For each client engagement, Mark Ireland leads a team of up to ten developers, designers and DevOps engineers.
He spoke to us about everything from remote working and financial strategy, to the disruption of open banking APIs.
What’s the nature of your client projects at NearForm?
They’re digital transformation projects. We’re usually adding something new and exciting to what clients already have. I like to compare what we do in software to buildings architecture – in many cases today, we are working with enterprises on extending, rebuilding and renovating programs and sometimes an entirely new building is needed. We design and develop their structures to modernise them, improving their stability, accessibility, security, usability.
What’s the secret to being a successful delivery architect?
Most people come to this role from a developer role. The key thing is to recognise you can’t carry on just doing what you did before. You have to focus on the things that don’t come so easy. I have found that the softer skills are almost more important – like people management, conflict resolution and stakeholder management. Crucially, it’s about getting the most out of everyone on the team.
What’s the secret to that?
You have to give everyone just the right amount of responsibility and just the right amount of work, to achieve and grow.
I start each morning with a 1-to-1 with a team member. We then kick-off with a daily standup with the whole delivery team. We use agile methodology – so there are regular checks on how everyone is doing – and that makes my job easier.
Do you meet in person?
We’re specialists in digital working, so our meetings happen over Zoom or Google Hangouts. My most recent project had team members spread across 7 different European countries and India, as widely spread as Ireland, the Czech Republic, Mumbai and Majorca. Combined with the client also working from 5 different locations on 3 continents, we were truly a distributed team!
We always start a project with an in-person kick-off meeting and workshops with the client. This gives everyone a chance to build relationships as well as giving focused attention to the project so it gets off to a good start.
We then get together from time-to-time (not too frequently!) to work on critical pieces of work and ensure those relationships continue to flourish.
I have found that the softer skills are almost more important – like people management, conflict resolution and stakeholder management. Crucially, it’s about getting the most out of everyone on the team.
Where do your skills and expertise lie?
I have been in software development for my whole working life, always trying to improve and add skills to my toolbox. I’ve had various roles across development, architecture, team leading and project management, working both within an organization and on the service provision side.
I love the feeling when you create something new and exciting and it’s exactly what someone needs.
Currently, I’m really enjoying being in the mobile and internet space – making new products and bringing new capabilities to customers.
Who are your clients?
At NearForm I’ve had various client engagements, with my major projects being with a top global management consultancy and with News UK, owners of The Times, Sunday Times and the Sun.
What did that project entail?
For News UK, we created a back-end for their mobile news app, pulling data from existing diverse systems and consolidating content that is presented across multiple platforms. The goal was getting data into a form that can be loaded easily and transparently to the user, with resized images, etc and visually presented in the most optimum way.
I know that for a news publisher, a CMS (content management system) is their lifeblood.
We’re effectively making news stories and articles from their CMS available seamlessly, scaling it up and out, and ensuring end users can access it even while they’re offline. We’ve also taken a long-term view in designing the solution to cater for today’s inputs but also tomorrow’s unknowns. The media industry is going through massive disruption, transforming how they distribute their content across multiple channels. Data is by far their most valuable asset. It’s great to be a part of such a dynamic time in that industry.
How do you know when a project is successful?
We work closely with all our clients and make sure we are constantly getting feedback. We work to critical success factors and KPIs that have been set with the client from the get-go. Typical KPIs are delivery on-time and on-budget but we also work to more commercially strategic goals around end-user engagement and satisfaction.
What have you built for the global consultancy business you’ve mentioned?
We created a very powerful application for their specialised global financial strategy. The application crunches and charts data in lots of different ways, eliminating Excel and massively reducing the building time to create reports. We enabled all the data to be accessed securely via the cloud. It’s SAAS and the company is adopting it for use by their consulting teams as well as rolling it out to their own customers.
From the sounds of things, your team built something special. Was that a career highlight for you?
I’m very proud of the efforts of our team! We delivered over and above what anyone could expect and we have a very happy customer, which is the ultimate indicator of success.
At my previous job with Visa in the UK, I also worked on the technical strategy for card processing in Europe – that was also a highlight for me.
What do you see as the trends that banks need to be on top of?
Open banking APIs are of great interest. They lead to the ability to combine data from multiple, disparate sources and apply intelligence on behalf of the end user. I can see these leading to a wide variety of new products and services, especially allowing people to subscribe to services that can do some of the work for them in managing their finances.
How many users will access the digital assets you create? I suppose the answer varies a lot if you’re talking about B2B versus B2C apps.
It does. The corporate financial strategy application will be used by hundreds of highly specialised users. The end user for the News UK app is a regular person who’s reading the content so the number of users will be many thousands and potentially could run into the millions.
From your perspective, what trends have been & continue to be the most disruptive in IT?
Across the industry, it’s not necessarily about what’s new, but what’s vastly shaping business strategy. Most companies are still adapting to the big changes that cloud and mobile computing have brought. Those are the bases from where disruption comes.
There are many opportunities that digital brings and new possibilities appearing all the time as new services come online and leading-edge technologies such as machine learning become mainstream.
On the technical side, Node.js was massively disruptive – and backing that was good for NearForm. Because we’re seen as experts in JS, that wins us client contracts. Node.js is no longer the new kid on the block and has really grown up – enterprises are truly beginning to see the value world-over.
We work to critical success factors and KPIs that have been set with the client from the get-go. Typical KPIs are delivery on-time and on-budget but we also work to more commercially strategic goals around end-user engagement and satisfaction.
Are your clients in Ireland or across the globe?
They’re all over – Dubai, in the US, around the EU – they’re diverse and distributed.
How much has NearForm grown in the three years since you joined?
We’ve doubled from around 70 people to around 120 since I’ve been here. That’s a real sign of how organisations are now approaching software development. Leveraging the talent, expertise and experience of a company like ours just makes sense. It’s a perfect marriage of our extensive capabilities & deep technical knowledge with their business’ domain expertise and digital transformation opportunities.
What’s the number one recommendation you give to clients undergoing digital transformation?
Have a clear roadmap in place. Don’t take it in a piecemeal fashion. The whole idea is making sure you’re not disrupted – that you’re ahead of everyone else. Think like a disruptor. Focus on the outcomes. Look at your IT estate holistically, and recognize the capability that you need to reach your business objectives.
You mentioned your personal life helped make the decision to move to Ireland. How?
It’s a better way of life for me and my family. It’s a great environment here. Working for NearForm, you get the benefits of being with a dynamic company. Giving your employees a good lifestyle is a key differentiator in attracting talent. If they have the opportunity to work on cool, challenging projects, while also working from home – that’s a huge draw. It’s also a great way to retain the talent you have.
How do you stay relevant as a remote worker?
It’s generally a continual thing – continually reading on your interest area – as well as talking to others in the company, taking advantage of the fact that our client teams are always mixed up and there are always good people to meet.
What’s the best thing about life in Tramore?
The Comeragh Mountains, surfing, horse riding, the Copper Coast, the creativity – my kids go to a great music school, for instance. We’ve got a very good life here.
Thanks to Mark for giving us a good overview of disruption and how digital transformation projects can help customers stay ahead of the game. It was an interesting point about how by embracing remote working, NearForm has given itself an edge in recruiting talented staff.