CTO Sessions: Steve Lane, The Access Group

What type of CTO are you? "I like to have a vision or mission that my Product and Development teams understand and believe in."

Name: Steve Lane

Company: The Access Group

Job title: Chief Technology Officer

Date started current role: July 2016

Location: London, UK

Steve Lane has over 30 years' experience in the software industry. A developer at heart he has been creating and implementing software all his career for a wide variety of organisations. A passionate believer and advocate on the power and flexibility of Cloud based software and SaaS, he is responsible for all Product Development at Access. Prior to joining Access, Lane has been CTO/CIO at Achilles and Experian Decision Analytics and held senior level positions at FICO and Financial Objects.

What was your first job? When I left school, I was looking for any job I could find in computing while I studied programming at evening classes at college. A local bakery with a chain of shops had just invested in their first computer system and they needed someone to enter all the shop's orders into the system every day and print the delivery notes. The software was running on a Commodore ‘PET'. After about a year, with my new-found programming skills, I developed a whole new system for them, running on an ACT Apricot. We went on to sell that system to other bakeries.   

Did you always want to work in IT? Absolutely.  I am showing my age but I was fascinated by the new age of the personal computer. As soon as I started earning I saved up and bought my very first computer - a VIC 20. Learning to program and to create software did not seem like a job to me. I loved it. As IBM introduced the first PC I was in the right place at the right time and become one of the first few specialist programmers for PC's. I am privileged to say I have met Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other early pioneers of personal computing. When Bill Gates said "A computer on every desk and in every home" I was there right at the beginning, when there weren't any.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I left school after ‘A' levels and then did evening classes at college. My computing and programming skills in those days were mainly self-taught although I got more formal company sponsored training as my career progressed.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Well I started at the bakery, self-declared myself as a qualified programmer and went looking for other jobs. After a short stint at Ann Summers I then progressed to my first large IT department at Canada Maritime. I learned an awful lot there and as well as my PC skills was taught how to develop on mainframe and mini computer systems. This was a great foundation in learning how to work with a variety of stake holders and implement really complex systems. Then back to the bakery to write a networked version of their software (LANs had just been invented!) and my first entrepreneurial adventure selling my software to other companies. It was a great experience but I did not make my fortune - just about breaking even before giving up after a couple of years. 

Then on to where, at the time, the big opportunities were - in the City and the newly deregulated banks after the ‘Big Bang'. I ended up at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and had my first really big break - joining a team that was creating a Front Office dealing system on IBM OS/2. We were pioneers and it was incredibly hard work but fantastic fun. The software was bought by Misys (now Finastra - then Midas/Kapiti) and they asked me to join them to run the development and professional services team. This was my first leadership role and was a fantastic learning experience. The system - called CityDealer - was very successful and it was a great time. 

I then joined a small software company called 9000 Ltd. This was basically four friends with a vision to create the next generation Front Office Dealing and Risk Management software on a Microsoft platform. This was the last major piece of software where I was personally writing my share of the code. I was very proud of what we created. 9000 Ltd was sold to Financial Objects (who were later acquired by Temenos). At Financial Objects I rose up the ranks to my first Board level CTO position. After Financial Objects I joined FICO and started a chapter of my career running large global development teams and being responsible for a number of Enterprise level products - at one time I lived in India for a year as we established a new Analytics and Development centre in Bangalore.  This gave me a whole new leadership and business-oriented skill set that I took to Experian where I became CTO of their Decision Analytics Division. 

Experian was a great company to work for. I am proud of several initiatives I was responsible for there - the creation of the PowerCurve platform that is now in use in 100's of companies around the world and setting up two brand new Development centres - one in Kuala Lumpur and one in Sofia. FICO and Experian were great experiences as global roles but after many years where you are on a plane every week and spending too much time away from home I was delighted to make a change and take my first CIO role in a Private Equity backed company called Achilles. After a couple of years at Achilles I moved to become CTO at Access, another PE backed company. I can genuinely say that Access is a fantastic company and I love my job here. So my career path has brought me here and I am delighted!

What type of CTO are you? I love software and I love creating fantastic products. I like to have a vision or mission that my Product and Development teams understand and believe in. The products you create must resonate with your customers and you want them to love them as much as you do. I like to see what is available or possible with software and technology, harness that and make systems that enable and help my customers succeed in whatever it is they are trying to achieve.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I am a big fan of being able to create systems out of reliable, scalable, component parts. At Access we have created our own software ecosystem that we deliver as the Workspace Platform. There are loads of technologies in there that I am excited about - our own UI component library based on Stencil I have very high hopes for.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Blockchain. It is useful for some scenarios but I see some people trying to shoehorn it into a solution for no real benefit

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? Our ‘Workspace 1st' initiative has rallied the product teams towards a shared vision of collaboration. As well as speeding up time to market we are giving our customers an easy way to take more products form us that work well together.

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? We are creating software products for our customers to use. They buy from us to drive growth and increase efficiency. What I do know is it is much easier to drive adoption of your software if it is genuinely easy and pleasant to use and he extra time and money we are spending getting the user experience just right is more important than ever.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? We have customers in lots of different sectors all with their own reasons for using our software. A common theme I am seeing, however, is around employee engagement. An engaged workforce is more productive and less likely to leave and the software that people are using day to day has a big part to play in employee satisfaction. Everyone needs the tools to do their job.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goal? Our customers will have a particular goal or ROI in mind when they first ask to see our software and solutions. We have a lot of experience in showing how our technology can benefit different use cases be it efficiency, visibility, growth or compliance. Our mobile and tablet solutions in the residential care sector have freed up staff to spend more time with their residents and less time on paperwork.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I like to think that the product come first but it is enabled by the tech strategy. So I am always looking at technology and wondering how it can make my products better or help me launch a new product. But not tech just for tech's sake, I like to give my team the freedom to experiment with new technology though. We hold regular hackathons which are a great way to experiment

What makes an effective tech strategy? One that be demonstrated to be aligned to the goals of the company. One that you and your team believe in. One that your board understand and believe in.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Technology and software are at the heart of almost every business. The CTO needs to be front and centre to help the CEO and the board to drive and formulate the company strategy using his or her knowledge of what can and cannot be achieved. Companies thrive if they have better software and technology than their competition and equally they can die if they do not. The effective CTO must more and more understand every critical aspect of their business and be able to credibly formulate, drive and deliver on initiatives that can move it forward

What has been your greatest career achievement? Every time I log in to Access Workspace I smile. I am very proud of that software.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Everything I have done has got me to today so I would not want to change a thing.

What are you reading now? Ben Hogan's Five Lessons.

Most people don't know that I… Played guitar in a punk band when I was in my teens. We played two gigs. We were truly terrible.

In my spare time, I like to…Walk my Border Terrier, Monty, in the Surrey Hills.

Ask me to do anything but… Eat Crème Caramel. My Mum used to get me confused with my brother (who likes it) and regularly served it up as dessert for me as a "special treat". It should be banned.