Meet the Agents of Transformation - Collinson Group

Carl Martin, Chief Technology Officer, Collinson Group

Carl Martin began working in IT at a very young age, designing and building expert systems for a civil engineering practice in Kent, England, to earn pocket money whilst at school. Since then, his career has seen him design and build systems ranging from mobile communication networks, to real-time pricing and dealing systems for the banking industry. Today, Carl leads a team of technologists at Collinson Group, the global loyalty and benefits group.

What do you think is most exciting about being an Agent of Transformation at this time?

Technology has advanced so much over the last forty years to a point where it is ingrained in our very existence. There is huge opportunity for technologists today, and on a personal level, I’m particularly excited to identify and unlock ways in which technology can continue to impact and improve our lives.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned over your career and on the path to becoming an Agent of Transformation?

Technology will continue to evolve at an incredible rate, but if you focus on the impact of what you do on the people around you, you can achieve great things. Someone once told me that I had made their time at Collinson really fun, and it meant a lot to me. I want to help my team to be the best they can be, and to give them the chance to learn and develop in their own roles.

For example, when I first met my Head of DevOps several years ago, he was a network infrastructure specialist, very focused on a specific area of the business. In a short time, he has expanded his areas of expertise to become an evangelist in areas such as agile and cloud, presenting at a number of Collinson Group events. To watch him transform has been fantastic, and he is just one of many success stories across the team.

Have you had a mentor on your journey to becoming an Agent of Transformation? How did he or she help you most?

I started a job some years ago, and I think at that time in my career I knew what was required in any given situation from a technology perspective, but not necessarily how to make it happen. What my manager ingrained in me was that the journey was more important than the outcome, and that if you planned out the journey and made sure you had the right people working alongside you, then the outcome would take care of itself. It led me to change my style quite a lot and I think that made a huge difference to me and my career.

How do you approach your own development, in terms of continual learning and seeking out new challenges, once you have established yourself as an Agent of Transformation?

I rely heavily on my large network of industry friends and colleagues, and invest a lot of time and effort into maintaining and growing relationships with experts in their field that I can turn to and share ideas with. But I also love to get my hands dirty, and if you were to visit my home, you’d find a bunch of robots scurrying around the house doing all sorts of seemingly random things! I see it as a testbed for experimenting and learning about things like artificial intelligence and optical recognition. Experimenting is great fun and an important part of how I continue to learn.

What should technologists that are aspiring to become Agents of Transformation be looking for in their current role or next role?

You might be lucky enough to work for an organization who offers everything you need, but if you aren’t, then get out into the market, meet people, attend events, find out where the right types of job exist. Look for organizations that have a culture of change and innovation and aren’t afraid of failure.

And expect to develop a role beyond what you are first hired to do. Get involved with the organization and find ways to shape the future by identifying projects or initiatives where you can make your mark.

How important to you is having accurate, contextual data and insight when it comes to strategic decision making?

If you think about transformation, one of the first things you need to really get nailed down is to put into metrics or numbers, what you are trying to change. Historically, the environments we were operating were more static, perhaps comprising of a couple of servers with network bridges and routers in between. It was all very observable hardware, and therefore easy to track logs, look at performance and network data because it was so well defined.

As the environments become more complex, it is critical that we have access to these new ways of monitoring and visualising that same information. AppDynamics enables us to capture the same type of metrics, but on a much bigger scale.

How has the application and business performance data helped you to make strategic decisions for your business?

At Collinson, I have a large screen in my office that displays an AppDynamics dashboard of our digital services, and it allows project managers, business analysts, product owners, infrastructure managers and the DevOps team to easily understand the metrics flowing through the system.

And probably most critically, it provides a link between business metrics and technical metrics. Having this level of insight is a key starting point for our digital transformation and the decisions that go along with that.

How would you describe the role that AppDynamics is playing within your transformation strategy?

AppDynamics allows us to see complex and changing data, and to look at those metrics, and create baselines against which we can measure improvements in performance and its impact on customer experience. We can immediately see the positive or detrimental impact of even the smallest change, not just at a technical level, but from a holistic business point of view too, and adjust our strategy accordingly.

Do you anticipate Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning taking a bigger role in your business in the future? And if yes, what are the anticipated benefits to your business

AIOps is a key cornerstone of what we are trying to achieve at Collinson from a technology perspective for two reasons.

Firstly, with today’s complex, dynamic, autoscaling environments, the ability to predict how they will behave under any given set of circumstances is becoming increasingly challenging, but also increasingly critical. For example, knowing what would happen if a client doubled its volumes in a certain region, in a certain way, used to be relatively easy for a team of experts to derive. But with the complexities around these changes today, it’s beyond the capabilities of humans to process. And even if you did get the smartest people to sit down and do the math, the time it would take you to get that answer is far too slow for the business decisions you’re needing to make. We need data and insight at speed, in a format that is easily digestible and actionable.

Secondly, because the analytics are constantly adapting, you’re able to see the cumulative effect of lots of multiple changes, which is great for IT departments like ours, who typically have multiple projects running at any one time. Right now at Collinson, we have upwards of 60 projects, all at varying stages, and from a tech perspective they will all end up running down to multiple microservices. So it’s key for technologists to understand the implications of each and every one of those projects, but it also spills out into other areas such as budgeting, client strategy and so on. The benefits of AIOps will allow technology to play an even deeper role in business strategy, forming decisions based on highly complex and accurate data and less on opinion and guesswork.

With increased automation capabilities, what change do you envision occurring for yourself, your team, and your organization broadly?

AI can play a huge role in the personalisation consumers increasingly demand. It won’t be long before we start to see two people accessing the same app, but seeing two very different versions on their devices, dependent on their personal preferences and profiles. The side effect is that the operational side of things has to also be just as dynamic to deliver that level of personalisation.

It won’t be long before the processes in those services will become more AI driven. Humans will struggle to predict the operational and requirement factors of the way those services will interact. We’ll be looking for systems to not just predict the changes and likely impact, but also react to them. For example, autoscaling will happen automatically, before the load increases, based on predictions from AI and ML. It’s hugely exciting.

How are you going about ensuring that you continue to have the right skills, tools and data you need to deliver genuine transformation?

I warn my team not to get too wedded to a way of doing things, or a certain type of technology, because things will inevitably change! To remind myself of that, I have the first ever commercial computer programme I wrote displayed at home – it’s on a long roll of tape and wraps around my office, set behind glass. If someone had told me all those years ago about the types of devices we have today, I would never have believed it.

So I try to instil the mindset that “we’re only making decisions for today”,  by which we mean that we’re only making decisions about what we need for the next sprint. We will always be hungry to learn about and test the latest, greatest thing…it may not work now, but it might be an inkling into what might work in the future. Don’t dismiss it, look for the positives and think about what it might help us to do further down the line.

How important is it to you to leave a lasting legacy through your work as a technologist, and in driving positive change within your organization and beyond?

The legacy I would like to leave is in the people I have worked with, and those I have mentored. To see those individuals who I met as juniors go on to become CTOs and test directors, and to know I have contributed in some way to their success. That would be a legacy I would be incredibly proud of.

"Technology will continue to evolve at an incredible rate, but if you focus on the impact of what you do on the people around you, you can achieve great things."

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