The Ntrinsic CIO Series - Marc O'Brien CTO at Medica Group


“It’s not about the technology, it’s what you do with it.”Ntrinsic’s Business Development Di...

“It’s not about the technology, it’s what you do with it.”

Ntrinsic’s Business Development Director, Mike Thorpe, interviews Marc O’Brien, a CIO with a legacy of delivering exceptional digital transformation.

Something remarkable happens when you fully understand that IT change and business change go hand in hand. They are inseparable. And that’s exactly what Marc has understood from the beginning of his career.

In our digital age, business change is driven by technology. So it goes that the continued and increasing appetite for business transformation is what continues to drive rapid changes in technology.

This is a fundamental truth largely misunderstood by many. Marc’s recognition of the fact that IT change and business change are one is also an acknowledgement that without a desire for business change, there is also little incentive to innovate IT.

Marc has built a progressive and successful career by understanding and applying this premise, enabling and implementing transformational change in a variety of high-profile organisations and thriving on the intellectual challenge that is the driving force of such a successful career.

Mike (M): Why did you choose technology as a career route?

Marc O'Brien (MO): I was heading down the psychology and social worker career route until I saw an advert for ‘Trainee Computer Programmers’. Eight hundred people applied for those 4 roles. I got the job and started my illustrious IT career with London Borough of Southwark in 1981.

I knew IT was the future but had no real interest initially. My main interest remained people’s behaviours and how they adapted to situations.

As time went by, I realised the training I was getting was invaluable. I also enjoyed the intellectual challenge that came with the process of analysis. I found myself reading huge amounts about IT which made me want to move from an ICL environment to an IBM environment. So I moved to British Gas where I realised I had a knack for data. Even at that early stage I understood that technology models the business process. It was obvious to me but I was a lonely voice in a mass of tech enthusiasts.

I realised all IT change and technology improvement was ineffective without the business wanting to change. That was clarified when, at a major UK retailer, my team created new point of sale technology. It was leading edge but no one in the business wanted to take full accountability for creating a new business process. Hence, the new improved technology provided no business improvement.

M: What has kept you in IT?

MO: I began to feel slightly disillusioned by the perception of IT in many businesses but fortunately discovered management consultancy and was recruited by one of the top 4 consulting firms. I found myself in an environment where people were passionate about technology as a business enabler and they were preaching this to their clients daily. This is exactly what I needed and in the early 90’s I helped win a huge project to roll out Oracle ERP across Europe for BP. The whole pitch process had been about how they could improve their business through better use of technology - fascinating and, at the time, ground breaking. This was genuine IT and business transformation working together on a major scale.

This experience took me to a major insurance company where I set up their PMO function - ground breaking in 1990’s. This function was viewed as the part of IT that could communicate across the business on a level playing field, and we developed a reputation for driving change through strong communication.

To demonstrate how much we achieved, I was then drafted out of IT to help launch a whole new business unit – I was fortunate enough to be seen as someone who could add great value to business change.

M: What is your career highlight?

MO: One of the most significant transformation projects I have ever worked on was with a major UK airport operator – Oracle ERP implementation across 7 airports over 4 years.

It was challenging to say the least. Against the backdrop of low IT value perception and daily resistance, we managed to deliver a complete technology implementation and business benefit within 4 years. The success was a result of strong communication and a total focus on what the project was doing for the business.

M: What advice would you give graduates today?

MO: IT continues to be a great career choice. You can go anywhere with the skills it provides – and that’s not just technical skills. A successful career in IT is all about communication and improving how businesses runs.

It’s not about the technology it’s what you do with it.

This interview with Marc O’Brien is the second in ntrinsic’s CIO series – watch this space for more conversations with Mike Thorpe throughout 2019 and beyond. If you are or know anyone who’d like to be featured, please get in touch – we’d be delighted to have a conversation with you.