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IT LIFE: Chris Martin, Powwownow CTO

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Powwownow CTO talks about his career in IT and why he’s excited about AI

What is your role and who do you work for?

I’m the CTO for Powwownow which means I’m responsible for everything that has a plug on it – excluding the microwave, fridge and coffee machine! My main roles include driving the technology side of the business to expand our customer base and ensure we can service all existing customers with best-of-class technologies to enable better business collaboration.

I also ensure that our services maintain technological integrity and are available 24x7x365 to customers, partners and the internal Powwownow teams.

A big part of my role also includes creating the overarching technology strategy for where we want to be as a tech company – highlighting areas we need to grow, scale back on or spend time developing in the coming months.

How long have you been in IT?

My Career has been in IT since graduating in Computer Science, and more recently I’ve worked as CTO in innovative businesses for about 20 years. I’ve been fascinated by IT since I was 12 when I started machine code programming on an 8-bit microprocessor (SC/MP) in 512 bytes of RAM.

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What is your most interesting project to date?

The current one is always the most interesting! I am truly excited by exploring and constructing technology solutions that people can use to make things happen or to improve how they currently do things. Throughout my career I’ve worked on projects ranging from IP traffic provisioning systems, voice switching systems, data indexing and search engines to online shopping, warehouse logistic systems and financial risk management.

More recently I’ve worked on video-chat systems, Skype connectivity, screen sharing systems and experimenting with AI. But the latest project is always the most interesting.

What is your biggest challenge at the moment?

Making things simple for people to use. It’s so often the case that the simplest things are the most complex to create. My biggest challenge is creating technology that can do innovative and wonderful things that hides its complexity from users so they have the best user experience possible.

What technology were you working with ten years ago?

A decade ago I was working with Message Queuing, ASP.NET and SQL/ Server to support large scale real time data collection, aggregation, and high-volume search queries.

What’s your favourite technology of all time?

The Transistor – the core of every microprocessor!

Chris Martin Powwownow CTO

 

How will the IoT affect your organisation?

The IoT will affect every organisation and person, and to an extent already is. We have a company-wide flexible working model, so all Powwownow staff have connected, mobile devices which means they can work from any location, at any time that fits around their lifestyle.

The IoT is an essential part of the fabric of Powwownow, as without it we couldn’t enable staff to work flexibly or smarter.

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Looking forward, we will see many more internet-enabled devices appearing – more than we would ever have dreamed of. This will enable businesses to review their current offerings and truly innovate new and exciting solutions for customers.

The IoT does create challenges, as engineers need to focus on device security, failover, control, and an exponential increase in demand for internet bandwidth. It will be very interesting to see how these challenges are overcome in the coming years.

What smartphone do you use?

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

What three apps could you not live without?

Apart from IM Chat, Google Chrome browser, Headspace Mindfulness app, Moto fitness tracker, Bus countdown tracker, BBC News and the usual email client apps my top three would be Tech Crunch to keep my finger on the pulse of evolving technologies and technology businesses; Google Maps to help me see where I’m going and what transport options there are to get from A to B. I also rely heavily on our suite of Powwownow apps to keep in touch with the team and to collaborate effectively by audio, screen share and video-chat regardless of where I, or the rest of the team are.

What new technology are you most excited for a) your business and b) yourself?

Artificial Intelligence for both the company and myself! I studied AI at University and back then we could only demonstrate the capabilities of very simple machine learning because of the restricted processing capability available at the time. Today, increased speed and storage capabilities mean machine learning is possible. It means that “machines’ can learn and make decisions about things instead of relying on programs to direct them.

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I am currently exploring the abilities of virtual personal assistants that can help us organise our business activities and personal life, such as arranging business/personal meet-ups, learning our preferences of location and connection method, taking minutes, arranging flights, taxi’s, restaurant bookings etc.

For wider business and the public, AI means automation of more procedural based roles, for example, the handling of applications for financial products, insurance policies, planning applications etc., where the software will learn and be able to improve future judgements. We already have cars that can drive us to where we want to go, and businesses are exploring many different applications from planes than can fly themselves, to robot assistants who can help us with daily chores and provide compassionate care for the elderly.

Medical bots are also being developed that can support consultants in coming to a diagnosis and learn from each case. Shopping Bots will order groceries as we consume the contents of our fridges and cupboards. Law bots that can apply years of law and case history to make a compelling case, and also be available to support those making judgements. In Financial services, AI is being experimented with to trade stocks, learn different trading patterns and extrapolate successful outcomes. It’s an exciting time for technology and humanity.

If you weren’t doing the job you do now, what would you be doing?

I’ve never felt that what I do is a job as it provides me with challenges to both innovate and deliver innovative solutions, both of which I get immense satisfaction from – so I’d be doing this anyway.

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