Welcome to the next feature in our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.
This week, we talked to Denis Lafitte, Director of Technology and Innovation at King’s Facility Management, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces as a tech leader, and his advice to aspiring engineers and developers.
Can you introduce yourself and your current role?
My name is Denis Lafitte. I am the director of technology and innovation at King’s Facility Management. I have responsibilities in IT, transformation, and business development within the organization.
How did you get to where you are now?
By luck, like most people. I’ve met some really talented senior managers in my career. They’ve helped me progress and they’ve always encouraged me to seek further achievements. They’ve helped me progress in each organization I’ve been in.
I’ve started as a developer and a programmer in France. After a few years, I became a business analyst and then a performance tester when I went to the UK. I’ve learned English at the same time and led a team of performance testers in a niche of consultancy organizations.
Then, I joined healthcare and made my way through it via the application world. I became Head of Applications and then IT director.
What drew you to the tech industry in the first place?
From the age of 10, I’ve started to be really interested in computers, so I did some programming and configuration on the first Windows platforms. I always had a key interest in science. IT was a new area, and I was good at science, so I went for it.
In France, when you start in one path, you are very likely to carry on this path for your entire life. I went to university and got a master’s degree in IT and finance. I really enjoyed the fact that I could get the machine to do the work for me.
How do you keep your team motivated despite obstacles and challenges?
I think the first fundamental thing to do is to identify what people are passionate about. I strongly believe you can’t force people to do a job they don’t want to do.
So, it’s identifying what are they good at, what they want to do, and what they want to develop. If you can find the roles that match these criteria, your team will be highly productive in the organization. It will make your life easier, as you can give people autonomy and in time, they will take ownership, feel empowered and deliver their full potential.
The starting point is to really understand what people want to do and what they’re good at. The other element is to not tolerate underperformance. If you accept it and you don’t manage it, it will become unmotivating for the highest performing staff as they won’t see enough difference between the way they are treated, and the way underperformers are.
So, you need to focus your energy first on identifying and tackling poor performance and toxic behaviour. Then once done, reward, motivation and develop high achievers.
What are your current goals?
When I joined, I ran a massive program of transformations and systems improvements. The first year was about implementing the right systems and team structure. We’ve done a lot of work to modernise all the core technology for the organization. We’ve implemented a data warehouse and a data lake, embedded our new ERP, and launch a new procurement platform. We’ve reorganised and developed the internal ERP team as well as reinforcing the relationship with our suppliers. I wanted to make sure that we work collaboratively.
I now feel confident we have strong foundations. Looking forward, it is now about focusing on innovation and especially RPA. We are part of a very strong movement within the NHS. Healthcare technology is sometimes lagging behind, but we have really embraced RPA. Being able to release clinical time to focus on patients has always been one of our prime goals.
Another innovation is the use of machine learning. We are trying to predict the health demand based on historical data and external factors. With covid-19, everything changed but we try to identify admission patterns, what external factors impact some specific pathways, what in patient’s history can help predict their next care episodes.
We can’t predict the future of a specific person; our aim is to identify overall trends. We want to use these patterns to predict what medical equipment and consumables will be required during a given period for our hospital.
What are you the proudest of in your career so far?
I’ve worked as a consultant for every industry imaginable but what I’m the proudest of is what I’ve done in healthcare. Because it’s got a very direct impact on people’s life. Whether it is private or public healthcare, the only goal is people’s health. Profit is very secondary. So, I’m really proud of my healthcare journey and of being able to have a positive impact on people’s health.
From a technology point of view, I’m very proud of some ERP platforms I’ve helped implement. For me, this always yelled much more benefits than some of the modern technologies that come and go. I’m also very proud when I can shift an IT department to become more customer-centric.
Everything I do is to deliver for internal customers to help them look after patients directly or indirectly. We can’t have too much ego in IT, we are here to serve the organisation.
What is the favourite part of your job?
The favourite part of my job is the time I spend with my team. I love learning and mentoring; I like how we help each other to overcome challenges. The time with my team is precious to me and unfortunately, only working remotely makes it harder.
What has been your greatest challenge?
As technology awareness is growing over time it is becoming harder to find consensus. The conversation is more and more driven by technology instead of outcomes. Software vendors are working very hard to convince senior leaders that their platform is the best. In a large organisation that can sometimes distract us from our long-term strategy, focusing on outcomes and measurable benefits is key.
What have you learned from your experience?
When I was a less experienced manager, I spent most of my energy trying to build the best technology, but I’ve learned that I need to leave that to other people.
I now spend more of my focus on stakeholder management and on strategic direction and governance. I really stopped getting involved in technology because it takes a lot of time and it takes my focus away from where it should be.
Do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and testers who want to grow in the tech industry?
Especially early in your career, choose your boss wisely. Work for the right person, for someone who inspires you, someone who is ambitious. When that person grows, you will grow with them.
They will take you on that journey. If you feel that you work for the wrong person, change your job.