‘Privacy will likely always be one of the big challenges for tech companies’

28 Jul 2020

Mark Cockerill at the opening of the new ServiceNow Dublin office. Image: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

ServiceNow’s Mark Cockerill discusses the importance of data privacy, how reading John Grisham novels may have led him into law, and why Dublin represents a ‘distinct’ opportunity for the company.

Mark Cockerill is vice-president of legal for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia, Pacific and Japan (APJ) at ServiceNow. From his base in Dublin, he also serves as ServiceNow’s head of global privacy. Before this, Cockerill held a number of legal leadership roles in international telecoms organisations.

California-headquartered digital workflow company ServiceNow has been expanding its presence in Ireland over the last couple of years. This week, the firm revealed details of a new data centre in Dublin to help service customers in Ireland and Europe.

‘Many businesses have had to accelerate their transformation plans almost overnight. We naturally see great potential there’

Describe your role and what you do.

I wear a number of hats at ServiceNow. As VP of legal for EMEA and APJ, much of my focus is on minimising friction to help facilitate business as well as managing teams across Asia and Europe to improve our processes and procedures to support ServiceNow’s rapid growth.

I’m also the head of global privacy, taking on the added responsibilities that come with that role and an additional team based in the US. Handling massive amounts of data securely is at the heart of that function. Privacy compliance is fundamentally about trust for our customers, who include some of the world’s biggest companies.

I’m also part of our global leadership team and our strategic leadership team in EMEA, as well as being responsible for driving the continued growth and evolution of our Irish team and office.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Even before the lockdown, every day presented a host of different challenges. That hasn’t changed and neither has the way I prioritise things.

I split my to-do list into three categories: top, middle and bottom. The tasks at the top are the most critical items that require my direct input and demand most of my headspace. I trust my team to progress with the middle items, with less oversight from me but with the expectation that they keep me informed and escalate where needed.

The tasks at the bottom of the list tend to involve more minor elements that are not critical to the organisation, our employees or our customers. I will typically build these tasks up and then get to them all in a blitz.

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

Privacy is, and will likely always be, one of the biggest challenges for any global tech company.

Privacy regulations differ throughout the world, each with its own unique set of requirements. When looking at these privacy provisions, we must ensure the solutions and tools we are developing today are capable of dealing with future regulatory advances and are scalable to support our customers’ global operations.

We prepare as much as possible and never take things for granted – proactively seeking out new developments within the minefield of possible risks.

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

Everyone is on their digital transformation journey – trying to be more efficient and productive. Fundamentally, that’s what ServiceNow does. We accelerate that journey for governments, companies and whole industries by transforming manual ways of working with digital workflows.

As a result of the Covid-19 crisis, almost overnight, many businesses have had to accelerate their transformation plans and we naturally see great potential there. We’ve introduced new products for telecommunications and financial services to deliver workflows that help companies accelerate their digital transformation and create value at scale.

In March, we released four emergency response management apps designed to support our customers as they focus on maintaining business operations. We also recently launched our safe workplace workflow apps and dashboard to help businesses manage the essential needs and services required to return safely to the workplace.

For ServiceNow, Dublin itself represents a distinct opportunity as it boasts a number of tech behemoths. We’ve got people joining us from all of the established technology companies in Ireland and we are reaping the benefits of that as we offer those talented people new opportunities and further growth.

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

Maybe I read too many John Grisham novels or watched Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men too many times, but I always wanted to be a lawyer.

I used to think that I would be a barrister in court, but actually during my career and training I fell more in love with working for a company; getting to know the ins and outs of how the organisation worked and creating something in combination with business partners from all different fields.

I started in private practice with a great commercial firm, but I was seconded out to Meteor for a number of years as legal counsel there, and that’s where the bug really bit.

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

I think anything I’ve done has only made me better and stronger – both personally and professionally.

I once moved to a role as a COO for a former client, which on reflection wasn’t a great career step. But, I figured that out quickly and moved on and, in the process, learned a valuable lesson.

It helped me build further resilience, self-belief and the fundamental understanding that if you’re going to fail, fail fast and evolve.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Through compassion and clarity. Clarity in what we’re doing, what I expect and what our goals are. The less ambiguity there is the better everyone can do their job.

In terms of compassion, it’s about understanding each individual’s ambitions, egos and challenges – wanting the very best for your team and supporting them in achieving it.

For me, success probably means my existing team may not be here in five or 10 years’ time, or certainly not in the same roles. That may seem counter-intuitive as no one likes replacing good people. But people need to know they have the opportunity to grow and develop and that you, as an employer and leader, will encourage that.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

At a macro-level, tech generally is not as gender diverse as it could be or should be. We need to encourage and develop further female talent in STEM, starting with accessibility, promotion and encouragement at secondary and tertiary levels of education. Responsibility for this sits both with government and industry and I want to be part of the drive to progress it further.

Personally, I’ve found ServiceNow’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and belonging to be an integral part of our culture, and this is reflected in a very diverse, multicultural office in Dublin. But everyone can always do more.

Generally, we should also be looking at technology as a gateway towards levelling out diversity challenges with social inequality. Earlier this year, we launched the ServiceNow Next Generation Programme, a new digital literacy and job skilling programme in the UK that will give 5,000 young people a chance to build a career in technology. Ideally this is something we’ll be able to replicate in other regions, including Ireland.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

Yes and no. I’ve had a lot of people that I looked up to and learned an awful lot from. However, I disagree with the idea that someone can truly ‘mentor’ or steer your career.

It’s your responsibility to drive your own career and learn from all leaders (whether directly or indirectly) in your arena. Often, that is as much about identifying the approaches and behaviours you don’t want to adopt as the ones you do.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I read an awful lot during my working day, so when I read at home, it’s very much for pleasure and to switch off.

I could take several hours on this question, but I have particularly loved Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold and The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. And everyone should read Animal Farm once a year.

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

A great Spotify playlist, snuggles from my wife and kids, laughs with my colleagues and way too much Coca-Cola.

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