ViClarity’s Ogie Sheehy discusses pivoting to help clients during Covid-19, expanding into the US, and finding tech talent in Kerry.
Ogie Sheehy spent more than 16 years working in the technology industry with companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell. In 2008, he left his senior role at Dell to set up ViClarity, a company that provides governance, risk and compliance solutions across Ireland, the UK and the US.
Earlier this year, ViClarity merged with PolicyWorks, a US regulatory consultancy and services firm. Sheehy now leads a team of more than 30 people spread between ViClarity’s headquarters in Tralee, Co Kerry, and offices in Boston and Iowa.
‘The need for cloud technology and collaboration software has really been recognised by management teams’
– OGIE SHEEHY
Describe your role and what you do.
I am the founder and CEO of ViClarity, a provider of governance, risk and compliance software to the financial and healthcare sectors, headquartered in Tralee, Co Kerry, with further offices in Boston and Des Moines, Iowa.
My role as CEO sees me lead a team of 14 from our Irish office and a further team of 18 in our US offices. I have an operational role as I work with all the team on a daily basis. One minute I have my sales hat on and the next minute I could be discussing product development.
We have recently gone through a merger with a US regulatory consultancy and services firm PolicyWorks, so I have spent a lot of time working strategically to grow the business in North America and Canada. This has brought huge opportunities for the business, so managing the strategic direction of this has become important.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
You would think this challenge would be easier in an environment where we are forced to work from home, however the opposite is more often true. With your office constantly in your viewpoint, it makes it difficult to walk away and switch off in the evenings.
Also our new merger with the US means their business day is only beginning when ours is ending. As a result, I find I am busiest from midday and can often work quite late in the evenings to accommodate US sales meetings. Sales is always a priority so making myself available for a late US demo is a no-brainer for me.
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
Like most software providers, we made the switch to working remotely during the recent pandemic. Thankfully, Covid-19 hasn’t disrupted our working hours and the team have been fully operational and servicing clients in what is a difficult time for many of them.
We have pivoted and created solutions to enable our clients and target market to cope with Covid-19. The need for cloud technology and collaboration software has really been recognised by management teams and board members and, due to this, we have been able to get secure new contracts in the last couple of months.
Another challenge we face is recruitment. Thankfully our team has grown substantially over the last three years and we currently have three new job opportunities. As our HQ is located in Co Kerry, we don’t have a big talent pool to choose from like we would if we were located in Dublin. However, we have recruited very well in recent years and I think this is down to having the Institute of Technology Tralee on our doorstep.
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?
There are fantastic opportunities in both the financial and healthcare sectors for us to continue to grow both in Ireland but also into Europe and North America. To date, we have established a large footprint of over 300 clients in Ireland and the UK. The need for products like ours is growing as many organisations continue to struggle with managing their audit, risk and compliance processes manually.
PolicyWorks has provided us with a big boost for our US operations. We have already completed a number of implementations in the US credit union sector since the merger and we are expanding into insurance and healthcare in a similar way as we have in Europe.
The tech sector is all about innovation and this is something we are always keen to capitalise on. In recent months, we have developed a number of new modules to help our target market with their common pain points. In the last eight weeks, we have launched a board management tool to allow board meetings to take place remotely, a business continuity self-assessment tool, and a return to work safely tool based on the Governments guidelines.
What set you on the road to where you are now?
I always had the entrepreneurial bug and in 2008 I decided to pursue it. So I resigned from my job as IT director at Dell to start ViClarity.
What set me on the road was relying on my strong network of friends and colleagues who I could have conversations with about my idea and technology so I could take it from being an idea into being a product that was needed on the market.
Thankfully, these conversations led to our first sales in early 2009 – one being to a credit union in the south of Ireland and the other to a nursing home group. Getting your first paying clients is vitally important and gives you a sense that you are on the right path, as well as providing capital to further improve the technology.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
At the point when the business was really gaining traction in the Irish market, I started exploring the US as a natural growth market. After many interviews, I hired a sales director for the US region.
I knew that to be successful in the US market, it was going to take investment and commitment. A year in with this approach, it became very apparent that having one sales guy on the ground in the US and trying to support him remotely from Ireland was going to be an issue. The biggest learning from this, for me, was that to really grow the US market and take it seriously needed me to do a lot of the groundwork by physically being in the US.
I don’t regret taking the risk, but I do feel that it was a costly trial period and had I known then what I know now about tackling the US market, I definitely would have taken a different approach. It’s always important to learn from your mistakes and thankfully we have done that.
How do you get the best out of your team?
The company’s culture is very important to me. We have a real ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude and I like to think that the team enjoy coming to work as we operate under a fun atmosphere. Every year we take part in many activities both socially and for charity, and that has helped us form a very close team.
The team are very much a part of our success story and I want them to feel part of that every day. When things go well, we celebrate together. And when things go against us, we all feel it but we don’t spend too much time looking back. Onwards and upwards.
Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?
At ViClarity, we believe diversity benefits individuals, teams, our customers and our company as a whole. Our business success is a reflection of the collective sum of the individual differences, life experiences, knowledge and unique capabilities that our employees invest in their work.
We have achieved a good gender balance on our own team, with a healthy 50/50 gender split in our senior leadership team. I can’t say this was due to any deliberate effort on my part, but more a reflection of technical skilled talent in the marketplace. Even for our current vacancies, we are seeing very healthy gender balance among the candidates applying.
More challenging, however, is the area of ethnic diversity. Although our demographic in Ireland has become very diverse, we are not seeing that follow through in the applications we receive for open roles. As a society, I think we need to improve access to STEM education and opportunities.
Who is your role model and why?
I would have to say Steve Jobs. Not just because he was a visionary and game changer in the world of technology, but in particular for his resilience in the face of adversity and his ability to constantly adapt in a world of fast-paced change. When asked what he thought was his most important creation, he said it was Apple the company. Making an enduring company, he said, was both far harder and more important than making a great product.
This resonated with me, as ViClarity is not about one great product. As a company and a team, we are continuously creating and adapting new products and solutions that meet the ever-changing needs of our customers.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
I found The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni very enlightening and so true to my own working experience. People are your biggest and most expensive asset, so anything that can help you get the best out of your team and unlock their potential is worth a read.
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
In our ‘new’ working world, online collaboration tools are integral to not just our success but our basic functioning. Whether it is Zoom or GotoMeeting, Google Chat or Microsoft Teams, these tools are enabling us to continue to work uninterrupted across a global footprint.
I personally have a soft spot for the voice dictation app on my iPhone. It allows me to be immediately responsive to important emails that come through when I am out and about and away from my desk. We have come a long way from the old days of the Blackberry!
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