Impossible Things with David Terrar S1 E9
DAVID TERRAR [00:00:34] Hi, this is David Terra for Impossible Things with David Terrar, and if you’re wondering why it’s called that. It’s actually partly to do with Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, where anything, any technology that sufficiently advanced looks like magic, and partly because the queen in Alice through the Looking Glass does 6 impossible things before breakfast. So we love impossible stuff. And this is Episode 9. And I’m delighted to say this one’s going to be an interesting thing to do with the role of the CIO. And I think that in the CIO role. You actually meet a lot of CIOs are really I.T. Directors. I’m going to introduce you to a CIO that is at the other end of that scale. One of the best COOs you’ll find. I’d love to introduce Finbarr Joy from Superbet, Finbarr hi and tell us what you do in Superbet?
FINBARR JOY [00:01:24] Oh, hi. Hi. Thank you. Marvellously flattering introduction. Thank you.
DAVID TERRAR [00:01:30] You deserve it.
FINBARR JOY [00:01:30] 25 years in technology now from developer to consultant, start-up co-founder across the “customer” of the corporate world around 11 years ago, 5 digital transformations and now as CTO/CIO. More recently, I move in the advisory space where I’m working with Superbet.
DAVID TERRAR [00:01:48] So you’re a Senior Advisor now?
FINBARR JOY [00:01:52] Yeah.
DAVID TERRAR [00:01:53] Tell us a bit about some of the transformations you’ve done. Yeah.
FINBARR JOY [00:01:57] Lucky enough to have experienced media and advertising, sports betting, telco, “deal with BT”, William Hill, “Labara”, Superbet. There’s a common thread to all its the need to reposition an incumbent I.T. team. This is typically a saga of both divisions trying to establish new combined goals based on digital outcomes. Typically about impressing test and learn approaches to product evolution, establishing deeper software capability and proposition development, and always pushing “best” to free the next inhibit the ability to release on demand.
DAVID TERRAR [00:02:36] Now you’ve got some controversial things to say about the role of the CIO where it’s heading. Tell us a bit about how you think the role is changing today.
FINBARR JOY [00:02:46] Well, I guess I would hope, you know, that role, whether it’s CIO or CTO, probably budget CTO more often than budget CIO. That role, you know, the accountability hold of attack should be increasingly responsible for business development. And I think that’s abundantly true for those especially leading digital companies. So, you know, insure responsible business development powered by technology. I think the role used to be a mediator between typically an IT department in those inverted commas under business and those “inverted” commerce. While configuration is still common, I would think, you know, these its days are numbered. Certainly, I hope so.
DAVID TERRAR [00:03:29] So tell me. What’s your approach to doing the digital transformation thing that everyone’s involved in at the moment? Tell me how you go about that.
FINBARR JOY [00:03:42] So yeah how long have we got?
DAVID TERRAR [00:03:46] I’ve got loads of questions that we’re gonna fill up in 25 minutes.
FINBARR JOY [00:03:48] Yeah, yeah. You know, general sequence, you know, before doing anything. You’ve got to find out. So there’s always a period of analysis and understanding and engagement with the teams, maturing this ownership of all levels need to understand the right direction for the particular organisation. For this, you know, certainly I found “one ting mapping an absolute godsend for that “…professions…” pursue, you know, from X technology. Why? You know, that’s how the valley rolls. That’s what we’re going to do. So now that approach certainly is common. And I found it very profound. And then once on the way, identifying the moments that, you know, make those more difficult culture changes happen. So, you know, promoting engineering excellence, you know, genuinely encouraging the ability to test and learn. The implication being that everything you try will work because, you know, necessarily experimenting now. So, you know, walking the walk on all of those with the teams.
DAVID TERRAR [00:04:49] And obviously, in your experience, I mean, you’ve moved companies from like a 18 month to year go to market to 4 to 6 weeks is what it is kind of thing now, isn’t it?
FINBARR JOY [00:05:00] Yeah, exactly. And I think that is increasingly the expectation. You know, again, the contrast with the, you know, the former world of media asking an I.T. team as if it was a supplier for something and then expect that the delivery of that something small, those participants are now members of a combined team and able to, you know, hit business targets. What do we expect to achieve within the next four to six weeks? What’s our overall goal in terms of performance for the next year or so? Well, okay. Assuming we can agree some targets on that, then how do we test that within the next 4 to 6 weeks? So always looking to be implementation driven. And the implementation drive the reality of what we’re doing rather than the old world of you know, hope. And if you like, you continue to promise against a very, very long term roadmap that typically always proved difficult.
DAVID TERRAR [00:05:58] It’s not long projects anymore. Now, you mentioned teams there, and I know you got some views on the way the blended teams should work. So tell us a little bit about that.
FINBARR JOY [00:06:07] So, yeah, ideally, it’s, you know, making collaboration straightforward. So that’s typically the most difficult thing when you’re away with with in any kind of digital transformation, especially, then it becomes evident that you need these people who have this 18 bucks to these people who got typically commercial budgets and marketing budgets. And now we need them to work pretty much in real time rather than, you know, one group to another group or set of questions and then come back in 2 or 3 weeks time, whether it was a design or a plan. So how do we make that straightforward to do so, there is something of a habitability in there. And fewer organisational boundaries are the easier that is to do. So I think there’s there’s a bit of a tension with the old world of the functional teams versus, you know, if you’re pursuing digital and you are looking for customer feedback driven development of your product and you need to be able to react in that in a timely fashion, if not real time. That’s gonna be really difficult to mobilize where your spending requests across teams and why you go as running between those teams. So assuming about that structure that means they’re in as much as possible, the same team together, whatever those disciplines are. And they’re now what the customer outcome.
DAVID TERRAR [00:07:29] So product team with all the disciplines in it from end to end?
FINBARR JOY [00:07:32] As far as possible. You know, I always hesitate to recommend some form of template, but, you know, whatever it takes to make collaboration straightforward. And what what other mechanism? Another another very. How are that mechanism, by the way, is that the moment you form that kind of team, then you get very, very good at prioritisation. So, again, in the old I.T. world, it’s every other central I.T. team that’s dealing with, you know, several, many, many business divisions and all of their requests trying to be funnelled into this this unit. When you decide that you’re only going to do two or three things, you get very, very good at which of the two or three things that matter and what leverage you are going to get out of this was off rather than, again, the traditional more of a liability team trying to deliver, you know, several projects in parallel. Multitasking cross them. Also known really works very, very effectively.
[00:08:24] Excellent. And obviously, the forefront of this is it is of about being customer centric, isn’t that right?
[00:08:30] Yeah. And, you know, viewing it genuinely from the customer’s perspective, an outside in perspective. So I think the more traditional perspective was, you know, how can we meet what we think they want? And then we kind of translate. It was always this translation mediation. Yeah, live and breathe as the customer. So imagine you could do the most amazing thing for them. That is possible. You know, in a lot of time, that conversation will, you know, imagine you could do the best thing possible for your customer to meet that life. The most convenient possible. It’s once you sat down that conversation, it’s usually the case that you bump up against something which starts to cannibalise your business, actually. And I think that does a real recognition moment. “That I want” digital transformation is about. It’s kind cannibalising your business and it will be a threat to your competitors as well. So it’s having the you know, the intestinal fortitude, if you like, the organisation “the test of the fortitude” to cross that chasm and pursue that change, making the customer’s life as best as it possibly can be.
DAVID TERRAR [00:09:36] Excellent. Now, obviously, there are certain technologies and approaches that earn enablers to that kind of approach that you’re talking about. Tell us about those.
FINBARR JOY [00:09:46] Yeah. Again, you know, the world changes so fast, doesn’t it? So, again, you know, the moment you name anything, it’s out of date. You know, well, I’m not driven by specific technology to certain patterns. So the whole pattern, whether you call it Cloud, massive micro services. But that pattern of built, you know, boiling everything down to its components, its individual components. We’ve been trying to do that for the entirety of my career for the last few years. It’s abundantly more straightforward so that we’re bringing in my career. We had this thing called CORBA. You know, there were a few rocket scientists to a very good. Now distributed computing as a service, we can commission from the Cloud providers. And you still absolutely need to know about distributed computing to work with it. But the environment is abundant the more straightforward. So we can now do parallel processing. And that parallel processing gave us big data and not big data gave us Machine Learning. So, you know, all of these things are abundantly available to us now. So trying to take advantage of where is the leading edge right now, one of the opportunities for that. But in parallel, absolutely. During the mapping exercise that there is about how does our business model need to change? And then the tech is a follow on to power that rather than let’s go Cloud and see what a difference it makes to our business.
DAVID TERRAR [00:11:00] Yes, exactly. Now, I’ve heard you say some disparaging things about dev ops as an approach. Tell me about that.
FINBARR JOY [00:11:08] So the dev ops movement, by the way, has been extremely good to me. So you know, I’ve got no beef with the government. But I guess I’m frustrated somewhat by how some enterprises have embraced dev ops. So, you know, the philosophy that dev ops is inarguable. You know, certainly through the 2000s, I spent most of my life wrestling with the problem of the last mile into production. We are doing in terms of our job delivery, et cetera, and speeding all of that up the last mile was always a nightmare. And of course, days, you know, the dev op’s movement has solved all of that and then dev ops in companion with the technology to us. That’s especially in Cloud means it’s now available it’s now possible to release on demand. And, you know, you’ve got the benchmark of Amazon releasing Cloud every 11 seconds. So, you know, the dev ops movement are profoundly agree with what I want to find problematic as the response in some enterprises has been to create a separate team responsible for dev ops, which personally for me is kind of contrary to what we were looking to achieve. It’s that the team producing the software should go all the way through into life rather than providing yet another barrier, when in some of these enterprises are already too many barriers, organisational barriers and not path to life.
DAVID TERRAR [00:12:26] Yes, it’s another silo in that context.
FINBARR JOY [00:12:29] It’s an unfortunate interpretation.
DAVID TERRAR [00:12:32] Interesting. Now, a lot of this change we’re talking about involves the structure of an organisation and the culture of an organisation. So tell us a bit about the issues around how the structure, the organisation get in the way of this kind of thing you’re talking about?
FINBARR JOY [00:12:53] You know, the chronic problem is, you know, the functional silos. You know, the most usual scenario is that an organisation has decided it’s going digital, but it hasn’t yet lived the consequences of that. So at the same time that it’s going digital, it still has a programme “full amp”. So it’ll be a life programme planners, typically lots of pieces of work committed for the next year or two. And then at the same time, it’ll say now we’re going digital. So, you know, people are expected to deliver against these plans that they’re already wired to, which are typically met. Some very difficult commitments, not usually underpinned because they’re all based on shared resources. You really can’t depend that estimate. You’re get into that all better if we release whatever. So then you get a quality outcome from that. And then at the same time, you’ve got a whole conversation talking about to collaborate more. But, you know, in some organisations, it’s not always the case that they create the environment to make that collaboration easy. So, you know, that stops the culture from developing the collaboration culture, from developing with the best will in the world, keeping up the best intent. But if the organisation is not freeing up those teams to be able to do this or dedicating the investment to do this, then it’s unlikely you’re gonna get the collaborative outcome. And similarly, living and breathing, the culture of experimentation. You know, the number of digital transformation plans, you’ll see that a goal in a fixed linear timescales. You know, I would suggest that if it’s going to fix linear timescale, it’s unlikely to be a transformation because you probably you’re saying is right now, I know what’s going to do to throw our industry in one or two years. If you knew that, you know, you’d be in a very good place. But typically not during during the roll you’re doing. None of those would be. So you’re inevitably going to test and learn your way to finding the thing that’s the perfect for your market, which means it’s gonna be more about what performance improvements you can make within timescales rather than say, I’m going to deliver product X by this time, I’m going to raise conversion by X percent in this time. I’m going to raise, you know, position where the commitments about the outcomes, not about, you know, an hour, but truly thing that’s an output.
DAVID TERRAR [00:15:14] And obviously, that’s the way that you avoid being a blockbuster or “Nayoka Oware”, you know, within a very short space of time, you can go from hero to zero. Now, I’ve seen one of your slides, actually you’re highlighting the fact that even the physical layout of an office block of the building kind of reflects the command and control structure and some of the problems that get in your way.
FINBARR JOY [00:15:36] Exactly. And it’s, you know, that was really relating to, you know, why does I.T. find itself in the position it’s seen in so many organisations.
DAVID TERRAR [00:15:43] In the basement?
FINBARR JOY [00:15:46] Yeah. I mean, you know, it is historical fact. You know, unless I’m an I.T. practitioner, so I’m not pointing fingers it’s me and my colleagues. But you know, it’s a fact. You know, we’ve got to accept that there is often a poor perception of I.T. and it reflects from that world when it was this unit in the basement with a big old machine that nobody does touch the difficult characters. Yeah. A world away from the world that we’re in now. But surprisingly, a surprising number of organisations have not broken out of that pattern. You know, it kind of even the very structure of the buildings kind of imposed that, you know that worldview, which was unfortunate. So, you know, this kind of chronic imposter syndrome, which the whole profession is gone. You know, alignment. How do we align “our I.T.”? Which just, you know, always completely “banjaxes me” in terms of, you know what, why are we standing up and saying this when no other part of the business is volunteering “not”?
DAVID TERRAR [00:16:54] No, no. As you rightly say it, you know, it’s the I.T. membership organisations themselves, you know, promote the same silly concept.
FINBARR JOY [00:17:02] “…a” promoter. So, you know, it’s a two headed beast. And you know, the business, if you can have that terminology, has got to do its part and, you know, show willing and invest in, you know, come over to the side of being, you know, technology literate, you know, so maybe on a business opera and I work in operations in my business. Now I realise that a large part of my practise and my role on my team is will be in analytics. Whereas in the old world, I used to rely on a business information team that’s not centrally and they’d send me some reports once a week. Now I own analytics. It’s inside my team. Maybe I’m an analytics professional and that’s how I prove I’m grid operations. So, you know, the both, you know, both units have kind of crossed that divide. But yeah, in the I.T. teams, it can be absolutely chronic. You know, the terminology that we use. What’s the business? What’s the business requirement for that? You know, I always, you know, who is the business? You know, who are we? running the business? who are we? When we say find out a confusing term sort of terminology.
DAVID TERRAR [00:18:09] And in truth. You know, pretty much every country company has technology as a huge part of what they do. And and I mean, you quote, the software is eating the world, kind of term and that’s the way life is at the moment.
FINBARR JOY [00:18:24] Yeah. Yeah. It’s very, very difficult to think of any sector that does not feeling, you know, existentially challenged by, you know, what the leaders and consumer Internet daring now in so many domains. And if that wasn’t reason enough, you know, it’s out there and it’s, you know, why are the biggest companies in the world by market cap or technology companies? Why they’re all software companies increasingly owning more and more sectors. But, you know, if that wasn’t proof enough, then, you know, we really have had it ranned home through the pandemic crisis where, you know, you’ve seen an acceleration of digital adoption through this whole period. And it’s really brought into sharp relief. You know, those companies that had the capability, had the wherewithal, had done sufficient investment were able to roll with it, and in some cases even double down on making the best of it. And lots of others have been found out in terms of, you know, why didn’t you have good enough connectivity in the year 2020? Why didn’t you have the capability for your, you know, your colleagues to work remotely? That’s extraordinary, it’s 2020. You’re talking a good 25 years after some of this technology was made available?
DAVID TERRAR [00:19:40] Now, what you say is so true, and if you look at the top 10 companies 20 years ago by market cap, one of the top 10 was whether it was a software company in the rest and the most if it was telcos. Today, it’s like 8 out of the 10 software companies. So absolutely, yeah, it’s changed dramatically. And yeah, how do we handle kind of like, you know, some of the boring basics of I.T. like like the budgets in this world, because we obviously can’t think about it the way that we used to. How do we actually do it?
FINBARR JOY [00:20:17] Well, you know, again, I hesitate to offer that that, you know, I’ve got the prescription and I’ve solved the problem. But I would say, you know, partners that work better than, you know, the old world was, you know, not very static kind of story of once you get your budget and. If you don’t hit the budget, then you get less the year after. So if you don’t spend that amount, you get less thereafter. If during the year things happen, it doesn’t look well, it doesn’t work out as you planned and you need more. Then all hell breaks loose and it’s under trying to get hold of that because plan with, you know, linear projections, then regardless of whether those are the right things to do than those things, it’s almost like a death march to see those things through, even though three quarters of the way through it might appear, it might become apparent. This is no longer the smartest thing for us to be doing that we’re delivering working on right now. So, you know, I would say a better pattern that I’ve seen work but certainly through digital evolution of digital transformation is where you view those things that were formerly on your portfolio plan as projects. Instead, you’ve got a number of options running and we’re gonna invest in those options, just like a “BC” would invest in a portfolio. We want to make sure that the teams have got the wherewithal to deliver. So we will have done an amount of work instead of the old estimation instead of the old cat and mouse game with trying to get the numbers wrong fight. That battle the finance function. Instead of that, we’re going to do the work to analyse what really matters. We’re going it all the team members to the work that really matters. And we’re gonna prove it based on an evolution of timescale on a quarterly basis, we should be able to rush the budget with a quarterly basis. But within that quarter, to be continually demonstrating the work that we’re doing, it’s gonna land on that target. So we’re gonna raise an improvement by factor X by the end of the quarter, within four weeks, certainly within six weeks. We should be able to look at something which proved that. Which could tell us it’s going in the right direction. So it’s, you know, it’s incumbent on both parties. So, you know, let go of the old finance world in a static big budget that you either hit or you don’t. And the whole cat and mouse game. Well, okay. So that’s a relief. So I could threw an I.T. function. But the challenge for the I.T. function is to be able to deliver in a more dynamic fashion, to be able to prove as we go.
DAVID TERRAR [00:22:40] And that’s what you mean when it when I’ve heard you say letting go of I.T.. That’s what you mean, isn’t it?
DAVID TERRAR [00:24:07] Yeah. Excellent stuff. Now, a liitle while back, you mentioned that the pandemic that the crisis that we’re dealing with, how’s your company dealing with that as it change? Is it changing anything in terms of this stuff?
FINBARR JOY [00:24:23] So, you know, I’d say we’ve learnt some lessons. You know, we always pride ourselves on being a start-up, even 10, 12 years, and we’ll still start to like company. And I think, you know, we’ve we’ve been able to prove that during this period. So I think there’s periods asked a lot of questions of a lot of organisations. And, you know, you find out how responsive the organisation can be. By now, with sufficient autonomy, teams can achieve an awful lot more faster. You know that separation is really, really created, that focus on those outcomes, if you like. You know, so, you know, really certainly proved the thing to you, that’s for sure.
DAVID TERRAR [00:25:06] There’s anything caught you out in this?
FINBARR JOY [00:25:10] You know, I guess really the shock of it all, I wouldn’t say it’s caught us out, particularly as a company or as an organisation. But you know, really just, you know, the speed of that weighing down and the reality of what that means in terms of nobody’s gonna be in the office from next week was certainly a huge challenge. But, you know, I think, you know, it doesn’t everybody seen that. Yeah, yeah. Very, very challenging. And, you know, again, a test the organisation on its responsiveness.
DAVID TERRAR [00:25:44] And these responsiveness is key. If your organisation has that kind of culture and that kind of responsivenes, you know, you’re obviously going to be more prepared for this kind of thing that comes along. With when it comes to what happens next ïn the near future”? Any advice for people should be thinking about what’s your equivalence in other organisations should be thinking about for the recovery?
FINBARR JOY [00:26:06] I guess it’s harder “in tech”, you know, so depending on the organisation’s experiences during this time, the leverage of what this has taught us. So maybe those characters who maybe had to struggle up to now, you know, in that classic I.T. conversation proving the value of investment in I.T., we all just through an experience which is approved, you know, being more digital is abundantly a strength. So how can we take, you know, how can we leverage what that lesson we’ve learnt a lesson about how we can operate, how we can behave and how we don’t own minds up. So for the recovery, it’s growing further, faster on the on the route that we’ve already taken. So I think the route that’s already been taken are seeing some teams, you know, maybe, you know, make some shortcuts to get things working. Now, those shortcuts are probably revealed. What were overheads and bureaucracy and internal processes? So instead of rewinding back to those on the recovery period, maybe took a view of maybe we didn’t need some of that. And similarly, you know, possibility of working what we’ve all learnt about the flexibility of working could be a strength going forward rather than rewinding to everybody back in the office “centrally please”. And then, you know, the abundant lesson of, you know, when something really matters to the whole community, people pull together. So imagine if our vision was that good. I think that’s a very, very profound lesson. You know, it’s very telling. You know, teams have moved faster. Teams have moved with more purpose, you know. Well, why isn’t the organisation vision as strong as that? Maybe that’s the work that needs to be done to create the same momentum. So I think they’re all good things to double down on rather than rewind. I think with the overall lesson.
DAVID TERRAR [00:28:04] There’s some great messages there, Finbarr, and it’s a great place to finish. It’s been fantastic talking to you. It’s very challenging for the CIOs out there, too. And I think you’ve given us a good “model on” how it needs to be done. Finbarr, thanks for being on the show.
FINBARR JOY [00:28:19] Thank you. Thanks, David. Thank you.
DAVID TERRAR [00:28:21] You’re most welcome. So that’s Episode 9. Finbarr has such a great story as one of, in my opinion, one of the top class CTOs out there. Lovely to hear from him. Episode 10, I haven’t decided who’s going to be on our guest yet. But if you check back here @DC, on Twitter, @DisruptiveLIVE, on Twitter, impossiblethings.fyi you’ll get more content like this and more shows to come. Thanks very much.