Leaders’ Insights: Karl McDermott, Three Ireland

15 Nov 2016

Karl McDermott, Three Ireland. Image: Three Ireland

Karl McDermott has been the head of ICT at Three Ireland for over two years.

With over 15 years’ management experience, McDermott leads a team of business and technology consultants at Three.

Before that, he worked as an engineer, having graduated with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering.

Future Human

Describe your role and what you do.

My role is to develop and bring technology solutions that allow Three’s customers to address business problems. I lead a team of business consultants who are also technology whizz-kids that, for example, help customers move to the cloud or mobilise their workforce. More recently, we are helping customers figure out what the internet of things (IoT) will mean to their business.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I start every day with a plan, which is often in disarray by 10am. Prioritising activities and meetings helps keep the day on track. The important activities always relate to customers or my team. Monday to Friday is non-stop, however I do try to keep weekends off limits and for family only.

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

Mobility and IoT are two of the hottest topics at the moment. The biggest challenge facing our business is to make sure we capitalise on these opportunities with our mobility expertise and our pervasive network coverage.

Customers are looking to mobile operators to assist them in maximising the potential of a mobile workforce. They need to outsource the management support and development of their mobility strategy.

We provide them with solutions that give employees access to corporate resources, applications and data through managed secure devices.

IoT is changing the way we work, play and learn. Customers need support in figuring out what this will mean to their particular business.

We are tackling the challenges by investing expertise in the team and building relevant solutions for the market.

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

As well as the two topics mentioned above, the need for security provides us with a big opportunity to help customers. As a mobile operator and network infrastructure provider, we have the capability to provide an end-to-end security service that secures mobile devices and companies’ corporate networks.

The security perimeter of the company network has now evaporated, as employees use mobile phones and tablets. We provide the security required to allow companies give them access to sensitive data but still protect intellectual capital and customer data.

A lot of attacks now happen from within, where employee computers infected with malware cause either reputational damage or worse. We partnered with an Irish company and have delivered visibility of the network to customers. For example, with one click, our retail customers can prove graphically that all their tills and point-of-sale devices are PCI compliant.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

My first job was in BMW’s computer networking department, at the same time that the internet was becoming a thing – a couple of years ago! I immediately loved the technology that made communications possible and spent many years working as a network engineer in Germany.

Later on, my business skills developed and now the challenge of linking business problems to technology solutions is what I enjoy most.

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

Overuse of email, particularly with difficult topics. I learnt early on to either pick up the phone or meet in person. Email is for passing on facts and never for emotive subjects.

How do you get the best out of your team?

By keeping involved but not taking over. I have a one-hour weekly team meeting that everyone attends. This ensures ideas and challenges are exchanged. Outside that, making sure I know what is going on and am available when additional support is needed.

The best way to keep a team motivated is to keep the role interesting and permanently challenging. We have to continuously change and adapt solutions as technology and customer needs change.

Who is your business hero and why?

Mark Zuckerberg, for his motto: “Move fast and break things”, which is relevant to my role as Three becomes a disruptive ICT provider in the Irish market. Any company that is not agile and willing to try new things will be left behind.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’m currently reading Sean Kelly’s autobiography Hunger, which is a great description of how hard work and risk taking will bring success. I had not realised just how successful he was, world champion between 1984 and 1989 as well as winning the green jersey in the Tour de France four times.

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

Work colleagues, my phone and a coffee machine.