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Get to know: Alastair Pooley, CIO at Snow Software

Get to know: Alastair Pooley, CIO at Snow Software

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

It would have to be the adoption and growth of public cloud at my last company. In 2013, the CTO and I decided we should focus on a ‘cloud first’ strategy, so I closed nine physical data centres and moved 80% of our customer-facing infrastructure to AWS. As a result, the business gained flexibility and an ability to grow rapidly that proved critical in allowing the huge growth rates the company subsequently enjoyed and its successful IPO.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

I’ve been interested in computers since my teenage years. My first job was with a local IT firm, building computers from scratch. This was during the early 90s, a time when we still had to assemble the components. It wasn’t until I was at university studying physics that I thought about it as a career.

I didn’t have any IT qualifications when I graduated. As there weren’t that many people with network or Internet experience, the ISP with whom I secured my first job was willing to take a gamble on people based on sheer interest.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

I believe it’s important to know what drives and inspires you and what will make coming into work every morning that bit easier. Once you work with your team to identity these key motivators, you can ensure that you’re managing them in a way that helps them perform to the best of their ability and supporting their career progression to deliver better staff retention.

What do you think will emerge as the technology trend of 2018 and why?

Data governance is becoming an increasingly important responsibility for the CIO, with GDPR on the immediate horizon. Ownership, insight and visibility will ultimately enable the CIO to have better discussions within the business and truly add real value.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

Fundamentally, we develop technology which helps provide visibility to our customers of software usage across the enterprise. We seem to always be looking at our toolset of how we build, test and operate our technology. We also invest heavily in our customer success; how we can better understand and support our customers. I think both of those areas are common to all companies developing software.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside of the office?

I’m an avid cave diver and underwater photographer. I am a keen traveller and enjoy new experiences, from Snowshoe hiking in the Alps, to dry caving in the UK.

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I’d give relationships and politics a greater focus – I’ve learnt, with hindsight, the importance of investing in relationships and keeping them current. Ensure that people are comfortable with the direction being taken; make sure that, when there are problems, people know they can come to you with them; invest time in getting to know the different stakeholders across the business to understand the role of IT across different business units and how it can help them achieve their goals. Ultimately, this is crucial and – especially with the rapid adoption of new technologies – needs constant attention.

What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Europe?

The regional challenge I face in Europe is the increased focus on privacy by design. With every new technology going through a data privacy impact assessment and security assessment, this has led to some suppliers being faced with tough questions. This is an outcome of the GDPR which has generated more awareness on privacy, which you can see with the recent Facebook revelations.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

CIOs are seeing a shift of budget for technology out of the IT team and into the business units, which has made owning financial control much harder. Marketing, for example, will purchase the technology that will enable it to achieve what it needs, but this makes it harder for the CIO to keep hold of the purse strings and be accountable for technology spend.

Gartner predicts that by 2020, large enterprises with a digital focus will see business unit IT increase to 50% of enterprise IT spending. This will further disrupt the traditional CIO role, requiring them to transition into the role of a consultant and influencer that works with business units to ensure they are getting the best value and not buying overlapping offerings.
Visibility will be crucial to achieving this. CIOs need insight into who is using what, what resources are unused across the business and how existing assets can be better optimised to deliver true value to the business units within budget.

What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?

IT is a technical role and you can spend a lot of time thinking about how it works. However, it’s the business element which is crucial for aspiring IT leaders to understand. Tech underpins everything, so you need to understand what value you can add to each business function, rather than how clever a piece of technology is.