Cubic CTO: ‘Data is critical to sustainability’

26 May 2023

Nick Power. Image: Cubic Telecom

Nick Power, CTO of Cubic, discusses his role and the biggest security challenges facing the software industry.

Nick Power is the chief technical officer at software company Cubic Telecom. He has more than 26 years of experience working in the software industry in areas like IoT, connected cars, finance and education. In his current role, he is responsible for engineering, IT and business intelligence functions at Cubic.

Organisational transformation is at the core of his experience. He helps small companies scale, with a strong emphasis on independently deployable microservice architectures, automation and DevOps.

‘Managing costs in public cloud is a continual battle, especially when you grow as an engineering organisation’

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape and how are you addressing them?

Hiring has always been challenging, never more so than in the last few years. Now that we have seen a decline in numbers of open tech roles and uncertainty in the tech sector in general, we are also seeing a lot fewer candidates. Tech workers are hesitant to move jobs now due to the economic uncertainty. Due to this and the growing costs in Ireland for engineering talent we are moving to a nearshore model for a lot of our engineering talent. We will continue to source leadership and key IC roles such as architecture in Ireland.

Retention of existing staff. While attrition has slowed, we now see a lot of requests for people wanting to work outside of Ireland which is difficult to accommodate in all cases especially when they move to countries with large time-zone differences. This has a negative impact on collaboration in teams. We see a lot of companies now rolling back the promises they made during the pandemic about working anywhere as they switch to a stricter hybrid model.

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw productivity increase as people shifted to work from home. The reason for this was that, in most cases, teams already had well-defined projects they were working on prior to the switch to home. They got to focus more from home and there was less desk drive-bys and people were working longer hours as there was not much else to do. The cracks started to appear once those projects finished, and we had to start new ones. The lack of face-to-face collaboration and potential for miscommunication hurt productivity. For me in a hybrid model, having people regularly come to the office and meet face-to-face to collaborate while still providing some degree of flexibility is the best of both worlds.

Public cloud cost management. Managing costs in public cloud is a continual battle, especially when you grow as an engineering organisation. You have to constantly review your spend and your entire estate and reinforce best practice. The public cloud providers do not make this process easy by design and this is starting to backfire on them now. We have seen several companies starting to reverse their decisions to move to public cloud due to spiralling costs. We have no intention of moving off public cloud but we are selective in what we host there. Our core network will likely always remain on premises, while our software products and platform will remain on the public cloud. We continually review our public cloud estate to identify savings.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation in a broad sense within your industry?

As a small company that has gone through rapid growth in staff in the past two years, we have quite a bit of rationalisation of systems and tooling to do to ensure we can scale the organisation. We introduced Slack to replace MS Teams for instant messaging, not specifically for the instant messaging piece but more for the automation piece which Slack is better placed to help us achieve. Making use of workflows and integrations to automate more day-to-day tasks and also turn it into a self-service portal for the organisation to free up expensive engineering resources to provide more value-add services. For example, we are experimenting with Slack and ChatGPT to self-service business intelligence requests on our data across the organisation. This could potentially replace many adhoc data requests, freeing up Data\BI engineers.

Sustainability has become a key objective for businesses in recent years. What are your thoughts on how this can be addressed from an IT perspective?

Data is critical to sustainability. Every sustainability commitment and statistic has to be backed up by data. In the absence of any global definition, many companies are working with Science Based Targets to reduce emissions in line with climate science. Without accurate data collection and analysis, there is no way for companies to understand how much carbon they emit and, consequently, no way for them to accurately measure the effects of their actions.

As a company that already excels at enabling makers to measure and analyse all data produced by their vehicles – whether it’s cars on the road or tractors and smart agriculture systems – we are uniquely placed to facilitate both our own and other makers’ commitments to net zero. Cubic is committed to working exclusively with suppliers – both in our ecosystem and broader supply chain – whose carbon neutral goals are in line with industry standards.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

Obviously, the biggest game changer is in the AI space, and we have started to experiment with various AI technologies such as ChatGPT to see how it can give us an edge. It’s very early days and we need to be cautious about how and what we use it for. With the ongoing data-privacy concerns, I think all companies need to approach AI tools with caution, especially when using them with customer data, to ensure they don’t violate any GDPR requirements. I’m sure the industry will adapt and address these concerns in time.

Last year, more connected cars were produced than non-connected. Currently, roughly 55pc of all new cars shipped globally have connectivity, and by 2030 this is predicted to rise to 96pc. This is mainly driven by services that include real-time traffic updates, remote diagnostics, over-the-air software updates, and enhanced entertainment and infotainment systems; however, it is also becoming expected by the consumer now.

What are your thoughts on how we can address the security challenges currently facing your industry?

There are a growing number of challenges in the security space. The current state of telecommunications protocols is marked by numerous vulnerabilities, spanning from 2G to 5G technologies. One of the key challenges lies in the highly specialised nature of the telecoms environment, where expertise is often confined to a select few. While some companies capitalise on this knowledge gap by offering high-priced platforms for threat detection and prevention, there remains a scarcity of educational resources and accessible knowledge bases in this area. Consequently, malicious actors gain the upper hand. To counteract this, the industry must prioritise hands-on security training and management, as well as promote the development of open-source technologies for implementing security across various protocols.

In the automotive industry, there is insufficient clarity on vehicle software and communication security regulations. The introduction of new regulatory measures often leads to a sense of unease among car manufacturers, as they grapple with understanding and adhering to the stipulated requirements. Regulations are often broad and vague.

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