#ArchitectureQA | 9 min read
We know that, in today’s technologically driven world, things are constantly changing and evolving at an incredible speed. True technology leaders are those who spot these changes, and who adapt and move with them in order to remain on the cutting-edge of not only technology – but also of business competition.
In our Tech Leaders Q&A Series we recently spoke with Josh Hart, one of the co-founders of Chelsea Apps Factory – known widely as one of the first mobile enterprise businesses in the UK - and now co-founder at CTO at insurance disruptor Yu-Life.
Discussing technology trends and his views on how the drive towards digital transformation will fundamentally alter the way that businesses operate, Josh provided us with insights on where the future of tech lies, and how businesses can capitalise on these changing trends in order to ensure a successful future.
Third Republic (TR): Can you tell us a bit about Chelsea Apps Factory (CAF); what was the impetus for the business?
Josh Hart (JH): Chelsea Apps Factory was really one of the very early movers in the world of mobile, and we were kind of one of the first to use the term ‘Enterprise Mobile’ in the UK. It basically began because of the huge movement towards mobile; people needed the technology for it and we could build that technology. It started with gaming – with the likes of Angry Birds etc – but quickly the opportunity presented itself to expand into business apps because organisations wanted to be able to play with the new mobile technology in a useful way. It was mostly about giving brands a presence on mobile, but the budget and innovation were pretty limited so, whilst it was fun to play around in this new space, it wasn’t really big enough for what we wanted to do. From here we developed into building things like dashboards so that businesses could really see what was happening, and this was the start of enterprise mobile apps; every business at the time was trying to think of their mobile strategy and everyone had their own ideas of what they wanted to execute on it, so we really capitalised on that demand. When we got up and rolling with that then it became about ‘ok what can we do next’.
At this time mobile commerce was becoming quite a big thing, and so our focus turned to how businesses could make revenue by selling things within an app. We worked very close with the gambling industry setting up the likes of the Ladbrokes gambling app, as well as huge businesses like Waitrose and Standard Life to produce applications allowed in-app purchasing. After this evolution we were left with two key streams at Chelsea Apps Factory – apps that made more money, and apps that helped optimise your workforce to make them more effective and optimise operational costs.
TR: You talk about the evolution of mobile applications; do you think there is a repeatable cycle in technology trends?
JH: I think looking back on the entirety of my journey at Chelsea Apps Factory, mobile adoption went through three phases: firstly, people wanted to play with the new technology, then they wanted to contextualise their job and business with it, and then they wanted to harness the technology to increase revenue.
In my eyes these are the three steps of commoditising a product, and I think we’re seeing the start of this with artificial intelligence at the moment. People are just beginning to work out how to play with the tech, and once they have this there will be that shift to harnessing the technology to do business with it, and then working out how to use it to increase revenue. I think that if a business can come into this cycle at the right time, then they will be successful.
TR: The Government Digital Services announced a few years ago that businesses should not invest in apps, rather they should focus on making their website mobile friendly. Do you think that there is a future in apps, or should businesses be heeding this advice?
JH: For websites I think it’s all about accessibility, whereas with apps it is all about creating new experiences and utilities that can’t be created through a mobile website. There are things that need to be considered like the offline state, or having the application running in the background to enable features such as step tracking, that can’t be harnessed with a mobile website. As with anything, people should only build an app because it’s the solution to their problem, but I don’t think that mobile websites will obliterate the need for apps anytime soon.
TR: Where do you think the future of mobile applications is headed?
JH: I have noticed a big trend across brands, and in tech in general, towards harnessing emotional intelligence. Whereas apps were once just about functionality, now we really want to use them and play with them and get joy out of them. Take gaming apps, for example, which are the most used apps aside from communication apps – which truly harness the power of mobile and app technology in order provide immersive and joyful experiences to a user.
Yet, businesses still seem unable to take what’s so exciting about this technology, and the lessons that have been learnt from mobile and gaming technology and apply them to their industries. For example, Netflix uses their app to simply provide access to their platform, but they don’t harness the power mobile has to really create a unique experience. I think once organisations can do that then they will have something very powerful on their hands.
TR: With this optimistic future, why did you choose to depart from CAF and start yulife?
JH: As much as I loved helping others build tools and build their brands at CAF, everyone wants to be able to create their own brand identity – so a lot of me leaving was wanting to set out and create my own thing.
I also see a gap in insurance technology; even though we all talk about FinTech a lot, no one generally sees insurance as something that can be merged with technology. In contrast, I believe that insurance and personal well-being has evolved from something that was once simply a basic need, into something that now a genuine consumer want. Match this with the need for apps to truly harness the power of mobile technology, and it becomes clear that there was a space that hadn’t yet been filled in the market.
So, I co-founded yulife to help people unleash their full potential and be their best self. We harness the power of apps and mobile technology in order to provide access to mental, physical and financial well-being, and reward and incentivise individuals for their healthy living with the likes of Avios (airmiles), Amazon, Nike and ASOS.
TR: What emerging technology trends are you excited about today?
JH: Voice technology is definitely what I am most excited about; I think it has the biggest potential application out of all of the trends that we are currently seeing, and as a result we are seeing more and more businesses starting to rapidly adopt it. It’s so similar to the rise of mobile where suddenly a new interface has come out, and businesses have to quickly learn how to use it and overcome the UX challenges associated with it in order to bring it to their customers quickly. At yulife, for instance, we’ve been playing with voice technology and understanding how it can be applied to the insurance industry in the right way.
I’m also interested in seeing how brands will apply AI to make smart decisions and intelligent applications that are cross-platform; so that you have AI interactions across multiple devices. I also love VR, but I do question if those devices and the technology can be accessible until they are shrunk and made more comfortable; I think only then will VR become mainstream. For instance, when you compare the Snapchat glasses to Google glass the former was inherently cooler and there was a much bigger uptake as a result. I definitely think we’ll also see a combination of voice and VR technology come together in a cool way so I’m excited to see how that is realised.
TR: It has been said that there will be more advancements in tech in the next 10 years as in the last 100 years; what opportunities and challenges do you think this will bring for businesses?
JH: New technology is great, but it puts a lot of business models – which have worked so well for the last 100 years – at risk. New tech basically reduces the barriers to entry for disruptive brands; the likes of Airbnb and Uber who have turned traditional industries with traditional business models on their head. These rapid advancements essentially mean that no one is safe; even if you’re a company who has existed for 100 years you are going to have to adapt quickly.
yulife, for instance, is disrupting something that hasn’t been disrupted for hundreds of years because these advancements in technology have opened up opportunities and have displaced massive organisations. These big organisations have entrenched practices and processes in place that can make it hard for them to transform rapidly, and more and more new businesses are taking advantage of this.
So really, I think that the advancements in tech can be both a blessing and a curse depending how quickly a business can adapt.
TR: With the rapid drive towards digital and digital transformation, what do you think businesses need to have in place before embarking on a digital transformation journey?
JH: I think the main things are: the right people, the right processes and the right PNL. Businesses really need individuals on board who are going to help take everyone on a journey, but you also need board members who are willing to be taken on this journey and participate in the transformation initiatives. Then I think you need to take a meaningful part of your business – that has a good profit and loss business line - and start there in that small area and let that demonstrate the possibilities of transformation. Finally, take those best practises and apply them to other areas of the business; basically, don’t try and do a mass overhaul, but instead take a solid example and scale it.
TR: And do you think professionals now need different skills to be successful in this newly digital world?
JH: Yes, without a doubt. I think the biggest thing is that there has been a data shift in how we apply and harness data to make our decisions. With these new platforms we can listen to customers in new and unique ways and can apply the insights in new ways. Professionals now need to be able to manipulate data in this way, and to think in a customer-centric way about how it can be used to benefit individuals not just the business.
TR: You clearly have experience building businesses and also teams; what are your hiring challenges in today’s skills short market?JH: With technologies moving so quickly, and trends constantly changing on what tech you should be using, it can be a struggle to find the talent who truly know how to use the cutting-edge technology. You see a lot of courses popping up that are trying to teach the basic skills of coding in these new languages in six weeks and, whilst they certainly have a lot of merit, this means that the market is being filled with can-do vs. know-how coders who don’t actually have the underlying skill set of coding. As a result, in the next evolution of technology, they just won’t be sustainable individuals because they won’t be able to adapt. Their ability to innovate is limited if something hasn’t been done before, so it’s hard to know if these engineers will evolve with time.
Whilst a business can operate around this, by ensuring they have a lot of well-grounded engineers to help newbies grow, finding talented engineers who, in their blood are truly engineers, is definitely a tough challenge right now.
TR: What would you suggest to engineers who want to be the best, and stand out, then?
JH: You need to make the lifestyle choice to constantly educate yourself and to keep learning. Keeping up to date and learning new platforms and contributing to open source projects and providing value to the community. Don’t just do a course and take from the community, but make an investment, contribute back into it, and commit to your own continuous development.
It’s also important to note that not everyone needs to be an engineer; for instance, QA is rapidly becoming more necessary and more respectable in the industry, so individuals should always consider playing outside of the pure engineering space.
TR: Finally, what advice would you give yourself if you were just starting your journey?
JH: If I could plan my first 5 years, going back right to the start, I would say: train for a year in a large business because they offer some of the best training out there, then enter a small consultancy to gain exposure to a wide range of businesses, and then go a build a great product and learn what it is to operate a live business.