for the people they're working with, but they won't meet those people if they don't have the social events. One of the challenges we do have is if people decide to have a collaboration day and we have other people come into the office then it’s a requirement of our leaders to talk about team norms and what’s okay. We are now seeing that dynamic change with better tooling, improved processes, and practices so it’s now a case of ‘Oh, he's in the office that day, or she's in the office that day, that would be a great day for me to go in’. We also have staff reserved desks so we can manage our real estate to make sure somebody has a desk. COVID completely wiped out any routine of visiting offices but now we're starting to build it back.

q When you survey your staff what percentages of people would actually want to be in a hybrid

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model, and how many people would like to be back into the office full time as opposed to remote?

Brain Craig: Actually, we're right in the middle of that and we're just getting some early results, but right now it's 85% of our staff are looking to work remotely, full-time. That leaves about 15% that are looking to do hybrid, which hybrid in our case is only 20% of your working time in the office. So, it's not as if it's, you know, three days a week, it's less than that. That's certainly what we're seeing and there are a number of reasons. Some of the people who report to me have actually moved out of Belfast while some people in our Dublin office are no longer living in Dublin, they've moved over to Galway where things are more affordable so naturally, it makes sense to them. John Healy: Yes, it's a very similar story at Allstate. Very few people want to come back into the office. When we have been taking the pulse of the organisation, as we did the whole way through and now subsequently as well, very few want to come in on a full-time basis, so we're pretty much settled on hybrid as the way we're willing to move forward. We're not defining what that means as for some people it will be one day while for some people it will be three days, but you know it really comes down to what do you think you need to organize your life?

q Some companies are experimenting with a four-day week. What would your views on that be?

Brain Craig: We currently have people on what we call compressed hours where they'll generally do 10 days of work in nine days. We were already seeing those models pre-COVID and for some people, they're very successful. I think moving all the way to four days does seem aggressive at the moment and in some of the models that I've seen it's actually more like four and a half to five days of work in four days so it’s a bit like smoke and mirrors. But


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when I look at it, I go that's practically just compressed hours that we already offer when you look into the detail it's like going to do pretty much your five days’ work in four days and I'm not sure what the benefit is there. So again, we already have compressed hours as an option for people to do that. John Healy: The technology sector is very different, it's not like working in a factory where when the horn sounds at five o'clock and everybody punches out and goes home. The ebb and flow of the delivery of software or managing the infrastructure requires great flexibility so as a sector we already had all kinds of opportunities for people to avail of flexibility. Whenever it comes to release time there's often a kind of payback in terms of all hands to the pump to get releases out and products delivered so as a sector, we're very used to being able to flex. Those programs were in place before and now we've had to augment them and amplify them. We already had summer flexibility in place knowing people would want to maximize their first opportunity to get away post-COVID and would be travelling to be with family and friends as well as people coming to visit our employees from abroad. We were saying we want to be flexible with you and to know that you can tell us that you want to do four days next week and that will be fine. We know that you are having people to stay, and you'll want to start early and finish early or to give able to enjoy whatever bit of sunshine is thrown our way, whatever it happens to be. I think as a sector we've always had that flexibility and that's just the kind of way that technology is delivered, and our employees expect it. One thing that I think we haven't been particularly good at as a sector, particularly from a diversity perspective is around parttime working where we offer maybe just three-day type contracts or indeed job shares as they're not prevalent

in the sector and it's something that we're thinking of as a business. In this kind of brave new world where there is a shortage of technologists, we need to explore what other options are out there and what other opportunities are there for us to tap into different types of talent that we haven't had access to before. I think that's where the challenge is and not so much about whether should we be on a path to four days a week as there's plenty of flexibility in there for our workforces already and identifying opportunities for job share and opportunities to offer true part-time working is something that

we probably as a sector have a bit more distance to travel.

q In hindsight are there any areas

when you were introducing hybrid that you think you might have done differently or better?

Brain Craig: With everybody being remote this put an awful stress on getting equipment and then once you got them into basic working you really wanted to move to the point where people had an experience at home similar to what they had in the office. For us, that meant at the very least two monitors and a camera. A camera used to be an


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had to reach out and help our staff and we learned a number of lessons about how to care for your staff with the right processes and I think most companies have that now to promote Mental Health. Now people know that it's okay to ask for help and it's okay for us to engage them and it's totally anonymous. That's what people needed then, and they'll probably continue to need it over the next few years, and we continue to see this develop.

optional thing but if all your meetings are via zoom or teams, a camera is essential. It's the only body language contact you're going to get and in the initial few months, there was a need to actively promote social interactions in the meetings. Normally you go into a meeting and there is a purpose, and you have an agenda but if you're in the office you probably had a cup of coffee or a chat with the person on the way to the meeting or on the way out of the meeting. Well, once you are on the Zoom call, it's on and it's off so now you have to take that five minutes to start to talk about the weather, it's small

talk but it is important as it builds social interaction. Once everyone went remote it became alien and even though we had the equipment we realised we needed to stimulate the people to talk again. The other challenge we had because of COVID was everyone sitting at home feeling very nervous about the world, so they just threw themselves into their work and into their code. Although they were highly productive at times you really had to look after them and tell them to stop. While people were throwing themselves into work because literally the world outside was not very pleasant so that's what they were focusing on we actually

John Healy: I think because we didn't know that we were going to be out of the office for two years, all of us were perhaps a bit slow maybe in terms of getting some of those critical resources to our employees to help them to be successful at home. It also brought home to me there, as I was sitting at home complaining about being in my attic, but at least I had the attic, it was my space and away from everybody. I wasn't impinging on what else was happening within the home while there were plenty of others in those initial days, who didn't have the same setup, who maybe didn't have all the tools to help them to be as successful as they needed to be. Once we realised it was going to be longer than expected we did run office programs to help people get properly set up at home and things improved but looking back, you know, I wish we had maybe done more sooner in terms of getting people set up for that to foster success. We got there in the end and it’s a testament to what an amazing sector we have here in Northern Ireland, you know, full employment all the way through, nobody taking any of the government support or loans or furloughing staff and remaining profitable through the pandemic. There are very few sectors that you can point to with that track record or in the way the tech sector had some amazing resources to bring to bear and still continue to operate. This is an abridged version of a Sync NI roundtable event. To read the entire article go to https://syncni.com/interviews


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Fujitsu’s Sanjeev Kamboj discusses what businesses can do to close the digital skills gap

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usinesses are in a bind.

On one hand, every leader knows they need to digitally transform their organisation. The marketplace is changing at rapid speed and the furnace powering it is innovation. As the world becomes more complex and the future more uncertain, technology is filling the gap and presenting paths to success for enterprises of all sizes. However, to digitally transform, you need digital skills, and as every business leader is painfully aware of, digital skills are a scarce resource these days. Some 72% of leaders believe their technology skills gap has increased over the past 12 months, according to our research. It shows that digital skills really are a resource that’s ever-dwindling. Several factors are driving our present digital skill shortage – from employees re-evaluating their careers in the wake of the pandemic, to there simply being too much demand for increasingly niche skillsets. Whatever the cause, the reality is that 57% of leaders feel they lack the skills to support their technology vision, which means the skill shortage is putting many businesses’ futures at risk. And if the skills shortage isn’t going anywhere any time soon, how are businesses to achieve their goals? Why the skills shortage is here to stay Of the many digital skills in high demand right now, hyperscaler cloud platforms knowledge is right up there on business leaders’ wish lists. While the shift to the cloud has been growing year-on-year, the past few have seen its adoption accelerate exponentially. A big driver of this ramp-up has been the large digital platforms – such as Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP – shifting to cloud platforms. Cloud services are now intricately tied to digital transformation for most businesses, especially with the explosion of distributed work models necessitated by the pandemic. Every day, people around the world are working on next-gen projects within the cloud ecosystem to solve increasingly niche problems. The nature of the cloud means these projects can be integrated into larger solutions, continuously presenting new opportunities – and new challenges.

Is it poss to close digital s gap?


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For instance, the emergence of 5G technology means users will soon have broadband-level internet speeds on their mobile devices. That not only opens the door to a myriad of next-generation applications but also fundamentally changes the security posture of the enterprises using it. As cloud use and Edge computing adoption grows, security boundaries will shift even further out.

ssible your skills

New strategies and countermeasures need to be thought up to account for each innovation a business adopts. So, while these solutions have the potential to transform the businesses that are savvy enough to adopt them, they’ll also demand new digital skills to wield them safely. The pace of innovation also means that the traditional ways of adapting – such as recruiting the necessary skills externally – no longer suffice. To do more than just survive this new world, businesses need to be able to take advantage of high-growth opportunities when they come around. Thus, a completely new strategy to handle the skills shortage needs to be devised from the ground up and topdown. Better digital skills require better leadership skills If you want to successfully conduct a continuous digital transformation campaign within your organisation, you need individuals with a transformational mindset – those that are comfortable in complex and fast-changing landscapes. Leaders of this ilk can absorb a constant stream of information very quickly and use it to make the right decisions.

 Sanjeev Kamboj Author

Fujitsu

However, the delicate blend of traits that give an individual a transformational mindset is exceedingly rare in my experience. Many leaders tend to have much more of a sequential mindset – myself included. As a result, we inevitably miss out on certain market opportunities.

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But whether you naturally have a transformational mindset is beside the point, what matters is that leaders act now. That starts by taking a step back and consciously asking whether the leadership styles within the business today are fit for purpose for what the company wants to do tomorrow. Think about your values, ethos, and objectives. Once you understand the behaviours and traits your business needs, project those values overtly to the larger business. The most effective way to communicate to a workforce that they need to embrace a transformational mindset is with a clear and structured plan to create a change programme. Recognise that people are naturally resistant to change – especially if they’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time. So, it may need to be a hard sell at first, and it might not initially be popular with staff. That’s why it’s essential you make it clear that this is a journey all the leadership team plans to go on with them. Create real metrics that enable you to track progress and link it to other important factors, such as performance, pay plans, and bonuses. Do everything you can to reinforce these behaviours internally by communicating that continuous learning is the expectation of every worker from top to bottom. So, while the skills shortage might not be going anywhere anytime soon, you don’t have to be overwhelmed by the rapid pace of innovation. Continuously improve and ingrain a habitual change programme into your organisation and you will incrementally and iteratively start to build your knowledge base. Before you know it, you’ll have a wide field of skills that have been reinforced by real field experience from workers solving customer problems – enabling you to deftly ride the tidal wave of innovation all the way to a brighter future.


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Garry Carpenter’s interview with Sync NI The Sync NI team caught up with Garry Carpenter, Digital partner at PA Consulting to discuss his journey in the tech sector q You have spent almost 30 years

working in the technology sector. If we go back to the beginning what prompted you to take a master’s in computer science on completing your Modern History degree at Queens?

As I came to the end of my history degree, as much as I enjoyed the subject, I realised that being a Historian or a History teacher really wasn't something that I aspired to be. A good friend recommended the master’s course at Queen's and I'm obviously very glad I made the choice, given how computing has gone from where it was back in the 80s to where it is now.

q After graduating you went on to work with a number of well-known Belfast-based companies then onto global projects delivering large complex solutions including a billing system for Australia’s national telecoms provider. What do you remember most about that time at the start of your career?

I was very lucky at the start to work for a very small consultancy which gave me exposure to a variety of interesting client technology challenges. Within a couple of years, I took the plunge and started working independently which was a real journey of discovery that brought a lot of opportunity, autonomy, and associated pressures. I was more of an introvert when I was young, so I tried to push myself to not live in my comfort zone. Therefore, when an opportunity arose to move to a role in Australia, while that was incredibly daunting, I just thought it'd be a fantastic experience and a chance to see more of the world. Looking back, I learned a lot about myself as the travel really did broaden my horizons. The key takeaway for me

was to be constantly curious, to not be afraid to ask for help, and to realise how beneficial it can be to elicit opinions and support from different perspectives.

q After two decades working in technology focused on analytics, cloud, and digital services what would you say were the key innovations during this time that have defined how we approach technology today?

I think it has to be cloud. The introduction of the public cloud and the expansion of API-driven services has created endless possibilities and the flexibility to scale new products at speed for both new start-ups and established organisations. It has created a wealth of new roles and opportunities and really shaped how the industry has evolved over the past twenty years to solve problems using technology at a continually increasing pace. One thing I'm really proud of is the role I played in leading a committed Belfast team to drive public cloud adoption in a massive global organisation back in 2012. It took a lot of entrepreneurial effort and energy to gain the support that it was the right answer for the business at the time, as the public cloud was still seen by many as a risky choice. It’s been an amazing journey to see things evolve so quickly since. Roll forward ten years and you can see the wide levels of adoption, the breadth of use cases in business, and how the technology is behind everything in our digital-focused lives today.

q Can technology solve every problem?

Technology has the ability to help

enhance how we solve problems in the hands of people with the right skills. The main challenges today are that there are so many different technology options available, and you need to have the ability and expertise to look at each challenge with a fresh perspective, identifying the right solution for that particular business problem. Technology can help to solve every problem, but it needs the right mindset and approach.

q What inspired you to join PA

Consulting?

If I'm really honest, before I joined, I was very aware of PA as an organisation, but my knowledge was limited. When I first started talking to the PA leadership team, I was quite blown away by the way they approached the discussions and once I started to dig deeper and look under the skin, I was taken by the purpose and culture within PA. The company has gone through a lot of change in the last two to three years and with that change, it's driven a fresh approach to how it views itself and how it communicates. It’s always been very well respected by its clients but as a business, it hasn’t traditionally shouted loudly about its achievements. Everything is driven by our purpose to drive societal impact and change, and I think that's a really powerful purpose for anyone joining an organisation. Since joining I’ve experienced a very collaborative culture where we recognise and share our successes, we trust and empower our people to take on responsibility and work in an entrepreneurial way and most of all, to work, share and learn together. I can safely say I've enjoyed the last year thoroughly. I think it's been a great move for me, and I love the people that I


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working in an environment where everyone's out to succeed, being collaborative, and helping each other. That sort of environment is important for anyone new to an organisation especially someone starting out in employment. We've got structures in place to enable self-development, support, and mentorship at all levels and the ability to get involved in anything that drives your own personal ambitions. We want our people to share their knowledge and to be entrepreneurial and it's very much that freedom and empowerment in PA which I think is incredibly important.

q Are there opportunities within PA Consulting for people with non-stem backgrounds? Garry Carpenter

get to work with every day.

customers.

q What areas of PA Consulting’s work are you most excited to get involved with?

q PA Consulting has a well-established record for continuous improvement and personal development – how important is this for the business?

What I love about the organisation is the sense of purpose of what we're trying to do. There is a genuine drive to make an impact on society at large and there are many great examples of where PA is driving efforts to improve the environment and to make life easier for citizens in support of our client’s business objectives. We pride ourselves on our partnering approach and desire to deliver meaningful outcomes which I've seen resonate well with

I think it's incredibly important. We want all of our people to succeed, we want them to come in and be comfortable in who they are and to feel that they have the support network around them to achieve their goals and ambitions within the firm. More than that, we want our people to enjoy working here and have a bit of fun along the way. I think most people enjoy

Absolutely - having gone through the same journey myself. Technology has so many different types of jobs these days and I think you'll find if you can demonstrate how you can apply yourself you will have transferrable skills to bring into technology. We support clients across a whole range of industries and sectors who need support to solve complex business problems. To do this effectively we need diverse thinkers and that in itself opens up opportunities for people from all walks of life and backgrounds.

q What advice would

you give to students considering a career in NI’s technology sector? Technology is now a very

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big part of Northern Ireland. We are very much a tech hub that provides a breadth of opportunities for different skills in the local market. You can develop a long-lasting career locally whether it’s working on cutting-edge medical technology, building software to help people in need, or solving problems for big brands across the UK and globally. It really is a fantastic opportunity. Quite simply I would jump at it if I was a student today.

q What are the most exciting technological developments you expect to see in the future? I would probably argue that there are two things, I think one is clearly around the continued automation of technology, moving away from manual processes to use much more codified solutions. It's not new, but the extent to which that will continue to proliferate will really drive opportunities to simplify, go faster, and remove redundant manual approaches, and will ultimately save money and provide better user experiences for customers.

I think the other area is around data sharing. Creating scenarios where organisations start to share data and work together for the greater good could be very powerful. As security continues to improve, previous resistance will hopefully lessen to drive better answers that will benefit customers and citizens alike.


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Rakuten’s Marty Bell on DevOps and the Cloud Marty Bell

Sync NI meets Marty Bell, Chief Software Architect at Rakuten’s Blockchain Lab to talk all things DevOps and some of the challenges and opportunities developing in the Cloud q DevOps is a set

but also our production environments.

For context, from the very first days of the Rakuten Blockchain Lab we took the decision to host our services on public cloud rather than Rakuten's private data centres so it forced us to embrace that philosophy of integrating our development and operations and taking full ownership of both. This applied to not only the dev and test environments,

The core values and Principles of the Rakuten Group are embodied in Rakuten Shugi which includes the Five Principles for Success. One of those is "Shikumika" which roughly translates to "systemise". For DevOps that means we want to codify everything we do in creating capabilities that are repeatable and self service for the engineering teams. As much as possible we don't want to have tasks that are purely for DevOps to undertake as it adds friction and manual steps that can only slow down the engineering teams. The DevOps Vision Statement in Rakuten

of practices, tools, and a cultural philosophy that automate and integrate the processes between software development and IT teams. What does ‘Cultural Philosophy’ mean to you personally and Rakuten in general?

is "Be Relentless in Automation for Frictionless Engineering".

q DevOps engineers typically juggle between different tasks like coding, integrating, and testing requiring not to mention security and compliance. What do you consider to be the most important skill sets to be a successful DevOps engineer?

Almost anything you would say about a software engineer I would say applies to a DevOps engineer. An engineer's craft (broadly) is to design, build & test software to an agreed requirement, DevOps is no different. Certainly on


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the DevOps side I've seen the design part of that lifecycle get skipped, going straight from a request to implementation. That can seem straight forward enough however while the resulting script or package may work, it's usually not that reusable or maintainable and is just creating an issue for another day. Circling back on skillsets, you do need to be able to manage many spinning plates and context switch at the drop of a hat. The role is multi-faceted in that you have roadmap activities that are planned and then you have to react to supporting engineers or looking into issues in the toolchain or environments. Our goal is to spend more time on planned work and less on fire-fighting. Another trait you see in good DevOps engineers (and I'm stealing this line from someone else) is that they are lazy in a good way! That is to say they hate repetition, and will naturally optimise/ automate the things they do and not get stuck doing rinse/ repeat activities manually. Finally, I would say that a DevOps engineer needs to be considered and trusted by the engineering teams. That's because they have elevated privileges to environments / tool chains which means there is always the risk that they could do a lot of damage if some something goes wrong. A cool head and a steady hand

are essential. We have to trust they know what they're doing!

q What would you

consider the most impactful developments in DevOps in recent years? The most impactful thing I can think of in this space would be the Self Service model created by the Cloud Providers and more specifically a programmable Cloud with APIs that has completely transformed how we provision and manage the infrastructure and runtimes for our applications. This in turn has fostered the plethora of infrastructure as code solutions that are available to DevOps to make provisioning infrastructure repeatable, consistent and managed in the same way we release code. Now we can cut a release that contains both code and infrastructure changes all tagged in a git repo

On the application side, containerisation has lead to teams being able to package their runtime dependencies with their applications and using Kubernetes deploy those applications at scale. This is just not possible without a strong DevOps capability to support it. We also now have DevSecOps, where we are integrating vulnerability scanning and security compliance into our pipelines. For example, we can security scan our docker images within our CI/ CD pipelines and schedule regular scanning/analysis of our environments for vulnerabilities. This will

generate insights and lead to action plans.

q Running on Cloud can have its challenges, what challenges have you experienced and how have you resolved them? The most common issue we run into while running on cloud is that the network is essentially unreliable. When you are running a microservice based architecture with lots of service-toservice interactions, it can be really impacting when intermittent failures occur. We have spent a lot of time implementing retry logic across our service interactions as typically these network errors tend to be transient and very short lived, but designing for failure is key to running on cloud.

When we implemented retry logic we quickly realised this is only possible if the services are idempotent because a failure doesn't necessarily mean a request failed, in some cases like a timeout, we just don't know. Without idempotency, were services will only ever perform a given action once, you run the risk that a retry performs the action twice which can be much worse than failing. We also introduced the concept of housekeepers that will monitor certain critical processes on the platform and take action if they identify a failure scenario occurring. The rate of Change of Cloud Services is also an important factor to consider. While

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you try not to get sticky to your cloud, it's difficult to justify rolling your own solutions for services that come pre-canned by your cloud provider. We use many different Azure services some of which have a high rate of change in the capabilities and supported versions. For example, the Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) will generally increment major versions twice a year, so keeping within a supported version can be time consuming. For those services (like AKS) we try to isolate them from a provisioning and runtime perspective so that we can build out replacement infrastructure and services alongside the existing platform and swap out old for new instances without impacting the overall platform or incurring downtime. It’s all about seeing the shear points in your architecture and isolating them.

q What advice would you

give to anyone considering a career in Cloud / DevOps? If you are considering this as a career then obviously a foundation in good engineering practices will stand you in good stead, and if you like learning new things you won't be disappointed, the rate of change and innovation on the Cloud platforms is head melting at times. Looking at the market, there is a lack of good DevOps out there to fulfil demand and a good DevOps is worth their weight in gold so it is a really good place to be right now.


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Q&A with Liberty IT’s Jonathan White Sync NI sat down for a Q&A with Jonathan White, Senior Director of Engineering at Liberty IT q After graduating in Computer

Science from Ulster University you embarked on a fascinating career working with some of the largest global tech companies. Can you tell us a bit about your journey so far?

Yes, it’s been quite a journey and difficult to believe it has been 25+ years. After studying Computer Science, I graduated in the mid 90's and moved to Dublin to work for Lotus Development. The Celtic Tiger was in full swing in Ireland at that point and Dublin was thriving with new tech start-ups. I was a huge fan of the Netscape Browser, and they were recruiting in Dublin for SW Engineers, so I applied. Fortunately, I was successful and shortly after joining spent time in Mountain View, California training up on their server products. The Leadership of Netscape created an incredible culture that was way ahead of its time. It was centred around employees bringing their whole selves to work, so they could be at their most creative. After an incredible experience in the US, I returned to Dublin to help with building out the teams who would be working on the Netscape server products. Still in start-up mode it was an amazing opportunity to try many different roles and gain broad experience and exposure. I quickly learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone continually challenging myself, learning and gaining experience. Netscape were then acquired by AOL in 1998 and this was also a pivotal moment in that it created the opportunity for me to transition from Software Engineering to Technical

Management. After 10 years working for Netscape/AOL in Dublin I moved back to Belfast to take up a Technical Management role at Citi. At the time Fintech was gathering momentum in Belfast and having worked on the AOL Personal Finance Channel I was excited to be stepping into Equites Technology and the Electronic Trading space. With the MiFID (markets in financial instruments directive) regulations changing the trading landscape it was a very exciting time to be getting involved in FinTech and one that I relished. After holding several senior positions at Citi, I was appointed the Equites Technology Site Lead in Belfast. After an incredible 10 years at Citi growing the Equities Technology footprint in Belfast to over 200 people, I was ready for my next challenge and accepted the Senior Director of Engineering role at Liberty IT in 2018. I had always admired the engineering culture at Liberty IT and its commitment to a first-class employee experience, so it has been a career ambition fulfilled to work for the company.

q Working across so many different industries, what do you describe as some of your most memorable projects?

I must start by saying that some of my most memorable projects have not always been a roaring success, but they are memorable because I learned a lot from the experience and that has been invaluable throughout my career. At the start of my career getting to work for Netscape on their server products and help grow the Dublin operation was a highlight. At Citi growing the Equities

Technology footprint in Belfast and navigating teams through the financial crisis and the MiFID 1 and 2 regulations also stands out. At Liberty IT continuing to evolve our rich engineering heritage and ensuring we remain a great place to work is a great source of pride and something I take very seriously.

q In your current role as a senior director of engineering what or who was it that attracted you to join Liberty IT?

Liberty IT has an incredibly strong reputation as one of the pioneers of the Tech sector in NI, and it has always a been a career ambition to work for the company. Liberty IT has a 25-year engineering heritage that is second to none and a commitment to employee experience that I believe is unrivalled in the industry. As a mutual company our strategic direction is entirely vested in our customers and the core values of the company align closely with my own.

q What would you consider to be the most rewarding aspects of your role?

First and foremost, it would have to be the incredibly talented people I get to work with at Liberty IT - I feel very fortunate to be able to learn from them every day. Engineering is part of our DNA and I feel extremely proud to be part of that 25-year heritage. At Liberty IT we get the opportunity to use the latest technologies to solve complex business problems for a global Fortune 100 company – Liberty Mutual. It’s incredibly motivating when you know that the work that we do is having a direct impact for the business and adding tremendous value for


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challenge myself to take the next step in my career.

q If you could spend a day shadowing one person in the global tech sector who might that be and why? I think it would have to be Marc Andressen who is an American entrepreneur, investor and co-founder of Netscape. Marc is a true pioneer in the industry and has invested in many successful companies including, Facebook, GitHub, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter. It would be truly fascinating to get his insights for a day!

Jonathan White

our customers. I am also incredibly proud to be part of a company that is committed to being a workplace that is inclusive and diverse. The tremendous work of our Employee Resource Groups is a great example of this commitment, and as the Executive Sponsor for LIT Giving, I love that we can support local charities through the incredible generosity of our employees.

q The insurance technology sector is continually evolving. What new developments do you think will have the greatest positive impact our lives in the future? There has never been more disruption in the Insurance industry, and whether it is more frequent extreme

weather events, cyberattacks or the pandemic our customers are experiencing more risk which in turn affects their insurance premiums. Consumer expectations have never been higher in terms of digital services, particularly in the finance and insurance industries. Customers demand digital first, and for their experiences to be intuitive and frictionless. With challenge comes opportunity and while the risk and expectations are increasing, the capabilities of the technologies that allow us to meet those needs are also increasing. Whether it’s Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics, or telematics we need to be embracing these technologies to maintain

a competitive edge for our business.

q Is there anyone you can think of who has been instrumental in the development of your career?

I have been extremely fortunate to work with some incredible leaders during the last 25 years who have helped me shape my career. As I transitioned from software engineering into leadership in the early 2000’s I had a manager called Aengus McClean who was just a fantastic role model and someone I learned a lot from. Throughout my career I have always sought out coaches and mentors who I know I could learn from and help me gain the confidence to

q For anyone considering a career with Liberty what advice would you give to them?

If you want to be part of a high performing engineering team, where we solve problems and add business value for a global Fortune 100 company, then you’re looking in the right place. At Liberty IT we are looking for people who are passionate about problem solving, curious about their domain and willing to challenge themselves. You need to be a team player with a growth mindset who is committed to continuous learning and improvement. In line with our commitment to being an inclusive and diverse workplace, we welcome people from all backgrounds, industries, and experiences. Being able to leverage this diversity of thought and background drives our creativity and we believe gives us a competitive edge.


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Laying the foundations for a cyber resilient future Jason Ward, Vice President and Managing Director, Dell Technologies Ireland and Northern Ireland discusses how to lay the foundations for a cyber resilient future

 Author

Jason Ward

With citizens, governments, and businesses more dependent than ever on digital connectivity, one of the most pressing sectoral issues for this decade is cybersecurity.

protect themselves against the ever-growing cybersecurity threat must be a priority for public sector recovery strategists, in the months and years ahead.

While this issue has been in the public consciousness for some time now, there is still a wide perception gap between business leaders who consider cyber security a priority, and the lack of implementation of security strategies within their own organisations.

The convergence of a proactive and reactive digital resilience strategy is now imperative across organisations, businesses, and industries – cybersecurity defences alone are no longer enough. Organisations need to integrate resilience into all areas of their business’s digital transformation planning and operations. This was a key focus of the Dell Technologies Forum, which we hosted at the Convention Centre in Dublin on September 27th.

The reality is that cybercrime is showing no signs of slowing down, posing risks across all aspects of society. In 2021, ransomware attacks were up 150% globally and more than 80% of experts say this growth is now threatening public safety. In Northern Ireland, cybercrime is estimated to cost businesses £4,180 on an annual basis. These statistics demonstrate the gravity and prevalence of cybercrime today. The question is, as we focus on global recovery, and a new era of economic growth, how do we protect against cyber threats? In order to deliver on globally ambitious designs of digital inclusion, sustainability, improved health outcomes, defence, and much more for the economies of tomorrow; cyber resiliency is a key building block and enabler. The adverse financial impacts involved with cybercrime are seismic, and unsustainable for economies to absorb long-term. It's no secret that advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and IoT are the key building blocks for future progress, but perhaps ironically, it’s these same technologies that can present new opportunities for cybercriminals. The ultimate challenge will be securing such technologies and enabling more resilient, long-term solutions to the threats posed by cybercriminals. To make this vision a reality, the need for collaboration and support between the public and private sectors has never been more vital. SME cyber support vital for the wider economy Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of local economies. Yet they increasingly find themselves the target of cyberattacks. 48% of SMEs in Northern Ireland have reported cyber security breaches or attacks in the past year, with 29% not having the right level of cyber protection in place, relying on security products that are designed to protect consumers rather than businesses. It is essential that we work to support and protect such businesses, particularly as we look to build more resilient, balanced societies. SMEs, unlike other businesses, often require and are entitled to greater government support and nurture. Governments that recognise SMEs as integral to a truly flourishing society will empower and deliver the most economic progress. Helping these smaller organisations

Public to private sector empowerment It is now more important than ever that public sector infrastructure empowers business resilience to help identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover from a cyberattack and enable a rapid return to fully functioning operations. Even with strong cyber defences in place, it’s impossible for companies to avoid all cyber disasters and their resultant, adverse impacts on data, privacy, and trust. Therefore, the key objective should be developing a cyber resilience strategy that can anticipate and quickly recover from significant disruption. One essential component of such resilience is to create and implement thorough cybersecurity training exercises amongst the workforce. This not only prepares employees to identify security risks and lures, but also heightens awareness and reinforces the need for teamwork, skills, and collaboration across the whole organisation. Given the fast pace of digital transformation and the everevolving nature of cyber threats, there is also a need to ensure even closer links between Government and industry so that Northern Irish businesses and the public sector can remain one step ahead of any cyber threats before they emerge. As innovation transforms our economy, helping it to meet pressing challenges in areas ranging from education to justice to health, so too should our cyber resilience strategies be evolving to ensure the continuity of these vital services. By adopting a proactive, collaborative and unified approach to cyber resilience, we can turbocharge our long-term economic prosperity and innovation, creating a more agile and resilient infrastructure that provides the digital defences crucial to Northern Ireland’s recovery. The Dell Technologies Forum on September 27th at The Convention Centre in Dublin featured a Q&A session with data scientist Christopher Wylie, best known for his role in setting up – and then taking down – the cyberwarfare firm Cambridge Analytica, this was an unmissable event for business leaders looking to enhance their cyber resiliency, unlock new growth opportunities and accelerate the pace of their digital transformation.


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