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David Weir, EMIS LTD (Egton Medical Information Systems Ltd)

David Weir
Personal Factfile: David Weir
Name of current organisation: EMIS LTD (Egton Medical Information Systems Ltd)
Job Title: Development Director
In post since: November 2013
Reports to: EMIS GROUP CTO
Office location: Leeds, West Yorkshire
EMIS provide fully integrated leading healthcare provider of primary and secondary care solutions. The majority of the NHS primary and secondary care use EMIS applications of one flavour or another. EMIS applications encompass all markets within the healthcare sector from General Practitioners, Community Trusts, pharmaceuticals, point of sale type applications all the way through to military, governments around the world who need triage application support.

Company Factfile  

What does your current role involve?
I head up all of the development across our suite of applications, which encompasses the architecture function, the engineering function, so scrum masters, devops, developers and testers, and the delivery function, which is essentially your PMs, Product Owners, BA's, and Technical Authors. In addition there is the whole keeping it all together, or human aspect of it, making sure these disparate teams can function so we have a PMO and general administration as we are across several sites in the UK, several countries and now two continents since we've recently opened an office in India. So that responsibility is creeping up to the 300 headcount mark and then there's the supply chain management that goes with that too.

What was the first Technology job you had?
My first job fresh out of university was for a company called the ICR Group who were a recruitment company based in north Bradford who at the time were trying to brand themselves not as a recruitment company but more of a solutions provider. They did a lot of work with NTI and some of the banks, and the BBC providing bespoke IVR systems. The company was essentially an entrepreneur who was in recruitment and fancied having an internal department to provide an in-house solution to some of the clients where they already had a network.
I was employed as someone who had a bit of technical background and some familiarity with the kind of technologies they were interested in. I was surrounded by contractors, with just a small contingent of permanent resources. The way our team was used, was to be thrown into failing projects. We were essentially the triage, onsite long enough to define the problem/required skills, so the recruitment guys in the office tried to find people with the relevant skills. We would do as much as we could around trying to fix the problem; short term fixing; identify the key problems and root cause etc. so that the people who came in after us had a fighting chance of fixing the issue.
There was a total naivety of what these kind roles involved. So my expectation of what these roles were, was being steered by highly paid contractors who seemed to know everything, so therefore I needed to get myself up to their standard pretty quickly. There was also a great degree of trust placed on those roles, but at the same time a 'fail early' kind of behaviour instilled from the beginning, because they weren't putting me in under any illusion that I was the fait accomplish, or finished article. 
I was purely in and out from a web technologies point of view, late 90s early 2000 which was very popular at the time. I was also surrounded by a lot of failure and bad management, but that has been easily the most accelerated learning I had, which has come from being surrounded by bad management, failed projects and bad team behaviours and having those crutches of having good solid contractors around me.
I was extremely fortunate, though it didn't feel like that at the time, to be in that pressure pot. I have observed many times, within subsequent teams' or departments, the real superstars sometimes can't progress to the next level because they have been so good at making the right decisions all the way throughout their career. The reason they have been hindered, is because they have never really experienced failure, so they don't know why they adopt TDD or certain Agile techniques other than they have been told it was the thing to do.

Why did you first get into Technology?
I got into technology through a mountain biking accident, and that sounds quite bizarre, and it is a bit of tenuous link! Being from the Lake District, there was very little technology and they are still maybe 10 - 15 years behind (Sorry Lake District folk - Ed.) in terms of their adoption of certain technologies.
Up until about age 16 I was definitely going to be a professional mountain bike rider. I was sponsored at the time, so it wasn't just a pipe dream and my academic career was pretty much on a sabbatical until further notice, until said mountain bike accident which forced me to enrol into 6th form college very, very late in the day and being provided with a very, very small list of subjects which were still available. The subjects being maths, further maths and physics! So computer science wasn't available to us, and was of limited interest to me at the time. However, computers became of great interest to me at university doing maths, which I found I had a small taste for, but an increasing taste for the technology which was available within the university which allowed me to cheat!
And by cheat I mean I was presented with maths problems and 90% of the marks was always showing your workings. So rather than handwriting this stuff, I found myself writing macros and formulas to provide entry forms which would present or generate graphs which was required for the homework. That held me in good stead when it came to the exams because unbeknownst to me I was secretly revising whilst working out how to write these computer programmes thinking I was getting one over on the system, I was actually learning these algorithms and blueprinting them into my mind! Further still because I was doing a maths degree and not computer science degree, this was just on the cusp of the new web technologies like Java and more accessibility to the internet, when it came to be looking for a technology to solve the immediate need I had, that's where I went, to web based technologies and Java, and I went for some of the infancies of some of the Microsoft stuff - VB, C or C++ technologies. Whereas my contemporaries who left university with computer science degrees were very skilled at creating in Fortran, Assembler and Smalltalk, hence me having the type of job that I have as I was one of the few candidates coming out of university who could list modern technologies like Java and JSP and ASP, all the while thinking I was cheating! 

Who has been the most influential Technology person in your career to date?
There are people that I absolutely admire from a technology point of view and have had the good fortune to meet, in a sense of going to conferences and hearing them speak, and then there are also the people I have worked with. 
It goes without question there's a couple of people who spring straight to mind, the business author Stephen Covey and Martin Fowler of Thoughtworks, who have been absolute thought leaders in terms of the way in which I behave or in terms of the type of technologies I chase, who I cannot praise enough for the work they have done for my industry. If the Agile Manifesto gives you an idea of what kind of things you should be looking to do, Stephen Covey's set of values gives you list for perhaps how you should live your working life.
When I look at my greatest achievements I find myself gravitating more towards the learning that they provided rather than the technology I used in which to do it. 
However, I can count neither of them as friends, but there is a chap called Rob Styles who I can count as a friend, having had the good fortune to work with him for a couple of years.  He's best known along with Dan North (of Thoughtworks at the time) being the inventors of BDD and ATDD.

I worked with Rob Styles at Call Credit Information, who was brought in as a peer but also as someone who could be a thought leader who could help drum up some innovation from within, and it certainly did that. Conversations with Rob taught me many, many things that I was unaware of, not just from a technical point of view, but the way I looked at things, and the way I used technology to solve certain problems. Rob taught me the great art of never looking to solve a problem, but actually looking at why the problem is there in the first place to see if you can cut things off at the root. 
A great example of which is looking at the some of the problems and constraints of a relational databases and the approaches we were taking and how we could actually maintain auditability and such. He presented a view point which was rather than look at how we can solve or get round those problems, have we explored technologies that show and demonstrate none of those symptoms.  Now, there is no silver bullet, alternative technologies have other problems, but choosing your approach based on those known symptoms was a very powerful way of looking at problems in the future. As a software engineer I have always looked at a problem at its face, whereas Rob as a thought leader looked at the root cause. I try to adopt an approach that encourages my direct team to challenge all the way along rather than just solves peoples' problems along the way.

Thoughts Download

What technology company do you most admire, and why?
This is where my answers get a bit boring! I've got to say Google, though I think everyone is probably sick of hearing how great Google are, but I really admired Google circa 2005 as they seemed to do everything right. In later years as they've have become more successful in certain areas they've been accused of turning into a bit of Microsoft or a bully, and I can't ignore that, but I can't help but get that feeling of excitement whenever I hear Google are entering a certain market or innovation area because they are either absolutely going to be the market leader or they're going to inject something completely new into that world, which is exactly what they have done with Android, they created hype and a new paradigm. 
What they've done with Google Maps, Google Glass, Google Flu Trends, Google Fit and every time I hear what Google are going to do next I get excited. The reason I said I really liked them 2005 was because that's when they had the engineering at the heart of it. There was one day a week where they could spend time looking at pet projects, and a really different approach to the way they marketed themselves and the way in which they positioned themselves in the market. They're not the same company now, as they've been so successful, but they know that which is why they try to diversify into different markets and try to enter every market in the same way they entered their initial search engine market which was lean and start-up; let's turn this industry on its head and let's look at things in way where we are unconstrained, and do something as ludicrous as buying drones! 
They think like that and I love that!

In your opinion, what is the most significant technological advance of the last 5yrs?
To me I think it has got to be mobile, and I know that sounds a little bit old hat, because mobiles have been around a while. But in the last 5 years they have come on such a long way, coupled with tablet, I don't think you can ever say hand-on-heart that anyone, 3 or 4 years ago that you could legitimately say statements like 'in 2018 people won't be using PCs' so it cannot be undersold how much more mobiles have come on and they were quite advanced then. No other technology seems has come on quite as fast or aggressively as much as mobiles, in all its aspects, including tablets, and other keyboard-less devices. 
It has real practical uses in healthcare alone, we genuinely look at being able to actually have this information in your hands on a mobile on the move, or being alerted to certain things, which translates itself not just into convenience, but genuinely saves lives. We only have to get that right for 1% or 2% across our user base and that's a couple of jumbo jets full of people whose lives we can save. 

In your opinion what is EMIS most significant technological advance of the last 5yrs?
Within EMIS it has not so much the technology itself but has been the concept of product ownership and clinical ownership. The differentiator of EMIS during the National Programme for IT and its its competition like Fujitsu, Accenture, BT and iSoft, the big global players, was that we built what are customer base wanted. What we knew we could build with the technology available to us, and discrete ownership within the different areas of the business. EMIS survived the National Programme for IT (now NHS Connecting for Health), where £2bn was spent on other systems, which EMIS are now providing, despite the global players best attempts and large amounts of money and highly skilled people to do this. Whilst EMIS, based on the inherent clinical knowledge and ownership of the problem, continued to produce a world class product that as soon as the power was given back to GPs and hospitals to choose which applications they wanted - 80% of the market came back to EMIS.
The problem was that the competition and those that tried to do it with an awful lot more money, tried to tackle it with just using the best technologies, and we have many technologies and technological advances, but it was the cross functional behaviour which made us better than the rest and the that we focussed on what we could deliver with the technology not the technology itself. 

What do you see being the biggest technology area of growth in the next 5yrs?
Wearable tech and I choose wearable tech as it's the one that excites me the most. Maybe because there lots of candidates there, and it's the one where I see there has been a tipping point, as consumer tech has started to drive the way forward for enterprise technology to follow, which historically used to be the other way around; consumer technology was born out of a stripped down version of what enterprise was using. Since the advances with mobile phones and many other areas of consumer technology and the internet, has meant that a consumer market like wearable tech, is and will drive so many other initiatives that have real practical applications in my industry.  We're looking at Google Glass and augmented reality at the moment in order to do the very thing these things were invented to do which is provide additional information about the reality of the situation. I think the consumer market will drive and fund the ability to really do some really good things in that area.
In your opinion what do you see EMIS' biggest technology area of growth in the next 5yrs? 
I think there are lots of areas where you could focus your energy on a gamble, whereas sticking to our 'how does this have a practical use for what we want to do' and 'how are we going to make this cheap and affordable' and 'politically something the government and county wants to do' then we can ride certain consumer fads, easier than we can potentially do something which provides a fantastic technical solution but have to be almost completely funded by internal R&D.  
Compare specialist medical equipment, which do relatively simple things and are the size of a filing cabinet, against a £50 mobile from a supermarket. One is consumer driven and one is driven through niche markets. 
Big data is also a large area of growth, so we've put in a few parallel data warehouses and are taking the data we have seriously because it is highly sensitive and highly personal data, therefore we have an absolute clear strategy of how we are going to manage that ever increasing data.
All three areas are tied together, and the growth in mobile and wearable tech is naturally contributing to the growth of data, but if pushed for one main area, I would have to say mobile

Where do you put the UK in terms of Technology Innovation compared to other countries?
I'd say it's behind America, but ahead of other Western countries. I recently visited Australia and was talking about Agile ways of working and Big Data and they were looking at me rather blank and with very limited appetite for wanting to go down that route. There are countries that are certainly far behind the UK in the Western world, but there are countries like India and some Eastern European countries that are far ahead of us in terms of technology colleges and technology universities and how they explore new ways of working. Fortunately I have a lot of experience working with a variety of offshore teams and they continue to impress me about how much they understand and the variety of technologies that they've learned to a really deep level. I'm always wondering how bought-in they are to certain ways of working and certain technologies beyond the fact it's just commercially what outsource countries, like the UK and America, want to hear an offshore provider is doing. 
Jury's out.
I put us behind America, but truly invested in that kind of 'Made in Britain' way still. A lot of us are engineers by heart and want that 'Made in Britain' sticker and reassurance of quality, so everything we do tends to be steered by quality which can only be a good thing for us.

Which startup does most to impress you at the moment? 
There's so many and for so many different reasons. There's a company called Meducation which was started up by an associate of mine, who are focussing on trying to provide video based, and virtual learning to the medical community. It involves trying to metatag several resources of information and store lots of information whilst keeping an active community of users who want to feedback to the community; similar to a video based repository, along the lines of Pluralsight, but the manner in which they are doing it and the technologies they are using is very impressive. It's really going for the jugular in the areas that are typically slow to adopt this way of learning. A scary statistic I heard recently was that if a doctor figures out a new way of doing something say prescribing 'drug x' to a patient who is lying on their side instead of on their back. The time it takes for that small bit of information to jump between doctors, then departments, then hospitals, to ultimately end up as NHS policy, takes up to 27 years. So I'm really excited about what the guys at Meducation are trying to achieve.

What does EMIS' Technology Innovation strategy look like?
All I can say is fluid! We've made some very strategic acquisitions over the last couple of years that does truly does provide fully integrated healthcare offerings. So a lot of our strategy is how we can better integrate all of our offerings, not just with our own applications and technology but with competitors' also, and to embrace competitors.
I'm not sure how many people who may know a relative or someone close to them whose interactions with a hospital or GP hasn't resulted in them having to relay the information twice or more times. It is monumentally frustrating as a patient,  for vital key information not following them as they progress through departments, shifts or time. This has guided EMIS to the conclusion that we absolutely have to integrate not just our own products but make an integrated healthcare solution across the UK to ultimately avoid these instances. It is a problem that affects every single one of us, as potential patients or relatives of patients. So I have personal challenge to get this right, alongside a real passion to technically get it right.
The strategy is open-armed integration; we want to integrate our products with whoever will have us, and integrate their products with those who want to. 
We don't want to provide a solution by saying you have to buy EMIS and all of its extensions, we want to be the provider of choice and if we can't be the provider of choice, we want to provide a fully integrated option.

Personal Technology

What's the latest personal Technology gadget you have bought?
The Sony QX100, which is essentially an SLR camera lens which pairs with any smartphone and quickly allows you to turn your smartphone into an SLR camera, and comes with a holder and is all wireless, so it's a simple point and click. The photo quality and 10x digital zoom is exactly what I was after and it was about £100 so didn't break the bank! It fits in my pocket so I don't have to carry a big SLR around my neck. I'm never going to be a professional photographer, so this is exactly what fitted that gap for me! 

What's the best App you have ever downloaded?  
It has to be Evernote, and all of its add-ons and extensions. I am a compulsive list maker. If anyone sees my desk at work it's surrounded by Post-It notes, my home office has lists of chores for around the house, and my personal little whiteboards that I carry round too. It's got to a point where if I have done something and it's not on a list I have to write it down on a list just so I can cross it off! 
So having something like Evernote can allow me to continue in my madness of writing everything down, but having it stored centrally, integrated across devices and cloud based means I can have my fridge tell what I have not done today! 

What is on your iPod/MP3 right now?
I mentioned I went to Australia recently and during that trip I got engaged under Sydney Opera House. Having opened that Pandora's Box, every other conversation I have with my fiancé involve what wedding songs are we going to have or details about the wedding. As such I have a lot of embarrassing candidates on my Phone that I would dread anyone to ever hear! 
So if it's not a soppy wedding song, then it would probably be some very upbeat, high energy techno, dub step, fast beat type thing, which is just for when I am at the gym. So whilst it would probably give me a heart attack listening to it in the car, I need it on the treadmill!
When it comes to listening to music for pleasure, you will probably find me listening to a number of guilty pleasures from the 80's or bands like Gorgol Bordello and Flogging Molly.

What do you do in your spare time?
I have been a practitioner in a martial art since early 2000's which is not a very well know martial art, a Brazilian martial art called capoeira, which some people may argue is more a co-ordinated dance than a martial art. I expect for it to make an appearance during the upcoming World Cup hosting in Brazil. 
I have been known to perform on request in various social nights out and can perform a damn fine cartwheel! I've had the privilege of visiting Brazil which is the cultural centre with capoeira and also taught it for a short time. It's a great escape as it's so far removed from my day job and so far removed technology that it gives me the necessary headspace. 


Interviewed by Jarvis James, Principle Consultant, Harvey Nash Technology, Leeds