Ciphr’s CTO talks about the tech that excites him and why it’s valuable to imagine the worst-case scenario when it comes to security.
A tech leader with nearly 30 years of experience, David Burns is the chief technology officer of SaaS HR software provider Ciphr.
Prior to his current role, he served as CTO at Wejo and has been a key adviser to a number of private equity organisations on technology strategy and trends.
Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com, Burns said modern CTOs need to spend more time understanding the products they sell, how they will develop and the people throughout the business that enable this to happen.
“It is important to ensure that people feel inspired by the leadership and direction set by the CTO, and part of this involves listening and understanding what motivates and inspires people in the tech team, and across the broader business, to think differently and achieve extraordinary outcomes,” he said.
‘Some of the greatest innovations are those based on tech that has been around for a number of years’
What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?
There are so many facets to the IT landscape today that the challenges are wide and varied, and only becoming more so each year.
From a product development perspective, it is often about the productivity and efficiency of the development team and how quickly we can get the new products to market. From a data science perspective, it can be as broad as working with customers to understand the value of their data and the insights they can glean from the system.
One of my key focus areas in recent years is on how we find more creative and innovative ways to truly utilise the data we have to provide organisations with a system that adds value, provides predictive analysis, and helps answer the ‘what if’ questions that are posed by every business, in every country, every day.
What are your thoughts on digital transformation?
The one constant is change. This is a point that all businesses and certainly CTOs, who often lead the charge on digital transformation, need to fully accept. Rather than view digital transformation as an obstacle or a project, organisations need to view it as a natural evolution and development of their business, which is constantly ongoing and evolving.
Being a digital company is a philosophical and cultural approach, as much as it is about leveraging tech to disrupt a particular market. The important point to remember for many businesses is that they are only in a very nascent stage when talking about digital.
Leaders need to take a more progressive perspective, rather than thinking that a couple of projects will ever achieve the goal of being ‘digital’.
How can sustainability be addressed from an IT perspective?
There is a huge amount that technology can contribute here, but it needs to be considered as part of the broader business context.
For example, encouraging remote working may help businesses and individuals realise a smaller carbon footprint through less travel and smaller office spaces, but it won’t work for every organisation.
In recent years, we’ve become more focused on ensuring that the move to the cloud is done with a view of consolidating the business’ footprint within the data centre, using less energy and working with suppliers who have invested in green energy sources and energy recovery schemes.
Putting pressure on the supply chains within the technology industry to take such environmentally ethical steps is, I believe, the biggest impact we could have. Organisations across the industry supply chain will respond and alter their behaviour if they think that their established revenue streams may be impacted if they do not address environmental concerns.
What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?
I tend not to focus on any specific trend, as it’s often not the tech itself that excites me but the innovative application of the technology to a specific use. Often some of the greatest innovations are those based on tech that has been around for a number of years – where a simple technical solution is applied creatively and can change the way we live and work.
As the events of recent years highlight, predicting trends can be hazardous – particularly in the tech industry. That said, our technology tends to be a reflection of the broader socioeconomic challenges we have in front of us.
So, I see an increasing drive to develop tech solutions to help us manage the environment better. I can envisage governmental organisations undertaking broader analysis of big datasets to better understand environmental threats and how they can mitigate these in the design of cities and critical infrastructure.
From a Ciphr perspective, I can see a driving demand to understand how we can develop, and increase the efficiency of workforces within businesses, how we can ensure that HR solutions give employers guidance on how to retain key members of staff, what their development should look like, and how we give people targets that motivate them to achieve more while not risking burnout or negatively impacting the mental wellbeing of staff.
How can we address the security challenges currently facing your industry?
While not headline-grabbing, there is a lot to be said for getting the basics right, such as ensuring any deprecated technologies are removed from the estate, maintaining good patch management and understanding the attack vectors that are prominent at any one moment in time.
Take time to undertake a thorough risk assessment of your business. If there was a security challenge, what are the most common forms that it is likely to take, how do you believe you would mitigate this, and what processes are in place to manage the situation.
One method that I’ve used over the years is to assume that the worst has happened, to understand how we would manage and operate as a business in such scenarios.
Asking questions such as, who do we communicate with, what are the priorities, what do we tell customers, and when do we share information. Far too often businesses don’t ask these questions until it’s too late, so they are never prepared.
If you know as a business how you will behave and respond, subject to a security incident, then you at least have the potential to manage a better outcome in a more controlled manner, than those who have not thought this through.
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