CTO Sessions: Jon Wrennall, Advanced

CTO Sessions: Jon Wrennall, Advanced

Name: Jon Wrennall

Company: Advanced

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: January 2016

Location: Datchet, UK

Jon Wrennall is Group CTO of British software and services company Advanced where he is driving innovation, leading the product and engineering teams to deliver products and services that make the complex simple and make a difference for Advanced' customers and our broader society. Prior to Advanced, Wrennall was CTO for Fujitsu UK&I for five years where he helped transform the 1,200 strong architecture community and, as a founding Fujitsu Fellow, recreated the Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer scheme.

What was your first job? My first paid job was a technical apprentice for British Aerospace in Warton and Preston in 1989 where I worked in flight simulation and wind tunnels.

Did you always want to work in IT? Once I recognised it was very unlikely I'd reach fame and fortune as a musician, I turned my focus to IT as I've always loved technology and all it can do (writing my first program to edit synth patches over MIDI on an Atari ST in 1986).

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I did half a HNC in Electronic Engineering (not completing as I left British Aerospace as a tech apprentice to study Computer Science at Manchester University). I have also completed the majority of CIMA, a management accounting qualification, as I wanted to ensure I not only understood our accounts but I could talk in the same language as the CFO.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Of the four job offers post university, I chose Andersen Consulting (which later became Accenture). There, I spent 11 years working on a series of large programmes initially developing (COBOL and C) and doing the full systems development life cycle at Barclaycard, Legal & General, BP, Castrol and BG Group). 

I was subsequently tempted to apply for the role of the first CTO for HMRC.  Day one of my job was day one of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise being brought together - my first significant integration challenge and first role as a CTO (with over £1bn spend a year on IT, and multiple long-term contracts). Here, I drove out savings in excess of £600m, as well as brought about significant technology transformation, building high performing teams in the process. I was a founding and core member of the UK Government Chief Technology Officer Council and recruited and led a team creating online self-assessment, Public Services Network, XBRL mandation, digitisation of the UK's building plans, and cross government channel strategy.

I subsequently moved into the role of CIO of the Valuation Office Agency in 2008, leading it to integrate The Rent Service from Department for Work and Pensions, delivering the 2010 business rates revaluation, as well as digitalising England's building plans. Having briefly been acting CEO, I decided IT really was the direction I wanted my career to take and then moved to CTO of Fujitsu (initially Government Division and then promoted to UK & Ireland) to transform the 1,200 strong architecture community and recreate the Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer scheme.

I'm a firm believer that software is (and always has been) the basis and future of technology so I jumped at the chance to become CTO of Advanced. I lead the R&D (circa 750 people in development and engineering teams) to innovate and deliver products and services that make the complex simple and make a difference for Advanced's customers and our broader society.

What type of CTO are you? I'm a highly positive and passionate leader that believes pretty much anything is possible if you put your mind to it and get stuck in. I have a number of alliterative phrases that underpin my approach to being a CTO - I Reinforce Rigour and Rigorous Reuse with Pace, Passion, Pride and Professionalism and create a Cohesive, Collegiate, Collaborative Community and Culture with Courage and Conviction, Empowering and Enabling Entrepreneurs.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? While not new (I covered them in 1991 at university), Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are now coming of age as the technologies and data they rely on has caught up. Our only real constraint is our imagination and commitment to make something of it.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Nearly every technology is overhyped in the early stages. Technologies have a habit of rebranding as they mature, as if they are recreated into something new. Software as a Service is in effect the mature delivery of the Application Service Provider model of 2000 and Hotmail is a great example of Email as a Service in the 90s.

Even ‘serverless' public cloud services have a server in a data centre somewhere running them - it's the commercial abstraction that is evolving. VME, VMS and MVS mainframes of the 70s and 80s that we're now helping people migrate from all had mature virtualisation platforms that were capable of charging by the sub-second for computing time.

I strongly believe we naturally hype up technologies because there is (and always has been) massive opportunity to drive change. The frustration is we never fully maximise the opportunities they present.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? I'm really proud of Advanced's MyWorkplace platform, particularly the user experience framework my team has created. This enables us (and our partner and customer ecosystem) to seamlessly integrate and bring together products and services (and those of our partners) to maximise the end user's productivity.

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? With over 100 products and services in multiple markets, we're creating the very capabilities that enable and drive digitalisation of our customers' businesses. We are not a company that tries to make one complex (and expensive) suite of products cover all markets, but we've got products that deliver core capabilities of a business working in harmony with market-focused back office products. We're a British business proud to be taking the lead in driving the digitalising of Great British business.

In terms of balancing customer experience with revenue growth and operational efficiency, it must be all three as they are symbiotic.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? Taking existing (sometimes legacy) processes and systems and replacing (and sometime modernising) them with extensible services that deliver transformational results.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? For us to create and deliver technology-based products and services for our customers (to meet their business goals), we ensure our product roadmaps are focused not only on current customer demand but working together to pre-empt future challenges and deliver capabilities ahead of the curve.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Product tech strategy alignment with tech strategy is our day job.  The challenges we do face is aligning and integrating technologies from acquisitions and our MyWorkplace platform is very much part of the enabling faster time to market and time to customer value.

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy is one that delivers optimal business outcome. It is always a pragmatic balance of capex and opex spend today for driving out costs and increasing revenue/top line growth for the future. The tech strategy must be focused on business outcome.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Senior tech roles (whatever the title) will continue to grow in importance as all companies evolve to be either software companies or companies based on software. While peers of the CTO will continue to be more tech savvy, there will always be the one person who is held accountable. Whatever the posture a company takes to technology, you can never truly outsource the accountability for it as business and technology are ever more synonymous. There's never been a better time to be a CTO - and it's only getting better and more exciting.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Saving over £600m at HMRC and delivering changes that make a difference to the prosperity of the UK and even help save lives with software.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would probably have set up my own software company.

What are you reading now? Dan Brown - Origin

Most people don't know that I… Am a dairy farmer's son that used to play keyboards in a rock band in the 80s.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with my wife and kids (as well as a work on unfinished home automation projects)

Ask me to do anything but… Eat a meal with raw egg, sea urchin and raw/blanched chicken (which I did last time I went to Tokyo).


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