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Remaining constant through change

February 25, 2019
Scott Workman

It’s one of the ‘constants’ of modern business that tech is changing everything.

The issue isn’t so much around if new technology can change the way we do something (spoiler: the answer is yes, always) but whether we can actually keep up with the pace of change – and prevent the so called ‘digital divide’ splitting those up-to-date with the new way of doing things, and those getting left further behind.

C5 Alliance is one of the island’s biggest tech firms, and has itself been at the centre of its own major changes in the last year, with a new CEO, and an acquisition by BDO.

The new man at the helm is used to leading large organisations through a potentially disruptive period, having spent 37 years in the British Army, before taking up the role of COO with a company charged with delivering all of the Ministry of Defence’s information capability, including everything from tactical radios through to supporting the nuclear firing chain.

Express spoke to Scott Workman, the new CEO of C5, about the challenges facing both his business, and the island’s critical tech sector…

“As part of that digital transformation for the Ministry of Defence, I learnt a lot. I saw what was good and what worked and, more importantly, what didn’t work.  So, in terms of the journey that we’re on with BDO following the recent acquisition and the growth strategy that we’ve got, there are a lot of lessons that I can bring, a lot of experiences I can bring to that transformation journey to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes and that we target the right technology strategy going forward.

We’ve got a technology strategy which we’re driving, that’s got four practices to it. There’s a cyber practice, as you would expect any company these days to be focussed on security, a data practice. Again, data is the new oil in terms of value, so we have got really good capability there.

We have a Cloud practice.  There’s a lot talked about Cloud, I’m not sure people necessarily understand that, but we are developing that and seeking to deliver a really good solution, depending on what our clients want.  Finally, an application development practice.  Again, we’ve already got good capability there, but we’re seeking to deliver more innovation for our clients and also for the local community.

So, for me, as a leader coming in, both with the quality of the people we’ve got and the funding to invest to develop those, it’s really a positive tale.”

What opportunities fall out of that and what are the threats?

“In terms of technology these days, it’s very much on the boardroom agenda now, it’s something, if boardrooms aren’t engaging with, they need to.  As a technology leader, we aspire to be trusted partners, so we want to be part of that conversation with all our clients, helping them with their strategy going forward.  If they don’t understand that technology, if they don’t quite know where the threats or the disruption might come from, we’re there to help them and to assist them.

Our strapline is, ‘advise, build, run,’ and we have that capability across our organisation and we’re seeking to strengthen our offerings within those four practices that I talked about.

In terms of the threats, from our side, it’s around how we get more quality people into the island.  I think that is not just unique to us, it’s about making sure that you can recruit and retain good quality people.  We already do attract the high end of the technical side, we’re seeking to continue to do that.

We’re developing our employee proposition to make sure that we are the go-to organisation for people to work in technology in the Channel Islands.  So, that is probably the biggest threat to us, just whether we continue to get resources, but we’re very confident that we can offer a good proposition in the marketplace.”

What do you think can be done to ease the recruitment problem?

“I think we probably undersell ourselves, because the digital expertise that I’ve seen here in C5 is quite exceptional.  I mean, if I had a TARDIS and I could take C5 back in time, drop it in at the start of my transformation journey for the Ministry of Defence, you know, I’m confident I could’ve delivered that programme in half the time for half the cost.

To have that capability on-island, I don’t think we shout enough about that, I don’t think it’s necessarily understood.  We are at least on a level playing field with anywhere in the UK that I’ve experienced, and, in some areas, we’ve got some real expertise.  So, I think we need to make more of that, we need to sell that, make sure that people outside who might be attracted to coming in can understand that, and I think we need to diversify.

So, I’ve come from the military, there are a lot of people who leave the military and are looking to transition, get commercial experience.  They’re very well qualified, particularly in the cyber area, so we need to target those areas and understand the market a little better, I think.

We’re looking, from our own company, as to how we might set up offices off-island so we can attract talent to there and then, with digital means, you know, operate remotely and bring people in for specific tasks.  So, there are ways around it, but I think we can do more.”

How serious is the recruitment problem? 

“I think it’s something that can be overcome. We’ve already got a lot of home-grown talent.  Again, I think we could do more there, and I know there are a lot of initiatives as to how we might develop that talent.  We, ourselves, take people straight from school, we sponsor people through university who come up with some really innovative ideas for us in terms of applications and other things.

So, I think all those things combined means it’s something that can be overcome.  I think you’re always going to have the challenge, particularly when people on-island want to go and spread their wings and then come back later, but if we get specific about how we target them, then I don’t think it’s a fundamental problem.  It’s one that can be overcome and we’re doing very well, but no room for complacency.”

What are the other big themes in the tech sector at the moment? 

“Well, I think technology, as people understand what it can do for them, is an opportunity for most of them.  So, they’re all seeking to make sure that their platforms are up-to-date, that they are, if not first adopters, at least on trend, so they don’t fall behind; and so, there’s lots of opportunity for us there to help in that ‘advise, build, run’ framework that I talked about.

Some really forward-thinking companies are looking at, not quite the bleeding edge, but potentially being first adopters and trying to exploit new capability earlier, to give them that advantage.  So, from our perspective, it really is quite rich in terms of work that’s out there, and opportunities to assist our clients to deliver their business.”

What about automation within the finance industry, is that an opportunity or a threat?  

“From my perspective, it’s an opportunity, providing you understand and react to the opportunity, otherwise it could quickly become a threat.  So, if you understand what’s coming down the pipeline, and that’s where we’d like to be in terms of a trusted partner, we can advise our clients on how to exploit that technology as it arrives.  I mean, it’s already here, it’s already providing productivity efficiencies.  As the technology improves and the associated data and analytics together with it improve, there’ll be more opportunity. What it will do is free up that discretionary effort from our people and allow them to focus on other things, so overall, I see it as far more of an opportunity than a threat.”

Do you think people in Jersey, generally, are ready for the scale of technological growth that we’re seeing at the moment?  

” Yes, I think so.  As I was saying earlier, the level of skill, particularly in the digital area, that is on-island, I think, is at least a level playing field, and in some areas, better than our UK counterparts, for example.

So, we can’t be complacent, but actually, we’re in a good space.  We need to keep all the initiatives going, but I think we’re well-placed and we shouldn’t undersell the capability that is on-island.  We need to keep growing it, we need to support Digital Jersey and other initiatives going forward, but providing we do that, you know, I don’t see that as a major risk.”

Is there sufficient investment in the digital sector in Jersey?

“Certainly, BDO are investing heavily in all of our capabilities.  As I say, we’re recruiting significantly, we’re investing in all those practices to deliver more of that.  So, certainly our clients, as well, are very keen to understand, potentially, the opportunities and also if there any threats, so we don’t see any underinvestment. Are the right issues being discussed at board level?  Perhaps not. Again, that’s where, at C5, we’d like to be that trusted partner, support people to bring those issues to light, so people can understand what the business opportunities and/or treats are and have the appropriate conversation at the right level.”

Jersey’s plan is to develop itself further as a digital centre.  Is that something you would say needs to be led by industry or by government?

“I think it’s a combination and, actually, I think the partnership here with Digital Jersey works really well.  I think the advantage here in Jersey is you can get the people around the table very quickly, you know, and government, I know from my previous experience, getting the right conversation at the right level is probably the most difficult thing.  I think Jersey has that ability to get the right stakeholders engaged very quickly.”

The full interview appears in Connect Magazine, which you can read in full here.

Photo Credit: Gary Grimshaw