Technology Chiefs Interview Paul Cutter

Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Paddy Power Betfair

What are the top 3 priorities in your role?

1. Integration of the core platforms and services following the merger of Paddy Power and Betfair. The approach we are taking is best of breed, where we take the strongest platform from each. The focus will then be on the migration of customers to a single platform.

2. Continue to deliver new products and features that differentiate us from our competitors.

3. Tech talent – there is a war for talent going on and though we have a very strong team, there is a need to keep bringing top talent into key areas. This can make such a difference, in an industry that is founded on intellectual capital, the intellectual quality of the people you have is such a differentiator.

Which previous role had the biggest impact on your career?

When I became DIR of Business Solutions at AOL. This was when I made the shift from managing a team to leading a department/function. This accelerated my career by giving me exposure to all the experiences that you get when leading a team at that level. I went from managing a team of 15 to leading a department of 90.

How do you see the role of the Technology Leader changing?

Technology Leaders need to become increasingly customer and product focused.  I don’t think a pure technologist will succeed anymore. As a senior technology leader, you need to be clued-in to what your customers are doing, what they really want and how your products are performing.  Just understanding the technology is not enough, focusing on the customer and products is the key.

What are the 3 most important issues confronting the technology industry?

1. Cyber security – the sophistication and volume of cyber threats is growing all the time. We have a responsibility to protect our customers’ data and ensure their privacy, which means we always have to be one step ahead of the hackers and criminals.

2. Talent – it is such a differentiator in our industry. Every technology leader should be thinking about how to find and grow the best talent.

3. Pace – today’s business environment is so competitive, and so open to disruption, that getting stuff done quickly really matters. The businesses that win are the ones that can deliver high-quality products to their customers faster than their competitors.

What 3 technology trends are you most excited about and why?

1. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Intelligent Automation – I tend to favor Intelligent Automation as a term because the goal for me is automation. This is now becoming mainstream to the point where there are applications to exploit it.  For our business, if you think about the way we manage fraud, manage customer contacts, even risk management, all of these now have the potential to have automated elements in ways we couldn’t have done before.

2. New user interfaces; voice activation with the likes of Alexa and Siri etc. AR & VR allowing us to think differently about the products we offer. We have been exploring ways that these apps could enable our customers to better interact with our services, e.g. a voice activated betting app. I think this will be as big a shift as mobile was from desktop.

3. Cloud – Even though this has been around for a while, we are still only scratching the surface of what it has to offer.  Regulatory concerns restrict what we can put in the cloud and I think this has meant we have been relatively slow to think about all the possibilities. Increasingly now we are using it for data analytics and soon will be offering customer services from the cloud.

What product or company is having the biggest impact?

Slack – because of the way it is starting to change how we communicate within the business. A lot of the operational communication is now happening over Slack, people are creating Slack threads, as opposed to sending email threads. It was introduced in technology for the use case of operational incident management, but as soon as other people saw it being used, they started using it in their roles and it mushroomed from there. A clear sign that it was fulfilling a business need that wasn’t being met.

What mobile app do you use every day?

Evernote – I use it for everything.  Firstly, it has a very well designed interface which puts other apps to shame and secondly, the convenience of being able to read and edit the same note on mobile, desktop or anywhere on the web is just brilliant.  I keep both business and personal notes, even down to producing my weekly shopping lists.

What 3 skills should an aspiring Technology Leader look to develop?

1. Communication – most people don’t understand technology and therefore the ability to be able to communicate technology ideas and concepts to a non-technology audience, is absolutely key. If you want to be a trusted partner, you have to be able to get across what you are talking about.

2. Engagement – being able to or taking the time to build support for your ideas, taking the time to cultivate support and demand for what you are doing. This should be treated as part of your job.  Typically, Technology is an enabler for a business, therefore you are constantly having to justify your existence.

3. Leadership – sounds obvious but leaders need followers, how do I make people want to follow me and buy into my vision.

Where do you look for trusted technology information & inspiration?

For me, I like Wired as they cover technology but from the angle of how it can be used, as opposed to pure technology science. I also read The Register, but this is definitely more focused for technologists and others worth mentioning would be The Verge and Tech Crunch.

What books should someone looking to get on in their technology career read?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz – I like it because it’s based on his experiences, rather than just theory.  He’s largely telling stories about what he learnt and what he did, so a very engaging style. He’s talking about real problems; recruiting people, developing people and firing people.  If you’re in a leadership role, these are the type of issues you’re going to have to face.

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim – certainly if you are interested in DevOps and Agile this is a very easy book to read. It’s a novel so not heavy on the theory, but really brings to life some of the concepts well. In particular, the chapter about the release literally makes your blood run cold, it goes on and on and at every stage, things keep getting worse.

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