Tag Archives: speaker interview

OIC speaker interview 6: Dan Crow, CTO, Songkick

Ovum recently caught up with Dan Crow, CTO of personalised live music events database Songkick, who is speaking at Ovum Industry Congress next month in London. Here are his fascinating insights on his career to date, the status of the IT industry, and what his challenges currently are.

Dan CroweI am discussing Cloud Experiences in the Enterprise at OIC 2014. I believe that the move to the cloud is a vast opportunity that many are still struggling to fully take advantage of. I’m interested in how the experiences of smaller startups like Songkick can inform the practices of larger enterprises, and vice versa.

Ovum: From a learning experience viewpoint, what has been your most valuable lesson in your working career, or your most successful failure?

Dan Crow: The first startup I joined in Silicon Valley was a B2B intelligent search engine called Verb. I was the VP of Engineering and hired the development team from scratch. We built a strong product and had early paying customers. We attempted to raise a Series B funding round in 2001. This was in the teeth of the dotcom crash – the worst downturn in California in a generation.

We visited every VC on Sandhill Road, each one liked the business, but told us they weren’t funding anyone right then. I had to layoff the whole engineering team, people I considered friends as well as colleagues. We then sold the assets of the business to Dell. The experience was a sobering one, and made me determined that next time I would get a much better outcome for the people I worked with.

Ovum: Thinking about the conference strapline “Strategy, Technology and the art of the possible”, what tech related innovation, transformation or invention would you hope to see in your lifetime:

DC: In the last few years we have finally begun to see practical, industrial strength Artificial Intelligence being deployed. Techniques like Deep Learning appear to be a major breakthrough. But we are just starting on the journey to smart systems. AI will become widespread, some of it visible through Siri-like services, but much of it becoming a key part of enterprise systems.

Smart systems should be able to automatically understand the knowledge within disparate information systems. These systems will connect siloed data, automatically translating terminology and meaning. I expect that in 10-15 years, most ETL and data connection services will be automatically generated by AI systems and as a result big data will be cheap and commonplace in every enterprise.

Ovum: What has been the most rewarding project you worked on, and why it was rewarding?

DC: I led the engineering team that built Google Squared. This was a prototype technology that extracted billions of facts from the general web and made it available to users through a novel interface. We took a team of 10 of the best Google engineers for a year and built something extraordinary. The extraction technology we built now power’s Google Knowledge Graph, which is the next generation of search on Google. Building Google’s first web-scale semantic search engine that is now used by billions of people, is immensely satisfying.

Meet Dan at Ovum Industry Congress, 13-14 May 2014 at the Victoria Park Plaza, London. Enterprise IT professionals can claim a complimentary pass, here.

OIC speaker interview 3: Carolyn Brown, CIO at Durham University

In our third Ovum Industry Congress speaker interview, we capture the inspiring and enlightening thoughts of one of the top speakers at the Congress: Carolyn Brown, Chief Information Officer at Durham University.

Carolyn Brown“I am taking part in the Industry Leaders Panel discussing navigating challenges and delivering value in the digital world. I believe the notion that the IT landscape is changing is over-rated. The topics listed – the impact of automation and outsourcing, delivering ROI, evolving with industry transformation – could easily have been topics for discussion in the 1980s. I believe the purpose of the CIO and the IT department is, and always has been, to increase the NPV of their organisation. This could be done by transforming the business model, creating new products, services or assets, reducing costs or increasing efficiency. There are many routes to transformation. Sourcing strategies, agility and predicting change will always have a role.

Ovum: Thinking about the conference strapline “Strategy, Technology and the art of the possible”, what tech related innovation, transformation or invention would you hope to see in your lifetime:

Carolyn Brown: In the mid-1990s I worked on middleware design for Hewlett Packard, looking at ways we could use a network of communicating devices to change people’s world. In those days, even at HP, we had one shared mobile phone for the team. The ideas we worked on – and in some cases prototyped – included being able to phone your house to switch the heating on (nice when you want a hot bath as soon as you get in), being phoned by your car if it was broken into or by your fridge if it was switched off. We had the idea of the ‘internet of things’. What we didn’t realise was how quickly all of this would happen. That experience makes me think it is impossible to overestimate the speed of change. What I’d like to have is hypertext in my head for everything. Am I the only person who has wanted to point at the TV to find out who an actor is and what else they have appeared in? I am so used to having information at my fingertips that I expect everything to be information-rich, and am disappointed when it isn’t. Perhaps it is the “google contact lenses” that I’m looking for. The trick will be to make it non-intrusive.

Ovum: What has been the most rewarding project you worked on, and why it was rewarding?

CB: My most rewarding project is usually the most recent – right now that’s an organisational transformation and a £40M investment in infrastructure and cultural change. I’ve often saved companies millions of pounds and have found it to be less satisfying than you might think – Managing Directors surprisingly can care more about continuing their pet projects than about the bottom line. Transforming a team or revolutionising the way a business works is a tremendous high for me. Creating and delivering a new business model is fantastic – examples I’ve been involved with are the first online administration of flexible employee benefits, the first online AVC calculator for pensions, and putting smart cards on printers for secure printing. It is very satisfying to see printers everywhere today with card technology and to remember the dinner where my team came up with that idea, which was taken up very rapidly within Hewlett Packard: today I’m rolling out smart–card enabled printing across Durham University, saving paper, electricity and hundreds of thousands of pounds. I’m proud of having been part of creating that capability. A memorable, small piece of work was a few days spent improving admissions processes in a hospital – as CIO I happened to be the best business analyst available. A little analysis and automation saved 2 hours a day for nurses in admissions, leaving them free to look after patients rather than admin: the nurses were literally leaping in the air and screaming with delight when the new processes had been put in place – an image I’ll never forget. Knowing that it was improving patients’ lives as well made this highly rewarding.

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OIC speaker interview 2: Mark Skilton, Warwick Business School, and the phenomenon of digitization

In our second Ovum Industry Congress speaker interview, we caught up with Professor Mark Skilton, Professor of Practice in Information Systems & Management, Warwick Business School.

mark skilton“I am discussing digital ecosystems at OIC 2014, I believe the phenomenon of digitization has emerged connecting and defining information and relationships in the information era. In the last fifty years the scale of digital data is perhaps the single most extraordinary fact that has grown in unprecedented size.

To put this in perspective the library of congress in 1997 had an estimated 3 Petabytes of data in the form of paper books, microfiches and other records. Just ten years later Google MapReduce cluster systems was reported to be processing approx. twenty Petabytes per day. Today research programs such as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative to map the human brain is stated as potentially creating Yottabytes of data. Typically today many defence and commercial analysis programs can generate exabytes of storage. The challenge for CIOs and business leaders is to address this central question of our time in the vision, leadership skills and transitional and transforming opportunities and challenges this brings.

Ovum: What do you see as the coming trends in your profession/area of expertise, and how can you prepare?

MS: With so many new technologies and skills for selection, security, integration and design optimisation of information systems today its needs new competencies and business models. I see the impact on outsourcing and multi-sourcing models being disrupted by new innovation, crowd sourcing and funding models to introduce more effective innovation and better return on contract investment and competitive services in leading exponents of these new models. I also see the need for certification and assurance of staff and provider skills, services and solutions that need to understand and professionalise the use of cloud computing, mobility, social media, big data and converged solutions. I think it’s a risk to assume a digital transformational “model” and dash board with verbal assurances is all that’s needed to convince the board and users of “best practice”. Often the underlying infrastructure and management practices may be stuck in old ways of contract lock in and service retentiveness that in the long term many be bad for the customers and the provider financial longevity. Companies need to have leadership and operating plans that address new sourcing and consumption models that drive innovation and value for money that leverage a complete view of technology capabilities. This involves both a commercial, technical, legal security and operating perspective which should be tested and validated with professional certification and qualifications of key providers management skills, key staff and solution environments.

Ovum: Thinking about the conference strapline “Strategy, Technology and the art of the possible”, what tech related innovation, transformation or invention would you hope to see in your lifetime:

MS: I believe in the next twenty to thirty years there will be shift towards connected objects and “things” that will widen the categories of computing in all areas of society, life and devices. In parallel there will be an emerging use of augmented and artificial intelligence that will transform the human – machine relationship. The following table illustrates some examples of the art of the possible today and the future. There is still an element of “futurism” in some of the vision and claims of these technologies that companies need to watch for as well as alleged new platforms that claim to provide an integrated one stop solution. Enterprises need to start to plan and implement digital ecosystem level strategies that seek to understand the real underlying trends in a deeper level and to get the balance between buying the SOT (Same old thing) and the establishing real IOT (Internet of things) presence and the wider digital ecosystem.”

Skilton graphic



To discuss these fascinating topics and more with Mark, make sure you join us at Ovum Industry Congress. It takes place at the Victoria Park Plaza in London, and is free to attend for end-user IT professionals.

OIC speaker interview 1: Neil Williams, Head of IT at Good Energy, on “Fringe IT” and more

In the first of a series of interviews with speakers at Ovum Industry Congress, the Ovum Live team got the thoughts of Neil Williams, Head of IT at Good Energy about the congress, the industry and his experience.

Neil WilliamsNeil Williams: At Ovum Industry Congress, I am very much looking forward to sharing ideas and opinions about organisational improvement. This is the lifeblood of my career and I am very pleased to be panellist in the discussion “Being an agent of change and transformation”

Ovum: From a learning experience viewpoint, what has been your most valuable lesson in your working career?

NW: As my experience grows, I better understand that IT is a necessary but not sufficient ingredient for economic success. Reflecting on the many transformational situations I have encountered, I recognise that people, organisation and process are far more important than technology.
I am also getting better at understanding what informs good economic choices. In the past, I may have been overly concerned about capacity utilisation and conformance to plan. These days, I find that reducing the cost of delay, managing queues and controlling in-process inventory are far more important.

Ovum: What are some of the challenges of your job? Why and how do you manage, or intend to manage these?

NW: My biggest challenges are managing insatiable demand for mainstream IT and governing Fringe IT.

I use the term Fringe IT to classify what others call “shadow”, “stealth”, “rogue”, or “blackmarket” IT. The term refers to technology used by employees without the clearance or even knowledge of the IT team. This can take a variety of shapes and sizes. The most common are cloud services, spread sheets and databases.
Mainstream IT work is often invisible to outsiders – unless, of course, something goes terribly awry. There are tickets flowing through the help desk, bids, proposals, projects, work packages, maintenance and continuous improvement.
At Good Energy, I am adopting various approaches to tackling these challenges.

The major recurring themes include:

  1. Economics
  2. Managing Queues and Batch Size
  3. Centralised vs Decentralised Control
  4. Multi-sourcing”

To discuss these topics and more with Neil, make sure you join us at Ovum Industry Congress. It takes place at the Victoria Park Plaza in London, and is free to attend for end-user IT professionals.