CIO Spotlight: Barry Clark, essensys

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “Keep pushing the boundaries. Don’t settle for the first answer you find, there is always a way to improve existing processes and systems.”


Name: Barry Clark

Company: essensys

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: Co-Founder (2006)

Location: London

Barry Clark is the co-founder of essensys along with Mark Furness and Bryn Sadler. It all started with a few pints in a pub chatting about how to improve service delivery and occupier experience in a flexible workspace with innovative solutions to common challenges. Clark has extensive knowledge and expertise in the delivery of technology solutions. He has a range of experience from technical consultancy for ISPs to managing pre-sales for a leading VoIP provider. Following a seven-year stint as essensys COO, Clark now focuses on the information systems, looking at how the company can work smarter, grow, and scale though process automation. He is also responsible for IT governance, compliance, and supports the day-to-day operation of service delivery as well as essensys’ rapidly expanding customer base.

What was your first job? I was a Helpdesk support analyst at Compaq (now HP).

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, new technology has always interested me and after I graduated from university in 1999 there were a lot of job opportunities within tech startups.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business studies. I was more interested in business technology as opposed to a traditional computing degree studying code. My early years saw me digging around inside old PCs and games consoles to learn how they worked. I also spent a lot of my informal education learning how to code HTML and apply hacks to computer games.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I never set out with the intention of becoming a CIO. I’ve treated each job as a steppingstone to better things. I always try to find efficiencies in the role I’m in at the time. This usually involves looking at incumbent technology and finding ways to drive efficiency. That started with Excel spreadsheets and SQL databases when I was on work experience during university, and now it’s integration work with CRMs / ERPs / other SaaS based applications in my CIO role.

In between I’ve spent time understanding voice over IP platforms, learning the fundamentals of networking, gaining insight to the daily disciplines of a development team and working with various business units to find efficiencies in their current processes.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Consolidation of systems is a top priority over the next 12 months. As our business has grown, each business unit has had their own unique system requirements and has found applications that meet their needs. However there hasn’t been a single system to cater for every department’s needs.

We are also spending more time on data analysis. In order to gain deeper insights, we need to reduce the number of data lakes to ensure we have accurate data that can be presented for decision making in a timely manner. By investing for our own internal requirements, we can pass these learnings onto customers through product enhancements in our own software.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? There are many top priorities but in terms of technology, our focus is on increasing revenue growth and operational efficiencies and accelerating and increasing automation across software platforms. We are constantly looking for ways to remove barriers and friction in technology use throughout the business by narrowing insights across wider departmental bases. And finally, to increase emphasis on data and cybersecurity, for example SOC2 compliance work.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The role of a CIO is constantly evolving along with the technologies that we use day to day. Who knew that we would have data scientists or revenue operation analysts 10 years ago? Looking forward, I see the CIO role incorporating more compliance-facing responsibilities as the introduction of GDPR / CCPA means data management has become a more critical part of how companies use and analyse customer data.

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? Yes, both. Digital transformation is not a new concept to us, we have been building our systems and processes around digital infrastructure since we founded essensys back in 2006. That said, we regularly review our internal processes to seek out greater efficiencies as 3rd party applications evolve.

We have prioritised revenue growth and customer experience along with gaining operational efficiencies through the use of virtualised teams. It’s important that all stakeholders involved in the digital transformation project have clear visibility of key requirements and deliverables. We have taken our own experience to shape our software and help our customers with their digital transformation experience. We see customers using our software and technology platform to merge their physical and digital workspaces.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Our KPIs constantly evolve. I don’t have a specific KPI to measure the value of technology. We look at a range of KPIs across the business to determine if technology is providing value both internally and externally. Rather than cost per head, or how much we spend on licences etc, we are more interested in looking at how technology drives up customer satisfaction whilst allowing our sales team to increase revenues.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Culture is very important within our organisation. We want our teams to live and breathe our software and technology as this helps enrich our customers, at least in the areas where we can provide assistance. It’s important that the leaders within the business lead by example. Cliché yes, additionally, not all ‘leaders’ are C-suite or Execs. Where leadership ambitions are presented, we want to nurture that by helping those individuals expand their skillset.

Formal training courses and one-to-one mentoring are important but so is taking the time to sit with a colleague to get into the weeds of an issue. Actively listening to our staff who interact daily with customers helps senior managers make informed decisions about the direction of our product, customer success and other key areas of the business. It’s important to spend regular time here and not solely rely on KPIs or management reports!

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Technical skills are widely available. The hardest thing to find and develop is a person’s attitude and willingness to adapt to a role.

A lot of candidates want the role to fit their skillset as they’ve spent years learning their coding language, application specialism and university degree. I want my technology literate staff to develop their business acumen in the role and develop their careers based on market requirements. Likewise, my customer facing staff need to learn more about the systems that drive various processes. Roles will become more hybrid over time. The challenge will be finding candidates who can combine the best elements of a technical and business degree.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Be passionate about your work! Don’t settle for good, strive for excellence! It might not always be attainable but if you give it your best, your customers will recognise your effort and passion and stick with you to reap the benefits.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. There is no formal plan that exists, but I have always tried to make myself redundant in any role I’ve been in. It might sound self-defeating, but it allows me to move onto the next role when the time presents itself.

Documentation and knowledge sharing is crucial. Reviewing processes and workflows on a regular basis provides a good feedback loop, and helps communication within and across departments.

Enabling colleagues to self-serve, while providing the right tools, can help those high-performing staff get to the next level. Spending time with your direct reports and sharing your knowledge will help nurture the next generation of leaders.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Keep pushing the boundaries. Don’t settle for the first answer you find, there is always a way to improve existing processes and systems. Transparency is important, if help is required then you need to ask or seek it from your co-workers. Prioritise often and keep the customer first in line.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I’ve enjoyed the journey with essensys thus far. It’s been over 15 years of learning on the job. There is always something new to learn, and new technologies to integrate with existing processes.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have invested more time streamlining systems. But it’s easy saying now that we have resources available; at the time we had to balance resources. It was about weighing what we wanted against team capacity.

What are you reading now? How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, by Bill Gates.

Most people don't know that I… don’t like having my picture taken.

In my spare time, I like to…Spare time for me is non-existent with two young children!

Ask me to do anything but… Cook a nice dinner, unless you want a microwave meal!