CTO Sessions: Niki Trigoni, Navenio

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? “Most technologies have been through their hype phase before expectations are calibrated to meet reality. Artificial intelligence has been a typical example…”


Name: Niki Trigoni

Company: Navenio

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: September 2019

Location: Oxford

Niki Trigoni is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Oxford where she leads the Cyber Physical Systems Group. She has 15 years of experience in intelligent sensor systems and has won several awards for her group's work on indoor and underground positioning (IPSN 2014, EWSN 2014, EWSN 2013, SENSYS 2010). Professor Trigoni was founder of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Autonomous and Intelligent Machines and Systems.

What was your first job? My first job was with the National Bank of Greece when I was 19 years old – in parallel with my undergraduate studies. I was responsible for issuing loans to companies, analysing their portfolio and assessing credit risk. A year later, given my background in Computer Science, I moved to the IT Division of the bank and worked as an analyst and developer of banking applications. This was great fun, as I was applying knowledge from my studies almost immediately to large scale IT systems, and of course practising time management skills trying to divide my time between full time study and work. 

Did you always want to work in IT? As a teenager I explored a number of options from becoming a professional pianist, to a mathematician, but when it was decision time to choose my undergraduate studies, I was fascinated by the tremendous promise of computer science to transform the way we live and work, and accelerate the rate of learning in every single discipline.  

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? My education has all been in Computer Science. I have a BA in Computer Science from Athens University of Economics and Business, and a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Cambridge.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started off my career working full time at the National Bank of Greece while doing my undergraduate studies in computer science. When I finished my BA in 1998, I won a National Scholarship in Computer Science that enabled me to do a PhD in Cambridge in the area of query optimisation for object oriented database systems. Through this experience I was immersed in interesting problems, and developed a passion for research and a clear desire to follow an academic career. I wanted to expand my knowledge to distributed information systems, and was at the time really fascinated by the emerging field of wireless sensor networks. I immersed myself in this area for two years, as a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, where I learnt a great amount about optimising the operation of tiny networked devices with sensing, communication and computation capabilities. When I returned to the UK, I established my own research group in this area first at Birkbeck College, and since 2007, at the University of Oxford.

My group’s work now lies at the intersection of cyber physical systems ( Internet of Things) and machine learning. We develop intelligent and autonomous sensor systems with applications in positioning, healthcare, environmental monitoring and smart cities. Of the various research threads, our work on infrastructure free indoor positioning evolved into a scalable technology with broad application, and we soon saw its tremendous potential for commercialisation. With great support from the University of Oxford, and local investors, the tech was licensed to a new spinout - Navenio Ltd founded in 2015 – and later further developed into location services for workforce efficiency.

Currently I have two roles, heading the Cyber Physical Systems research theme at the University of Oxford, and driving tech development and innovation with an amazing team of engineers at Navenio.

What type of CTO are you? Coming from an academic background, I place a lot of emphasis on driving innovation in the company, and ensuring that our tech is always ahead of the curve. But it is also key for me to ensure that innovation is not for the sake of innovation but lives and breathes within our products. I love being involved in product design, debating with our engineers and product managers on which features to include in a product and discussing different options. Talking to customers and partners is particularly rewarding, and the safest way to achieving a good product-market fit. It is a steep learning curve for me, but I am truly privileged to be working with an amazing team who are as committed as I am to scaling our tech and helping hospitals globally. 

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? The intersection of cyber physical systems and artificial intelligence is a very exciting area that can have a transformative impact in so many areas from workplace automation, transport and smart buildings to healthcare, security, energy and the environment. One positive to come from the current pandemic has not only been the pickup of technology and acceleration of transformation, but the quick development of intelligent systems and solutions helping to digitise the world around us. 

At Navenio we have dedicated the past 12 months to supporting healthcare teams. We are providing real-world benefits to teams globally, with technology that uses personal smartphones to map where people are in the hospital and then teams are able to schedule tasks depending on location and availability. Ultimately doubling capacity, increasing productivity, and improving service levels with faster response times, all factors which lead to better patient outcomes and staff experiences. The excitement around Navenio at the moment is the potential of our technology across multiple use cases in a variety of industries. As well as transforming efficiency within healthcare globally, our SaaS can be integrated into platforms and apps within IT Healthcare. Plus our IP can be licensed to OEM for multiple use cases, whether that’s locating people or assets or automating the production of a physical map, remotely. 

The development of new technology in the last year has largely been fixated on solving challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The potential these technologies hold is immense and could have a profound impact on the future for many industries. 

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Most technologies have been through their hype phase before expectations are calibrated to meet reality. Artificial intelligence has been a typical example, with several waves of hype, perceived by many as a panacea for all of humanity’s problems. Whereas it is a tremendously powerful technology and has vast application in many areas, we are still far from being able to achieve general intelligence, but we should definitely harvest its benefits for solving specific problems in areas where we have sufficient data to drive these models. 

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? In the last 12 months we have gone through a thorough review and improvement of data protection and security across our entire product portfolio. 

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 certainly leading a digital transformation when it comes to better understanding the buildings we live, work, and operate in. Navenio’s technology is created from world-class University of Oxford science and uses only a smartphone’s sensors. The fusion of the following core technologies provides a highly scalable indoor location; award-winning motion-tracking, robust sensor algorithms, advanced scheduling algorithms, crowdsourced auto-mapping and self-learnt ambient mapping. 

Navenio provides actionable insight immediately which in turn can be used to inform Navenio’s Intelligent Workforce Solution, prioritising workload based on the principle of ‘right person, right time, right place’. Moreover Navenio’s indoor location technology can be used as an OEM solution or be integrated into existing apps or platforms to inform decision-making. 

The technology can work with or without a building map and can do something revolutionary - it can be used to create building maps remotely. It also has no reliance on traditional location systems such as GPS, Beacons or RFID. Navenio’s potential is huge, as we are prioritising operational efficiency for the customer, while doing it in a scalable way to allow for fast future revenue growth. 

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? The most prevalent challenge for hospitals globally will be eventually getting back to capacity, and finding ways to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, while integrating elective surgeries back into the process, and ensuring patients receive the best and most efficient care possible.

Navenio’s core location technology works where GPS does not and has been described as the 'Uber for staff in healthcare'. It is highly accurate, to within just a few metres, and by being infrastructure-free it removes all barriers to easily enable scalability.

One area where Navenio’s Intelligent Workforce Solution is being employed is at NHS sites, including the East Kent NHS Foundation Trust, and private hospitals such as the Cleveland Clinic London. Our technology uses personal smartphones to map where people are in the hospital and then teams are able to schedule tasks depending on location and availability.

Teams that utilise the Navenio solution have reported that it has helped to double capacity, increase productivity, and improve service levels with faster response times, all factors which lead to better patient outcomes and staff experiences. 

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We set and update the technical roadmap frequently to ensure that tech development is always aligned with business goals. There are many examples of this: our business goal to reduce the cost of building setup has directly motivated our unique map crowdsourcing technology. The desire to scale our technology even in places where physical maps are not readily available or are available for a subset of the buildings in a venue has motivated a new generation of map-less (but still location-aware) workforce efficiency systems. 

Every piece of tech that we develop is linked to a business goal. These goals have different time frames, some are more immediate (within the next quarter) whereas others a bit more long term. In this journey of leveraging innovation and new tech to achieve our goals, we have been greatly supported by Innovate UK grants as well as by our investors who support our vision of highly scalable globally-deployable products. 

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? There are always interesting tradeoffs between the two strategies: the tech strategy is often set with the goal of improving the performance of multiple products, whereas individual product strategy is very much driven by customer demand. Being able to prioritise customer requirements and balance the needs for more features vs. better robustness, security and scalability is key. In some cases there can also be a slight misalignment caused by different paces in which these strategies mature and gradually come to fruition. Having good collaboration between tech and product experts and having flexibility to adapt quickly really pays off in such cases.

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy is one that is well aligned to short term and long term business goals, ensures the company retains a clear competitive advantage, and supports some level of optionality in the face of unexpected challenges or new opportunities. It is hard sometimes to marry realism with ambition, but one needs a bit of both. A sense of what can be delivered concretely with low risk, within a short timeframe, and for a specific market segment, vs. the ambition to develop tech that can have a transformational impact at a global scale. 

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? As with all roles in the workplace, the role of the CTO is also likely to evolve influenced by a number of external factors. First, as the world adopts an increasingly virtual way of working post-covid, CTOs may have to increasingly manage teams that adopt a hybrid work mode even after the pandemic. This is challenging but it also gives a lot of flexibility, it allows seeking expertise across countries and finding interesting new ways of organising distributed teams. As the pace of tech advancements is accelerating, the CTO’s role will increasingly require the ability to adapt rapidly either via continuous in-house innovation, or via strategic partnerships with other companies and universities. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? Seeing technology that has been developed for many years, first at the University of Oxford and then at Navenio, have a real impact in the workplace; improving work experience for healthcare professionals and helping them focus on patient care.  

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Not much, if anything, perhaps start the technology transfer journey a bit earlier in my academic career.  

What are you reading now? The signal and the noise, why so many predictions fail but some don’t” by Nate Silver – great examples and insights about forecasting and how we risk taking a step back when information growth outpaces our understanding of how to process it.

Most people don't know that I… I love visiting sculpture museums, and my favourite place in the world is the Greek island of Tinos – which is in itself a massive open-air museum.

In my spare time, I like to…to play tennis doubles – fast and relaxing at the same time!

Ask me to do anything but… Don’t ask me to plan my day when on holiday.