CTO Sessions: Ian Mitchell, 6point6

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? "... data decoupling within micro service architectures."

Name: Ian Mitchell

Company: 6point6

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: April 2018

Location: London, UK

With over 30 years in the IT Industry, spanning roles from Developer to CTO and Chief Architect, Ian Mitchell has extensive experience in developing and successfully implementing complex solutions and enterprise architectures across all architecture domains (business, information, application, infrastructure, service and security). This experience is complemented with extensive knowledge in Agile development, Cloud, Big Data, Innovation and value-based engineering. Prior to 6point6, Mitchell worked at Royal Mail, Fujitsu, Atos and Unisys.

What was your first job? Car mechanic.

Did you always want to work in IT? When I began working, IT didn't really exist, certainly not as it does now, but I have always wanted to work in engineering. From my first job as a car mechanic, I moved on to become an electronics' and then a software engineer and that is how I started in IT.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I'm very dyslexic and left school with few qualifications, which at that time you could do. I was then fortunate enough to be offered an apprenticeship to gain HNC (Higher National Certificate) in electronics, which is what started the journey to where I am today. More recently, I graduated in Psychology & Philosophy from the Open University and have also completed the Said Business School Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I have always been fascinated with engineering. Starting out as a mechanical engineer working on cars, I then moved into a number of engineering roles, including hardware and software development to Solution and Enterprise Architect roles. Since then I have developed many enterprise-wide IT architectures and even IT development frameworks. I took a brief detour into project management but found that it wasn't for me and returned to computer engineering. That's been the only real detour I've taken.

What type of CTO are you? I suppose I am more of a pragmatic strategist. I look for the best strategic solution to the problem, but I am hands-on with the projects and realistic with what we can do for clients within the timeframes and budgets.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I don't really get excited by a technology on its own, but more by the real-world application of that technology to meet people's needs. The application of AI in autonomous vehicles and other life-critical scenarios is evolving the technologies, such that they are more usable in life impacting decision-making situations as well.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? We have been getting a lot of hype regarding big data and blockchain, but really neither in the context of the business problems they solve. The excitement shouldn't be in the technology specifically, but in how it can be used to solve real-world problems unsolvable with other technologies today.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? For a client, I designed a solution to use passports and facial recognition to verify a person's identity in real-time. Initial expectations of adoption were around 50% but we actually achieved well over 75%. This technology revolutionised the way the client captures identities, significantly reducing the cost and time this process took.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Within 6point6, we are lucky as we are already digital natives, for example, all of our systems are SaaS. Probably more interestingly though, I am currently working with a client driving massive digital transformation. The focus in this situation is on the customer journey and operational efficiency. Sometimes it is just about finding the right compromise to balance the two.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? The biggest technical issue I am helping clients with at the moment is data decoupling within micro service architectures. That's to say moving them away from huge databases of information and introducing truly isolated microservices allowing them to increase delivery speeds whilst reducing development costs and maintaining innovation. This helps companies to become more agile and enables them to deploy larger more complex applications continuously and more quickly.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We break up the client's IT landscape into application services. We then map the legacy systems and target business capabilities to those services. This ensures that the system features meet the business needs. We are then able to prioritise the outcomes and needs of the client, developing a feature release timeline to best deliver those outcomes and business goals. It is important that we remain realistic about what we can deliver and the timeframe it is possible to deliver it in.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? We used to have this problem but recently we have found that driving a close alignment between the product team and the architect has helped a lot. Additionally, by making the architect the non-functional requirements product owner, we are better able to align both the service and the technology.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Traditionally companies have technology strategies that are derived from the business architecture/strategy in a top-down fashion. In the modern world where technology is at the heart of every interaction with the customer, this is no longer a sustainable model and the business leaders need to be much more technology savvy, not just at a business feature level, but also at a data and implementation level. The technology strategy must be developed with and drive innovation in the business strategy.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? That's a great question. I think technology innovation will become more of a core offering. People in business will need to know more about the technology they use in the coming years than they did for the last 30 to 40 years. Technology is critical to transforming business and employees need to know how it works. The original CTO role that used to sit under the CIO must now be at the core of how businesses operate.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I worked as part of a team on a project which was tasked with developing infra-red heat detection cameras used to detect the heat signature of incoming missiles. On one occasion, in the gulf war, a British ship was hit by a torpedo creating a great plume of black smoke. The camera was used to detect the heat signatures of sailors in the cold sea through the smoke. It was never designed to detect heat signatures that small, but it was able to do so, and it led to the rescue of eight crew members. It was great to see a technology we had built go above and beyond its original application.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I can safely say that I would not have done anything differently. Even when I had a stint in project management it gave me more empathy with people that undertake that role, and I took that into situations when I was working with project managers. Everything I have done in my career has led me to this point in my life and I genuinely love what I do.

What are you reading now? Jack Reacher Night School. I am working my way through all of his books. I am also watching ‘Churchill's Secret Agents: The New Recruits' on Netflix. The techniques for training people the SOE use are very interesting. I am thinking about if/how we can bring things like situational training and constant observation into the training we do with our engineers.

Most people don't know that I… …have my PADI diving license to a rescue level.

In my spare time, I like to……walk my dog, go skiing and mountaineering. I am also writing a blog about interesting places to visit in Maldon Essex, where I live.

Ask me to do anything but… …read long technical documents. Keep it short and simple and then we can discuss the details face to face. Life's too short to waste reading things you don't need to!