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Drax Interview Series – The evolving dynamics of technology within Private Equity during Covid-19 and into the future: Sharon Lowrie, Phoenix Equity Partners

November 5, 2020

Earlier this week we released the first in our interview series, where we have been speaking to CTOs to get their perspectives on the challenging dynamics that they’ve experienced over the past year. We posed some questions to leading CTOs from different areas, within the market space, to provide their insights and what they think the future will bring. You can find the first part here.

For our second interview, we speak to Sharon Lowrie, who works with Phoenix Equity Partners’ portfolio businesses, providing expert technology and digital transformation support and advice. Sharon has spent over twenty years supporting companies on their technology and business transformation journeys. After spending ten years at Andersen Consulting, Sharon was part of the team which created PrePayTechnologies. She has subsequently worked with Barclays Wealth, ASOS, Visa Europe, Hobbs London and most recently TUI Group as CIO Group Digital Platforms, responsible for the definition and implementation of the Travel Group’s digital transformation strategy.

What do you see as the key differences between the role of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) versus a Chief Technology Officer (CTO)?

“The classic differentiation for me is that the CIO is responsible for leveraging technology to support and optimise the internal processes in a business and the CTO is outward facing, looking at technologies which can support customers and product development. Fundamentally, the CTO transpires the technological vision of the business, and the CIO focuses more on the application of the product.

Larger businesses may have both roles; however, if there is only one person in charge of technology, they will have either the CTO or CIO role title but with the remit for both inward and outward facing technology. No one size fits all, and organisations will need to decide if they need both or just one.

The key to the success of a technology leader in a business is being a true partner with their peers in the business, creating a stable, secure and performant technology platform for the business to operate from. However, and arguably more importantly, they need to introduce technology innovation to the business that will create differentiated experiences for customers or differentiating features and capabilities for products.

A CIO or CTO is now an integral part of any business, regardless of the size of the organisation, and it is now mandatory that they have a seat on the board.” 

Interestingly on this point, our research at drxDATA on predictive analytics around leadership and value creation, indicates that the most successful businesses are 13% more likely to have a CTO on the Board, reporting directly to the CEO, than the average performing business. Companies that place more emphasis and priority on technology lead to higher chances of upper quartile returns.

Covid-19 has had a massive impact on our lives in different ways. What do you see as the key challenges and opportunities to technology now and in the future?

“One of my key concerns is cyber security; getting the correct balance between the risk of cyber-attacks and the investment required to prevent or minimise it is an ongoing challenge for businesses.  Across the board, technology represents a fantastic opportunity for most businesses, both in the area of customer experience and efficiency improvement and process optimisation. 

The importance of cyber security has always been there for most businesses, with it being on the top of the list for many. But Covid has brought it to the forefront of broader businesses, where there have been more attacks and ransomware. 

Another key challenge that I experience, and I hear when talking with both business and technology leaders, is finding and retaining good people, both particularly great technology leaders. Finding great technologists is difficult. There are those from backgrounds in coding, design, software architects, yet for them to transition into a broader leadership role is problematic as they lack the key interpersonal skills that is necessary for senior leaders to possess. 

It is the introvert versus extrovert dilemma, where technologists are much more introverted individuals, where they have the detailed knowledge, yet the articulation and socialisation are a challenge. While they can hold their own in their peer group of senior technologist leaders, they need to be leaders that can enthuse and excite others around them.

Lastly, another major challenge we currently face is that there is now too much technology around us, and one key question is how do we keep on top of it, as it moves so quickly. How do we continue to bring innovation to a business, to deliver strategic technology and culture? The environment of innovation is about the encouragement for ideas to be tested by firstly introducing it into the culture of the business, by trying something and supporting it internally, and to be accepting that it won’t always work.”

Lastly how do you handle shareholder (and investor) dynamics, especially those that are non-technical by background, operating in a technology or non tech-enabled business?

“I am not seeing any drop off in the appetite of investors to invest in great business or ideas. These businesses don’t necessarily have to be ’technology businesses’ but it’s essential that they understand how technology supports and can drive the business forward and create true points of differentiation. In light of the current uncertainty in the world, investors are most definitely being more discerning in their investments and looking specifically at where technology is, or could be, used to drive a business forward.

The best way to showcase and get the investment for a product or platform is to engage and take the ideas to the board, articulate clearly what it is, what is does and put forward a business case. Most boards that are technologically advanced will back good innovative technology for a company.

In order to best liaise with shareholders or a board, technology leaders must demonstrate how and why technology is necessary to take the business where it needs to go. They should act as a true partner with the business, having the respect of their peers on the board, with strong influencing skills that enable them to suggest ideas and express their voice and opinion!

Technology leaders need to elevate themselves away from the basics and look at everything more high level; from ensuring visibility to find the right technology that will add value to the business and the customer experience.”

Should you wish to learn more, please get in touch.

Tech & Tech Enabled Practice
Ruby Sheera
rs@draxexecutive.com

 

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