Box’s European head tells us about his career in IT and role at Box… but no prizes for guessing what he thinks about the cloud
David Quantrell is Box’s head in Europe, overseeing its offices on the continent, including one in London which opened in 2013. He joined the company in 2012, having held senior positions at the likes of HP, McAfee (Now Intel Security) and others in the IT industry. Here, he talks about his career in the sector as well as his love of music and the great outdoors.
Tell us about your company and your areas of expertise.
Box is the world’s leading enterprise content management and collaboration platform. We help businesses of all sizes in every industry securely access and manage their critical information in the cloud. Our whole approach, the way we create our products and deliver them, is all about transforming the way people work.
On a personal level, I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with companies such as HP, McAfee and Niu Solutions. Over the course of my career, I’ve been involved with two IPOs, four trade sales and even worked for a company through chapter 11.
What’s the favourite IT project that you’ve ever worked on?
Many years ago, I worked in a team developing navigation weapon systems radar for naval vessels, which included tracking radar. At the time it was a very innovative and bleeding edge project. I love working on technologies that are literally changing the way people work – no matter the sector.
What technologies were you involved with 10 years ago?
Ten years ago I was at HP, back then we were driven by trying to get IT working in a joined up fashion, analysing IT projects holistically to improve success rates.
As IT projects often face challenges, we were working on making those projects more effective so they arrived at the right place, on time and on budget. It was a fun challenge and it’s interesting to see how those technologies have evolved and in some cases disappeared completely.
What do you expect to be using in 10 years’ time?
Instead of a specific technology, I would call out a trend. I expect the awareness of the technology behind a product will become much more discreet. Instead the focus will be on usability and what we are trying to achieve. Technology will become ubiquitous in our lives but it will be much more of a silent enabler, rather than an obvious single device or application.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for an IT company or department today?
The single biggest challenge for IT departments today is to help businesses innovate. Typically, the challenge for IT is that it’s built on legacy systems and it continues to build around the old systems: iteration instead of innovation. Carving out enough of IT’s time and resource to support core business objectives can be difficult but it is essential for organizations looking to technology for the competitive edge.
Today we can see that the companies who prioritise innovation are the companies which excel, no matter the sector. Look at companies like General Electric, AstraZeneca or Coca-Cola for example: even though they are sophisticated companies with established IT structures, they’re not afraid to look to IT to maintain the edge in business. These companies are leaders not only in their sectors but also in their adoption of new technologies to do business better.
To cloud or not to cloud?
The real question is what are we trying to achieve with our business and which technology facilitates that goal the best.
If a business wants to be more innovative it needs to undertake a comprehensive analysis of its operations. This includes where it wants to spend money, where it wants to have expertise and where it wants to spend in operational cycles.
Cloud enables enterprises to reach a level of extraction where services become almost like electricity. It’s running in the background but the real value is what you can build on (and with) the content in the cloud. That processing power, the collaborative capabilities, the sharing and the security systems mean you can improve your output and have teams working better together. That’s the compelling reason for cloud.
Who is your tech hero?
Ben Horowitz. He makes the technology industry accessible and has a very edgy way of looking at traditional problems which encourages you to think in a different way.
I enjoyed his book, The Hard Things About Hard Things, which is an honest portrayal of the challenges people face when running a business. I had the pleasure of working with Ben on the software leadership team at HP and the great thing about his book is that it’s a genuine reflection of him in real life.
Who is your tech villain?
The enemy of the tech industry isn’t really a villain in the traditional sense. For me, it’s the fact that people naturally follow the crowd and the crowd generally follows what is already successful. Again, iteration over innovation.
Innovation is what feeds the tech industry and the early stage of innovation is what we need to foster. Sometimes the unsexy infant stages of innovation are the bits that get overlooked, we need to get better at identifying those seed ideas and supporting them.
What’s your favourite device ever made and what do you use the most?
I’m a music-lover, so I love my Sonos system. It gives me access to music from every source. It takes advantage of all the music I’ve collected over the years, gives access to quality Hi-Fi and links to a vast array of content.
As to which device I use the most: it’s got to be my iPhone. I’m on the road a fair bit visiting our customers and teams spread across Europe. Having access to email and all my files (stored in Box, of course!) through my iPhone means I stay connected 100 percent of the time.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire the most and why?
I remember seeing one of the original presentations for Virgin Galactic and just loved the disruptive thinking: “If you didn’t have to take off from the ground, you could simplify the whole problem of getting into space”. It’s obviously proved a lot more challenging then that but I really admire companies and people who challenge the status quo.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I’ve always been a fan of the outdoors. Hiking, climbing and cycling have been a part of my life since I was a child. When I was small, I wanted to be a forestry commission kind of guy. Out in the middle of the country, chopping trees and living an outdoor life. It’s a far cry from what I do today but I do still love to get out whenever I can, either climb a mountain or on a bike ride in the wilds.
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