Senior Spotlight: October 2020

by Holly Burnett 14 October 2020

Every month our Senior Appointments team will be interviewing a technology leader from Crimson's network of talented senior IT executives. Find out what drives these individuals as we delve into their career, their most exciting projects, and their tech predictions for 2021 and beyond. Be inspired by their stories and connect with your IT peers. 

Debbie Astley | Interim Head of Digital Guest Experience at Edyn Group

Tell us about your last role? 

"PureGym (my last employer) recently acquired Fitness World Group in Denmark, Switzerland and Poland. As part of this acquisition, my role was focused on supporting the integration and consolidation of their membership platforms, driving a reduction in the total cost of ownership and simplifying development and support operations.

I reviewed the membership platforms to assess suitability and their underpinning capabilities. I led the analysis of internationalisation and localisation requirements and identified broader people and process impacts for this priority project."

And your new role?

"My new role is with Edyn, a provider of lifestyle aparthotels and serviced apartments. They have brands operating worldwide and an ambitious phase of European growth ahead. I will be joining them as Interim Head of Guest Experience, focused on re-imagining the guest experience and transforming them into a digital-first player through the use of smart technology. Think self-serve check-in, concierge on-demand and on-premise integrations, to name a few!

I am excited to apply my user-centric focus and passion for delivering engaging digital customer experiences that tap into key customer 'success moments'. It's going to be great to explore how technology can be used in ways that surprise and delight across the end-to-end guest journey."

How did you get to where you are today? 

"Curious and tenacious by nature I love uncovering the detail of how things work! I've had a varied and interesting path to get to where I am today that I think has awarded me well-rounded experiences. Leaving school, I qualified as a horse-riding instructor, where I nurtured my coaching skills. I also had several hospitality roles where I learnt the difference between three fundamental values; the difference between 'good and great' service, a choice between 'serving or delighting' the customer and always being proactive to avoid reactive situations.

From there, I joined the RAF; the final chapter in building the foundations to my future vocation. Here I learnt the importance of creating a culture of teamwork, honed my planning skills and gained extensive leadership experience, alongside a strong respect and discipline ethic. Telecoms was where my passion for technology was born. Since then I have undertaken a huge breadth of technology roles; leading a team of ePOS data inputters, overseeing teams of technical project managers and running IT and digital functions for LA Fitness and more recently DW Fitness First (previously DW Sports)."

What has been your proudest moment?  

"It's hard for me to pinpoint one particular proud moment over the years that stands out. I have been lucky enough to work with many great teams across different roles in my career. One specific moment takes me back many years to my horse-riding days when I trained a horse that was deemed 'untrainable' and competed with her at national level, placing in the finals.

More recently, I was invited to join an International Mobile Consortium Group to work with Apple on developing the integration capabilities between their Apple HealthKit and an iWatch companion app for our mobile application. Being able to ideate, design and create new features with a tech giant and a group of leaders who are at the leading edge of innovation was an incredible thrill."

What has been the biggest challenge in your career to date? 

"Across the projects that I have successfully completed, technology is generally the most straightforward element, with people and process often being the bigger challenge!

I'll be honest; I don't think I have ever delivered a project in my career without having to work through a transformational challenge. However, by bringing key stakeholders along on the journey, understanding broader project impacts and finding regular opportunities to engage and involve end-users, you can embed business change from the very start and overcome these challenges before they materialise."

What motivates you to get up and go to work? 

"I love working in tech, and beyond merely a professional interest, I am keen to keep up with the latest trends personally, too. Taking on roles in my career that not only allows me to explore new technology but adds real customer and competitor advantage to the business is the ultimate goal. It's rewarding to be able to create innovative experiences that expose customers to creative solutions while securing brand loyalty and ultimately making a difference in helping them achieve their goals."

How do you balance career and personal life? 

"So, this can be a tricky one! I have always had a separate mobile and email for work and personal. Then its about planning your weekends to give yourself that quality time back, whether it's walking the dogs, relaxing in the hot tub, retail therapy or keeping fit in the gym. Finally, anyone who knows me, knows how I love to travel and experience new cultures."

 Do you have any tips for people looking to secure a role like yours? 

"This year has been especially challenging for those looking to secure a new role. Don't take things personally, don't overthink, keep going and be focused on your search. Work with a few credible recruitment agencies, plan your day and treat your search as if it's a job.

Remain authentic and talk about what you are good at and what you enjoy. Think about how you can demonstrate your credibility; it's not what you did, but the impact you made. How did your projects drive business outcomes? How did they support the overarching business goals? Ensure where possible you articulate supporting metrics to allow context."

How do you stay up to date with tech trends / connect with peers? 

"I enjoy browsing online forums and following leading tech brands to understand the latest trends and developments. I also enjoy networking with my peers who work across similar industries and roles and learning about their creative approach to challenges."

What are your IT/tech predictions for 2021 or beyond? 

"2020 has certainly been a tumultuous year with unprecedented events impacting our way of life. Heading into 2021, we will see many businesses continuing to be much more conservative in managing their spend; however, I think from this disruption there exists a greater opportunity. I believe that it will be those organisations who prioritise investment in creating innovative digital experiences that will not only recover more quickly but will achieve differentiated advantage and long-term customer loyalty.

My key predictions for 2021 include:

The increasing role of the smartphone

In a post-COVID world, I believe our phones will more than ever provide the bridge between the digital and physical world In lieu of touchscreens and kiosks as our favoured device.

A tipping point for voice.

2021 will be a pivotal moment in the use of voice interfaces for interaction and content searching. We will unlock the true potential of voice-enabled devices in our homes, cars, and lives.

Commoditisation of connected devices.

Already featured in many homes, offices, and public spaces, I believe 2021 will see further growth of connected devices, reducing the cost and making it more accessible for a broader range of applications. Increased Investment will need to be allocated towards security in support of these new and emerging use-cases.

Unlocking the power of 5G.

To power these new experiences, interfaces and IoT-connected devices, 5G connectivity will be key. We have talked about it for a long time, but we are now seeing the hardware coming to market. Richer content, immersive experiences and greater brand moments will be brought to our smart devices forging a new era of rich customer and user interaction.

Broader adoption of 'headless platforms'.

On the back-end, and in support of all of these user experiences will be the expanded adoption of headless platforms that remove the need for limiting Front-end architecture.

I believe it's still important to ensure the tech compliments your customer journey. Just because the tech exists doesn't mean your customer wants it. By putting the user at the centre of your product development processes, it will allow you to effectively prioritise which innovations are simply a fad versus those that offer real user value."

Connect with Debbie on LinkedIn

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Topics: Senior Appointments, Tech Leaders, IT leaders