‘In Ireland’s IT sector, you either need to be niche or have a breadth of capabilities’

7 Apr 2022

David Jeffreys of ActionPoint. Image: Andres Poveda

ActionPoint’s David Jeffreys discusses consolidation in Irish IT, why Covid has driven a new appetite for tech, and how a college friend became a company co-founder.

David Jeffreys is the co-founder and CEO of ActionPoint, a managed IT services and software development company with bases around Ireland.

Last year, it acquired Dublin’s ICT Project Management in a multimillion-euro deal, before it was acquired itself at the beginning of this year by Irish tech group Viatel. Together, the companies are now looking to expand in the digital transformation space.

Jeffreys’ journey with ActionPoint began in 2005 and his main responsibility now is to oversee the strategic direction of the company as it aims to become one of the most in-demand technology services partners in the market.

‘We are seeing a post-Covid insatiable appetite for technology services’

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The biggest challenge is meeting demand with a growing skills shortage in the tech sector. There are a number of reasons for this.

We are seeing a post-Covid insatiable appetite for technology services driven by a new-found intrigue of what technology can actually do for a business. Before Covid, there was a resistance to change as people had grown accustomed to their comfort zones. The pandemic has changed all that.

Meanwhile, we are seeing an economy approaching full employment. We are also seeing some great multinationals setting up in Ireland because of our tech talent. While these businesses are very welcome, this is putting further pressure on the available tech talent pool.

We are working to address these challenges in a number of ways. We are recruiting both nationally and internationally, have developed our own graduate programme and offer work experience during summer months and internships for college students. We ensure our team has the opportunity to develop their skills, offer complete flexibility with working hours, and are actively reviewing our employee benefits. We believe that we are an attractive place to work because of the breadth of services we offer. This breadth gives employees a very wide range of experience, which is valuable particularly early on in your career.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

At a macro level, the IT sector in Ireland is consolidating. Existing businesses either need to be small and very niche, or be large with a breadth of strong capabilities that yield both client stickiness and economies of scale. We are currently actively pursuing further acquisitions to ensure we are well positioned to capitalise on this opportunity.

Businesses are also now demanding more from IT partners and expect more leadership and direction with regard to both choice and use of technology. We have launched our digital transformation consulting business unit to help assess where the business is and where it wants to get to. This gives our clients clarity as to where the risks and opportunities lie, and where to best spend available technology budgets. We are seeing huge interest in this, which is driving further growth across our business.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

My dad recently showed me a page from my homework in primary school when I was aged eight or nine. In it I had written that I wanted to be the managing director of a photocopier company! So it would seem I always had notions of leadership.

At the time, the personal computer would have been quite a new thing and certainly something for the future. I chose to study computer systems in the University of Limerick (UL), mainly because I enjoyed troubleshooting technology and was intrigued by the PC, but mostly I loved playing computer games.

On my first day in UL I met John Savage (who I co-founded ActionPoint with) and we hit it off, growing to become best friends and working on group projects all the way through college. One of my dad’s industry contacts took a leap of faith and gave us the opportunity to develop a prototype messaging application the summer before graduation. It turned out to be a great success and we went on to work together for the next four years after graduation, before getting the opportunity to set up our own business.

What one work skill do you wish you had?

I don’t have any formal qualifications in leadership or management – the school of life combined with some patient mentors around me have given me a good education over the last 20 years of my career. I would like to take some time to formalise some of these capabilities because you don’t know what you don’t know.

In terms of self-development, an area I always try to improve on is discipline. I like adventure and am always curious, so saying no and being disciplined is always something I could improve.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Motivating people is one of the biggest challenges in leadership. Role design, clarity of purpose, clarity on reporting lines and KPIs, along with having the experience and skills required to do the job are all absolutely critical to ensure members of your team remain motivated and interested. If they have all of the above, then let them crack on! Give them your trust and the autonomy to shine in their role.

Work also needs to be enjoyable and fun, and retaining talented staff has never been more important. There is always room for improvement but we are constantly working to create the best employee experience for our team through social evenings, quizzes, bingo and coffee mornings, encouraging people to get to know each other. It shouldn’t always be about productivity, people need time to bond and grow as a team.

By creating an environment where your team is celebrated for their wins, can learn from their losses and have a healthy work-life balance, you lay the groundwork for happy employees who want to excel and produce their best work.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

When it comes to the tech industry there is always a diversity issue in terms of gender, but I believe in recent years this gap has become smaller. According to the State of European Tech Report in 2020, 32pc of software developers in Ireland are women, over the average of 30pc in Europe.

Establishing a career within the tech industry is not just for one gender or one type of person. There are many challenges that are in need of solutions and having different perspectives will assist in finding the best solutions.

I am looking forward to the future and watching the number of female leaders in the tech industry increase, particularly as there are many initiatives that are being undertaken to increase this figure.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

The role I am in can be quite pressurised so I got a lot from Mind Full: Unwreck Your Head, De-stress Your Life by Dermot Whelan. I now regularly meditate to help switch off.

I am into endurance sports and was fascinated by Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson. This book really taught me that your limits are really influenced by your mindset.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Microsoft Teams – without this app, ActionPoint would struggle to operate. It’s moved from a platform that was just for video calls to a hub for the whole organisation to chat, collaborate, plan projects, share stories and have fun. It really is a core piece of software within ActionPoint.

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