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Kai Ojo speaks space exploration, sustainability, and ejector seat levels of innovation

It’s been a busy few years for Kai Ojo. The UKI Managing Director at Planisware has seen the Manchester based firm seen the business grow over 400% since its formulation back in 2016. Now with a growing team around him, he’s looking forward to marking Planisware UKI’s 5th birthday and setting his north star towards continuous innovation within project and portfolio management. We caught up with him to understand how he led a regional office during the pandemic to where they are now and how he intends to create an industry focused on sustainable and inclusive innovation through the use of Planisware.

What is it about technology that amazes you?  

I’ve always had a fondness for technology from an early age, I like the idea of infinite possibilities and for me that goes hand in hand with affection for space exploration. I recently attended online the Mars Perseverance Rover landing with my son who seems to have a similar obsession with all things space. The Rover was sent to look for signs of past and present life on the planet and also support future human travel to Mars. If you consider that in the 50s and 60s we were taking our fist tentative steps towards outer space to now conversation beginning to gain momentum around how we could be able to put humans on Mars by the 2030’s, I think we’re making significant inroads into space exploration and its really highlighting how technology can be the enabler to achieving peoples wildest dreams. If we were to bring this closer to home, most recently we have seen the power of technology and how pivotal it has been in our response towards the COVID-19 pandemic. It has allowed worldwide collaboration amongst teams and accelerated data analysis towards building effective vaccinations, the use cases are endless and I think if we’re utilizing it correctly it can continue to do good.

Why did you choose Manchester to be the home for Planisware UKI?

Manchester is such a unique and vibrant city and its long been considered the powerhouse of the North, aside from London it is the UK’s second largest tech city and its encouraging to see the likes of ITV, BBC and The Hut Group setting up camp here and calling it their home. Jaguar Land Rover also opened and IT and Engineering center in Manchester.  We’re (Planisware) based in MediaCityUK, and I chose this area down to its sustainable operations. The energy provided to the Media City buildings are powered by low carbon electricity and the water from the Manchester ship canal is used to support the cooling system. I think its important for organizations, whoever they are, to put sustainability at the heart of their operations. The pandemic has made a lot of people re-think the way they work, whether that be reducing their commuting hours or even downsizing their office space. Look at the movements that are being made in London and in particular Canary Wharf, there are many large-scale organizations reducing their office space and embracing more of a hybrid work regime and I think people are embracing this new approach to work. I anticipate this to continue and for it to be a catalyst for more organizations to do the same. Finally, I think the number of universities and colleges that are situated in the region has allowed Manchester to attract a diverse pool of talent who are keen to pursue careers within technology. I think as Planisware continues to grow within the UK it is imperative that we are attracting the right talent and inspiring future leaders to an industry that can make a big impact.

You mentioned office time and commuting. How have you found Covid and the impact on the team?

It’s been such a difficult period for all, and I think we’re going to be feeling it for a long time. We’ve seen several of our clients rapidly rethink their offerings, putting previous plans on hold and really shifting their attention towards digital offerings. As a technology company we thankfully had all the systems in place to operate remotely and as a firm that regularly collaborates with our global peers, this meant the virtual teams’ sessions weren’t a new novelty to us. Regionally we’re an office that regularly comes together and enjoy our time seeing one another so it has been strange not having that face to face interaction with one another, we’ve made concerted efforts to meet up when it was possible and at a period where we had new team members joining we met up outside and enjoyed doing various activities such as drinks or taking advantage of the Peak District which is only 40 minutes away from the city center. As a French born firm we offer free French lessons also to all our employees who are interested in learning the language, so it’s been great to see these continue during COVID and many of the team have said it has been a welcome distraction away from the usual remote work most of us found ourselves within. I think what was important for me was being there as a leader for all my team, we’ve started to return to the office but at the same time I’m happy for my team to flex their time to what best works for them.  

You’ve touched on technology a bit in your previous comments, how do you think it is helping companies?

I think companies are really waking up to the realities of digital transformation and how it can help them achieve their goals. Covid has really accelerated leaders’ thoughts towards making the transition from offline to online operations, but I think this hasn’t helped a lot of organizations and it has seemingly forced their hand towards quick wins which might not necessarily be best for them in the long term. I think organizations must always ensure that they have the correct objectives in place before pursuing any digital transformational initiative, and it shouldn’t be done in silo either. A lot of the meetings I am having now with clients and prospective clients are focusing on individual areas of the business which can be fine if they are looking to trial certain new work processes, but I think the whole organization needs visibility of this initiative so that company-wide migrations aren’t hindered, and when they are ready, the company can go full throttle from the get-go.   Where we see the most significant ROI on digital transformation projects is where it is underpinned by a strategic goal for the orgnisation and therefore the change management needed to embed the initiative has a purpose which is understood by the whole organization.

Planisware in the UKI is reaching its 5th anniversary in October, congratulations! Is there any advice you would you like to give to tech start-ups?

I’m really excited about what the future has to hold for Planisware in the UK & Ireland, it was somewhat different for our office as we are a subsidiary of Planisware in France but I do think that one of the most critical things before doing anything is analyzing the market and seeing what the level of demand is for your product or service. Secondly, I would review what competitors are out there, what are they doing and how are they generating interest. Thirdly, I think you should always remember to focus on what is the benefit you are looking to provide to the end user and demonstrating it well, once you have set that precedence then it’s a case of optimizing and not standing still because your competitors will surely not. Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a core team who are truly bought into the idea that you have, they will help you ideate, and you can learn from one another.  The team is central to everything – the more complimentary they are, the more efficient they will be in tackling challenges as well as innovating on new ways forward.

What is your focus for the next 5 years?

Over and above making the business a huge success, there are two main areas.  Firstly, sustainable growth - I think it is something we should all be aspiring to, we’ve all been rocked by the global pandemic and it’s going to take some industries longer to recover than others. I think collectively we all need to think about how we turn up in this post COVID19 world and especially taking into consideration the way that we’re impacting our world. We’re starting to see globally some real changes when it comes to our climate, and I think if we can start to have more action off the back of the conversations, we have been having globally we can also start to contribute to ensuring that we are leaving the world in a better state for future generations.  My second focus is on diversity and inclusion – as business we are very well placed to make the world a better place in this respect by ensuring that we are (a) acutely aware of the challenges facing groups of people that are marginalized for a host of reasons and (b) are consciously making decisions in our business to improve things for the next generation.  This topic is very close to my heart and is something I am passionate about.  Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is not a ‘tick in the box’ exercise it’s our prerogative as leaders and we have to not only talk about it, we have to act on those ideas we have.

You seem quite focused on diversity and inclusion, is there anything that you are doing now to raise the awareness of this topic?

Outside of Planisware I’m the Diversity and Inclusion lead for The MPA (Manchester Publicity Association). The MPA has been supporting young people in the creative, media and tech industries in the Northwest for many years and are we’re already underway with our latest campaign, #TheBigIDEA, which is a project involving 15 amazing people who are volunteering their time to help drive the widening of digital skills and tackling the diversity gap. I think if we are to make inroads in a sustainable world, we need that diverse level of idea generation, one that breeds a collective identity where we are all accountable for our actions.

Some final thoughts and takeaways for our readers to keep in mind through 2021?

It’s obvious that the pace of change we are facing these days is nothing we have experienced before. I think what is important is for organizations to reach for the stars and be innovative towards how they position themselves, there needs to be a level of agility and it needs to be company wide so that it breeds a collective identity, one that everyone feels empowered by and it needs to tackle the real-world challenges that we are facing today.

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