Embrace your digital side
Technology has the power to transform the world as we know it. David Webb, co-founder of consultancy 6point6, sees a future where digital capability and big data enable businesses to do more with less, more quickly and engage better with their customers.
6point6, a London-based independent technology consultancy, is coming up to its sixth birthday. Founded in 2012, the firm now has a headcount of 80 and has been growing fast. In 2016 it was ranked 13th in the Sunday Times Tech Track 100. “It was a real accolade for the strength of our business,” says Webb.
Initially focused on serving central government, 6point6 still has a strong public sector client base but is now also working with the private sector. Its services cover three core areas: big data and analytics, cyber security and digital transformation. This three-pronged approach reflects client’s needs, with each element supporting the others. 6point6 has evolved into “an end-to-end service player”, helping clients not only to develop their digital transformation and big data strategies, but also to realise them with a full range of support and services, from developing roadmaps to software engineering.
“A lot of the work we were originally doing was around transitioning organisations from legacy and heritage estates to more online, more controlled, new technology platforms delivering service to both internal users and their external clients,” Webb says. “That became our digital transformation business. Then the move away from standardised data technologies and making better use of big data and analytics as part of this transformation became a key part [of the service offering].” Similarly, cyber security rose up the agenda as clients sought to keep their architectures and data safe.
Data is the key
“You will always see cyber security and data at the heart of any form of digital transformation. You have data that needs to be managed and moved and consolidated and refreshed – and new products and services that can be brought to bear on the data you have. "
"That’s all part of the client wanting to be more agile in the market, wanting to do more for less and wanting to engage with their customers in a different way – be disruptive. Part and parcel of what we are trying to achieve in delivering business value to our customers is to provide them with the ability to be disruptive in what they do, how they do it and how agile they are through the use of technology.”
Big data and digital transformation both have the potential to help clients be disruptive. “Pure play disruption would be around introducing new ways of working or new technologies that enable you to challenge or to interact with your clients in a different way, to become more pertinent to a user community than your competition,” Webb says. “The way you interact from a digital and a data perspective allows you to be disruptive. A classic example would be the challenger banks that have disrupted through ‘online only’ or ‘only mobile’. Big data is also helping organisations to find new, innovative ways of providing services to their customers.” Cyber security, however, is less directly disruptive and more of an essential enabler that allows organisations to be disruptive. “You need to be highly effective at your protections if you are going to be a disruptor in a marketplace – but cyber is not a disruptive play in itself,” Webb says.
Accessing the cloud
Alongside its services, 6point6 has also launched a sub-brand called 6point6 Cloud Gateway as a joint venture. 6point6 Cloud Gateway allows businesses to simply and securely connect to multiple clouds, while encrypting network traffic and managing its movement through a central security enforcement point. The development reflects clients’ naturally evolving needs. “Our clients want more flexibility in their business,” Webb says. “They want to do more for less and they want a much more streamlined IT landscape. So the move to cloud, or cloud transformation, has been at the heart of a lot of our customers’ needs and goals over the last few years.” However, many organisations have complicated networking landscapes that were not originally designed to cater for the Cloud or mobile workforces. “They potentially have multiple sites, data centres and vendors in the supply chain and have to manage multiple security end points,” Webb says. “They probably have a major legacy networking infrastructure, which can cause numerous problems when trying to successfully deliver your cloud agenda. So with Cloud Gateway we have offered a solution that sits side-by-side with your existing networking infrastructure that you can hook into and immediately start to realise some of the benefits of cloud without having to rip up the playbook you already have from your core networking estate. Over time you can transition away from your legacy and heritage networking infrastructure, but it enables your cloud journey to be more accelerated than it otherwise would be and removes these previously unforeseen network and security pain points.”
6point6 has itself been cloud-based from day one.
“We don’t have a data centre. All our technology is ‘cloud first’, which means we have a completely mobile workforce. We can access 6point6 from anywhere in the world, 24/7. If clients are talking to us about digital technologies, we need to be clear that we are digital throughout our DNA.”
More traditional businesses that want to become more digital could start small, after clarifying what they want to achieve. Webb says: “Do you want to reach new markets? Expand? Do more for less? Be more agile? Then start by doing some of the simple things that don’t need a huge amount of intellectual thinking. For example, you could adopt a cloud-based emailing capability rather than managing your email on your premises. You could think about opening your security policies to enable people to bring their own devices to work. You can still maintain security – there are just basic things you need to do. These are small steps on your road to digital, rather than thinking you have to move everything to cloud now or be connected from anywhere in the world. Going the whole way takes time, money and a lot of cultural change. So you shift your culture step by step, adopting some basic principles that will move you towards your overall goals.”
Future disruption expected
Developments in technology will continue to cause disruption across business sectors in the coming years. “In the big data space, the disruptions are around machine learning, AI [artificial intelligence] and deep learning capabilities that you can bring to bear on your data and your processes,” Webb says. “As that moves more mainstream it’s certainly going to disrupt organisations. Who knows how the myriad of data that will come from the internet of things will disrupt industry – change the way that organisations interact with users or chatbots or how services are delivered? I think there will be a cycle of change that will be driven by the introduction of new technologies or new ways of interacting with your client base. The internet of things and machine and deep learning will start really moving forward at pace in the next few years and they will be the new disruptors of businesses.”
The professional services sector itself experienced substantial disruption around 10 years ago. The market had previously been dominated by the major systems integrators and giant professional services firms, Webb explains. “There was a view that they had the breadth and depth and it made more sense to buy your services from one company,” he says. However, that changed with the financial crash of 2007/08. “People wanted to do things differently,” Webb says. “They wanted to be agile in the way they delivered services and wanted to work with organisations that were subject matter experts, smaller, more agile to change. So we had the rise of the SME. That was also underpinned by the way the government changed its buying models around 2010, opening up procurement to the SME community. So the professional services business has been transformed in the last decade.”
Recently, large systems integrators have been seeking to acquire the smaller disruptors to access their capability and brand. “Rather than consuming them and stamping on their own big brand, they are adopting more of a ‘stable’ approach – becoming a big organisation with a stable of specialist organisations that bring real value and differentiation to the overall business,” Webb says. This doesn’t mean the end of new disruptors, however, because of the inherently competitive nature of the marketplace and the fact that technology never stands still. “Where the disruption is today is unlikely to be the same in 10 to 15 years’ time,” Webb notes. “There will be new technologies and smaller, niche organisations will take advantage of their skill in that area.”
Webb sees 6point6 as a bit of a disruptor itself, because of its way of working and particular skill sets and expertise. “Some of the Big Four [professional services firms] don’t have the depth we have, because it’s maybe not the sweet spot for them,” he says. “Other competitors don’t have the component parts we have – but that then makes us potentially open to be disrupted by other organisations that come in.”
The talent challenge
One of the biggest challenges 6point6 has faced in its own journey to date has been around attracting and retaining talent. “We are a people business,” Webb says. “We’re selling knowledge and capability and that means we need to attract and retain the best talent that we possibly can, but it’s a very competitive market. The UK IT sector is probably about five times under-supplied by the right qualified people and the indications are that the skills gap is likely to last until 2020 in the best case view.” Government measures to bring technology and pure IT back into schools could help, Webb feels. “But I don’t think the government can do a lot other than put it back on the agenda” he says. “So we need the IT community to get out there and make IT cool again. You can change the world with technology. Putting reusable rockets into space and creating self-driving cars – that was science fiction 20 years ago – and that’s cool.”
Apart from encouraging IT in schools, Webb thinks the government could help more businesses embrace digital transformation by sharing its own experiences. As Webb says, “Who would have thought that one of the first sectors to really embrace public cloud technology for data would be the central government departments?” However, the financial crisis and the era of austerity forced the government to find ways to get more from its IT, and so now it could share what it has learnt – “the journey to being able to deliver value, to get a lot out of their IT suppliers and moving to cloud”. Web says: “The government has some really good case studies in the way it has gone about doing this at large scale. By talking about it – about how they have gone about it, their successes and some of the failures – they could probably do small and medium-sized businesses a large amount of good.”
We asked: Away from 6point6, what disruptive tech has most impressed you…
Webb is particularly impressed by the achievements of Elon Musk’s companies: Tesla (with its electric cars) and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), manufacturer of reusable rockets and spacecraft – the first commercial provider to launch and recover a spacecraft from orbit. “Those have been some of the most disruptive, impressive technological achievements,” Webb says. “Those initiatives – electric cars, battery technology and space technologies – those are game changers. Technology advancements, new ways of working and new opportunities always come from these transformational human endeavours. These are quite revolutionary.”