Senior Spotlight: April 2023
Crimson’s Head of Customer Engagement, Chris O’Brien, interviews senior technologists across the UK. Discover what drives these individuals as we delve into their careers, most exciting projects, and tech predictions for 2023 and beyond. Be inspired by their stories and connect with your IT peers.
Paul Lyon | IT Director | ACS Clothing
Chris: So, Paul, I have known you for around ten years. Most of your recent roles position you as an IT Director, but you’ve also been a CTO in the past.
How did you climb the ladder to those C-level roles?
Paul: Well, ultimately, through having good teams, the right place at the right time, and someone trusting you to make the next step.
I was studying hospitality whilst working at a retailer called CCC, which had two shops at the time. When I finished my degree, I went on to work there full-time. Knowing there was a gap for IT, I approached the IT Director and secured an IT role. CCC rebranded to GO Outdoors; by the time I left, there were over 50 stores and a £250 million turnover.
I built my experience there across 15 years, everything from tool systems, ERP, wireless, mobile technology, warehousing, third-party logistics, and some E-commerce. Unfortunately, I could never quite get to the top peg because the top peg was always backed by venture capitalists. The business always wanted an external, with external influence and external experience of other companies. That pushed me to look elsewhere, where I made the leap to IT Director at Ebuyer.
Ebuyer was the right place, right time. I also had the support of David Lucy, who recommended me for the role. He was working at Wren Kitchens, our sister company, and they were based next door. Ebuyer was pure play warehousing, picked by light automation, full 300,000 square foot warehousing, full warehouse management system. So, no bricks and mortar, e-commerce, front end, site search, recommendations, and basket process, both B2C and B2B sales. During the time I was there, I'd describe it as a volatile workplace. So, after three years, I decided to move on and was approached for a Head of IT role at Technolog, just four miles from home.
I'm currently Group IT Director/IS Director at Technolog, and it's more based around the Internet of Things (IoT). Technolog design and manufacture battery-powered data logging, meter reading, and pressure control products for water, gas, and electricity utilities, facilitating efficient management of water, gas, and electricity networks. You're probably within half a mile of one of our devices in the ground that controls water, gas, or a waste network. So, critical human needs getting water to the home and gas into your house and, from a sustainability standpoint, lowering leakage and maintaining services.
Chris: We're hearing a lot about sewage at the minute; there is that BBC Two programme, Our Troubled Rivers.
Paul: It's a regulated area; Technolog has grown throughout. One recent contract was 50,000 devices purely to look at 'events.'
Chris: And you're moving on to another IT Director role within the sustainability space later this month?
Paul: I'm moving across to Advanced Clothing Solutions (ACS). They're a circular fashion hub, looking to change linear sales models into circular fashion. So, rather than just being a one-off sale, singular transaction, trying to repeat the transaction on that single line, selling something but getting that garment reused, repaired, refreshed. Avoiding waste and helping retailers get away from that fast fashion – buy it cheap, dump it quick.
Chris: Yes, sustainable fashion is front and center right now, and rightly so.
Paul: Yes, even when you think you're doing the right thing by sending clothing to a charity shop. What they don't want goes to countries like Kenya or Africa and may end up in a landfill.
I'm looking forward to starting at ACS; there is lots of opportunity to make a difference. They've recently gained the B Corp registration, working with partners like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The 'not my problem' attitude doesn't fit my beliefs or the general population. Driving change and opportunity is an integral part of my career choices now. I want to look back and know I did something to help.
Chris: What's been the biggest challenge in your career to date?
Paul: People. You work with some people to help them grow, which is rewarding, and it works both ways. But then, you're asked to work with some people that could distract you. I think it's about choosing who you take advice from, where you invest your energy, and who can help you grow. I love 90s music, but I'm not fond of 90s legacy systems. It's about spending your time wisely with the right people.
Chris: That's a good analogy.
So, tell us about the most exciting project you've done to date or any up-and-coming projects you're looking forward to getting your teeth into.
Paul: Well, on the sustainability side, I've always pushed for sustainable kit in all three businesses I've worked in. So, whether it is refurbished, renewed, whatever you want to call it, you don't have to buy brand new every time.
Project-wise, it's difficult because you get massive projects that take time and effort, which is very rewarding. Still, sometimes it's the small things which fix operational niggles, saving one person's time, 30 minutes a day, can be more valuable.
Chris: Can you give us an example of where you have transformed legacy technology that was a challenge but had to be done?
Paul: So, I did a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) switch off.
Paul: Most people think of the phone lines being switched off in 2025 as being around phone systems. The reality is there are hundreds of thousands of data-led devices on a phone line that may not have a mobile signal, a pump station in the middle of Scotland where there's no cellular. You can do satellite, but Technolog is currently battery-powered. So yeah, the most significant project has been modernising that to be more IoT-focused.
Chris: What would be your dream role besides the new IT Director role at ACS?
Paul: Firstly, you must jump around a bit to find out what you like to do and where you want to work. I'd say the new opportunity at ACS gives me lots of scope around what I want to do from a sustainability point of view.
However, in five years, I may end up in a fractional role. The contract side has always interested me; I haven't found the right opportunity yet.
Chris: There are some key challenges like tech shortages, talent attraction, diversity, accessibility, and cyber security. What do you think are some of the trends that will impact IT leaders this year?
Paul: Well, sustainability, the commitment to reduce emissions by the UK government, whether that's on actual companies' radars yet, or it's just a forgotten line at the bottom of the list. But it shouldn't be.
ChatGPT or whatever the next buzzword for AI will be. Our developers are using it for various things, including bug identification. So, AI will be huge; it might be the equivalent of a dot-com boom in the early 2000s; the pace of the developments is incredible.
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