We chat to Gary Parlett (Managing Director and Co-Founder of Answer Digital)
Today’s Talking Tech features Managing Director and Co-Founder of Answer Digital, Gary Parlett. In his usual self-effacing way, Gary expressed surprise when it was mentioned that he might want to take part in our Talking Tech series, alongside other executives from the digital sector. Luckily Gary agreed to share his thoughts, reflecting on a 33-year career, spanning the dot.com boom and bust and the success of his company Answer Digital.
Answer Digital is known for its transformative work in the NHS and healthcare sector, something of which Gary is understandably proud, knowing through his own experience of using healthcare services for his own family, the impact improved access to patient data would have on care provision. Answer Digital is also known in the Finance and Retail sector, due to the approach of developing solutions with a customer first focus. Gary explains that although the company is known for its technological expertise, this isn’t how he defines the business, sharing that in his view, Answer Digital is “the ultimate people company”.
I asked Gary four questions on the impact of technology on his career.
What has been the biggest change in technology in the last 5 years?
Today it’s difficult to conceive of a problem that could not be advanced by technology and perhaps this in itself is the biggest change over the last 5 years. For a long time, tech was very much about “techies” and people who might enjoy reading a technical specification manual. Now it’s such an integrated part of our lives, we take it for granted, whether we’re interested in technology or not. Apple were a significant force for change in this area, as one of the first tech companies to focus more on the consumer before the technology.
It’s an approach we have embedded at Answer, putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer and developing technology to answer their specific problems or challenges. Our developers don’t just focus on the latest technology or framework as it’s just as important to get under the skin of the customer. Empathy and commercial acumen are as important as technological skill. It is perhaps now not a case of can technology solve a problem, but more so the experience provided in how it resolves it.
What issue can tech now solve that it couldn’t when you started out?
Having started out in the tech industry in 1984 there are quite a few things that tech advancement has now resolved (perhaps something of an understatement!!). My degree was in business studies and my first employed role was in a graduate scheme for a division of a large computer manufacturer who were developing computer equipment to be used by the military to support field ordinance.
In essence this was a case of putting a PC and screen into large, heavy steel boxes that would “survive being pushed off the back of a jeep”. Today I am sure a wafer-thin tablet would be deployed with many fold the capability and at a fraction of the cost. Perhaps as significant as hardware changes is the reach of global communications and the power yet simplicity of many apps.
What do you wish you could solve with new technology?
Having recently marvelled in the joys of frictionless international payments being made a reality through apps like Transferwise or Revolut, I might have thought that tech’s job is done! Joking aside, having got closer to the challenges in health and care, the opportunities for tech advancement are both huge and pressing. Advancements in medical science are much heralded, but the challenges of interoperability and the efficient delivery of patient information to the point of need remain largely unrealised. It’s a real source of pride that Answer Digital are helping solve some of these problems. Tech might not be able to solve world peace yet, but some of the developments we are contributing to could save lives, which is incredible.
What is the most useful bit of tech that you regularly use in your business?
Seemingly, the post-it note! The latest software development framework or tooling seems unlikely to challenge the effectiveness of a dev team collaborating in a room with a whiteboard and post-it notes. We have a saying at Answer Digital, that we “put love in the room”. That doesn’t happen if everyone is hidden behind screens all day, although obviously, this isn’t always avoidable!
We want to encourage communication, collaboration and creating a buzz in the office atmosphere. When I walk through the office and teams are standing up, collaborating, moving post-its around and getting animated about a project, that’s when I’m happiest that we’re getting it right.