Sligo calling: Why Dublin isn’t the ‘only show in town’

25 Jun 2019

Elaine Murphy. Image: James Connolly

LiveTiles’ Elaine Murphy on riding the wave of digital transformation and why more people should be looking west for talent.

Elaine Murphy is EMEA general manager at LiveTiles, which specialises in drag-and-drop technology so businesses can create bots, dashboards, portals or corporate intranets, with personalised AI and analytics features.

Now based in Sligo, Murphy has held multiple leadership roles in the tech space in recent years, including site lead at EA Games in Galway. She was included in the 2017 Women’s Leadership Forum at Harvard Business School and is on the board of the American Chamber of Commerce.

‘With some of our main cities overheating and hitting high occupancy rates, we are starting to see people look west’

Describe your role and what you do.

I’m the general manager for LiveTiles in EMEA. I’m responsible for leading our talented teams in the region (development, marketing, sales and IT), nurturing our EMEA customers and driving business development.

I also represent LiveTiles on external boards such as the American Chamber of Commerce, which has garnered a great reputation for advocating on behalf of American companies in Ireland and the Sligo-Leitrim ICT cluster, which promotes working and studying in our region, and aims to enhance collaboration between industry and the local education and training bodies.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I prioritise the team; I focus on enabling team members, removing any barriers hindering them and facilitating growth opportunities for them. I also aim to make myself available and treat listening to understand as a priority.

I always have a ‘to-do’ list that I regularly reprioritise. It’s pointless having a long list of tasks to do for the day if you miss the real priorities by not aligning them with company’s objectives. LiveTiles is in a hyper-growth stage, so demand for my attention is high and trying to be on top of everything just isn’t going to happen. I’m honest with the team about when priorities are shifting that will impact them, as well as where my key focuses lie and the impact it has strategically if I spend a lot of time in the weeds.

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

A challenge that I have placed quite a bit of focus on is getting the word out about Sligo and the north-west as a place where the right talent can do some of their best work with some amazing companies. I refer to both nationals and non-nationals who have never visited the north-west or maybe see Dublin as the only show in town. With some of our main cities overheating and hitting high occupancy rates, we are starting to see people look west, but there is still much work for all of us to do to ensure the north-west is seen as an attractive option – not just for a fantastic quality of life (no commute!) but also for the opportunity to work in cutting-edge tech without having to pay exorbitant rents.

Much of our market is in the UK and we are beginning to see nervousness around Brexit as an emerging challenge. Many of our prospective public sector clients in the UK, for instance, are holding off on taking any procurement decisions due to the uncertainty created by Brexit. It remains to be seen how this will evolve as a real business risk, but I am spending more time Brexit-watching than I had planned for!

Another major challenge is to attract female talent. ICT and tech as a choice for work or study is worryingly undersubscribed by women. We really need to find ways to achieve greater representation, inclusion and equality in the tech sector but, to be honest, we are all failing at this right now … I’m using public platforms to talk about the issue, opening LiveTiles up to school visits, offering work placements to showcase that tech is all-encompassing and not necessarily all about coding, and that women like me – who didn’t enter via a traditional route with a tech qualification – can be successful and have a rewarding career.

blonde woman in light pink blazer smiling broadly as she walks two dogs on leashes in green forest setting.

Elaine Murphy. Image: James Connolly

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

We are all riding the wave of digital transformation, which is an incredibly exciting time for our industry. Digital transformation is possible because of new technologies such as the internet of things and artificial intelligence, but ultimately it is about people. Our suite of cobots (collaborative chatbots) will work 24/7 on time-consuming tasks, empowering employees to be more creative and collaborative, as well as making more time for human connections.

Work doesn’t need to suck. Work is a pivotal part of all our identities, and at LiveTiles we have a passion to make work wonderful and use tech in a way that enables us to focus on the most productive aspects of our work, and to make better use of our precious time so we can live life to the fullest.

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

I attained a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business studies from the National University of Ireland Galway and the Institute of Technology Sligo, respectively.

I made plenty of lateral and horizontal moves over the years, despite not necessarily possessing all the answers or having the specific experience. I focused on enabling the teams for success, challenging the status quo and encouraging teams to embrace technology that would reduce mundane tasks. My experience across multiple disciplines in spearheading many culture-related initiatives and my interest in the future of technology led me to this exciting and enjoyable role I am in today with LiveTiles.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Early on in my career, I didn’t invest the time to understand my value prop and the type of businesses and leaders that I wanted to work with. In the early days, I sought mentorship from my bosses and, while it’s a natural person to turn to, your boss can often not be the best mentor and I found that it sometimes complicated the working relationship. I quickly learned that I was good at cultivating relationships with a wide variety of people across the business, and I developed mentoring criteria and asked different people to mentor me in different areas, and that yielded far better results for me. My advice is to explore your options and look all around the organisational structure. Your mentors don’t have to be senior to you.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I listen to understand, I applaud behaviours and performance, and I promote the fact that feedback is a gift – and I give it and seek it regularly. I set expectations and success criteria on any projects outside the day-to-day tasks, and I ensure that the environment is an open and forward-thinking one and that we talk about challenges along the way. I champion that we should always try new things to remain effective and relevant, so I build a culture that enables creativity and experimentation and where failure is not feared. I view fast failure as a natural consequence of developing for the future with a growth mindset.

‘Work doesn’t need to suck’

I recognise that having noses to the grindstone all day, every day, is unhealthy and can breed negativity, so I ensure we have lots of fun, too. We even have a team member that has responsibilities under a ‘chief fun officer’ role. We regularly enjoy team-building activities and we take the time to get to know each other so that that work at LiveTiles is enjoyable.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

The criticism is deserved, and I believe we need to collectively tackle this issue as a matter of urgency. The challenge is well known but the diagnosis and solutions are less straightforward. This needs a multistakeholder approach including students, parents, teachers, universities, education agencies and, of course, industry.

In our own case we have a very disproportionate gender balance, which we are very aware of, but we receive very few qualified female applicants. In some instances, we received zero female applicants, which means in the short term our hands are tied. Here in the north-west we have teamed up with schools, higher-level institutes and local tech companies to spread awareness and to promote tech as a rewarding career for girls and women. We aim to succeed in this, but results will not happen overnight.

Who is your role model and why?

This is a tough one – I really don’t have one individual. I enjoy reading about women who didn’t take a traditional route into the tech world but have risen to be hugely influential and have leveraged their influence in tech to help others. I also enjoy reading about unsung heroes such as Carol Shaw, who is behind some of the best graphics in retro video games. She is considered the first female video game designer and programmer, and was with Atari in the early days.

I enjoy being around problem-solvers and I’m fascinated with how decisions get derailed, how people deal with failure and how women overcome adversity in male-dominated industries. For anyone that hasn’t read or heard about Stephanie (aka Steve) Shirley, her story is inspiring. She took lots of risks in her career and has helped pave the way for others by breaking through the glass ceiling that limits women’s career growth, and she never gave up despite many setbacks and difficulties.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’m veering more and more towards articles and podcasts than books recently, and that’s because of time constraints and wanting to get to the end in a timely manner! A book that I refer back to and have reread recently is Originals by Adam Grant. It’s full of interesting studies and stories spanning multiple industries including sports, politics and entertainment. It provides tips from diverse topics around parents and teachers and how they can nurture originality in children, to how leaders can fight groupthink to build cultures that welcome dissent. I find it satisfying to read triumphs around the rejection of conformity and improving the status quo.

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

We use a mixed environment of tools here. Some of us are using Surface Books, others are using Macs. LiveTiles is heavily invested in the Office 365 suite, so we are heavy users of Microsoft Cloud services, and we use Teams and Yammer for communication. All of these have great mobile versions, which is crucial.

Our intranet pulls all the internal comms and resources together seamlessly and is a critical platform for collaboration across our organisation. For this, we walk the talk and use our flagship product, which is LiveTiles Designer, with multiple add-on tiles and chatbot integrations. Git is our source control. And Spotify provides the playlist!

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