Business News

CEO Q&A: Eamonn Franklin, 8 West

By Business & Finance
25 April 2018
Eamonn Franklin 8 West technology consulting
Eamonn Franklin, co-CEO, 8 West

In the next CEO Q&A, Eamonn Franklin, co-CEO of 8 West, talks about the ‘smart city’ concept and the delivery of STEM education in schools across the country.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

As CEO you are faced with many priorities which need to be managed in different ways. The normal priorities of promoting business growth, innovation and managing risk are always to the forefront of my decision-making process, but these can only be achieved by being fully aware of the bigger strategic picture and by avoiding distractions, which take from your core deliverables. Managing and responding to the many regulatory changes we are seeing in our market, along with the imperative to continually invest in technology and training, are extremely important and can’t be done without a healthy appreciation for the underlying workforce, which, after all, is at the heart of the business.

With respect to more strategic goals I’d like to continue to run and grow a successful business that brings genuine value to our customers and provides equally satisfying professional careers for our staff who will continue to grow with us. My philosophy for growth has always been tempered by my caution surrounding growth for the sake of growth. Different organisations grow at different velocities, and all new business is not always good business, so determining the pace and ultimately the source of growth is as important as the growth itself.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

As CEO of a company with 220 people you are often required to be involved at the tactical as well as the strategic level. As co-owner of 8 West I don’t have shareholders to answer to, but the same fundamental principles apply regarding the overall health of the business. Ensuring the existing client base get the attention they deserve, while still allowing enough quality time to concentrate on growth and innovation, can be a challenge. But it is one I truly enjoy as it brings variety to the role and ensures I continue to grow as a leader and decision maker. On any given day I can be involved in a wide variety of interactions from critical currency hedging decisions to the latest regulatory developments in the US healthcare space and how they might affect our clients, to new innovations in technology which will foster meaningful productivity gains in the workforce. I think all CEOs ultimately end up doing the job they do because they relish the challenge, regardless of whether you’ve come up through the ranks in a well-established business or developed it from scratch. Challenges are the gift that keep on giving.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I’ve always held the view that ultimately we, like most other companies, are in the people business, regardless of whether those people are your staff or your customers. You can’t have a successful business without a motivated and fulfilled workforce. Our business is interesting because we have two very distinct offerings, the first is our professional services wing, which is mainly involved in the US market and the second is our product development unit which currently works in the EMEA space. Yet the motivations are the same. In order to retain the skillset that drive these teams, you obviously need to be competitive regarding remuneration and benefits, along with providing flexible work options that improve people’s quality of life. But these are only meaningful if you fulfil the other two key criteria. Firstly, ensure the work is interesting, and secondly, show the people who do that work the same respect you’d expect if you were in that role. This is the ethos within 8 West, which I personally subscribe to and encourage. And with a significant percentage of the workforce with us for close to two decades, I feel this philosophy is working. Finally, support innovation and be prepared to have robust conversations if someone challenges long-held beliefs, but, always end your meeting with a smile.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

As a technology and consulting company, 8 West faces similar challenges to others in this space, regarding the availability of high-quality staff, who not only possess the technical skills, but also the interpersonal ones that are so critical when addressing a customer’s needs. We’ve been very fortunate in Cork to have access to a strong market, but what concerns me more is the pressure Ireland, as an exporter, is coming under to remain competitive across all sectors. I’ve been back here for 21 years, having spent my early career in London and I’ve seen many surges in cost, based largely on sentiment rather than reality. This, coupled with the inexorable journey the euro seems to be on, could have very serious consequences for any company trying to compete outside the eurozone, or indeed for multinational investment, which has after all, been a cornerstone of the economy for many years. We have 17 different nationalities now working for 8 West, which is testament to the broader reach we now have within the EU, but I hope it does not come at a price whereby Ireland’s growth is significantly impacted by a currency that rules it out of any other market.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

As a technology company with a strong emphasis on understanding the client’s business, we see many trends come and go and need to decide quite quickly what’s real and what’s hype. As a significant .NET and Java house our custom-build enterprise software systems process claims for over 50 million subscribers and pay billions of dollars out on a yearly basis. Our retail software runs many high-volume sites, all of whom require on-demand scalability and significant performance metrics. We devise many solutions incorporating cloud technologies that facilitate our customers to easily address scaling requirements, particularly in fourth quarter along with security needs. In the retail sector, we are working on AI implementations along with other technologies like chatbots and various v-commerce implementations. On mobile we are pushing the boundaries regarding battery usage whilst tracking marine vessels out at sea and working with lightweight frameworks to enable autonomous drone initiation from our location tracking platform SafeTrx. Technology trends are never in short supply, the key is to pick the ones that will work best for your customer or product and then commit to not just learning about it, but to contributing to its development where possible.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

If I were to highlight one area, I would say education. I’m an advocate for more investment in STEM courses and I visit schools to chat with students about the advantages of a career in maths or computer science. As part of my research on this topic I’ve counted over a hundred computer science qualifications from Level 6 up and I feel this leads to fragmentation

of the market and confusion for students trying to decide on a course. I’m encouraged to see computer science has finally been introduced as a subject for the Leaving Certificate, but CAO entry points for computer science and related qualifications remain low, which is simply a question of lacklustre demand. I would also like to see graduates become certified by a professional body who are responsible for standards, similar to other professions like engineers and accountants.

Cork in particular has a strong and ultimately powerful reputation in the European IT industry – and events such as the it@cork Tech Summit are the perfect platform from which we can showcase what the region has to offer in terms of skills, expertise and infrastructure.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

As an employer we’ve been very fortunate to have our head office in Cork from two perspectives. Firstly, a lot of experienced people who began their careers further afield have been attracted back to the city and surrounding towns where quality of life is a priority. These people are looking for rewarding jobs that challenge them but also for a location that provides the work-life balance we all desire. It has to be said that organisations like it@cork are integral in attracting this talent home and in ensuring that the job opportunities are there to keep this workforce here.

Though Cork provides us with a mature and experienced workforce, we also have strong ties with both UCC and CIT and have had a very successful graduate intake programme running for almost 15 years. We never fail to be impressed by the quality of graduates from these colleges, many of whom remain with us and now fill senior roles in the organisation. Finally, as previously mentioned, we do have many EU workers who find Cork a more affordable and attractive location, allowing us to benefit from some incredible skill sets and cultures.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We were largely unaffected by the economic crisis as most of our work was based in the US. Though they too experienced a financial crisis, we were working in sectors like healthcare that tend to be more exposed to regulatory changes than fiscal ones. It did, however, force us to think about how we might deal with such an event which leads to more investment in technology and process allowing us to be even more efficient. It also solidified our commitment to our product SafeTrx, which is now the premier marine safety platform in 12 countries and has received many awards in innovation.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Strange as it may seem we don’t do a lot of business in the UK. This is as a result of the fact that the company was originally set up by an American parent and subsequently we have concentrated our efforts for our professional services in the US to date.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success means different things to different people but for me it’s to continue to grow and marshal our business at the manageable rate we’ve done to date. This can only be achieved by continuing to provide a top-quality service to some of the biggest brands in the healthcare and retail space. In addition to this, we are very excited about the direction our product line is taking, with new market opportunities presenting themselves in the Middle East where ‘smart city’ requirements have significant alignment with the community safety software we provide. As we continue to grow and innovate, we will ensure we attract high quality clients and make working for 8 West a very satisfying experience for all our staff.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

At the risk of forcing a cliché smoothie on the reader, the best advice I received, and would have no hesitation in giving, was something I learned while still in college. My degree was mainly technical, with a lot of maths and programming, but we had some business focus also, provided by people who had come from industry. One gentleman who had run a number of multinationals at that time put his philosophy quite simply as “always look after the client and the rest will come”. Though nothing shocking here it resonated with me because it’s such an uncomplicated way to do business. Some service and product providers are no doubt tempted to suggest the short-term solution that is right for them, but relationships don’t last with this mindset and I can safely say that it has paid dividends with the minimal attrition we have seen to our customer base in the last two decades.

See your customers’ success as your success and you can’t make a bad decision.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

The acquisition and rebranding of 8 West from our parent Anthem Inc in 2017 with my co-CEO, John Murphy. After growing the business from a seven-person organisation in 1998, to just over 220 people last year, it was a privilege to acquire the company and look to take it on the next leg of its journey to other markets and locations. We also still enjoy a fruitful relationship with our previous parent, now as a great client.

Q. What’s next for your company?

To continue to grow the 8 West brand to be synonymous with quality and value and to venture into markets that would previously have been untapped. We continue to win significant retail clients and to grow our offering in the health insurance space, but will invest significantly in our product line covering marine and land search and rescue along with smart city applications. We have a very strong sales pipeline which we are well equipped to manage given the advantage of working from Cork and the incredible resources available. We hope to have ISO 270001 certification very shortly, further solidifying our reputation as a company who takes security very seriously. We look forward to celebrating our 20th birthday on June 16, attended by our fantastic staff and many of the customers we’ve developed both professional and personal relationships with over the years.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

We see huge opportunities for growth in the ‘smart city’ space where innovation and demand run hand in hand. We will also continue to develop our professional services business where demand for niche players in the retail and healthcare space is at an all-time high. We will be very careful to choose the customers with whom we can partner, allowing them to grow their business, safe in the knowledge that they have a partner who can scale and meet their technology needs.

I’m an advocate for more investment in STEM courses and I visit schools to chat with students about the advantages of a career in maths or computer science.

Serving the needs of over 50 million end users in health insurance in the USA, over a number of very large insurance customers, under Eamonn’s direction 8 West has become an acknowledged leader in large health insurance software systems, with twenty years’ domain experience.