IT LIFE: Colin Cooper, Sage People CTO

Colin Cooper talks about his career in IT, how he founded Fairsail, and what’s next for Sage People

What does your current role entail day-to-day? 

I am primarily responsible for planning Sage People’s product and technology strategy. 

Sage People is a global HR and People system for mid-size multinationals and so my role includes setting the strategy for the developers across the world. But I don’t sit back and govern from up high – I still like to get stuck in and work with the teams, especially on some of the more challenging projects. 

How long have you been in IT? 

I’ve been in technology for 40 years. At school, I taught myself the basics of computing from free computer terminals, and went on to study computing at Imperial College London. Throughout my career I’ve worked for the likes of IBM and Citibank, where I implemented HR across the new European businesses, developing and writing the system with my team. 

Colin Cooper Sage People

This experience led me to found Fairsail 10 years ago, and that company became Sage People following its acquisition by Sage earlier this year.

I had been in the enterprise for my whole career, so it was scary starting a small business but I spotted a gap in the mid-level market that I wanted to address – and luckily, the demand was there. 

What has been your most interesting project to date? 

Starting Fairsail has been without a doubt the most interesting – and challenging – project I’ve ever worked on. I had to think strategically about balancing running the company versus wanting to be the one writing the technology as I enjoyed both equally. Having been in both the leadership and developer sides of business, I’ve learnt that it’s important that technology teams are not locked in the back room; seeing the customer face-to-face really helps you know what you need to write. 

What is your biggest challenge at the moment? 

Having run my own small business – which I started from scratch – for 10 years, it’s been a shift to be part of the UK’s largest software company. An exciting shift, and one which any small business owner would dream of, but a shift nonetheless. It’s a new chapter for both myself and the company, and I’m excited to see what lies ahead. 

What technology were you working with ten years ago?  
Ten years ago, we were working with Salesforce to look at how we could build Fairsail on its platform. Fairsail became one of the first six ISVs to be built as a separate application on the Salesforce platform – and the only one that is still standing! 

What is your favourite technology of all time? 

It may sound obvious but I think there is no answer other than the internet. Life would be so different without it. Kids these days can’t remember life before the internet, my generation will be one of the last to have experienced first-hand how the internet transformed everything. The speed and ease of communication and availability of information brought about by the Internet has truly revolutionised the world – its power can’t be underestimated. 


How will the Internet of Things affect your organisation? 
The Internet of Things (IoT) will have a significant impact on employees, largely removing admin thanks to automation.

Thanks to IoT, companies have access to more data than ever before – but it’s crucial that they know how to make the most of this, otherwise it’s useless. For example, IoT technology will be instrumental in helping organisations develop employee marketing strategies; turning the customer marketing philosophy inwards by using data to truly know what their employees want. 

Sage People will be there to help companies analyse and use that data most effectively. 

What smartphone do you use? 

I have an iPhone – once you get an iPhone it’s hard to let go. 

What three apps could you not live without? 
My most used app is undoubtedly Outlook. I know I shouldn’t but I can’t stop checking my emails – even when I should have switched off. I also use maps an awful lot, as a passionate sailor I couldn’t live without GPS navigation. I’m also really into travelling, both for business and leisure, so travel booking apps are indispensable for me. 

What new technology are you most excited for a) your business and b) yourself? 
I’m most excited about integrating AI within our existing systems at Sage People and making our systems intelligent enough to work without having to be asked. 

On a personal level, I have a big interest in photography and music so I’m excited about the potential of technology applied to the arts – I can’t wait for the day that Alexa can control my Sonos! 

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

Other than technology, sailing is my biggest passion. So, I’d probably be on a boat somewhere in the Mediterranean perfecting my sailing technique! 

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