Intelligent CIO

Get to Know Martin McGregor, Devicie CEO and Co-founder

Martin McGregor, CEO and co-founder of Devicie, answers questions from Intelligent CIO in a get-to-know-you interview.

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

In 2017, I took on the role of cybersecurity leader for the online wagering company, William Hill, in Australia, which saw me responsible for every facet of the organization’s security and data compliance. Completely impossible for one person but I was able to build a really functional 24/7 security operation by using a lot of tooling and automation, allowing me to develop a business case for a well-funded team of five.

That experience was the catalyst for starting my first scalable business, Secure Measure, which birthed Devicie, and I was lucky enough to work with two incredible innovators who joined me in the venture.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

My dad spent his whole career in technology and I grew up around the industry. It was a hobby for me, something I used to do at home for fun that Dad and I bonded over. It took a while for me to see it as a bona fide career option though because I’d set my sights on becoming a musician. Although I picked up work easily enough, even before I’d finished school, I felt like I was more of an artist and IT was something I was just doing as a job.

That left me feeling quite unsatisfied until my late twenties, when I had a bit of an epiphany – I realized my creative ability was a big part of the reason I was doing quite well in the tech space. That changed my mindset and made it something I was able to feel quite passionate about.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

Finding individuals who are driven and passionate about wanting to achieve something and coming together to form a small, strong unit has always been my modus operandi. I expect and empower employees to be their own leaders and manage their time and workloads without needing constant supervision or being told what to do.

There should never be a reason for me to have a conversation about deliverables or what time someone is starting work. If I’m having those chats with someone, they are not right for Devicie.

We’re a company of self-starters so supporting employees to achieve their own goals helps us all respect and learn from each other. My team is amazing, my closest peers are smart and passionate. 

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

Artificial Intelligence courtesy of all the chat that’s going on around ChatGPT will be topical for quite a while and the conversation will continue to evolve from both an ethical and practical point of view. 

Aside from that, we’re in an interesting economic time. Businesses are battening down the hatches and trying to spend less. As a result, we’re seeing increased interest in technologies that contribute to saving time and money. Securing investment is a critical way companies remain relevant and competitive, meaning investors are often the door into the tech industry. However, too often hype and a fear of missing out on the next big thing drives their investments.

Customers want to see the operational benefits and a measurable return on their investment in any technology deployment they choose to invest in. We’ve had a lot of speculative tech enter the arena that hasn’t delivered, which has hurt the credibility of our industry. This will lead to more difficult procurement processes, however, that will be welcomed by tech companies that solve real problems in the world today.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

Music would be my number one go-to. It’s therapy, that’s how I see it. Even when I’m really, really stressed, if I start composing a song, I can lose myself in the process and not think about anything else for an hour or two. After that, even if the problems remain, at least it’s given me some respite. I play a few different instruments – double bass, guitar, drums – and do the vocals too – but composing and producing is my favorite thing.

Seeing a song come together from nothing still amazes me. It’s like plucking something that always existed in the universe only you can tune into and turning it into something tangible. I listen to a lot of my own music and have always focused on making music I personally like. It’s really for me and helping me make sense of the world through a lens I understand. I rarely share my music with others. That’s not what I create it for. It’s something for me.

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I was always working towards doing my own thing, but I put myself through more challenges and learning opportunities than necessary. There would have been commercial advantages to moving quicker, especially in the security domain. Having said that, it wasn’t the right life stage for me 10 years ago and I wanted to have more business and technical skills training before setting up my own company. There’s also an argument that moving too soon can be more difficult.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

Cybersecurity will continue to attract significant investment – and it needs to. Every year, you see security professionals make predictions about what the threat climate is going to look like the following year. It usually sounds outrageous but then, almost invariably, we end up in a situation that’s even worse than the forecast. 

The scope and scale of attacks we now see, and the degree to which state actors are involved, would have been mind-blowing to people 10 years ago. That’s unlikely to reverse any time soon. So, like it or not, businesses have to live with it and deal with it. Not just by spending money on building cyber-resilient enterprises, but by building businesses from the ground up that are designed to be resilient. 

A few years ago, you were missing the boat if you weren’t thinking about how to create a ‘digital business’, but little consideration was given to how risky operating a business entirely on the Internet would be. I would love to see businesses think more about de-risking by building business models less dependent on the Internet, or at minimum, could still trade to some extent without the Internet. This certainly doesn’t mean I’m anti-the-Internet, but rather would like to see more consideration for businesses that are secure by design, including using the Internet/cloud as needed and when it makes sense, and not just by default.

What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in APAC?

Although we’ve done a bit of business further afield, most of our experience is in APAC. One thing I’ve noticed in Australia where we’re based and across the region is that companies typically take a risk-averse approach to technology. Even when a solution can potentially deliver some really solid outcomes, there’s still a lot of inertia to overcome. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, sort of stuff. 

I often see businesses hold on to tech that fails to deliver or they don’t have the capacity to consume in order to stay with the herd. Outcomes are very rarely considered or measured, so risks aren’t considered worth it. It’s quite different from the US, where companies are keen to partner with vendors that are innovative. In our part of the world, people are nervous about being in the vanguard. Not all businesses though – at Devicie, we’ve been lucky enough to find a sub-set of customers that want to get on the front foot, security and productivity-wise.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

Our business grew rapidly in the last 12 months and, as a result, we employed people to oversee some of the domains I was previously responsible for, such as sales, marketing and human resources. Having experts running those areas will help me drive the company where it needs to go. 

For my part, I’m learning how to be a good chairman of the board and chief shareholder – someone who works on the business, not in it – and I’ll continue to lean into those roles over the next year. When you work with great people, I’ve found they coach you in their domain of expertise and only rely on you for context and support, but otherwise, my job is getting out of their way and letting them succeed on their own terms.

What advice would you offer to someone aspiring to obtain a C level position in your industry?

Stay technical in whatever capacity you can. That’s something my dad used to say and, as a leader, I’ve come to see the wisdom in it. The better you can understand the technology you’re dealing with, the better you’re going to be in every other capacity. Indeed, don’t be daunted by the thought of new technology.

This sector breeds innovation and being part of it will always inspire you. Staying relevant isn’t as challenging as you may think. Everything new has roots in the past, so if you stay current, understanding new tech becomes easier and easier over time. Don’t be someone who disregards something new without fully understanding it first. There are enough people in our industry like that already. That’s how we lose credibility. Be someone who understands and adopts what’s valuable. Help others navigate new tech so they actually see legitimate business value from it. Become reliable and trustworthy in this regard and you’ll never need to look for opportunities again.

Finally, if you want to be an effective technology leader, listen more than you talk. Don’t explain the problem you solve to the market, have them explain it to you over and over and over again. Ask questions until you are confident in your own mind that you understand the problem comprehensively. As silly as you may feel for all the questions, you will make up for it with the elegance and aptness of your solution.