Highlights from Manchester Tech Fest

With the second year of Manchester Tech Festival underway, industry leaders from across the North West have been sharing their insights and experiences at the striking Victoria Baths venue in Manchester. 

A wealth of knowledge was shared, making it difficult to pick the highlights. But there were some standout talks on building digital products, data, leadership and tech for good from the likes of Booking.com, Manchester Airport Group and HACE. 

Insights from these are below with some key themes cropping up across the board and underlining that these are exciting times in tech.

Avoiding mistakes when building products to scale with Booking.com

The ‘Scale Up’ Track kicked off with Franco Stasi, Product Manager at Booking.com. With over half a decade of product experience, Franco shared his learnings on mistakes to avoid when building greenfield products.

Booking.com mtf image

These invaluable lessons included:

  1. Overbuilding but under delivering, leading to neglect of maintenance, and commonly multiple ‘OK’ products but no stand outs. Customers expect more from digital products these days and you may fall short of the mark.

  2. Over milking but under adopting - the opposite issue but just as problematic. This can often lead to team disengagement due to only making marginal improvements, losing track of strategy, and just passing requirements down to engineers. 

  3. Keeping a backlog of subjective ideas - this often leaves room for ‘Hippos’ (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) and ‘Zebras’ (Zero Evidence But Really Arrogant) to push their own ideas through without considering hypothesis placeholders.

  4. The planning fallacy - Optimism can result in low cost estimates, and overconfidence results in a narrow range of predicted delivery window.

  5. Assigning tasks instead of posing problems - instead, prioritise solving technical challenges. Booking.com use ‘hack sprints’ when they need creativity, rapid learning, agility and when failure is OK.

Flying with data at Manchester Airport Group

Back over on the main stage, Ed Johnson, DASA Transformation Solutions Architect at aviation giant Manchester Airport Group presented MAG's most recent challenges when it came to taking back control of their data. 

With over 54 million people flying through their airports every year, harnessing their data is absolutely crucial to the safe and effective functioning of their airport operations. 

MAG MTF Image

Just 18 months ago, MAG were struggling with data quality (or lack thereof), complete absence of crucial data, having multiple tools doing the same job, not having the right resource mix, as well as still being reliant on manual processes. 

All of this was leading to multiple versions of the truth and complete lack of trust in the data that was being presented.

MAG recognised they had to make significant changes to how they approached and handled data with the following strategies:

  1. Recruiting the right people with the right skills, driving a data driven culture

  2. Choosing the right methodologies such as agile, but being ready to evolve and adapt (MAG moved from Scrum to Scrumban after a year to adapt further to their needs)

  3. Simplifying the tech - MAG stopped using more than one tool for the same job to streamline data

  4. Getting the business rules agreed, and applied, in one place

The impact has been overwhelmingly positive, by improving and centralising data governance, the Group now feel their data tells ‘one truth’ and can be more confidently relied upon. They have also found it much easier to recruit and train data teams, as they don’t need staff to be proficient with an endless number of tools. 

Being a true technology leader with Rob Bowley, Ticketer and Zally

Manchester Tech Fest isn’t just about harnessing data and building digital products, there are also plenty of opportunities for tech leaders to consider how best to grow their business, become more inclusive organisations and lead with integrity. 

The panel ‘Finding your voice as a tech leader’, hosted by Tania Rahman, explored many of these topics. 

Rob bowley MTF panel image

Rob Bowley, Strategic Tech Advisor (and esteemed panellist for Apadmi’s Breakfast event ‘Building Successful Digital Products’), explained that at scale ups, leaders have to deal with risks and ambiguity, but there are a number of common mistakes that can be easily avoided.

The most common mistakes he sees scale ups make are:

  1. Trying to build too soon and too much 

  2. Not knowing what problem you are trying to solve

  3. Not considering what customers actually want or need (meaning they have to rip up a product and start again)

  4. Not knowing what their minimum viable product is

When it comes to company culture, diversity and inclusion, the panel stressed that tech leaders have a big role to play.

Bowley reminded leaders that “you’re setting the standards for culture…your culture is set by the worst behaviour you’re willing to tolerate and you need to lead by example”.

The panel all warned that just hiring a diverse team isn’t enough, you then also need to have the right tools and approach in place to continue supporting that team or they will leave. 

Tech for good with HACE

The ‘Tech for Good’ track at the festival also delivered a number of insightful talks around how technology is being leveraged to make a positive impact in the world. 

CEO and Founder of HACE, Eleanor Harry took to the stage to share more about how HACE are using technology for good.

HACE MTF Image

With 1 in 10 children involved in child labour globally, and an ambitious UN target to eradicate child labour by 2025, HACE is a powerful piece of technology looking to move the world further towards this goal. 

Harry explained that when it comes to child labour, the available data is often limited, bias, slow to be collected and generally quite insufficient. Addressing this is just one of the much needed steps to tackle the wider issue of child labour. 

The HACE Child Labour Index was created in response to this gap; it is an AI-powered specialist ESG rating, scoring companies and portfolios in relation to three performance indicators in the specific area of child labour. 

So how does the technology work?

  1. The index uses billions of public data points and HACE data sets built with social science expertise.

  2. Composite AI including Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing and Large Language Models create three performance scores

  3. Custom AI allows HACE to create objective, rules-based algorithms built with child labour expertise at their core, producting real-time performance data

  4. Knowledge graph tech makes the methodology fully transparent, meaning they can trace each score and piece of data back to its original source, with no human bias

The tool is already making an impact, and has big ambitions to keep gaining traction. 

You can hear Eleanor talk more about HACE harness data by watching back our panel event ‘Drowning in Data’ here.

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