Welcoming Kainos’ new CEO


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  • Russell Sloan will take over from Brendan Mooney, CEO of 22 years, with the pair working together to prepare for the transition. We sat down with Russell to find out more about his journey here and his future at the company.

    Q. As CEO and successor to Brendan Mooney, did you ever envisage you’d be in this position when you first joined the business as a graduate software engineer 24 years ago?

    I joined Kainos as a fresh-faced graduate straight out of Queen's University and my priority was getting a job in Belfast without really thinking too far ahead. While completing my Masters in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, I became more exposed to the elements of management and I gradually evolved away from a purely technical route, progressing into leading and managing teams.

    The accelerator for my career journey came at the end of 2012 when I was asked to look after our fledgling Digital Services business unit. I started leading a team of 35 people and by the summer of 2023, I had around 1,600 people delivering complex digital transformation projects across UK government, healthcare and commercial sectors.

    Did I ever expect to be CEO? I guess in the early days, the answer would have been no. People can dream of those things, but back then I didn't really think much about it.

    We had a four-year transition plan that started back in 2019; established when a small group of Kainos’ most senior figures attended a two-week course at Stanford University. After that, I started attending our Board meetings and became more involved in investor relations with Brendan. Slowly, I was starting to get exposed to more and more aspects of the role.

    It's been a really structured and well-thought-out transition plan, but I don't know if it ever prepares you for that moment when the phone rings to say: "It's time!”

    Q. The word ‘Kainos’ is derived from the Greek word for new or fresh. Given the business was established over 35 years ago, how does Kainos remain new and fresh in today’s market?

    Looking back to the late 80’s and 90’s, Kainos developed and delivered large-scale software engineering projects such as the London Underground ticketing system and a point-of-sale application for Marks and Spencer. From 2010, we started to focus more on digital transformation and ever since we’ve been reinventing the possible through digital innovation. In terms of staying fresh, we invest in learning to ensure we remain at the forefront of innovation – whether that’s using AI and deep learning, experimenting with augmented and virtual reality, or adopting intelligent automation. We also take on a lot of graduates each year, introducing new thinking into the organisation.

    Q. Recognised as NI’s most successful software company, Kainos has experienced explosive growth in revenue and headcount over the last decade. What do you envisage are the greatest challenges and opportunities for the company over the next 10 years?

    In the short to medium term, I think a lot of organisations are still looking at how working patterns are changing. We’re seeing a dynamic shift in occupancy rates across our offices so we are making sure our spaces are collaborative, accessible and inclusive. We have already updated our Belfast, Birmingham and Indianapolis offices with this in mind with Toronto and Gdansk due to follow later in the autumn!

    As we head into the future, generative AI is going to impact all roles. So, there's a challenge to adopt this technology quickly; taking on some of the new work practices as well as the opportunities that will manifest as the technology develops.

    Another area of immediate focus is green software engineering. We have committed to being carbon net zero by 2025 and we’re well on track to achieving this goal. We've also made a Green Software Commitment to our customers and the environment; meaning from now on, everything we design and work on will use green software practices. Implementing carbon-aware software services is a crucial step to reducing environmental impact as well as meeting climate and sustainability goals.

    Q. We all heard about ‘The Great Resignation’, meanwhile Kainos maintained a well above average industry staff retention rate – what is it that makes people want to stay and build their careers?

    I might be slightly biased due to the fact I’ve been in Kainos 24 years - and it’s the only job I’ve had since leaving university! But I’m sure most of my colleagues would agree with me when I say it’s all about the people. We have some amazingly talented people in the business, and a special culture of going the extra mile to support each other and our customers.

    When you get challenging work and the opportunity to work alongside really great people, there is a natural tendency to be engaged in what you do and, ultimately, deliver some great, cutting-edge outcomes. The work here is enjoyable and challenging – and it will push you to be your very best.

    Q. With 34% of women employed in the business against an industry average of just 20%, how important is diversity and inclusion to Kainos and its success?

    Gender diversity is an easy one to measure and it's great to see we're making progress in this space – but we have more progress ahead of us as we commit to enhancing female representation across Kainos. We also have different employee groups around ethnicity, LGBTQ+, neurodiversity and disability. These groups are consulted on key strategic decisions, providing unique viewpoints which help shape Kainos now and in the future. One thing that is difficult to measure is diversity of thought. For me, this is one of the most important things within a business. Encouraging those different ideas is the key to success – particularly as we think about some of the challenges we face around AI, ethics in AI and the impact on our solutions. Different backgrounds provide different angles and insights to deliver better outcomes, for our people and our customers.

    Q. Generative AI has dominated the headlines over the last 12 months. Are we truly on the cusp of a new technological revolution and what could some of the more positive outcomes for society look like?

    As far back as 2015/2016, we started looking at how AI might impact us as a research topic. We now have a dedicated team of 200 people in our Data and AI practice who are already delivering real value for our customers by incorporating AI as part of the solution.

    Generative AI will allow space for additional thinking time and will absolutely change the way that people work. It has the potential to remove a lot of the more mundane tasks, allowing people to focus on more interesting things that can add value for themselves and for customers.

    Thinking about AI more broadly, one simple and real example I would give you involves some of the work we do with the National Crime Agency, specifically around child sexual abuse referrals. It’s a startling fact that currently over half a million people in the UK are deemed a threat to children. Using AI, we've managed to reduce their referral time from 45 minutes down to two minutes when a child has been potentially detected at risk. So yes, overall, I think AI will be somewhat revolutionary and will have numerous positive impacts on society.

    This article appears in the Big Data edition of Sync NI magazine. To receive a free copy click here.

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