This week sees the annual Scottish tech event, ScotSoft, open its doors to developers, vendors and industry leaders. As they make their way to Edinburgh on 3rdOctober, DataIQ caught up with one of the keynote speakers, Ross Tuffee, about the importance of inspiring young people to take up careers in the tech sector and the regional and national initiatives that aim to drive up the capability of technology teaching in schools.
Tuffee is a tech sector entrepreneur who started his career as a management consultant with Ernst & Young and was invited to join the management team of one of its clients, First Choice (now TUI Travel). He moved to Scotland in 1997 to work for Diageo, mainly in business change and IT roles, focusing on how technology can enable change for both consumers and employees.
Ten years ago, he set up Dogfish Mobile (now Vidatec), just after Apple launched the iPhone. Dogfish Mobile was an enterprise mobile software development company focusing on the delivery of behaviour-changing solutions for businesses, organisations, customers and employees.
DataIQ (DIQ): First of all, can you give us a sense of what you will be covering in your session at ScotSoft?
Ross Tuffee (RT): I’ll be part of a panel talking about developing digital offerings when the market doesn’t yet exist…We will be looking at challenges like, how do you work out what the market needs? What do you offer and how do you approach the market? What skill sets do you need in your team to deliver solutions?
DIQ: You have seen - and been part of - continuous disruption of business and the economy by technology, especially mobile. Do you share the view that data-driven technologies, like artificial intelligence, are about to bring another similar degree of change? If so, how well prepared are organisations for this?
RT: I built and led Dogfish Mobile, a mobile software development company, from just two of us to a company of 40 people over period of seven years before selling to one of our clients. During that time, I saw huge disruption in the digital sector. We worked with companies that understood the value that mobile would bring to their customers, partners and employees. But they had no idea how to architect this change. We, however, did!
By adopting a structured approach to determining “the art of the possible” and leaning on my experience of working in the digital space during the first web revolution (I was part of the team that built the first johnniewalker.com, smirnoff.com websites in 2001), we were able to develop “mobility hubs” for major corporates and public sector organisations which in turn helped them to deliver wholesale, mobile-driven change. We also introduced the concept of “mobile-driven behaviour change" and “habit-forming technology” which helped us to develop the hugely successful suite of apps for Public Health England.
As for data-driven tech like AI – yes, this is definitely one of the next key disruptors. My belief is that by designing great interfaces and experiences we will be able to both collect the data sets that we need to train AI solutions as well as develop solutions that will deliver value at massive scale. Conversational AI is a big one, but any AI relies on large amounts of data to develop its capability. I don’t believe that organisations are ready for this change - and we need to help them to understand, firstly, the opportunity (why) and, secondly, how to achieve it (how). The “when" is easy - it’s now!
DIQ: Leadership in business is important to identify where the value-drivers are in technology - how do you recommend CIOs (and similar) approach emerging trends and stay ahead of the curve?
RT: Technology is an enabler. It makes things more efficient, faster, scalable, etc. However, we have a propensity to simply - “pave the goat paths” - and make better the existing capabilities through the use of new and innovative solutions. This is not good enough - we need to be identifying “new to world” capabilities that allow us to do things that we have never been able to do.
CIOs play a critical leadership role in this by building a culture in the organisation that encourages the investigation of “the art of the possible” which brings innovation to the table and allows the organisation to fail fast (more importantly “fail mindfully”). By giving our teams the freedom to succeed and rewarding failure, we will open up the dialogue that is necessary to create the next generation of disruptive technologies.
DIQ: Skills are essential enablers of change in business and society. Do you see academia keeping pace with what is happening in the worlds of technology and data? What would you like to see schools and universities doing more of?
RT: I do see great opportunities to work with leading-edge academics to develop new to-world capability. SMEs working with academia is, in my view, where major innovation will happen. We have been working with Heriot Watt University for the past year with the help of funding from The Data Lab to develop a conversational AI capability that supports our offering, delivering great results. It is important, however, to ensure that you have a single common vision and purpose and that your development plans are aligned.
We do need to focus on skills development in schools and colleges whether this is at the national level, with the programme of work that is overseen by Skills Development Scotland, or at the more local level, through initiatives like Founders4Schools. We need to raise awareness of the opportunities that the tech sector presents to young people in terms of careers and we need to ensure that the skills they learn will equip them for the future. This includes developing capacities such as resilience, adaptive learning and problem-solving. These are key skills that will enable young people to succeed in a rapidly-changing world.
DIQ: Careers in technology and data can be very rewarding and future-proof, yet they don’t seem to have the same visibility at school level as alternatives like accountancy, law, medicine, etc. Why should this be and what can be done to change that?
RT: Young people lack a current knowledge of the key influencers as they make decisions. Parents are not aware of the opportunities for their children in technology and also the risks around focusing on more traditional careers.
Sectors like accountancy and law are being impacted by automation at alarming rates - 50% of the roles that exist today will disappear by 2025. But, at the same time, I believe, they will be replaced by new roles, many of which will have technology at their core (using tech, designing tech or building tech).
In 2017, my youngest daughter was 12 years old and choosing her Nat 5 subject options. In that same year, the iPhone was ten years old. Ten years prior to that, there was no such career as an iOS developer. In 2017, I was employing graduates (who had not finished their honours year) into roles as iOS developers at £30k per year.
How can we predict what roles will be needed in eight year’s time when my daughter enters the workforce? What I can do, however, is ensure she has the skills to adapt and thrive, which is why I refer to resilience, adaptive learning and problem-solving capabilities as core.
DIQ: How optimistic are you that the disruption being wrought by technology and data will be an overall positive benefit to society, rather than the “rise of the robots” fear that many people express?
RT: I have no doubt that technology will continue to bring a net positive outcome for the world. We need to understand its positives and impacts - socially, economically and health-wise - and address these issues. We should not say, “stop! there are too many risks”. We need to manage these risks effectively and ensure that technology is open to all and that we understand the risks, particularly to areas such as mental health.