CTO Sessions: Simon Bennett, Rackspace Technology – IDG Connect

Name: Simon Bennett

Company: Rackspace Technology

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: August 2020

Location: Hayes, London, UK

As Rackspace Technology Chief Technical Officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) regions, Simon Bennett’s goal is to deliver end-value to customers with world-class multicloud solutions and services. He is focused on inspiring and supporting technical leaders to find the best-fit solutions combining a perfect blend of services and capabilities from the Rackspace Technology and partner portfolio. Bennett enjoys working with customers at all levels to understand their challenges and opportunities and ultimately helping them to succeed. Bennett’s extensive experience has been gained from working across a broad spectrum of customers in different industries.

What was your first job? I entered the IT industry in 1983 as a programmer for IBM, specialising in PL-1, IBM mainframe language.

Did you always want to work in IT? I fell into IT by accident. I was always good at problem solving and looked at things differently which fit nicely with a career in IT. I had a keen interest in IT and always tried to pick at technology I was given. I almost got kicked out of college for hacking its mainframe! I took the entire campus offline to boost my compute capacity for my own work.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I went to the school of “hard knocks” as struggled with conventional teaching methods and was easily distracted but have an HND in Computer Studies.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I’ve always worked in IT and am most interested in the business of IT – understanding how IT impacts businesses overall. I worked across various companies from Lloyds of London to Eagle Star and IBM before joining Rackspace Technology.

What type of CTO are you? It’s important to be forward looking and to be ahead of industry norms, but equally to put the customer first so I consider myself to be customer and regionally centred whilst future gazing.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? The next one that’s not been invented! We work in a fast faced industry, developing new things and ideas all the time. The tech for tech sake isn’t important. It’s the applicability of the tech and thinking of new ways that’s not been thought about that’s most interesting.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? The majority of technologies are overhyped. Companies that launch an invention deliberately overhype them to sell the product, it’s part of the game. Blockchain for example has been a solution looking for a problem and it hasn’t been used in the masses.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? Having joined Rackspace Technology in August this year, I’ve learned that it has a different way of thinking about industries and customers’ needs. We look to solve business problems and not technical problems. This mindset helps to look at technology in a completely different light.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Yes to all the above! COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation plans to the vast majority of businesses. Everyone today wants to improve the customer experience and the best way to address this is through transformation operations – specifically technical ones.

One example is IATA, the airline trade association. We’re helping it to achieve its goal of developing airline standards for the future. The essence of this project is to improve global standards for safety, security, efficiency and stability in a cost effective way that will support airlines worldwide. We reviewed its legacy applications and identified with enhancing the use of Amazon Web Services would provider leaner, greener and more meaningful data.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Before March 2020, many customers knew digital transformation was needed. Now, it’s about supporting customers to have the agility and flexibility to move at accelerated pace towards their digital transformation goals.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Multicloud is at the heart of what we do. We offer vast choice to ensure our customers have complete flexibility of their technical environments. We match customer needs with the capabilities of the hyperscalers rather than trying to retrofit an environment to fit. This enables the greatest amount of flexibility and innovation.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Hyperscalers launch new services and products so frequently it can sometimes be hard to keep up! You have to stay current to be at the bleeding edge of the innovations. That’s where our cloud experts come in and can support customers in the best possible way.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Ability to implement. We’ve seen too many times a technology strategy that looks great on paper but can’t be executed or is unaffordable. The strategy is a living thing that can’t be created in a box.

It also requires close alignment with business objectives and goals and not be tech for tech’s sake.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The role will be to offer more business alignments and educating the business value of technologies that should be deployed.

What has been your greatest career achievement? In a previous role I worked with the Department of Work and Pensions to design a solution for the unemployed. We created one big database of all jobs being advertised across the country, rather than locally specific roles. At the time this was considered ground-breaking as the public was able to search for an exponentially higher amount of jobs from all over the country.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would’ve liked to have been more creative. There’s a lot to be learned from the creative industries – from design to build. It’s always better to think bigger to understand the art of the possible when it comes to projects.

What are you reading now? The Sleepwalkers : How Europe Went to War in 1914 and The Wipers Times.

Most people don’t know that I… Once packed 50,000 rations for the Nigerian army within three months.

In my spare time, I like to…Use my radio to search the waves for interesting conversations around the world and take my three dogs on big walks.

Ask me to do anything but… Caving and to stay in enclosed spaces.

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