IT Life: Fashionable Technology


Net-A-Porter CIO Hugh Fahy tells us about his life in retail IT and love of the Spectrum ZX81

Hugh Fahy is the CIO of the Net-A-Porter and has been in the IT industry for 30 years, specialising in eCommerce, mobile, gaming and retail. He tells TechWeekEurope about his career to date and his admiration for Google, the Spectrum ZX81 and Ada Lovelace.

What has been your favourite project so far?

My favourite project came when I worked at Betfair. I was tasked with re-designing Betfair’s betting exchange technology, a task that cost £25 million and took three years to complete. It was one of the hardest but most rewarding programs I have worked on and what we achieved helped Betfair launch new products in new territories more quickly than ever previously possible.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?

Hugh Fahy Net-A-PorterIn 2004 I was developing, supporting and rolling out the technology that underpinned Vodafone Live, a mobile portal and m-commerce proposition.

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

We’re always looking to create the ultimate retail experience for our customers, who are early adopters of technology. Wherever we think a new innovation could benefit them, we’ll look into it. I think that over the next ten years, data-centric technology powering actionable analytics and commerce offerings will be key to so many aspects of the future of retail.

For instance, the personalisation story: there’s no doubt that we will be able to individualise our products and services on all channels at any time.

Who’s your tech hero?

Ada Lovelace, the world’s first programmer. At the tender age of 20, Lovelace created a mechanism that allowed an ‘Analytical Engine’ (a very early attempt at a computer) to do complicated maths. This was an incredible achievement in itself but especially for a woman in the 19th Century whose traditional role was certainly not that of a tech innovator.

Who’s your tech villain?

For me, it has to be ‘Intelligent Design’ – it’s trying to turn back science.

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?

The Colossus, the granddaddy of my laptop, is my favourite tech. It was the world’s first electronic digital computer and has changed the way we all live and work.  Can I sneak in a special mention for the Sinclair ZX81? Thanks Sir Clive – without you, I’d probably be a biochemist.

What is your budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?

It’s growing and we’ve got big ambitions. This year alone, we introduced Porter, the first global fashion magazine for women, became the first third party retailer of Google Glass in the US and introduced an entirely shoppable version of Mr Porter’s The Journal. The Net-A-Porter Group does most of its IT in-house so I oversee a diverse tech team of 300 people. We’re hiring at the moment.

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

Spectrum ZX81It has to be Google for me. It really is innovation central and has certainly earned its web domination. The manpower and know-how to create solutions to problems that constantly arise in this industry, and with such pace, is extremely impressive. Google is a powerhouse and vital to the entire tech ecosystem.

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

A huge challenge for all IT companies is that business models are getting disrupted so quickly that established evolutionary principles in technology simply can’t keep up. It certainly makes my job interesting!

This can be particularly challenging when the company, and consequently the IT department is large, and you therefore run the risk of not being able to innovate easily. This is why we are a champion of agile working at Net-A-Porter so individuals can take ownership of projects and progress them without encountering miles of red tape!

To Cloud or not to Cloud?

To cloud, for sure. Cloud offers greater flexibility and functionality over purely in-house operations.

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

An astronaut but I’d never heard of the Internet or thought about its possibilities for building cool things back then.

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