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Ky Nichol – CEO at Cutover – An Interview

Ky Nichol – CEO at Cutover – An Interview

ANDREW MCLEAN [00:00:02] I’ve got a really special guest lined up for you today. Not only has this man worked in space, but he now runs this fabulous company called Cutover. What is Cutover? And how have things changed? Let’s talk a little bit about things like project management and chief operating officers and how they run things. But let’s bring on my guest. I’m absolutely delighted to be joined by Ky Nichol from Cutover. Ky, welcome. 

KY NICHOL [00:00:32] Thanks, Andy. Great to be here. 

ANDREW MCLEAN [00:00:35] It’s good to have you man, it’s good to have you. So Cutover, what is Culver? let’s start from the absolute beginning and how did you come up with it and how did you get involved? 

KY NICHOL [00:00:45] So we called Cutover a work orchestration observability platform. And the genesis of it really was about a frustration around how humans and machines collaborate in the future of work. We felt that we’ve got this strange thing going on, maybe almost since the industrial revolution, where humans have to kind of pretend to be like machines to interact with machines. We have to sort of kind of huddle in the operating of a command line or not having ways to interact that we would in a normal sort of human way. And we feel like there’s a huge gap here. The future of work, there’s a tremendous change happening, a wave of bringing in more automation. And I might do something in a flow of work. We might send off and have 10 servers powering away and do some analysis. And then Andy you may get your response back. Take a look at it, hand it back and we feel like this sort of waves coming. But there’s nothing to support us doing it at the moment when it’s intricate and fast paced and risky. People are using spreadsheets, phone calls and emails, and it’s just not coming together. There’s some pieces of my background in terms of I saw a glimpse of what some things could be like in the future, that I had a passion about making a change here with my team to form Cutover at the start. 

ANDREW MCLEAN [00:02:00] So I’m going to ask you the obvious question then, is this project management? 

KY NICHOL [00:02:07] So I would say project management is a huge discipline and it covers many sins in some respects. And I was very fortunate worked on London 2012 Olympics. And if you think of that as a project, you kind of had design going on so ADS before the games. You had a lot of digging, demolishing, building stuff, and then you had the real fast pace of the bumping, bumper getting all the events ready, getting people into them, having a great time changing stuff around and running the whole orchestration of that sort of thing. And those different disciplines are huge. And we’d say that the were really interested in is that sort of fast-paced membrane between the new stuff being brought and alive and operating it really effectively because we saw that’s where the biggest spike of risk occurs. And we feel it really it felt more and more the future of work was about that kind of thing. And so we’re more focussed on that sort of implementation with resilience and getting the change right as it goes over the line in a very intricate and high-risk situation. 

ANDREW MCLEAN [00:03:14] It’s really interesting. So this idea of operational resilience. So you got the CEO and I believe the CEO has got some real responsibilities for keeping things going. I mean, how. What’s the mandate here for a CEO on operational resilience? 

KY NICHOL [00:03:34] Well, a lot of these folks have got an awful lot on the line when they’re staying to sort of the customers, regulators and various other bits that they’re going to maintain operations. And those operations are pretty critical. You might say, OK, well, I’ve paid for a service, It’s kind of gone down. That’s not so bad. But there are some bits of services for various bits around the globe that are massively critical, like, strangely enough, the thread Lorries for many supermarkets are conserved critical national infrastructure. If they don’t operate right, certain areas of the country don’t get food and horrible things happen. So these critical bits of infrastructure like can you draw money out of an ATM? Can you clear cash and markets are pretty critical. And if the CEO or COO heads of operational risk, who own the risk for these things. And in some cases, these people could go to jail if risk isn’t appropriately handled they need to get that sort of risk right. And if they’re giving that accountability to get it right, to often their technology functions and things like that, they’ve got to be able to really show they can handle these risks in very volatile environments. I think we’ve seen some of those recently and we see a lot of good stuff play out in terms response to that, too. 

ANDREW MCLEAN [00:04:52] Well, Ky, my researchers have given me an interesting statement that they’d heard you say that this current situation, this current pandemic, was the largest agile project the world has ever seen, which is a fascinating term, can you explain? 

KY NICHOL [00:05:13] Yes, I think there’s a there’s a lot in that in terms of you have to, I love the agile mentality of sort of iterating quickly. I don’t think it’s an excuse for some people pile into agile, but not documenting anything, not having any structure that’s not the case at all. It’s about setting it out what you do know, testing hypotheses and moving forward. And I think that we’ve certainly seen that in COVID on a large scale with a sort of the vaccine trials, how effective masks are. Not all of those great pieces of work coming together. I do also think it’s the largest global operational risk event that we’ve seen in most people’s memories prior to that was probably World War two or something like that. But for people executing on their resilience playbooks and an understanding operation resilience. This has sort of been the first time to really call it down. I think we’ve certainly seen the best of some companies and how they have reacted to this. And I think there is an opportunity to sort of have this instability, to lead some organisations to thrive and expect that it’s going to be around, rather than expecting that we’re going to dust this one under the carpet. It’ll all be good. And then we’ll just go back to the way it was before. I think that that probably is not going to be the case. 

ANDREW MCLEAN [00:06:28] Okay, so let’s talk a little bit by yourself. How did you get into all this? First of all, do you want to tell the audience a little bit about your background, because you’ve got a really interesting career path that’s brought you to Cutover. Tell us a little bit about that. 

KY NICHOL [00:06:43] Yeah, Andy no worries! I originally started out doing some things in the space industry. I wasn’t launching rockets or anything like that. I did some undergrad work with NASA on sort of maths on micrometeorite impacts and the Earth orbit in case of things could fly into the shuttle back when the shuttle was flying regularly. And that’s sort of thing. Now spend a lot more time with the European Space Agency on International Space Station, work with an incredible team there. And it was great to sort of see how we would integrate across sort of Ros, Cos, Mos and the Russians. And you had NASA data coming in and then JAXA with the good recent stuff and then Canadian robotic arm and sort of had to put all that together. What I loved in that industry was the live telemetry of a critical event when something was going on. You kind of knew by the superfine granular detail of what was happening where, that mission control built to manage the risk. And I also loved the fact that it was automation from day one, rocket fully automated flight. There’s no way you’d can of strap the astronaut in and say, sort of you’re going to fly that thing into orbit. Rockets too volatile. You just get that wrong. You don’t get to the wrong orbit. And so it’s fully automated. And I know that caused a lot of people to panic at the beginning where the astronauts far more there to sort of catch the unintended consequences of automation, be there for leadership, creativity and innovation, and particularly if something goes slightly wrong and be able to do the experimentation up there. And I absolutely adored that. Then came to work as a tech consultant in the Enterprise, and saw loads of gaps from considering that grace, harmonious way of working a human-machine, seeing the great life telemetry. And that often wasn’t the case in a number of major enterprises. And then through fustration there and seeing sort of people trying to plan technology change, having to get some 5000 line spreadsheets from antiquated systems of record to plan what was going to go live next week. The best trick was to use control F to be able to find whether a tech chain was going to going to go on a Teleco system or not. When you wanted to protect that because it was an earnings call and then the execution of it, there was a lot of cool, super cool automation. But for a large Fortune 500, a lot of controls, there was no way to sort of protect and make sure that a developer wasn’t accidentally going to turn this thing over to being public and cause a vulnerability. And you could marry the controls with the pace. And so the execution wasn’t very well enabled. And so with those two frustrations. We thought we’ve got to be to provide a better world here. And so we quit jobs, pulled our savings, built a prototype and sort of had a shot at it. And thanks to fantastic mentors and great organisations like the Barclays TechStars Accelerator Programme, London FinTech Innovation Lab and the fantastic New York FinTech innovation lab who had a fostered path to sort of learn a value proposition to support these fantastic financial institutions. On the points that we bought today. 

ANDREW MCLEAN [00:09:44] And you’ve done incredibly well. I mean, it’s been a great story. The Cutover story Ky, you’ve been a fantastic guest. Thank you very much.