The IT industry is certainly the place to be if forward thinking is your passion. Such has been the pace of change in digital technology over the past few decades, you start to wonder if the tech community has left any innovators and ground-breakers spare for anyone else.
The flipside, of course, is that there is always a pressure to push boundaries and be on the verge of something new. Nothing stands still in the world of IT and telecommunications. If your business does, it loses the race.
Adrian Thirkill, chief executive officer at GCI, came into IT from the world of management consultancy. “I was assigned to do some work at Colt,” he said. “I found that I liked the industry and that was clearly the case on both sides, as they invited me to stay afterwards.”
It was at Colt, the London-based telecoms and data centre services company, that Adrian first started to realise that IT was the place to be if you wanted to mix with the innovators and forward thinkers.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some great managers and worked with leaders both in technology and beyond. Lakh Jemmett, the managing director at Colt, was a brilliant visionary, as was David Rowe who started and created Easynet.”
Removing the silos
As a lifelong Leeds United fan, Adrian has had plenty of opportunity to witness what bad management can do to an organisation. In his professional life, he has taken on board the lessons his mentors taught him, and sees his role very much as that of an enabler of success.
“My job is to sit at the bottom of the organisation helping all of the people above me,” he said.
From the bottom, looking up at the whole structure of the company he now leads, Adrian has never forgotten the lessons of innovation he learnt early on in IT.
GCI provides managed services in four areas – Unified Communications, the Cloud, security and compliance and network and infrastructure. It is easy to view these as separate disciplines under the business technology banner, and have separate departments running as distinct entities to run each. Indeed, this was how Adrian found GCI operating when he took over.
He believes his biggest legacy as CEO has been to change that mode of organisation and that way of thinking about the company’s services.
“Freeing our people to work together from the prison of their silos has been key,” he said. “It has enabled them to look at the bigger picture and work out what our customers really want from us. An organisational structure should always be a suggestion, not a rigid regime.”
The same could be said for the distinctions drawn between different disciplines of business IT. Although labelling this UC and that infrastructure services may be convenient for the vendors, it is not necessarily how customers see things.
Close to home
Out of all the services GCI provides, Adrian rates the most successful as UCaaS and CPaaS. So the demand from customers is not for Unified Communications, cloud services and so on in isolation, but for a mix of different kinds of expertise delivering the best solutions for the customers.
CPaaS in particular is a perfect analogy for this silo-free approach to IT services, as more and more end users look for comms solutions which can be embedded into other business software for convenience and efficiency.
Adrian believes focussing on what customers want, and how that changes over time, is a key driving force behind innovation in the tech industry. But he also argues that, at a company like his, in some ways that focus needs to start from within.
“Without customer service, you don’t have customers,” he says. “But it starts with looking after your people first, because making them happy and better at what they do drives customer service and means they’ll go the extra mile when needed.”
In many ways, then, GCI has become the testing ground for the model they see an increasing demand for from their customers. That is, removing the silos which have traditionally separated different areas of IT, and focusing instead on solutions, which improve working practices, regardless of how you categorise them.