Manchester 25th Anniversary Digital Leadership Report 2024

Events
Posting date: 02 July 2024

So, what really is on the minds of tech leaders in Manchester? 

Well the Digital Leadership Report event, which took place on 27th June, was one excellent way to find out. Over forty tech leaders gathered at HOME Manchester to explore the results of the DLR, engage in fascinating discussion and hear the exclusive announcement of Computer Weekly's UKTech50 - the most UK's influence people in tech. 

Our panel were: 

●  Christopher Williamson, Group Technology Director, N Brown Group 
●  Patrick Smith, CEO, Zally 
●  Nick Woods, CIO, MAG (Airports Group) 
●  Hosted by: David Savage, Group Technology Evangelist, Nash Squared 


We were also joined by:  

●  Bryan Glick, Editor-in-Chief, Computer Weekly 
…and by video message, the #1 most influence person in tech: Sir Alan Bates, campaigner on the Post Office Horizon scandal 

You can view photos from the event here

Five things we learnt  

1. Investment up, despite economic headwinds 

Despite a difficult and unpredictable global economy, investment in technology remains relatively strong – in the next 12 months over four in ten expect to increase tech budgets, and one third to increase tech headcount. 

2. GenAI widely adopted, with mixed success 

Almost three-quarters of organisations have deployed GenAI to at least some extent to their employees, and one in five have deployed it enterprise-wide. While deployment of GenAI has been rapid, there has been mixed success in its impact. Over half feel a lack of business case is holding them back, others are concerned by misuse of the tools.  


3. The birth of the Chief AI Officer

For the majority of organisations, the AI strategy sits with the technology leader; typically the CIO or CTO. But for others that responsibility will lie with the Chief AI Officer (CAIO). One in twenty organisations have one, a similar proportion expect to appoint one. 

4. Hybrid working come of age?

Since our last DLR in late 2023, one in six organisations have increased the number of days expected in the office, moving the typical time expected there from 2-3 days, to 3 days. And they seem happy with the results, four in ten report it working ‘extremely well’, a big jump from our last report. But there are potential consequences to this change, especially in attracting talent who also need to juggle caring responsibilities. 

5. Tech – it really all comes down to people 

It was very telling that the #1 most influential person in tech was a non-technologist: Sir Alan Bates. It is a strong reminder that the ultimate consumers of technology are humans. When it goes right everyone can benefit. But when it goes wrong, the human impact can be significant. You can see Alan’s video acceptance speech here.  

Ten quotes from the panel 

Christopher Williamson, Group Technology Director, N Brown Group: “Last time I was at a DLR event ChatGPT had just been launched. The business really wants to get its hands on AI. We’ve set up an AI function to drive it forward, with representation across data, legal, business - reviewing the use cases regularly. Right now we are using AI for pricing. I’m keen to allow the business to use AI, but within a framework we set.” 

Patrick Smith, CEO, Zally: “The key to AI is who owns the right to IP? If you generate code using AI, who is the owner? It’s unclear right now.” 

Nick Woods, CIO, MAG (Airports Group): “We’re spending £1.3bn on expanding the Manchester airport terminal. We’re using AI to inform the plans, especially how we manage the flow of aircraft. It’s looking like we will be able to get £30m more of value from this activity.” 

Nick: “Boards care about four things: risk, cost, revenue and - increasingly - sustainability. If you want to influence at board level, your conversations should be focused on those things.” 

Patrick: “I think a big business opportunity is to educate people on how to use AI. Right now it’s a buzzword like blockchain was. If OpenAI shuts down their API, what happens to all the businesses reliant on it?” 

Christopher: “We should all be using AI in our roles. In N Brown Group we have set up tribes to look at specific journeys.” 

Nick: “I have a CISO, CDO and at some time we might have a Chief AI Officer, but either way you need to start with business transformation. The role of CIAO may come and go. Over time we will see more citizen development as the business becomes empowered with the tools.” 

Patrick: <on reports that cyber-attacks are going down> “I don’t think these numbers reflect what’s really happening. Maybe people are under reporting, or people have got used to working under regular attack.” 

Patrick: <on promoting women in tech> “It’s up to us as leaders. We need to hire on skills. A tech startup is not a 9-5 job. We need to find better ways to support both men and women. Women have a perception of IT not being a welcome space.” 

Christopher: “Hybrid working is here to stay. Productivity went up during the pandemic. We don’t have a mandate for people to be in the office, but we do encourage people come in. For instance we had a mini tech festival. You need to be flexible - I have an out of office when I do the school run, and make it clear to all of my team that this is totally OK.” 

And finally… 

Thank you to everyone who attended our event, and all the digital leaders who took part in our research. We really appreciate your time, and hope you get value out of our insights and the connections you make. 

We also hope it encourages you to find out more about what we do, so – and here is the marketing bit – if you would like to find out more about our Harvey Nash tech recruitment services, or how NashTech can help you build your software development capability, Emma or Steve would love to hear from you: 

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