An interview with our CTO, Tristan Stone

04 June 2019

Reading time 11 minutes

We sat down with our CTO to discuss Rokk's approach to working with clients to solve their business challenges; plus the technology industry.

Tristan, please tell us about your role?

I am Rokk's Chief Technology Officer, shareholder and manage Rokk's technology strategy.

At Rokk we operate with a customer-defined strategy; we appreciate that each client is different and so we will tailor the technology and delivery to reflect this and to suit the customer’s specific business needs and objectives. In order to achieve this, Business Analysis is at the core of our strategy. The team begins by identifying with the customer the problem which they want their software to address, defining the technical response and collaborating to create a bespoke solution.

Some customers will be unsure as to what they want and in this case, we offer a consultative approach to determine the factors which will guide our process and to determine what technology solutions will be appropriate for their infrastructure. In other cases, the customer might have an exact requirement, for instance, a native iOS application, and we will create a strategy which responds to those needs.

In the past ten years alone technology has transformed dramatically and innovations such as cloud mean that businesses can be fully serverless and manage workloads in new ways. At Rokk we are always abreast of the latest trends and innovations in the market and of what other industry leaders are doing, and these trends naturally influence our technology strategies so we can deliver the highest quality applications. Ultimately we look at how cutting-edge technology can become a driver for the customer’s business needs, rather than the customer being driven by the software.

Is it a challenge when it comes to hiring technical talent?

When it comes to recruitment for our technology team, the South West, from Bristol down, is a thriving hub for technology with pioneering tech SMEs and iconic firms such as The Met Office. This certainly attracts highly-qualified technology professionals to the region where appropriate jobs are available but also the opportunity for a better work-life balance with the Devon countryside and coastline to enjoy outside of work. With a wealth of professionals around hiring technical talent is not an issue at Rokk, rather the challenge for us is the strong competition in the contract market.

How do you ensure that the software developed is a driver in client value?

To ensure that our software is a real business driver of value for our clients we prefer to consider the problem our customer wants to resolve, rather than the solution needed, at the start and throughout the process. By looking at the root of the issue it allows us to take a more holistic view, stripping away the external influences and focusing on what the business really needs to thrive and meet objectives. This enables us to create the best possible software solution and helps clients to think more openly about their business.

Often clients can become absorbed in finding a solution when it is the core issues which need attention first. Consequently, Business Analysis is a crucial element of any project. Each client will have a dedicated team including senior business analyst and project manager to explore those underlying issues and determine the overall scope and what delivery might look like as well as prototyping if needed, constantly relaying the timeframes and costs with clients to ensure they are aware of the commitment at each stage. This planning ensures that software is always a driver in value and that the project is delivered effectively on time and within budget.

The typical client for Rokk is conversely atypical since we have a very diverse range of customers. We enjoy working with businesses of all sizes and across all sectors, from Automotive to Agriculture and Financial, to one-man-bands and local SMEs to national corporates and large global groups.

How does Rokk overcome the challenge of interpreting a client’s vision?

Vision is an important part of the process when it comes to building a technology strategy but having concrete detail to rely upon is also integral, as translating visions into reality requires tangible insights. This is where initial meetings with business analysts, workshops and one-to-one sessions are crucial to gather specifics, to set out functional and non-functional requirements and to understand where the business sits in the market, what they aim to achieve and how the product will support this.

- What guidance would you suggest for anyone considering developing a software application or mobile app for the first time?

For any business considering software application or a mobile app for the first time, the initial meetings and workshops are instrumental to discuss the vision and facilitate collaboration of ideas.

The process helps clients to ensure all members of the project are aligned in their thinking. Often we find clients have many team members involved in the process who also have different requirements and visions, so collaboration is important here. These sessions further support those team members who might be feeling apprehensive about digital disruption, helping to address and alleviate any concerns.

- How important is it in establishing budgets, timelines & expectations early on?

Communication and transparency are central to our timelines and budget process. Each client will have a dedicated team including senior business analyst and project manager to explore the issues, determine the overall scope and what delivery might look like, constantly communicating the timeframes and costs with clients to confirm expectations are being met.

What is Rokk’s approach to structured software development? What are Rokk’s capabilities?

At Rokk we can deliver in each area of software development, from software delivery to Business Analysis and system architecture and design to Quality Assurance and business as usual day-to-day operation. Again, each client is different and we are happy to offer support with as much or as little as required during the software development.

- What is the importance of scoping and business analysis – how does Rokk do this?

Scoping and Business Analysis is a critical part of the process with customers as it ensures the project is cohesive and that everyone involved is happy with timeframes and on the same page.

We achieve this by spending time with clients examining the project and undertaking a thorough analysis of business infrastructure and objectives. Many digital projects fail as a result of inadequate Business Analysis and when too many suppliers are involved, therefore we define scope and size so that the project stays on track.

- What is the role of prototyping – is it always required?

Prototyping is not always a requisite for customers however it can be a useful tool to give an idea of the User Experience (UX), to assess the general User Interface (UI) and whether any adjustments should be made etc. If a project has a more technical requirement, for instance, an app which uses shape recognition, we might build a prototype as a proof of concept to check that the idea will work otherwise the app is rendered ineffective. The prototyping stage might be where we look to other AI suppliers or academic research to implement in the final product.

- What level of involvement do clients have in the process? For example testing etc…

We welcome clients to be as involved as they wish during the process which will vary depending on the client’s vision and expertise. Some customers already have their Business Analysis and design, meaning that they only need assistance in the architecture phase. Other customers will add on their own Quality Assurance or perhaps bring in members of their own team for development. As a team with full software delivery capability, Rokk is happy to assist with whatever is needed and adapt to suit the customer’s requirements.

- Can you provide an example of a client project you have been involved in recently?

Canopy Check, a data solutions app for improving crop management, was an exciting and hugely successful project for us and the Landmark Information Group who commissioned the application. Robust data is important in the agricultural industry to help farmers better understand their crops, to analyse yields and best determine what is needed to improve crop quality, particularly for commercial growers with strict requirements to meet. However, sharing this data effectively is one of the key challenges for agronomists. The app is designed to address these information gaps by giving agronomists access to vital crop reports and helping to enhance productivity for growers.

We collaborated closely with Landmark to build an online portal and native iOS application with a high-quality UI and cutting-edge image analysis technology. Together we also looked at how the system would evolve over the years, designing enhancements to further improve the applications. CanopyCheck has been extremely well-received in the industry and has been sold across the UK to many farming businesses as well as global brands such as PepsiCo.

There is a lot of hype surrounding technologies such as IoT, AI, Blockchain and the emergence of low code development platforms. What are your thoughts on how these developments impact on how Rokk develops software?

New technologies are not only emerging at a pace and making huge waves in the industry but are also more readily available now from the big tech providers, for instance, AI applications from Microsoft and Google. We are always inspired by the latest technological progress and in awe of its impact; the previously complex task of information retrieval has become effortless, speech recognition is evermore sophisticated in quality and cloud computing and AI has transformed what is possible for smaller companies, allowing them to scale and enhance workflows much more cost-effectively. It is clear that technology will continue to change and accelerate over the next five years and while we may not know its full capabilities, maintaining a balance between technology and human input will be the priority.

What makes Rokk the natural partner of choice and trusted adviser for a company looking for software development capability?

Rokk has offices in Exeter and in London however, we are also agnostic about location for clients and employees, which means we can work with many fantastic businesses and individuals across the UK and internationally.

As a company which specialises in technology, we recognise that cloud-based working offers great flexibility with workforce communication tools and video collaboration helping teams to work effectively and productively. At the same time, human contact is important for us and we value talking face-to-face with colleagues and clients.

At Rokk we pride ourselves on our full range of software services and commitment to understanding business problems rather than solutions, which we believe makes us a trusted adviser for companies seeking software development capability. We specialise in high-quality UI and UX and bold robust systems for maximum customer experience which is something you may not get from other solutions-led providers in this space.

Do you have a business challenge you need help solving through technology?

Get in touch through our contact form or give us a call on 0207 183 4742 (London) or 01392 424 300 (Exeter) to discuss how we can partner with you to create a solution for your business.