I’ve always worked in the tech sector, focusing on problem solving and complex communications. Initially this was as a Weapons Engineering Office in the Royal Navy and then as an executive at the UK’s top High Tech PR agency – even doing a stint on John Major’s PR team during the general election. The during a 16 year period at IBM I rose to become the global comms leader for the financial services sector – the blue ribbon business in IBM accounting for $26bn in revenue a quarter of all IBM’s overall revenue and almost all of its profit. The first person in IBM’s 100 year history to lead a global sector from outside the US, I was responsible for delicately steering the business through the global financial crisis. I then saw that the future was cloud computing and left IBM to do two years as an analyst at Compare the Cloud before becoming cloud strategist at UKCloud – the fastest growing tech firm in the UK and the dominant supplier of cloud services into the UK public sector. These days I still work part time at UKCloud, but am also setting up on my own as a freelance consultant, so open to collaboration.
How did you get to become an expert in privacy?
For the last few years I have focused almost exclusively on cloud computing, but it rapidly became apparent that not only was this leading to a step change in the way that technology was delivered – sweeping away the old guard (IBM, HP, etc) and replacing them with a new set of giants (AWS, Google, Facebook, etc) – but it was also changing the way that data was used. This has had major implications in terms of privacy and data protection. Unfortunately, most of the new tech giants are US firms that are subject to intrusive extra-territorial US laws that threaten our privacy. While privacy is seen as a human right here in Europe, surveillance is seen as more important in the US. Indeed it is only by using local UK cloud providers that keep all their data in the UK and that are beyond the reach of such US laws that we can all ensure a true level of data sovereignty and freedom from US surveillance.
What areas of privacy are you most passionate about?
There is an expression: “Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like arguing that you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” In my work as a strategist for one of the top UK cloud firms, one that handles workloads for the UK government including tax records, criminal records, health records etc, I recognise how critical it is to take privacy and data protection seriously. I’m particularly interested in a) the forthcoming regulations in this area (GDPR which comes into force in May), in b) the data flows with Europe (and how we can maintain these in order to facilitate trade with the EU post Brexit) and in c) data flows with the US as well (especially given the numerous criticisms of the Privacy Shield framework and of the attitude of the Trump administration).
Which privacy influencers influence you?
The best known name in the privacy world is that of Max Schrems – as a young law student it was his challenge against Facebook that brought down Safe Harbor, the precursor to Privacy Shield. More recently I have worked with Max to help him get the crowd-funding going for the new “privacy enforcement” NGO called NOYB (None Of Your Business) that he was seeking to launch. Midway through the two month crowd funding exercise the money was coming in far too slowly, so I swung into action creating a twitter storm and a wave of press coverage, as well as an Internet TV show (Point of Privacy) that featured Max in its first episode. The outcome was that we surpassed the initial funding goal of 250K euros, and reached 300K euros by the deadline, and Max is now busy getting NOYB up and running. Another top privacy influencer is legal expert Frank Jennings, known as the Cloud Lawyer, who was featured in the second episode of Point of Privacy.
Outside of privacy who else influences you?
Privacy is a big deal right now – with GDPR on the horizon, it is a focus for almost all businesses at the moment. However, I am also a massive advocate for cloud computing and the role that it has to play in supporting digital transformation and acting as a platform for so many other technologies from IoT, big data and analytics to AI and machine learning. The area of digital transformation that I am closest to is e-government – after all if we are ever to break out of the endless cycle of austerity then we need to innovate and apply technology to find better ways of working and of delivering public services. I am also a champion for SME tech firms in the UK – helping them stand up to the global giants and believing that they have an important role to play in driving innovation, not only in areas like govtech, but in medtech and fintech as well.
How would you describe your offline influence?
Aside from my blogs and social engagement, I also do a lot of public speaking and networking. At this moment in time I am devoting a lot of my personal time to judging submissions for the UK Cloud Awards organised by the Cloud Industry Forum for who I am one of the awards judges this year.
What are going to be the key developments in the industry in the next 12 months?
Everyone is looking ahead to May when the new European regulation GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) comes into force. I don’t believe that we will see the various European Data Protection Authorities (DPAs), including the Information Commissioners Office in the UK, resort to the maximum level of fines immediately, but we will see some examples being made and any serious failures being swiftly sanctioned. I do believe however that the whole focus for data protection should be about trust and ethics rather than fear and fines.
If a brand wanted to work with you, what offline / online activities would you be most interested in?
For me, like most influencers, it is all about the alignment of interests. Any brands out there that want to champion the UK tech sector, cloud and digital transformation or address privacy and data protection need to be doing so from the same constructive orientation that I am. If they are then I’m open to any form of collaboration, be it podcasts, webinars, whitepapers, speaking opportunities or whatever.