Meet the experts – technology adviser Paul Stringfellow

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Paul Stringfellow advises organisations about IT.

The work is varied but Stringfellow, a director at Gardner Systems, a Liverpool-based IT consultancy, says that he sees common IT problems and trends in the private and public sectors.

“A lot of the same challenges are across multiple industries,” says Stringfellow. “[There is a] constant drive to save money in terms of technology. [Businesses] are constantly looking at how to reduce their costs and getting more out of their technology.”

Data is one of the main challenges. How to store it safely and make good use of if  whether that’s selling more, working out when customers are likely to switch to one of your competitors, or reacting quicker to changes in your market.

“There’s pressure on technologists within companies to deliver an increasing amount of value to their businesses,” Stringfellow says. “Then we see lots of issues around data. Around just the huge growth of data and how people continue to manage that.”

Big data

One Gardner customer is a smart-energy company which gathers lots of data from sensors and devices.

“They use that data to help their customers be more efficient with energy costs, whether that’s heating or electricity. Its technology shortened processes that used to take seven or eight hours to two or three minutes to run. Which has opened-up a whole new market opportunity for them. In [those two to three minutes] it can run 500 reports where [previously] it could only run one report.”

Security worries

Understanding data is great, but the benefits will be wiped out if hackers get their hands on your organisation’s data.

“We see huge concerns around data security…that people are ensuring that they’re not losing sensitive data and that they’re not leaking data out to competition,” Stringfellow says.

“The last two or three years has been driven by helping our customers build data-security strategies and help them build data-protection policies…particularly in service industries that AAT [members] represents.”

Analytics and AI

So-called “Big Data” technology (software which helps companies make sense of vast amounts of data) has begun to change how finance staff work.

Finance staff can use big-data and “analytics” technology to predict sales more accurately, spot parts of an organisation where costs can be cut or test the commercial viability of prototype products or ideas for new services. Experts say that finance departments will focus more on analysis and predictions and spend less time on summarising the financial performance of an organisation in the past year, although that will still be important for financial reporting.

The financial technology “fintech” industry is growing fast. But sometimes picking the right technology can be hard when there is so much to pick from, Stringfellow says.

“One of the problems that we see for our customers is that the choice of [technology products and services] is so vast. They’ve got people like me knocking on their door telling them that ‘you need to look at this solution because it’s great’ and tomorrow someone else is knocking on their door saying ‘my product is even better’. How are you as someone who’s not necessarily a technologist [going to] make the right decisions? It’s a huge problem.”

IT consultancy

After doing a computing degree Stringfellow worked in the IT department of a pharmaceutical company. He then joined Gardner. He owns part of the company.

In the last four years or so Stringfellow has tried to “give back a little bit” to the IT industry. He has given talks at events organised by AAT, sharing his experience and knowledge. He visited Silicon Valley recently and at the time of being interviewed was a few weeks away from talking at an IT conference in Berlin.

What technologies will have the biggest impact on our lives over the next 10 or 20 years?

“That 10 to 20-year view is probably well beyond my imagination. And most people are making huge guesses. Some of those bets just won’t happen. If we were having this conversation 10 years ago would we have come up things like iPhones? I went to the Liverpool-Tottenham [football] game with my son on Tuesday night and as we were walking up to the ground I walked past a guy who was having a video-conferencing call [on his smart phone] with his wife and daughter. When I was 18 that [technology] was [the sort of thing you’d only see on] Star Wars or Star Trek.”

Picking tech winners is tricky but artificial intelligence, or “AI” will probably be among them. Stringfellow says that it’s already being used for business tasks ranging from selling stocks and shares to analysing millions of legal cases.

Augmented and virtual reality, are also worth watching, as is data storage.

Fifth generation mobile networks will change how we use IT, in the near future and in the longer term, Stringfellow says. “[5G will create] lots and lots of data bandwidth to pretty much every device you can think of [which] will change hugely what you can do with those devices…for example they can do large amounts of [data] processing.”

In his spare time Stringfellow plays five-a-side football, supports Liverpool, cycles and goes to the gym. Perhaps his biggest interest is technology and how it can help us work smarter.

“Over the last four to five years [working in IT] has probably been as entertaining as it ever has been,” Stringfellow says. “I enjoy technology. I’m a technologist.”

Nick Huber is a freelance journalist and has written for Accounting Technician magazine, The Guardian and BBC.

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