“The cybersecurity industry is undeniably fast paced” – CEO Q&A: George O’Dowd, Novi

By Business & Finance
27 June 2018
George O'Dowd, Novi, information security, IT, cybersecurity
George O’Dowd, Novi (Photo: Mark McGuinness/Mark McGuinness Photography)

In our next CEO Q&A, George O’Dowd of Novi talks us through running a proactive provider of tailored information security and managed service solutions.

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

As managing director of Novi I am responsible for determining the strategic direction of the company and ensuring continued growth. My main priority, and what I remain focused on every single day, is making sure that Novi continues to innovate and develop new solutions that meet and surpass our customers’ expectations. Over the past year we launched a number of new services that were very well received by our customers and it’s my ambition to maintain this momentum and bring exciting new offerings to market that enable Irish companies to stay one step ahead of developing cyberthreats.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

One challenge that I’m sure is common to many CEOs in the current economy is attracting, motivating and retaining the right talent. While it is hugely positive to see Ireland approaching full employment, it is proving increasingly difficult to draw top-flight graduates as there are so many businesses competing for their attention. To tackle this challenge we’re highlighting the fast-paced nature of the cybersecurity industry, and the unique challenges and opportunities that it can provide to graduates and those looking to take the next step in their careers.

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

The cybersecurity industry is undeniably fast paced and this creates a working environment where people have to be at the top of their game at all times. However, it has been our experience that while this creates a challenging environment, especially for new hires, people respond positively to being challenged and experience a sense of achievement from succeeding in this setting.

As well as maintaining a challenging but rewarding working environment, another way in which we keep the team happy is by actively differentiating ourselves from other players in the IT industry. A good work-life balance is very important to us and being located outside Dublin, in Naas, Co. Kildare, appeals to those looking for a respite from the frantic pace of life in the city. We support flexible working practices so that members of the team can tailor their working day around their personal lives. As well as this, while in the office we promote a culture of collaboration and work together across projects to ensure that everyone feels that they are part of the same team.

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

The last few years have seen a rapid escalation in the frequency and sophistication of cyberthreats targeting Irish companies, and the development of defensive technologies and strategies to ward off these threats has been equally brisk. Due to the pace of change, maintaining an awareness of all these moving parts can be challenging.

However, in order to help customers to safeguard their assets, it is crucial for those in the cybersecurity industry to stay abreast of these developments.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

There has been a dramatic shift towards cybersecurity over the past 18 months and this is sure to continue as threats continue to evolve and become increasingly sophisticated. Technology is a key enabler of business growth and Irish companies are exploring new avenues such as cloud in an attempt to digitally transform their processes and open up new markets and opportunities. However, as a result, the footprint of the cyberthreat and its potential to disrupt business is greater than ever before. Embracing a holistic information security approach is now essential for companies seeking to protect their digital assets and their reputation.

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

One thing that it would be great to see as information security becomes an increasingly important business priority is the establishment of a ground up cybersecurity culture among Irish organisations. It’s time for companies to realise that everyone in the organisation is responsible for good cybersecurity, not just the IT department. Information security providers can do their bit to help with the development of this culture of cybersecurity by educating end users about basic best-practice approaches rather than just expecting them to understand from the outset. End-user education is possibly the most important tool in our arsenal; more providers need to use it.

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

There are skills gaps and there are a number of reasons for this. Computer science graduates and those with experience of working in the IT industry are in huge demand as the information security

sector continues to flourish. As well as this, while it’s extremely positive to see that the economy is reaching full employment, smaller indigenous companies can find it challenging to compete with huge multinationals which boast amenities and perks that can seem very attractive to those coming out of college. However, the benefit of working at a smaller organisation like Novi is that members of the team are given more freedom and responsibility to get hands on with customer issues, enabling them to quickly hone their skills and gain real experience of working in the IT industry, which is very rewarding.

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

During the crash the focus wasn’t on growth, but survival. Novi was fortunate to have been long enough established that we had a strong client base who stayed with us through the difficult economic period. We learned from the crisis too; it became increasingly important to listen closely to the precise needs of our customers to learn how we could best serve and protect them. Ultimately this shaped Novi into the company that it is today – a proactive provider of tailored information security and managed service solutions.

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

We haven’t begun to feel the effects of Brexit yet as we don’t currently export many of our services to the UK, but it seems that it will affect everyone indirectly in time. At the moment we’re just getting on with business as usual. To remain optimistic, it’s possible that opportunities could arise if companies choose to relocate their operations following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

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

Success for me is derived from the sense of satisfaction of spending time developing a strategy, implementing it and seeing it work. Of course, you can’t forget about the monetary aspect, but developing a plan and seeing your strategy pay off – that’s rewarding.

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

To succeed in business and differentiate yourself from your competitors, successful marketing of your company’s brand and image is crucial, and it’s important to focus on these things early. Aside from this, getting to grips with the financial side of the operation from an early stage is important and will give you an advantage as the business grows.

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

I’m particularly happy with Novi’s rate of growth over the past 12 months; we have taken on a number of new clients and are on track to hit our various revenue targets. Key to this growth has been our launch of a number of new services such as PatchGuard, AirGap and LiveRecover that enable us to protect clients’ businesses and add value for them in new and interesting ways. We’re constantly reinventing and innovating and our numerous business successes over the course of the past year recently led to us being shortlisted for the 2018 TechExcellence Awards. In short, a very busy backdrop and a lot of great things going on at present!

Q. What’s next for your company?

We’re currently restructuring the company to sustain ongoing growth and also developing new products and services that will help us to attract new customers and grow our engagement with existing ones. Watch this space!

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

As well as opportunities for growth here in Ireland, we’re currently looking into opportunities that may exist outside the country. We’re currently assessing which of our services might be suitable for export – there are sure to be significant opportunities throughout Europe as companies continue to prioritise information security as a business enabler. We have spent the past 18 months developing light-touch, cloud-based services that don’t require us to have a physical presence in the markets that we are looking at selling into. This represents a huge opportunity for Novi.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

I want to continue to maintain Novi’s current trajectory, to keep doing what we’re doing and achieve the same levels of growth in the coming year as we’ve experienced over the past 12 months. There are a lot of moving parts but we’re determined to continue to innovate and remain proactive and I’m confident that we can achieve our goals.

To succeed in business and differentiate yourself from your competitors, successful marketing of your company’s brand and image is crucial, and it’s important to focus on these things early.