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Thrive is set up by Funding London, a venture capital company bridging the finance gap for early stage businesses based in London. With over a decade’s experience in supporting the startups of London through a variety of funding vehicles, Funding London sensed a need to illuminate the ever-evolving scenario of London’s early stage businesses.

Thrive features interviews with and opinion from budding entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts. A mix of contributors from all areas of the industry is desired in order to spark genuine discussion about ongoing critical issues. While it showcases the effectiveness of successful ventures, it also encourages sharing lessons learned from missteps and unsuccessful projects.

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Changing the world of software

About

John is a visionary technologist and highly accomplished business leader. He pioneered the space of streaming analytics as Co- founder, President and CTO of Apama (acquired by Progress Software in 2005 and now part of Software AG). He drove the evolution of platforms for digital business while serving as EVP of Corporate Strategy and CTO at Progress Software (NASDAQ:PRGS), and as CTO of Big Data, Head of Industry Solutions and CMO at Software AG (Frankfurt TecDAX:SOW). More recently, he drove the commercial development of platforms to support internet of things applications, serving as CEO at Plat.One (acquired by SAP in 2016). John holds a doctorate in computer science from Cambridge University, U.K., and is the author of the book “Thingalytics: Smart Big Data Analytics for the Internet of Things.”

1 December 2020

You are described as a visionary technologist. Please tell us how you gained that reputation.

I am always looking to evolve a product that will transform an industry, not just benefit it.  Adapting to current situations and leveraging the environment around me to create products that people not only want but need has been key to my approach. And being able to spot where the industry is going next and what the emerging business challenges are is a key part of this.

I actually joined Eggplant as the CEO after the company had been in operation for almost 10 years. My role was to evolve the company from a niche provider to a market disruptor and leader. Being a ‘visionary’ was at the heart of making this transition – I had to establish the vision for the next generation of intelligent automation and then take us there. It was a challenge certainly, but one that we achieved with hard work and collaboration. We harnessed the power of intelligent automation to reimagine the market – where AI actually analyses digital products and builds the test strategy for you, including testing the customer experience and desired business outcomes. With this approach we created a long-term viable market solution.

What are some of the factors you believe led to your success so far?

One of the huge factors behind my success is the talent that I surround myself with and collaborate with on a daily basis; it will forever remain true that you are only as good as your team. An important rule as a CEO is to maintain relationships with talented employees and bring them with you when you move on. I have worked with my current CTO at Eggplant, Gareth Smith, at four different organisations.

Overall, I admire individuals who are trailblazers and aren’t afraid to push boundaries and try something new. I am always seeking to integrate these characteristics into everything I do. Additionally, understanding consumer behaviour and needs has been essential for all my businesses success. If you create an innovative product which meets the needs of the audience, you will succeed.

What goals do you still have and are working to achieve?

At Eggplant we are continuously working to change the world of software, that is our ultimate goal. As the world becomes increasingly digitised and dependent on software, ensuring this tech is flawless is the priority.  At Eggplant, we say we want to rid the world of bad software!

At the moment we are working to get the critical nature of software testing recognised by businesses by challenging the traditional perception that this is only a tick box exercise or an afterthought.  Our goal is to illustrate that quality can be a profit centre – not a compliance function. Post-digital transformation, businesses are run with digital products – so ensuring they provide an amazing customer experience, delivering on business outcomes and beating competitors, is all about product quality!

We still have some way to go here – many organisations are yet to appreciate the value of software testing and use it reactively when a problem occurs rather than proactively. But we are taking steps forward here and COVID-19 had a significant part to play – almost overnight businesses had to accelerate digital transformation plans and step into new territory, where testing was a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

You are a pioneer in the space of streaming analytics and platforms for digital business. What technology predictions do you have over the next five years?

Whilst 2020 has been the year of the unpredictable, we can expect some key tech trends to appear in the upcoming years. As mentioned above, the world is increasingly becoming digitised as nearly every facet of life has pivoted online and we can therefore expect technology to be integrated into every aspect of society.

The first key trend we can expect to see more of in the next five years is increased investment in reskilling. It’s no secret that the adoption of technology and digital transformation within organisations has caused a significant skills gap that needs to be addressed. For the UK population to keep up with the rapid pace of evolving technology, there will and needs to be a huge investment in digital skills and training.

The UK government has already taken some steps to achieve this through various programs including the Lifetime Skills Guarantee program and private companies are also investing, such as Zurich, which announced it is investing £1m to upskill and retain 3,000 UK employees, two-thirds of its current workforce. However, this is just the beginning – as more digital jobs go unfilled for long periods of time, we will see more investment from both private and public organisations and quickly.  This urgency is only heightened by the current political climate – as the Brexit transition phase is coming to an end on the 1st January 2021, the UK needs to ensure the population is trained at both educational and vocational levels, to compensate for skills migration.

We can also expect software testing to become an integral part of government regulations and legislation. Governments will need to mandate a validation of connected technologies before they can go into the market. The release of self driving-vehicles is a good example. Autonomous driving opens up new opportunities but also risks. Ensuring driver and vehicle safety will always be a top priority, especially as vehicles will eventually become more and more autonomous. But in-vehicle technology also presents the challenge to protect drivers’ personal data from getting into the wrong hands. Securing systems against hackers and effectively securing the systems against cyber-attacks is another facet that needs to be addressed. This type of technology must be constantly tested to detect errors and anomalies in the software and this will become mandated.

Another example where government regulation is expected to increase is the rapid release of consumer healthcare apps. Apps such as the new MIT app, which can detect coronavirus by listening to your cough, need to be tested rigorously to ensure they are performing flawlessly and providing users with accurate results. Therefore, standardised intelligence tests will become integral ahead of releasing health products and apps.

Last but by no means least, and perhaps even the most important trend we can expect in the coming years, is the recognition that networked software needs to be classed as Critical National Infrastructure and requires continual investment. As the world continues to pivot digitally and be reliant on technology, networked software has become as important to life as water and electricity. Without it, we no longer are able to function. Networked software and telecommunications companies have been key drivers in pushing our world forward, allowing us to get our essentials delivered to our front door and work outside of the office, helping to boost productivity for some.

The crisis has forced companies to move at a faster pace to keep their businesses running, cutting costs and redesigning how work gets done. Despite the efforts made by businesses to rapidly change to meet demands, COVID-19 has shown us how vulnerable some companies – even entire sectors – are. Digital roadmaps scheduled to take place and be carried out over yearly phases suddenly accelerated and were conducted within weeks, leaving little time for preparation. And as people remained at home and turned to the Internet like never before, there has been a severe strain on the IT industry to ensure everything works smoothly.

Network operators are at the centre of this pushing the digital revolution forward. As we enter into a contactless, automated era, networked software and software testing needs to be top of mind and financially supported in order to ensure that our economy can continue to function competitively.

What invention do you hope to see in your lifetime?

As a sci-fi junkie, the two main inventions I have always wanted to see are teleportation and warp-speed travel. However, I suspect we’re not going to see these in my lifetime – unless the Internet of Things enables me to continuously upgrade my body for eternal life. So, I’ll pick on the flying car. This is something I think we will see – but it will be more like a large drone than a car I suspect. And I’ve always fancied a practical jetpack. These seem to be evolving to something that you might be able to buy in the mainstream market in the next decade! Having owned iPhones, iPad and a Tesla, and using the Internet every day, a lot of my sci-fi dreams have already been fulfilled.

What qualities should a CEO have in 2020 to be successful?

CEOs need to be agile and fast-moving, adapting and reacting quickly to take advantage of the market. For example, I successfully spearheaded the acquisition of Eggplant by Keysight Technologies in June for $330M, the largest software acquisition in the UK in 2020 at the time.

As today’s economic environment remains uncertain, many executives planned to put a short-term pause on deals to evaluate the potential market recovery timeline or to delay parting with capital during the pandemic. Boeing, for example, abandoned a $4 billion deal to acquire 80% of Embraer’s commercial jet business and a 49% stake in a joint venture producing a new military cargo jet.

However, CEOs operating in the unknown territory such as this moment in time require smart forward-thinking actions – and in some cases that should be investing cash rather than saving it. It is these bold, analytical moves – spotting an opportunity in the market – that make a CEO successful. Those in a strong financial position, placed in an industry due to or already benefiting from the changes brought about by COVID-19, like Eggplant, should be looking for targets that can enhance their competitive advantage. CEOs need to take this time to identify the gaps in their current business performance, then move quickly to fill them through a strategic acquisition.

CEOs also need to ensure they are engaging with customers as soon as possible. There is no point developing a revolutionary product in secret that you have no idea if people want. Additionally, when I look at the most successful CEOs, they all share a common factor: they’re successful product marketing visionaries – whether it be Bill Gates, Larry Ellison or Steve Jobs. But no one encapsulates this more than Elon Musk, who is the master of the story and how to bring it to life. This ethos is something I aspire to in my current role as CEO of Eggplant and something all CEOs need to look for in 2020.

How has the COVID crisis-affected business at Eggplant?

External events can have an immense impact on any businesses, and there is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis has played a role in Eggplant’s growth this year.

Eggplant has been able to capitalise on the growing interest in digital products, during the pandemic, as new applications and services were developed and tested. As demonstrated by this turbulent year, digital transformation is no longer a buzzword, it is a lifeline. Today’s society is now completely dependent on computer systems and software, and to survive organisations need to go digital. However, whilst it is all good and well-adopting technology, this technology needs to be reliable and work flawlessly. Testing is essential to ensure this new tech works and meets customers and businesses high expectations.

Additionally, as companies started to implement rigorous testing to ensure tech was up to scratch, we ended up performing well against our goals. Our strong position in the market has continued throughout this year, and, as mentioned above, in June Eggplant was acquired by Keysight Technologies, in a transaction valued at $330 million.

What have you learned during these unprecedented times?

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a light on how many businesses lack the tools necessary to adapt quickly to unprecedented events, which really begs the question of what more is needed to help organisations digitally transform and succeed?

As mentioned previously, agility is key for all businesses in all industries. Businesses can’t be complacent; they need to continuously introduce technology that will help them evolve and adapt to future challenges. All businesses need to continue to place innovation at the forefront of their business.

Low-code platforms and software is how many organisations are getting this done. These platforms are now essential for businesses wanting to adapt and integrate the necessary technology to survive. Not all businesses have the resources to implement and test their technology, and low-code platforms offer solutions that are suitable for the full range of technical and business tester skills sets, so anyone at any skill level can implement the technology needed to help their business succeed.