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Dan Shilcock

Dan Shilcock on technical innovation

By Dan Shilcock

CEO - Zentive

Dan Shilcock was fascinated from a young age by what technology can do and the problems it can solve.

After studying computing at school and university, Dan worked for the technology company Zentive before building his own successful software business. After selling his business in 2018, Dan returned to Zentive as CEO, leading the company with an ethos of innovating to solve technical problems.

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What services does Zentive specialise in?

Zentive’s roots are in the telecoms sector, where we work with national carriers like Virgin Media and Vodafone. We provide bespoke back-office systems that process millions of customer requests daily, handling everything from service provisioning to bill payments.

We’re also heavily involved in industry processes that protect consumers, like the ‘One Touch Swich’ process that will make it easier for consumers to change their provider.

Away from telco, we draw on 20 years of experience to transform organisations, giving them a competitive advantage by leveraging the latest technologies. What we can do with technology and the impact it can have has always been my passion.

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Can you give examples of where you have created digital solutions for your clients?

The RNLI knew there was a lot of potential to go beyond the traditional radio pagers still in use today when alerting lifeboat crews; they just didn’t know what was possible or how to do it. To launch a lifeboat, the Coastguard called an automated phone number and selected options with the phone keypad to page a crew.

In response, we designed RCAMS, a modern mustering platform with direct integration into the Coastguard command & control system. Now, with the press of a button, crews are alerted instantly via pager, SMS, email, push notification, and voice call. They can respond to let the rest of the crew know that they are coming, transforming the process and reducing response times.

Another great example is Vodafone, where the online sales journey is extremely important. Due to the organisation’s size and the traffic volume, the online ordering experience needed to be faster to reduce abandoned orders. Our team designed and built a bespoke online data store that reduces the load on core services, synchronising data across systems to maintain integrity. This reduced response times from 4 seconds to 200ms, a 20x improvement.

What’s your process for developing an innovation to solve problems for your clients?

When a business comes to us, we go through quite a detailed process. We hold technical workshops to really understand the business and explore potential areas for optimisation. We then go away and do a lot of research and development to see if we can design a solution. We’ll often develop a minimum viable product to test and get feedback. That tells us if we’re heading in the right direction.

"We're constantly researching, building, and testing whatever's next. We put in a huge amount of research and development."

How do you stay one step ahead of the technology?

We’re constantly researching, building, and testing whatever’s next. We invest a huge amount in research and development. When a new technology, framework, or methodology comes along, we try it, play with it, and decide whether it lives up to the hype.

What emerging innovations currently excite you the most?

AI is on everyone’s mind, and it is exciting. For us, it’s all about how AI can be applied to help our customers. When we talk about AI, we could mean large language models like Chat GPT, where you ask a question, and it gives an answer based on known answers to similar questions. For us, it’s more about machine learning, where you can train a model to recognise other examples.

How is Zentive harnessing AI and using it within your applications and solutions?

A practical application of AI we’re building is Swish digital business cards. Instead of holding many paper business cards, it’s one card with an NFC chip and a QR code, and you customise it via an app. We’re using machine learning to allow our users to capture contact information by taking a picture of a business card, automatically recognising all the information for you.

We’re also using language models in software development. Those tools are being increasingly integrated into development environments to help programmers be more efficient and write better code.

"We draw on 20 years of experience to transform organisations, giving them a competitive advantage by leveraging the latest technologies."

Dan Shilcock - CEO, Zentive

What are the biggest challenges for the tech sector right now?

As a sector, we operate a lot of equipment, and our customers operate national networks that require a lot of power, so the current energy crisis is a big challenge. Data centres, in general, and high-computation technologies like AI are very energy-hungry.

Who or what was the last thing that influenced you?

Right now, I’m reading Build by Tony Fadell. Tony oversaw the development of the iPad and iPhone before founding Nest. He has excellent advice for everything from product design to being a better manager.

I’ve been influenced by many computer scientists, like Grace Hopper. Hopper was a pioneer of computer programming and coined the phrase “debugging” after discovering a moth blocking a relay.

Dan Shilcock portrait