We recently shared that our copies of Tech Treats & Treasure arrived and also published Beth’s article on the future of technology. Today, we are excited to share Mark’s article that focusses on change.
We highly recommend purchasing a copy at www.nuggetstore.co.uk, not only as it is a fascinating read, but it also helps Cancer Central continue to provide their fantastic support. We are proud to be one of the sponsors.
We are now coming up to five years and it’s been the most enjoyable, the most challenging, and the most interesting five years that I’ve had for a long time.
The first thing to note is that starting a business, and then running and leading it through a pandemic is certainly very different to anything I had done before. When I worked as a CIO for some very large global organisations, I had a team of staff I could manage but now I’ve had to try to become more of a leader, and of course there is a big difference.
We’ve had to create a brand, an ethos, decide what is important to us and get everyone brought into that vision. There’s a great phrase: ‘You’re only a leader of people if they are prepared to follow.’ And in my experience, people want to follow a purpose that matters rather than just make a big salary.
It’s also been interesting to take the shackles off myself. Being in corporate life for 25 years, I didn’t realise that I had become slightly limited in what I could and couldn’t do. After some months of running my own business, I suddenly thought, hang on, I can actually go and do ‘that’ if I want to, nobody’s going to stop me.
That was a real Eureka moment for me, because I think in corporate life, without even noticing it I was slightly blinkered to what was possible. Suddenly, everything was possible. But on the flip side of that, lots of things were not really possible, because we didn’t have the money and/or the people to do everything we wanted to. So, I was constantly playing this game of what I’d like to do with what I was able to do.
It’s been a huge change.
For someone that’s thinking about changing careers perhaps even thinking about starting their own business, what nugget of advice would you offer them Mark?
I would say business is all about telling stories and understanding what stories people want to listen to. It’s got to resonate. You have to really listen very carefully to people – to understand the theme and tone of what’s important to them. And then think carefully about how you tell your story to bring people with you.
I spent the first six months trying to manage my way into a business. And then I realised it wasn’t about just managing tasks, you have to have a purpose, you have to have a vision. And that has to come from what’s inside you and what’s inside the people you work with.
Having gone through personal change in terms of moving from a CIO into a different kind of leader and shaping an organisation. Mark has created a company that is centred around change, but I must, just must, ask about the company name.
We kicked around different names at the start of the company, as you do. And there was a lot of talk about technology at the time being disruptive, and technology affecting people’s lives. I got the sense that a lot of the press at the time and the sentiments were all a bit negative. Technology is going to put people out of work, it’s going to challenge them, it’s going to change them, it’s going to be difficult.
And I thought well, yes, it can be all of those things, but technology is like any tool, ultimately it can be used for good or for bad, depending on who’s holding the trigger.
So I thought, where’s the positive because there are so many great aspects around technology, so many great ways that you can use technology for good. Technology is creating new ways of working all the time. From being able to spot early signs of cancer on images or being able to understand people’s behaviours and emotions from instant messages.
Technology is being used all the time to allow us to do things that we never thought possible. So why do we focus on the negatives? Why is it all doom and gloom?
When building this company I wanted to make sure that we were focused on positively embracing technology for good. Our name comes from embrace new technology ‘embracent’.
There’s also a play on that as well in that ‘NT’ always stood for new technology. But it was also new thinking, new teams, new times. Embrace lots of different positive meanings. The best technology of today will be outdated tomorrow. It was more about being open in your mindset to embrace things that come to you, rather than be disrupted by them. And the new technology, of course, we are a technology business. But it’s not just about technology. It’s about thinking. It’s about people.
I didn’t know that about the ‘NT’, super clever Mark, I love it. Let’s touch on new technology and the future. What are you seeing now that really excites you?
A lot of the companies that we work for make bad decisions around technology. They don’t understand what is really possible, they don’t understand how to organise themselves to take advantage of it. They make poor decisions, the governance is wrong, and some struggle to fund it properly, do the change management and really embrace the technology.
What we are focused on at embracent is simple technology done well. Let’s get the basics right otherwise people end up working and doing their jobs, in spite of the technology, not with the technology.
And the other thing is scale, you have the availability of thinking power. You can scale up now in a way that you can never do. For example if you previously wanted to analyse all the UK data on climate change, for example, it would have taken years, and it would have been incredibly expensive.
Now you just spin up a bunch of AWS services, you spin up a bunch of different capabilities. You spin up things. What’s fascinating for me is the fact that you can scale so quickly. I’ll give you an example, we wanted to create a new customer survey so that everything we do is backed by an understanding of whether we did a good job or not? And we decided to incorporate sentiment analysis, an AI that helps us understand not just what people are saying, but what’s behind what they’re saying, based on the words that they choose, and the order.
And all this is now possible by simply buying a sentiment analysis tool off Google for a few dollars. You couldn’t do that previously; you’d probably have to spend a lot of money with someone like IBM to build something for you. So, the tools you need you can just buy as a service and consume it. Then pull it all together and do something incredible. It’s not a case of you having to invent it, you just essentially go and subscribe to a service. And I find that so exciting because it’s putting power, massive power into even the smallest businesses hands.
This book is about the positive impact of technology and the wonderful stories you may not have heard about. Mark is a great supporter of hospices. Precious places at a very difficult time at the end of life. I’m keen to learn more about your work, Mark.
I have supported hospices for 15 years, since both my parents sadly passed away because of cancer. When my father was in Bolton Hospice, in the hands of some wonderful people, I was struck by how incredible those people were, and the amazing jobs they do.
And the fact that they didn’t just care about my parents, but they cared about me, my brother, my sister, they cared about everything and everybody to a level that you just wouldn’t imagine.
I was also struck by how poorly supported they were. They were functioning with very little technology support, without any proper funding, having to raise their own funds, having to use old technology and manual bits of paper. They were making such a massive difference with hardly any of the tools that you would expect of even a small business these days.
I’ve now worked with a range of different hospices – giving advice on technology strategy ¬– and I’m also the chair of HQP, a charity that supports many hospices up and down the country as a buying group. It’s a simple model to help hospices join together to get the best possible price on key products and services.
My company embracent is on a HQP framework for providing digital technology skills and experience to hospices at a heavily discounted price, or sometimes a pro bono price, because those organisations should have access to the best technology out there. They are underfunded, they’re struggling, they need to maximise every dollar. What we do is help them in a range of different ways, in a way that they can consume. Because they are often small businesses, they don’t even understand technology, they might not even have a technology manager.
It’s about giving them better tools, it’s about giving them better automations of manual processes, understanding their data and how can they better serve their patients. It’s about helping them embrace technology so that they care for more people, more of the time.
Mark ran the London Marathon in 2010, amazing. I used to love running long distance at school, but I’m not quite sure what happened. What can we learn from putting ourselves through something like a marathon? What nugget of wisdom does Mark have for us from treading the streets of London and completing those 26 miles and 385 yards.
Don’t shake everybody’s hand as you’re going along because it slows you down!
But seriously, when I started I couldn’t even run to the corner. I learned that you can do things that you can’t imagine if you really are focused and dedicated and work hard. I trained for nine months and got to the point where I could run a marathon. I never thought I could do that and it was a real eye opener to me about what people are capable of when they allow themselves to embrace new possibilities.
At the start I thought, I’ll never be able to do this. But for me it was a challenge and a focus. I felt like I needed to run the marathon – to raise money for hospices and to thank the people at Bolton Hospice for the dedication they had shown to my father. And therefore I wanted to be true to that vision. And I wanted to stick to that. You can do things that surprise yourself.