CTO Sessions: Rex Cooper, eConsult

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? “Augmented reality. I think it holds the potential to disrupt society in the same way that social media did.”

Headshot of Rex Cooper, CTO at eConsult

Name: Rex Cooper

Company: eConsult

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: October 2021

Location: London (Hybrid Onsite / Remote)

Rex Cooper is the CTO at eConsult. Prior to joining this fast-growth start-up, he served as the CTO for more than two years at Your.MD

What was your first job? I was an electrical engineer in the communications section of the South African Electricity Utility.

Did you always want to work in IT? Whilst I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to work in IT, I always had an interest in science, tech and engineering. For example, as a child, I was always taking things apart and putting them back together. When I was 13, I was given my first ever computer, the now very ancient – but really cool at the time - Commodore Vic 20. My curiosity got the better of me and I took it apart and also somehow managed to put it back together. It was this interest in engineering and structure that led to my scholarship to university where I chose to study Electronic and Software Engineering because I knew it would give me the knowledge to understand what was going on inside my computer. Understanding how things fit together has been a lifelong quest of mine and IT allows me to apply this to my day-to-day job.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? BSc with honours in Electrical Engineering. Chartered Manager with a specialisation in strategy

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Very early on, I pivoted from Electrical Engineering to the “Internet” in the late 1990s. It was then that I started my own business, raised some venture capital and eventually ran out of money which is why I moved to London.

Starting out a career in London, I dabbled in a few things. I started off working as a Software Development Manager for Disney, then became the most senior technical person at RatedPeople.com and eventually ended up being promoted to CTO of the BMJ.

Sticking to the field of technology, prior to my current role at eConsult, I worked at Your.MD where I was responsible for driving forward a new self-care offering alongside a clinically assured, totally anonymous AI chatbot with patient safety at its core.

Most recently, I opted to move to eConsult because there’s something special about healthcare. I love that I can draw a direct link between the work I’m doing day to day and making the world a better place.

What type of CTO are you? I think a lot of people think that the role of the CTO is to simply think about the tech. But I think that this is a misconception of the role.

Most people don’t actually know what a CTO does day-to-day and our work can be a bit arcane and hard to understand. It is for that reason that I’m a big believer in focusing on the people and the business rather than the tech. Ultimately, if those of us working in technology roles focus on solving problems using technology and avoiding tech jargon, then we can help the team and business achieve their goals.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Augmented reality. I think it holds the potential to disrupt society in the same way that social media did.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? There’s been a lot of hype surrounding AI over the past couple of years. An example would be how AI accelerated drug discovery during the pandemic.

But, as an engineer I know that not all problems can be solved in the same way. This implies that AI is not the solution to all problems, despite our desire for a silver bullet.

However, I do believe that AI can support us in tackling complex challenges where the rules and underlying logic are not clear or obvious.  For example, if we have good data and we know what the inputs are, then it’s possible AI can add value. We can use data science techniques to extrapolate the underlying and hidden logic to new data sets in a way that a purely rules-based approach cannot.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? It’s not unique, because many CTOs face this problem, but I am proud of how we have managed to integrate two different engineering teams brought together as part of a merger. I have also worked with three different platforms delivering medical decision-making to patients without a serious incident, which is something I am very proud of because it takes a lot of work and dedication to run patient-safe systems.

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? Our platform helps GP Surgeries and A&E hospital departments to work more efficiently. This shift to digital decision making (or Triage, as we say in our profession) transforms the way our customers interact with their patients. Working with the NHS, we must always prioritise operational efficiency and customer (patient) experience.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? NHS COVID-induced hospital backlogs in A&E and the impact of COVID on primary care.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We use extensive user research to understand our customers’ needs. We use this information to build roadmaps for each of our products. The roadmaps are used to set the technology strategy so that we use the most appropriate technology and resourcing options to deliver. Each feature or product is delivered incrementally and user feedback is used to tweak - or completely redo - the roadmaps.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? No, because for us they are the same thing. The entire company exec is aligned around our roadmaps.

What makes an effective tech strategy? In addition to the points raised above, where we emphasise building products that our existing and new markets want and need, we also set aside time for innovation and platform investment.

As innovators we sometimes need to set the trend for our customers and our platform needs investment to prevent the build up of “technical debt” and potential future scaling and security issues.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? CTOs of the future will be challenged with solving difficult business problems. Whether it’s working remotely or asynchronously, managing complex projects or working in a truly agile way, CTOs will be tasked with re-designing the new world of work in an inclusive way.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Some of the people who sat within my teams and under my direction have gone on to do great things in other companies and within their careers. Hearing from them how I helped them on their journey makes me feel very proud.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? When I started my own company many years ago, looking back now, I think there are several things I’d have done differently. With what I know now, I think those small changes could have made it more of a success story.

What are you reading now? Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais and also The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.

Most people don't know that I… Once went up in a Tiger Moth Aeroplane. It’s basically a motor attached to some wood and canvas. Very old tech. You and the instructor are the only ones in the plane and I was able to take the controls for a short time.

In my spare time, I like to…Watch and play sport be it rugby or football and hang out with my wife and two daughters.

Ask me to do anything but… Support any sports team playing against South Africa.