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EXCLUSIVE: Behind the scenes with Enghouse CTO

By Ashton Young
Fri 18 Mar 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Alex Black is the chief technical officer (CTO) of Enghouse Interactive, a global leader and expert in customer communications.

His position includes a number of roles, but essentially, his job is to set the strategy from a technology point of view and make sure the company develops its products in line with that.

“We develop our products and make sure that they’re all going in the right direction and working together where appropriate,” Black says. “One of the themes we have within the company is ‘Better together’, which being a Scot a lot of people think came from the last referendum, but no, we were before that campaign.”

However, rewind the clock a few decades and his career was a completely different kettle of fish.

“From the age of three I wanted to design airplanes – that’s all I wanted to do, didn’t want to do anything else,” Black says. “I went through school and University with my mind set on exactly what I wanted to do.”

Working for the British Aerospace (an aircraft manufacturer in the UK) in his summer holidays, Black eventually graduated and achieved what he had set his mind on 18 years earlier. However, upon reaching his goal he realised he wanted to do something else.

“It was like, right, what next? It was almost like an anticlimax. It was a bit sad in some ways, because that was the only thing I’d ever wanted to do,” Black says. “I then decided to leave the aircraft industry, which shocked a lot of people because from the age of three that was all I had ever talked about – even my hobbies all revolved around that.”

Black then got into IT and the rest as they say is history. He worked for a manufacturer for 13 years before moving onto a company that focused on acquisitions.

“I don’t know why but acquisitions really interested me,” Black says. “I got involved in buying a few companies but it soon became apparent that I wasn’t as interested in buying as I was in putting them all together. It was the hard bit, which left a few scars but it was the part that I loved.”

After a few years, Black decided to go out on his own with a couple of mates and started a new business, which was all about helping the big IT companies. However, he backs up the old advice about not starting a new company with your friends.

“That became a painful story," Black says. “The company was very successful but I left, as I kind of felt cheated because I put in all the hours and got nothing for it.”

After spending a few more years at other various firms within the channel, Black had a desire to get back into software. He ended up working for a company that was actually bought by Enghouse, and that’s how he got to where he is today. As aforementioned, Black is a proud Scotsman, however, it’s not where he spends most of his time.

“I’m based in the UK, but I would say that I live up in the sky at 35,000 feet,” Black says. “I spend at least 70% of my time travelling around the world, and am very lucky to have a patient, tolerant and understanding wife who allows me to do this.”

To get to where he is today, Black affirms the main driver has been insights from other people.

“I’ve worked with some phenomenal people who have fielded my questions and taught me a huge amount,” Black says. “I’m still learning today. My boss is an extraordinary individual and I can learn so much from a technical conversation with him, it’s just astounding. When it comes to day-to-day technology, the people I work with are much more hands-on, so they know the ins and outs of ‘stuff’, but there’s some things I know that they don’t, so using our combined knowledge and skills, we get there.”

In regards to the industry in the now and in the future, Black predicts imminent change.

“In our part of the industry – contact centres and customer interaction – it has been quite dormant and stable for a few years,” Black says. “However, there are now some new technologies coming through that are encouraging and stimulating development.”

IoT, virtual reality and AI are among the technologies that Black sees as causing major disruption in the industry.

“In a call centre, the virtual agent powered by AI management can actually have a dialogue with you,” Black says. “It’s not nearly as complete as a dialogue like you and I would have, but we’ve found that with most people, it’s enough to sort out their issue. Those kinds of technologies are coming along and they’re radically changing the customer journey.”

Black assures that Enghouse is adapting in this time of change.

“What we do is provide what we believe is one of the most comprehensive suites of software that help our customers maximise the value of their customer interactions,” Black says. “We’re about helping our customers make the most of the relationship they’ve got with their customers.”

In his free time (when he’s actually on solid ground), Black loves to spend time with his wife.

“We don’t get to catch up very often, so when we go on vacation, we go to a very remote Scottish island,” Black says. “They don’t have cell phones or the Internet. People know they can’t send me an email and can’t get in touch with me. And I love that! It actually allows me to calm down a bit, and my wife and I get to spend some fantastic time together because we really do enjoy each others’ company.”

All the best with your travels Alex – I’m sure you’re about overdue for another well-deserved deviceless vacation.

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