My Digital Hero: Paul Lomax, Interim CTO, Virgin

The digital industry’s not really about technology, it’s about people. The digital economy is supported by technology but is conceived, created and developed by people, the heroes of digital.

But who are their heroes? Who inspired, supported and taught them along their journey and to become digital heroes?

Paul Lomax, currently interim CTO at Virgin Group Loyalty Company, has long been one of digital media’s leading figures, previously CTO at Dennis and Head of Digital at Guardian’s GMG Regional Media.

Who is your digital hero?

Tom Loosemore, co-founder of the UK Government Digital Service and co-author of Digital Transformation at Scale: Why the Strategy Is Delivery. He now co-runs his own agency, Public.Digital (they do private sector work too!). 

What have they done to win hero status in your eyes?

Introduced the British government to the concept of digital when he co-founded the UK GDS, by building an ‘alpha’ of gov.uk for exactly the sign-off limit of his boss. Followed by a beta, using the budget sign off level of his boss’s boss.

I saw Tom do a talk about it back in 2011, and his approach to cutting through the bullshit and JFDI (including putting office space on his credit card before the project had been signed off as I recall) was inspiring.  

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

It helped not only the government take a digital approach (agile, lean, user-centric) but also big enterprise companies too, and it opened up a world of new suppliers, namely smaller agencies, instead of being dominated solely by ‘requirements’-focused Big IT. 

What the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?

Big businesses still struggle with digital, especially the tech aspect. While many have got better at moving “IT” from the basement to the boardroom, even the fact it’s called IT is telling.

It’s often still seen as a risk, a thorn in the side, something to be outsourced and kept at arm’s length, rather than an enabler and an opportunity. Because they still haven’t realised it’s about people, not technology, and the people need to change before you can change the technology. 

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?

I could go 15-ish years back to launching 30-plus websites at IPC Media in a year (including the likes of Marie Claire), or 10 years to launching 16 major ecommerce websites in a year at Pod1 (including the likes of Jigsaw), both with tiny teams – but I’m going to go more recent: switching over a third of staff at Dennis over to Chromebooks, including the entire sales organisation.

Technically it’s more “IT” than digital, but it signalled a change in thinking at the company, and it brought with it new mindsets focused around collaboration. And getting the entire company using Slack as the primary comms channel, over email.

It required me stick my neck very very far out, which is why it was ‘heroic’, but it paid off. Before I left one of the PMs overheard an account director in the lift saying they thought they’d hate G Suite, but they loved their Chromebook and would want to take it with them if they left.

Their colleague replied and said they didn’t think they could work for another company without being able to collaborate with Google & Slack. Job done. 

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