CTO Sessions: David Moss, Blue Prism

CTO Sessions: David Moss, Blue Prism

Name: David Moss

Company: Blue Prism

Job title: CTO and co-founder

Date started current role: July 2001

Location: London, UK

David Moss, CTO and co-founder of Blue Prism, is a thought leader and founding technologist in the Robotic Process Automation software sector. Moss has over 20 years' experience in the enterprise software space and a proven track record of delivering transformational technology products to global blue-chip organisations. 

What was your first job? My first unpaid job was working at ICL in the mid-to-late eighties. The office was in West Gorton, Manchester, which was a strange location for a huge international computer corporation. I remember they were testing a prototype 20-gigabyte hard drive and it was the size of a washing machine - cutting edge stuff at the time!

Did you always want to work in IT? I was always interested in IT but never thought it could become a career until later in life. I was born in the seventies when technology was really beginning to go mainstream. I was in primary school when the BBC Micro computer came out and I remember showing the teachers how to use this massive plastic thing with keys on it. I sort of became the go-to person for IT support in the school.

In the mid-eighties I got my first computer, an Acorn Electron. I spent so much time coding and creating games. Technology was really accessible and so kids were really engaging with it.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? When I was in school I didn't think I could have a career in IT. It was not mainstream and professions such as medicine and law were considered much more secure. I went to the University of Leeds to study Maths and then afterwards became a certified teacher but after the first term, I decided this wasn't what I wanted to do. It was at this point in my life when I thought seriously about turning my passion into a career and pursuing technology.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Whilst I knew teaching wasn't for me, I stuck it out and got the qualification. I then challenged myself to get a job in the tech industry in the three months before the annual teaching application cycle started...I got a break and joined a software firm that was hiring graduates based on aptitude and training them up and I was sent on a software development course. After four years rising through the ranks I met Alastair Bathgate (CEO of Blue Prism) on an assignment. We had the idea for Blue Prism in 2000, founded the organisation in 2001 and the rest is history.

What type of CTO are you? I have been a different type of CTO at different times during Blue Prism's evolution. In the beginning I had to be very hands-on and was responsible for everything from product management and development through to facilities, IT and customer support. As the company has grown, I have changed how I operate. I have always been the type of person that will try to hire people that I think could teach me something about the discipline and who I can learn from. I know what I want to achieve and I rely on others to help the organisation reach these goals.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Everyone says AI; but there are whole swathes of AI-based technologies that are becoming really transformational. It is the lifting potential of everything, from everyday objects to scientific research, from vacuum cleaners through to how people are assessed for loans. Not only is AI being applied so broadly, but it is leading us to a step change in what technology can do and that is really exciting.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I'd also say AI! It is the biggest example of something that on the one hand is transformation, but on the other is overused as a phrase and confuses people. If a particular technology ignites the imagination of a market, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. You have to be discerning when looking at emerging technologies and ask, what is the hype about? What is the benefit in this particular context? It becomes very difficult to navigate through the noise.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? We face a tension between addressing historical issues and remaining current. For instance, maintaining our product, introducing new products and services that are requested by customers and researching completely new ideas and creating new initiatives. Instead of relying entirely on our developer team to manage all three of these areas, we have built our own Blue Prism research labs and hired academically-minded people who have been challenged with coming up with the next generation of ideas for the automation space. They are very creative in their thinking and are introducing some really cool ideas that we are then taking to our developers.

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 started Blue Prism with two people more than a decade ago and we have grown it into a global presence, consisting of 700+ staff and 1,300+ global customers. This would not have happened if we didn't continually reinvent ourselves and adapt Blue Prism to face up to the changing demand in the market. You must lead with what the customer wants, as this is what drives revenue growth and in turn, drive to improve operational efficiency with scale which helps provide room to generate new products and ideas. Customer experience and operational efficiency are intrinsically linked, but you have to start with the customer.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? There is a lot of hype in our market and an expectation that it's easy, that you don't need strategic IT involvement or detailed planning. But if you want to deliver transformation and a good customer experience for the long term, then you need to get the right stakeholders involved, so you can serve at scale. My challenge at the moment is really helping customers anticipate where they are going to be and to scale their software in a way that meets their expectations and ambitions. I want all of my customers to be super happy and to be exceeding their expectations, and setting them on the right track from day one.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Nothing quite beats experience. You can get out and understand the landscape but at the end of the day, bringing in experienced people is the key to success. Market leaders are leaders because they have the most successful tech and the experience to prioritise and execute with precision. Bring people in who have proven that they can succeed in this industry and they can help you achieve your goals.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? There are three key roles in matching product and tech strategy. The first is delivering against customer expectations. The second is addressing market expectations, and the third is ensuring the right technology and strategy is being used to develop the product against those expectations with a clear vision. You need to ensure you get the right personalities for these roles: the product owner, the head of development and the head of technology. Getting different people to take on these responsibilities ensures a healthy tension and gets these areas aligned and delivered with equal attention.

What makes an effective tech strategy? It depends on the stage of the journey. In a startup, it's about being open with customers to listen and deliver a very clear vision. As a company grows, the strategy needs to evolve by bringing on senior and experienced professionals who can help the organisation achieve more. It's important to implement disciplines and competencies within an organisation so people have responsibilities and boundaries. This creates an ethic where people work together as a team to deliver something that's greater than the sum of its parts. The vision no longer belongs to one person but is an alignment of the voices of the customer, the engineer, and the market.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The role of the CTO is to own and speak to a vision, to inspire with what underpins that vision and do so with a clear understanding of where your customers want to go and how you're going to take them beyond that.

The CTO needs to orchestrate this vision by getting the technology organisation to deliver against it. You cannot oversee everything so trust and partnership is important. You need leaders that can work as a team and deliver the mission at hand as one.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Getting Blue Prism off the ground with Alastair was quite an achievement. I was 27 at the time, my wife was pregnant and I did not have a lot of savings. Getting through the first 12 months was a big milestone for us and launching in the US was a huge success too. The whole journey continues to be a great achievement, not just for Alastair and I but for everyone in the company. Bringing committed people in and making them an intrinsic part of the Blue Prism story is the biggest achievement of all.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I learnt a lot on the job but I could have done it faster. I was very young when we started Blue Prism and didn't have a lot of tech experience. I would, therefore, have brought more people in earlier, particularly in areas such as product marketing and product management, to get things done faster.

What are you reading now? I have recently re-read ‘Scale Up'. Each time you re-read a book you're at a different stage of evolution at your company, so a different part of that book becomes more relevant.

Most people don't know that I… am a Stoke City season ticket holder. I'm a huge supporter.

In my spare time, I like to…Celebrate big sporting events. Whether it is the FA Cup, Wimbledon or a Grand Prix, there is something really special about people from different countries coming together and being part of a historic event. I went to Boston a couple of years ago and watched the Red Sox. The stadium has such an incredible atmosphere, it was a really cool experience.

Ask me to do anything but… Ride a motorbike. My mum always told me to stick to four wheels.


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