‘Mobile networks are an incredible innovation platform in industry and enterprise’

6 Oct 2020

Seán Keating. Image: Vilicom

Vilicom’s Seán Keating discusses the demand for wireless connectivity, the IoT revolution, and how his smartphone is his ‘Swiss army knife’.

Seán Keating is the CEO of Vilicom, a wireless consultancy and system integrator based in Dublin and Reading in the UK.

He has worked on wireless networks for more than 20 years in Europe, North America and the Middle East for mobile operators, governments, investors and large industrials.

‘As the pace of technological change accelerates, I think it’s important that technologists and scientists improve communication with the public’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the CEO of Vilicom, where we use the power of mobile connectivity to improve our customers’ lives and businesses.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Firstly, I prioritise leadership tasks, which involves a lot of communication – with customers and with our teams. Communication with customers is how we make sure that we are providing real value, doing the right things. Communication with our teams is vital in making sure that we are executing properly, doing things right.

After that, it’s the normal methods of prioritising the important, urgent or must-do tasks of every job. Oh, and as Mark Twain said: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

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

The continuing explosive growth in demand for mobile data is incredible. Satisfying this demand within the revenue available requires massive gains in productivity.

We achieve this through more efficient ways of working, continuous improvement and the clever deployment of new technology.

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

The demand for wireless connectivity is very strong and growing all the time. Smartphones have revolutionised many areas like music, entertainment, food, travel, publishing, photography, banking and more. The same is about to happen in industry, and mobile networks are an incredible platform for innovation in industry and enterprise via the internet of things (IoT). Some have even called this a fourth industrial revolution.

We’re doing projects to enable IoT and better mobile communications in offices, transport hubs, manufacturing plants and labs. At the moment we’re even building a network in the middle of the North Sea to connect the world’s largest offshore windfarm. We often find that after wireless connectivity is deployed for one or two applications that numerous new solutions then become possible because of the freedom that wireless networks give to innovate.

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

I’ve always loved engineering.

I believe that it makes a real difference in people’s lives, whether it’s bringing broadband to a rural town or village, connecting families and loved ones or enabling a lone worker protection system in a pharmaceutical plant. I’m lucky to be able to work with a diverse range of customers in many industries to solve their problems. 

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

Early in my career I was asked to take on a team management role. I had some ideas on how to run a big project we were working on, but I didn’t have the courage to grasp the opportunity. I learned that it’s important to be brave and take on new challenges to learn and grow.

Entrepreneur Ray Dalio has a nice video called Principles for Success – he expresses this a lot better than I could.

How do you get the best out of your team?

It’s impossible to be a good leader without an effective team. Great teams bring together people with different perspectives and talents in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Everyone in the team needs the space to bring their own character and ideas as well as room to challenge each other constructively. This is how we help each other to improve and create superior team performance.

It also helps to hire smart people. A wise person once said that if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Even though we’re a relatively small company, over 20 languages are spoken in Vilicom, so we certainly have wide cultural diversity like many companies in our industry.

However, there can be no doubt that engineering is a male-dominated profession. This is something that urgently needs to be addressed. We’ve done a lot of work with Engineers Ireland promoting our profession to primary and post-primary students. Our volunteers have always made an effort to encourage young women into STEM careers during Engineers Week and we’ve regularly brought in role models to speak with schools.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

One of the books I’ve recently enjoyed is One-Way Ticket by Jonathan Vaughters, a cycling autobiography. It’s a story of how a talented young athlete was sucked into a corrupt culture, saw the light and came back to do it right by setting up his own cycling team. It’s a lesson in the difficulty of managing cultural change and the importance of tenacity to get the job done.

Another one is Universal by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw, which explains cosmology in plain language with uncomplicated thought-experiments. As the pace of technological change accelerates more and more, I think it’s very important that technologists and scientists improve communication with the public and specialist in other fields. This is important not just in commercial terms but also to ensure public support for science and technology. We’ve seen worrying movements against vaccinations, 5G and face masks amongst other things. I really admire people who get this communication right, like Brian Cox.

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

The number one tool is my smartphone. It’s like the Swiss army knife of business tools. It keeps me on schedule, navigates to meetings, runs all our most important business apps, connects my laptop to our IT cloud, enables our Teams communications and more.

It can be even used to make voice calls.

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