The Big Interview: Brightsolid chief executive Elaine Maddison

Technology has been pivotal to business survival in the pandemic, and Brightsolid chief Elaine Maddison says cloud services will uncover new talents.

Maddison joined the firm in 2019 following 20 years in the UK financial services industry. Picture: contributed.

Elaine Maddison is the chief executive of hybrid cloud managed services company Brightsolid. She joined the firm in 2019 following 20 years in the UK financial services industry, at the likes of Aegon and Alliance Trust Savings, with experience across a range of disciplines including IT, operations, risk-management and strategy. She is responsible for the vision and direction of the business and oversees all operational activities to ensure the company meets its strategic objectives.

Dundee-based Brightsolid earlier this month launched a new professional services practice. The venture was conceived before the coronavirus crisis hit, and aims to advise organisations on how they can use cloud computing to navigate the current economic environment, but it also now considers how they can futureproof for financial recovery once the crisis ends.

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Currently, my focus is on driving internal transformation, the CEO says. Picture: contributed.

Can you explain what your role involves and what you aim to achieve?

I’m responsible for developing the long-term business strategy and delivering overall growth. Currently, my focus is on driving internal transformation to position Brightsolid beyond its strong reputation for colocation and managed private cloud, to offer consulting and managed services for hybrid cloud environments.

Hybrid cloud offers customers a mix of on-premise, private cloud and public cloud services to manage their IT infrastructure and data, depending on what is right for their organisation. A blended approach means that customers get the right cloud for the right workload, ensuring that they realise the cost, efficiency and flexibility benefits this brings.

We recognise these decisions can be confusing and complex. Even the myriad of terminology and buzzwords can be hard to navigate. We take the pain out of the journey and tailor solutions that are directly linked to an organisation’s business goals, whether it’s growth, innovation, or time and cost-savings. Having an agile IT infrastructure is vital for survival and success. Connectivity and resilience have taken on a new level of priority since the uncertainty brought by Covid-19.

I want Brightsolid to be recognised as the leading hybrid cloud managed services provider in Scotland. A core part of that is ensuring that our people have the right skills and capabilities to deliver outstanding guidance, support and service to our customers. For the past 18 months, I’ve been reshaping the business through investment in our people to ensure we’re able to help our customers maximise opportunities.

What impact is the Covid-19 pandemic having on Brightsolid?

Thankfully, our team are all safe and well. We have a core team working in our data centres to ensure we can continue to support any physical access requirements, but the majority of the team have been working very effectively from home. Virtual meetings are second nature now. Technology has been something of a salvation during the coronavirus lockdown – for businesses and individuals, both personally and professionally.

Our workload has been constant. Our clients are not putting projects on hold because of Covid-19, as we might have feared at the beginning of lockdown. Quite the opposite, in fact, with many clients expediting digital transformation projects. Covid-19 has forced businesses to acknowledge they need more flexibility, that they must embrace change and innovation, and they are expected to do even more with even less. Hybrid cloud, if implemented in the right way, enables organisations to implement change quickly and in a cost-effective way.

You have said it’s vital that all employees in technical businesses hold technical certifications – can you explain more about this?

One of the main reasons organisations partner with a cloud services provider is because they don’t necessarily have the right skills in-house. When organisations come to Brightsolid, and trust us to run their critical infrastructure, they need to have absolute confidence that we know what we are doing.One of our core values is “keep growing, without limits” – we invest heavily in our people because we think it makes a difference.

We’ve recently invested in Amazon Web Services (AWS) training and certifications because it’s a core part of our proposition and what’s been fantastic to see is that it’s not just the engineers who’ve been taking the courses – our finance, sales, marketing, project and reception teams have also undertaken AWS training.

What about the tech skills shortage more broadly – how should this be tackled?

Unexpectedly, the Covid-19 crisis may provide a solution because remote working has proven that we don’t all need to sit in the same office – or even the same city or country – to deliver great work together. That creates huge opportunities for employers to look further afield for talent.

However, organisations should invest in their own people first and consider whether there’s a way to upskill the existing workforce before going to market to recruit. In my experience, the benefits in terms of employee engagement and company culture are huge. Investing in people and giving them the opportunity for personal growth can be a catalyst for success.

That said, given the pace of change in the tech sector, it’s unrealistic to expect in-house IT teams to be able to keep up to date with constantly evolving skills requirements. That’s where the right external partner can offer real value. We’ve invested in our team so that our customers don’t have to.

You have said women appear vastly under-represented in “core” tech job roles – what more needs to be done to boost the science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) workforce gender balance?

Recent stats show women account for only one fifth of the Stem workforce in the UK. The number of women in tech has been growing in recent years, but it’s still lower than that of men. Female role models will be influential in encouraging young women to pursue careers within Stem subjects.

We need to ensure girls and young women during their school years understand that Stem subjects and careers are an option for them. A tech career needs to be given the same prominence and be just as attractive as a career in law or medicine.

The tech jobs of the future haven’t even been invented yet. Significant career opportunities lie ahead. It’s vital that the workforce reflects as much diversity as possible to ensure tech solutions are more innovative and more effective.

You studied computing at university – what attracted you to the subject?

I studied Higher computing at high school. I didn’t have a clear idea leaving school about the type of career I wanted, but I knew at the time that I couldn’t go wrong with technology.

How did your career progress before you joined Brightsolid – were there any particularly pivotal moments?

I spent 20 years in the UK financial services industry, working across technology and change, operations, risk-management and marketing and product development. In the three years prior to joining Brightsolid, I was heavily involved in merger and acquisition activities, leading various business functions through transformational change. I’m passionate about transforming organisations through people and I’ve been able to apply that at Brightsolid through the development of technology and service delivery.

My first C-level role was as chief operating officer (COO) for Alliance Trust Savings at a time when the business had a significant amount of operational challenges. Having been in a technology and change role for a number of years, I was offered the opportunity to step up into the COO role, possibly before I was ready. Leading a 200-strong team was very new to me, but it was in this role that I discovered that creating the right culture and environment for success really does drive results. It ignited my passion for working with people and it’s a time in my career I will always look back on with pride.

You took the reins at Brightsolid at the start of 2019 – if we look ahead to the start of next year, how would you like the business to look then?

Over the last 18 months, we’ve transformed the business from a traditional data centre and private cloud provider to a hybrid cloud managed services provider. We still have much to do, but already we’re seeing the benefits with a more engaged workforce and a strong service culture. We’ve recently launched new products and services aimed at addressing some of the very real and practical challenges our customers have in defining and deploying the right cloud environments for their organisations.

By next year, I want Brightsolid to have an established reputation as a trusted strategic cloud partner, capable of delivering end-to-end solutions. We have a strong reputation for hosting and infrastructure services, built over 25 years with a robust client portfolio in the public and private sector. Organisations trust and respect us, and that provides us with an excellent foundation to partner with them to design, build and manage their hybrid cloud environments to achieve success.

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