IT Life: Unified Communicator

ShoreTel’s EMEA head Adrian Hipkiss talks about is life in IT, the technology that inspires him and his vision for the future

Adrian Hipkiss is head of EMEA for unified communications provider ShoreTel, the latest stage in a career spanning two decades. Here he talks about his role, his admiration of great inventors and disdain for those who promise much but fail to deliver.

Tell us about your company, how long have you been in IT and what are your areas of expertise?

I have been in IT for over twenty years, working first in Network transmission, then microwave technology and carrier networks before moving to Unified Communications and Customer Service solutions ten years ago. I joined ShoreTel as VP and Managing Director for EMEA five years ago to build on the success the business had already enjoyed.

ShoreTel began life with an ethos of ‘there must be a better way’ and is now a leading provider of cloud, onsite, and hybrid business telephony and unified communications (UC) solutions.

My primary responsibility is to create the right environment for my team to thrive and enjoy. This is the best way to ensure a fantastic experience for our customers and partners. When I came to ShoreTel I saw it as an opportunity to create the company culture in EMEA that I always wanted to work for earlier in my career, but could never find.

What has been your favourite project so far?

ShoreTel IT LifeThe last five years with ShoreTel has been great fun and of course we’ve had lots of successful projects for the whole team. However, quick success in a fast-paced industry often leaves companies insular and introspective, which is something we wanted to avoid at ShoreTel. Last year, I encouraged the team to start thinking about how we could share our success with society and give something back.

Since then we have done a number of charity events including rowing Ullswater, climbing mountains and mountain cycling. The latest has been for us to launch our Charity of the Year, the Jack Raine Foundation, who work with vulnerable children.  We wanted to create a lasting legacy that we can all be proud of.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?

Ten years ago, I was pioneering one of the first partner ready hosted telephony solutions in the UK and was involved in building a channel to enable its success. Today, this would be referred to as cloud communications or UCaaS. This highlights how long it can take for markets to shift and to embrace new solutions, but also that there are lessons that can be learned and used to great effect as markets mature.

What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?

dyson cleanerIt would probably be in vogue to suggest the blending of Uber, driverless cars and brilliantly simple communications. However the reality is that cloud and hybrid are approaches that will continue to grow at what I believe will be an increasing rate. The applications that we use will become even more open and integrated and, to meet user demand, forgiving and intuitive. Ways to use the internet  – now delivering reliable high speed communications to most homes – will be increasingly creative and allow more flexibility in how businesses operate and employees work.

Who’s your tech hero?

I had the pleasure of meeting James Dyson in the late 1980s when he had just started out with his vacuum cleaner that used cyclone technology. At that stage, he had been turned down by every major manufacturer or distributer in the UK. His belief in his invention and the disruptive technology it contained drove him on to start his own company and grow it to be the dominant force it is today. It is a shining example of belief in yourself, your intellectual property and how brilliant and disruptive technology can change the market.

Who’s your tech villain?

Any manufacturer who incorrectly markets their solutions, oversells their capability and leaves the consumer feeling undervalued with poor customer service. YouTube and other social media has empowered the customer enormously, giving us the ability to create pressure and prevent manufacturers from getting away with it. If only we had been able to use this in the 1980s and 1990s when you couldn’t really do anything about a product that you weren’t happy with!

What’s your favourite technology ever made?

Raspberry Pi 3I think it has to be the Raspberry Pi. It harks back to the early days of IT when my friends and I used personal computing for the first time – although we never could agree on which was best out of ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64! If we want future talent to find our industry exciting and inspirational, the Pi goes a long way to help make that happen, inspiring people to drive the next generation of solutions.

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?

There is a myriad of different solutions that an IT team has to understand in order to identify the one that is right for them.  Finding a business partner that can provide the correct advice, provide choice, de-risk a project and ultimately ensure the project is a success is absolutely critical. The IT team also has to be sure that, if obstacles are hit during the project, the provider will take full accountability for resolving any issues.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire the most and why?

Virgin Atlantic provides an experience that makes every customer feel special. The business approach and imagination of Sir Richard Branson comes through in how they make you feel. This is not just the case when travel and things go well but when there are challenges, which is just as important. This happened to me last year and their cabin staff addressed the issue there and then, following up with emails and upgrading me on the return flight.

As a consumer, what more can you ask for? This is a great example of how to turn a problem situation into a successful one and to create a loyal customer in the process. I also admire their innovative and creative approach – for example, on my birthday last year, they sent me a balloon which when inflated revealed a gift of fee air-miles. It was totally unexpected and a great way of making a customer feel special.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?

One thing that experience has taught me is that every customer is unique, with each having a different set of objectives, concerns and challenges. What customers want is to de-risk the project initially but then to have help finding a solution that is perfectly tailored to their requirements. So, it follows that premise-based solutions are perfect for some customers and cloud is perfect for others. In fact, there are many for whom neither is the perfect solution and in this case, a hybrid solution is needed, one that has a common experience independent of the delivery mechanism, delivered from one solution for simplicity.

This is why ShoreTel introduced Connect, a single common operating platform. Connect can be consumed as a one time or recurring commercial model and is delivered as a cloud, premises-based or hybrid solution.  The perfect mix of each is used to achieve the customers’ ambitions for their project in the way that suits them best.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

My childhood dream was to be a pilot, a dream which, for many reasons, I somehow never quite got around to and when the family came along had to go on hold for a while. However, I am now learning how to fly as a new challenge with the eventual aim of taking my family abroad with me flying the plane! I will also be jumping out of a plane in July for a 15000 ft skydive to raise money for charity… I hope!

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