CIO Spotlight: Mike Cook, Loqate (GB Group Plc)
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CIO Spotlight: Mike Cook, Loqate (GB Group Plc)

Name: Mike Cook

Company: Loqate (GB Group Plc)

Job title: Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: March 2013

Location: Worcester, UK

Mike Cook is the CIO for location intelligence company, Loqate. Cook graduated from DeMontfort University with a 1st in Computer Science in 2008 and joined Loqate (then Postcode Anywhere) the same year. Since then he helped achieve ISO27001 certification in 2010, has driven the move to a cloud-based infrastructure and grown the technical team to enable the platform to serve the 11,000 active clients Loqate has today across the globe.


 

What was your first job? My first job after university was as a programmer - Using BCPL (Basic Combined Programming Language) to create insurance broking systems. 

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes - ever since I first used an Amiga 1200 at 11 years old I have been fascinated with tech. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? 1st in Computer Science. I was really keen to get into industry and just get stuck in so I decided not to do masters or doctorate 

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. No - I've been a developer for many years and I've always wanted to lead technical teams so it's been a natural progression for me.  I was also very lucky in that I joined an exciting, fast-growing business and my career has grown with it. (In 2017 PCA Predict was acquired by GBG for £66m.) 

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? The company is continuing to grow so we'll be scaling up for further growth with additional cloud adoption and obviously security. Our technology is now used by some of the largest companies around the world including HSBC, Oxfam and ASOS, as such our platform performs over 32 million transactions a day! Last year we performed tens of billions of transactions and we're expecting this to grow considerably again this year.   

We are investing heavily in new container-based infrastructure to support our micro-service architecture utilising Kubernetes and Istio. These initiatives are key to us enabling our platform for the next level of scale and allow us to be much more flexible in terms of entering new geographies. 

Alongside improvements to the platform itself we are running R&S into other input methods such as voice searching as the use of the keyboard continues to decline.  

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Pushing for both top line and bottom line growth. This brings the need for a delicate balance of driving cost efficiency within the whole technology stack whilst also redesigning core elements to reach the next level of scale. 

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The scope of CIO roles varies between businesses. At Loqate, I think we have got the balance right in that I help oversee all core technical deliverables as well as helping the business plan its strategic product bets for the coming 3-5 years. 

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? The pedigree of our business has grown on the back of a customer first, self-serve approach. We have always made sure all processes are fully automated where possible and employ agile working methodologies within highly skilled small teams. This enables the business to iterate quickly and makes changes at a rate that match or exceed our growth. 

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Yes, we monitor multiple KPIs from the standard website traffic statistics to the cost efficiency of our entire estate broken down into service family. We also have aggressive monitoring on error rates and latency spikes to ensure that we aren't simply always online but are delivering a consistency fast experience to all clients. 

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? The most important part is ensuring people are in roles that they are passionate about. This really shows within our business as many of our team members go over and above to ensure the businesses targets are hit without being asked. The best cultures are those where going to work doesn't actually feel like you are at work because you enjoy it so much - we definitely have this. 

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Demand for skilled technical people is increasing each quarter. Having a good working culture and exciting tech for people to work on is the best way to attract top talent. 

What's the best career advice you ever received? If you want something - ask for it!  

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. We always try and ensure there are no "islands of knowledge" within our business. It's a tricky balance to get right and you constantly need to work on technical debt to ensure you're not left with one team member being the only one that can work on any given system - if that person leaves it'll become a black box that no one wants to touch! 

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Give your team members the work they enjoy and they'll be highly productive and happy. Delegation is absolutely key to scaling and as part of that always aim to employ people that are smarter than you. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? Helping to take a small start-up that was very UK centric based in rural Worcester, to a business that has multiple offices around the globe and serves some of the biggest companies in the world.  I feel a great sense of achievement when I'm online and see that a business is using the tech that I've helped to create.  

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? To let go of projects more quickly to allow me to focus on forward looking strategy than the day-to-day operations of the business. 

What are you reading now? Lots of blogs around Kubernetes and Istio to help with the implementation of the next version of our platform. I've been particularly enjoying a post on Istio around canary releases which is something we're looking to do soon.

Most people don't know that I… Love to escape for one week a year to go fishing in France. I even make a habit of not using any tech whilst there to properly switch off.

In my spare time, I like to…Walk my dog, drive fast cars and trade the financial markets.

Ask me to do anything but… Cook tea after a long day in the office - Just Eat have great tech you can make use of!

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