The five minute CIO: Paul Nolan

14 Dec 2012

Paul Nolan, chief technology officer of Xintec

Chief technology officer of telecoms fraud management firm Xintec Paul Nolan reveals his approach to applying IT in a business: “The key is figuring out what you want to do and how you want to do it and then finding the technology to allow you to do this, not the other way around.”

Can you outline what Xintec does, and describe your role as CTO?

Xintec provides fraud management and revenue assurance software solutions to fixed-line and mobile telecommunications operators worldwide. 

We target the small and emerging, and mid-size operator segment worldwide, and we have customers in EMEA, APAC and the Americas.

My role is quite broad. I decide the general technology direction of the company so that it is aligned with the strategic objectives of the business. I am involved in team building, technology platform decisions, infrastructure and interface with our customers as the need arises.

I also interface with the sales and marketing teams. I am also very hands-on and can be found helping out with development, support and other low-level technical issues that arise when I have time, probably more than I should!

How does technology help you in carrying out your job, and in the overall running of the company?

Technology is obviously very important for us since a large part of our business is providing software solutions to our customers. It helps us plan, manage and execute our research and development activities so that our objectives can be met. While the technology we use is a very important enabler – the real value lies in the people we have in our team and the innovation and ideas that stem from our people.

What are the primary tools and applications that you use to manage the team and carry out your job?

On the project side we use Microsoft Project and in general we use the usual Microsoft tools – Windows Desktop, Outlook mail, etc. We are currently evaluating online project management options. We use JIRA for issue management and Confluence for knowledge management. We use an online tool, TribeHR, for holiday management and other HR tasks.

On the development side of things, we use the Eclipse platform and build on that. We also use various development tools and libraries to enable our agile development processes and procedures, for example, SVN for source code control. Infrastructure tools include the OpenVPN platform to provide external VPN access to our internal network.

Were you involved in putting some of those systems in place, and how has technology helped in developing those processes?

I have been involved in putting the development and infrastructure systems in place to allow for our agile development processes, support, remote access and project management functions.

Technology certainly makes things easier. If you take, for example, our issue tracking system, JIRA: the breadth and range of plugins available on this platform can leverage this system into a project management or time-tracking system to name just a few. The key is figuring out what you want to do and how you want to do it and then finding the technology to allow you to do this, not the other way around.

Can you explain a little more about some of the technology improvement initiatives you’re responsible for?

Our software systems process hundreds of millions of phone calls, text messages and data downloads each day for our clients. We need to allow our customers to access detailed and summary information about these events in an intuitive way.

One of the areas I have a personal interest in is easy analytics. For us this means upgrading our systems by using innovative graphical techniques to allow our clients to easily browse, zoom and export graphically presented data.

We want to provide analytics to our clients that are useful and add value to their experience and given the reception that the latest versions of our products have received I believe we have achieved that goal on the product side. We have also streamlined our development processes to benefit from increased use of tools such as JIRA, Confluence and other online tools.

How would you describe your approach to technology: do you see it as a way to be innovative, or just a tool to help the business do things more cheaply?

For me, technology is an absolutely critical innovation enabler. So if I had to pick from the two options I would say that without technology, innovation is harder. Ideas are a hugely important part of innovation but technology allows those ideas to be tested quicker and cheaper now than ever before. This means testing out new ideas is less risky with the correct application of technology.

You’re also responsible for areas like pre-sales and sales support – how do you find having to wear several hats, and how much of your time is taken up purely with the technology?

 Throughout my career I have always enjoyed being part of different areas within the companies I have worked for. I enjoy meeting customers, talking to them and finding out what kinds of issues they face so I enjoy the different roles and the benefits that brings me.

I cannot do my job if I don’t know what our customers are thinking. Most CTOs today will tell you that wearing multiple hats is not only part of the job but expected.

Do you see yourself primarily as a technologist, or how much do you have to be concerned with business issues?

Both. I need to understand the high-level strategic objectives of the business in order to do my job. I need to know what the CEO and the board sees as priorities for the business. I also need to keep on top of the market that we operate in from a business perspective – what is happening in the market now? What are our competitors doing?

Will the needs of our customers change and if so, how do we address or be pro-active about these changes and so on. I don’t deliberately partition my work in this way, it just tends to be necessary that I need to have a good grasp of a range of issues so that I can make decisions with a straight face!

As a company working in the technology space, do you have a greater appetite for using the latest and greatest tech, or do you prefer to wait and use more mature, proven systems?

For us, the service that our software provides is more important than using the latest and greatest technology. If we provided general software consulting services our appetite for early adoption would be greater, but the market we operate in is a specific market with a specific set of customer needs.

That said, we use the latest technology if it allows us to improve our software and provide benefits to our customers and parts of our products benefit from early adoption but it’s not a mantra we live by.

Is your IT budget the same as last year, or reduced, or increased and how will that affect your priorities?

We will see our budget increasing in line with the increased revenue we achieved last year and the planned expansion of the technical team. We would like to think that our general high-level priorities for next year are set at this stage. No doubt, localised priority adjustments will take place as things change but this is par for the course.

What big technology projects are planned for next year and what business benefits do you expect to get from them?

We plan to release new major versions of our products with some substantial and innovative functionality changes. There are some opportunities we have identified in the telecom space that need ‘refreshing’ and ‘upgrading’ in terms of how the software is generally applied to solve problems in these areas. We also plan to implement a project to improve the training we offer to our customers.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic