How Aspira is using automation to enhance its tech solutions service

3 Aug 2023

Gillian Whelan. Image: Aspira

Gillian Whelan, managing director at Aspira, discusses the various ways that the tech solutions provider is keeping up with an evolving tech landscape.

Gillian Whelan is the managing director and country manager at consulting and technology company Aspira, which is a part of business and IT consulting company Emagine.

Whelan first joined Aspira in 2017. Over the years she has been involved in various roles within the company, such as heading up its project management training practice before taking up the role of chief commercial officer (CCO). She was appointed to her current role as managing director in May of this year.

Her current duties involve overseeing the ongoing delivery and expansion of technology solutions to the company’s clients, primarily within finance, insurance, utilities, pharma and the public sector.

“As country manager and managing director, part of my role is unifying Aspira and Emagine as we continue to merge operations during 2023, since joining forces in August 2022.

“With Emagine experts operating across 10 countries and multiple sectors, we can dip into this extensive resource pool and build on it, to the benefit of our clients locally. It’s an exciting time.”

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

The skills gap continues to pose a challenge in the IT sector. Attracting and retaining resources with the right skillset, at competitive rates, makes it difficult for businesses to keep pace with evolving technology. At Aspira, over a 16-year period, we have forged our reputation by consistently delivering a high-quality resourcing service. We have mastered a methodology to ensure we can quickly provide our clients with the right level of subject matter expertise to meet all their requirements.

Businesses continue to need managed services such as help desk, project delivery and IT support, but with the pace of change in technology innovation, clients now need more strategic technology advisory support. We have expanded our data analytics consulting services and introduced intelligent process automation consulting services. Harnessing the power of data and investing in automation enables improved decision-making, increased efficiency and productivity, enhanced customer experience, higher employee satisfaction, and risk reduction, offering businesses a real competitive advantage.

‘The more you know about a client, the more likely you can offer solutions that really add value’

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

Automation is universally on the rise as businesses work to remain competitive. There are several factors driving this trend. Businesses want to:

  • Improve customer interactions and provide quicker response times 24/7
  • Analyse large amounts of data to identify patterns and anomalies to enable better risk management, decision-making and fraud detection
  • Gain efficiencies through the automation of repetitive tasks often found in finance and accounting, or system monitoring
  • Reduce risk and eliminate expensive errors often associated with human error in manual processes
  • Streamline processes to free up employees to be more creative, resulting in improved client and employee satisfaction

The adoption of automation technologies, including robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), has been increasing steadily and Aspira is now introducing RPA to provide a range of competitive offerings to clients. Leading tech consultancy group Gartner defines RPA as “the software to automate tasks within business and IT processes via software scripts that emulate human interaction with the application user interface”.

Championed in financial services, this kind of automation is now becoming the norm across a wide range of industries. The BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) sector is dealing with the demand to increase efficiency in processes while struggling with a shortage of skilled professionals.

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

In many ways it was my parents, who always encouraged me to be ambitious in setting goals for myself, to work hard and give everything I do as much effort as possible and then, regardless of the outcome, I won’t have regrets.

My career path has been diverse, from working as a customer service representative to project manager to vice-president in a large global financial services institution, to project management trainer and consultant, followed by head of training, head of account management, to CCO and now managing director and country manager.

Most roles have involved managing people, so having good people skills has been essential and a key enabler of my success in each role. I have a genuine interest in getting to know people and forming relationships. This leads to better trust, which in a team setting contributes to team cohesion and, ultimately, achieving goals. It’s also really helpful with clients because the more you know about a client, the more likely you can offer solutions that really add value.

In almost all my roles, I have adopted an intrapreneurial mindset, meaning that I have acted as if the business was mine and I’ve always been curious about how we can innovate or improve. Having this mindset means I continually learn along the way and improve how we do things, as well as getting the job done.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

I’m not the biggest risk-taker naturally in business, which is probably a good thing in my role. I planned to be a teacher and while awaiting exam results to get my college place, I took a summer job in financial services. I loved working as part of a team in an international business in a fast-paced environment. So, when I was offered my desired college place, I chose the job in the big American bank.

This was a big risk, as having a good academic qualification was increasingly important in professional services if you wanted to progress. It paid off. I learned so much from working in financial services, gaining invaluable experience that I would not have gained in college. My lack of qualifications was offset by my ambition, curiosity and can-do attitude, and didn’t hold me back. I closed the academic gap later, studying part-time to gain my MSc in financial services from UCD and Institute of Banking. Studying later made me appreciate all the new learnings in college. I soaked up everything, gave every assignment 100pc and was always considering how to apply what I was learning in a practical way in my job, something I wouldn’t have done had I gone to college after school.

‘People buy into results if they have been involved in defining the goal’

What one work skill do you wish you had?

Better time management. I pride myself on being a ‘roll my sleeves up’ type of person, I am always keen to jump in and help my team which can lead to time-management challenges. I’m working to address this since moving into my new role. Key for me is knowing when to jump in and when to offer advice, stand back and watch my team resolve problems. It is in everyone’s interest that I do this; my team will learn more by having more ownership and I will have more time to focus on the things that matter most strategically to our business.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I recognise the value in having a team with diverse skills and personality types; the most successful teams I have worked in are those that are made up of people from diverse backgrounds with diverse skills and approaches to work, where we are all leaning from each other and solving problems by seeing things from different perspectives. I believe people work best when they enjoy what they do, so I try to give each team member the time and space to process things in a way that suits them best.

I also try to involve my team early on in decision-making, strategy-setting and target-setting. People buy into results if they have been involved in defining the goal.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

“Find a job you enjoy, and you will never work a day in your life”, something I live by but in a realistic way. I don’t know if there is any job in the world that would genuinely make me feel I was not “at work”, but I do know that enjoying most aspects of what I do makes me tolerate the parts I enjoy less and ultimately, I look forward to work, interacting with my team and clients every day.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’m not a big reader of self-help or leadership books but I have enjoyed Robert Cialdini’s Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion. The ability to influence has been essential in all my professional roles.

I’m a big fan of podcasts and enjoy listening to some business and technology podcasts such as Business Wars by Wondery, or the short daily releases from TED Talks Daily.

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

I must admit my notebook and pen are really important to me. Of course, I use a range of technologies to help me through the week, but writing things down on paper has always allowed me to prioritise and gain clarity on what I need to focus on.

I also start every week with an executive team meeting to plan the week ahead and ensure we know where we need to support each other.

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