Endava: reimagining the digital experiences

CIO Helena Nimmo discusses Endava’s blend of culture and technology, and how that has served it well in its response to COVID-19

|Nov 27|magazine16 min read

Helena Nimmo joined global software company Endava as CIO a year and half ago, having been in the technology industry for 20 years. A native of Finland, she started her career at Finnish technology giant Nokia in the logistics division, before joining Symbian Software and moving to London in 1999. “From there I worked at Fujitsu, then spent a good six or seven years in publishing through both Euromonitor and Thomson Reuters. Working in those different sectors has given me a breadth of understanding that I think has been truly beneficial as I’ve taken on more senior leadership roles.”

Endava has operations across the globe, including the Americas, Europe and Asia. Nimmo says the company occupies a specific niche in the industry. “We're in a sweet spot between your traditional IT providers, the SIs, the digital agencies, which are obviously much smaller and much more nimble, and also the business and technology consultancies. We sit in amongst the nexus of all three of those, so we help businesses define, design, develop, run, and evolve their technology and their products. As an organisation, Endava wants to reimagine the interface between people and technology and make the digital experience something really positive.”

Nimmo considers herself fortunate to have inherited an IT estate that was already fairly digital, which greatly helped the organisation pivot to remote working within 48 hours globally due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Making sure that we have got the right types of collaboration tools in place has been absolutely critical, as well as a pivot in cybersecurity as we moved to home working.” With much of the estate being software-as-a-service solutions, that pivot has been made easier, but it brings its own set of challenges around the digital experience. “The challenge is making sure that the data connections are there,” she says. “So you've got that flow of data between the various different systems. That will, for instance, help you if you were to start a new role in an environment where you don't actually get to meet your colleagues, making onboarding much easier and much slicker.” 

The company operates on a hybrid of private and public cloud, but Nimmo is clear that the cloud mustn’t be considered a fix-all. “Cloud-first shouldn't be interpreted as a cloud-only approach. There will always be certain systems and data in any organisation, depending on what your industry or unique selling point or critical dependency is, that you might want to keep on premise. So public cloud-first is an aspiration, but it's not our blanket approach.” When it comes to making the most of data, “patience” is her watchword. “Data tends to be one of those really knotty problems that you start thinking about and end up putting in the too-hard-to-deal-with-today box. I think it takes a lot of patience to unpick data, because data is what makes technology relevant. If the data isn't right, the system is not going to matter.”

Enabling Endava’s transformation has involved a number of key technology partners. Microsoft’s Azure serves as the cloud provider for the Endava IT estate, with their relationship stretching back around 10 years and encompassing a number of Gold and Silver partnerships in various areas. “When working with Azure, we employ the Microsoft Cloud Adoption Framework, and the Azure Well-Architected Framework. We also have partnerships with Google and AWS. Our goal is always to create the most secure, high performing, resilient and efficient cloud infrastructures and applications for our users and for our customers.” says Nimmo. The company also works with the likes of Datadog and Terraform, with Nimmo stressing that “taking the leap into next generation technology with all our partners is something that we pride ourselves on as a business.”

Another of her inheritances was a culture of openness, creativity and trust, which Nimmo has sought to nurture and protect. “Technology and transformation, technology and change, clearly go hand in hand. If you're introducing new technology, you are changing the way people behave or interact with the system or the data. The way I look at technology and Endava is that we have a good, strong organisational culture and value system. I'm looking at how to use technology to preserve it, rather than change it.”

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Cloud-first shouldn't be interpreted as a public cloud-only approach

Helena Nimmo | CIO, Endava

That strong culture has been especially important through the pandemic. “If I look at my own leadership style, it's collaborative and open. I've always been of the view that you need to be able to challenge me. So I give my team members the space to do that if they don't agree with what I'm saying. That does prompt a better level of conversation, better collaboration and much better results.” The pandemic has created the need for a higher level of sympathy and empathy, which has been necessary to best take advantage of remote working technology. “Working from home, working in isolation suits some better than others, so it’s important to be better listeners. If you think about remote collaboration before the pandemic, if you dialled into a meeting while others were physically present in a meeting room, you were always a bit of a hanger on. That’s definitely changed. Now, people are given the opportunity to talk and encouraged to voice their thoughts and opinions.”

While she sees benefits stemming from the pandemic in terms of drawing people away from cities and leaving space for local innovation and startups, Nimmo emphasises that the downsides must also be recognised. “If I was just starting in my career, I would struggle to only work from home. You learn so much by observing others, collaborating and even stopping to have a drink after work. Those are really key paths to becoming a corporate citizen.”

Nevertheless, she reports that the organisation recorded an improvement in productivity since the transition to fully working from home. “I think the key thing that we're seeing right now is that home working is clearly possible at a scale that nobody believed it would be. More and more organisations are coming out and saying that. We've already seen that our productivity has not only stayed stable, but actually improved, which is fantastic. That's where we're really reaping the rewards of remote working, by providing the flexibility to blend work and personal lives.”

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While the pandemic has certainly had an upending effect, Nimmo believes that the traditional stresses on CIOs are not going away. “Any IT leader will tell you that we always face the pressure to be really creative, innovative and cutting edge, while at the same time, not costing too much money. As a business, we have a ‘pass it on’ culture and so I am often asked to share tips and insights. As we all start to focus on their plans for 2021, I am conscious of the need to be focused on Digital Necessity over big, old-fashioned and expensive transformation projects.” 

Nimmo is focused on ensuring the solutions in place live up to Endava’s reputation as a digital organisation. “We provide our customers with digital solutions, so I have to make sure that our technology stack remains relevant. Clearly one way of doing that is ensuring that we have a seamless user experience, whether you’re working from home or from the office.” That dovetails with her belief that “technology needs to be a platform for efficiencies, not a platform for complexities. Because with efficiencies ultimately comes savings in cost and time.”

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