Toby Alcock is the CTO at Logicalis. Founded in 1997, the UK-based information and communications technology infrastructure and service provider today provides its services to a wealth of organisations. It employs roughly 6,500 staff members across the web.
As the CTO of Logicalis, Alcock has his finger on the pulse on what’s trending in the tech industry. However, that doesn’t mean he necessarily agrees with what’s going on. For instance, while tech evangelists have sermonised the advent of Web3 and celebrated non-fungible tokens (NFT) and the metaverse as huge achievements, the Logicalis CTO is left unimpressed. In fact, he tells Verdict in our latest CTO Talk interview that he believes that NFTs and the metaverse are overhyped.
The Logicalis CTO has a point. There has definitely been a buzz around the metaverse ever since Mark Zuckerberg rebranded Facebook to Meta. He did the rebrand to highlight how the social media network is now going to focus on building an enterprise in the virtual world.
Other companies like Disney, Microsoft and Epic Games have also announced plans to create metaverses of their own. Even the Chinese government has said that it’s not totally against the metaverse. Seoul is putting billions of dollars towards making South Korea a hotbed of metaverse development. It’s hardly a secret why so many companies are looking for a slice of the market. The metaverse will be a $13tn opportunity by 2030, according to Citi Global Insights. However, the nascent virtual world is fraught with risks.
“The use of augmented reality, virtual reality and advertisement will be integral in the metaverse, which in turn will drive data privacy concerns to the fore,” Rupantar Guha, principal thematic analyst at GlobalData, warned in a new podcast from the research firm. “As a result, regulators worldwide will force metaverse developers to address existing privacy issues associated with the underlining technologies. So that’s where we see issues arise.”
NFTs have enjoyed similar levels of excitement. Being able to prove ownership of digital assets in the metaverse has been endorsed as a key aspect of the brave new virtual world. The technology is intimately linked to the cryptocurrency industry thanks to both of these use cases being centred around the usage of blockchain solutions The links between them have put the future of the NFT landscape has been put into question in recent months.
Investment into industry initiatives spiked during the pandemic. Venture capital backers injected $3.3bn into the industry across 532 deals in 2020, according to data from research and analytics firm GlobalData. Those numbers jumped to $26.4bn raised across 1,010 deals in 2021. So far in in 2022, VCs has injected $11.9bn into the industry across 613 deals.
But it seems like those happy days are coming to an abrupt end. The value of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether has crashed since their all-time high in November. While the industry blames factors like Russia's invasion of Ukraine and surging inflation, others have suggested that it's a sign of how the defective the current model of crypto is. It remains to be seen if the current market slump will have a chilling effect on NFTs too.
Apart from being sceptical about the metaverse and NFTs, the Logicalis CTO also shares his biggest piece of advice to other CTOs and why board rooms' changing attitude to technology is so important.
Eric Johansson: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?
Toby Alcock:I’ve been working in technology for over 25 years now and have been in my current position at Logicalis since 2021. Going back to the beginning of my career, my first job was as a vineyard worker – turning my love of wine into a paid job! I spent my days planting grapevines in the Adelaide Hills in Australia in between my terms at university.
Post-university, I moved into an IT engineering role, carrying out Windows NT 4 rollouts for a company called Commtec which later became Dimension Data. I then started my own company, CNI, which specialised in using technology to deliver business value. I ran CNI for nearly 20 years, working mainly with Microsoft solutions which led me to work at Logicalis Australia as CTO, as its partnership with Microsoft was already built up. Following this, I moved to Logicalis Group to understand how technology could impact global organisations.
Where did your interest in tech come from?
I guess I’ve always been interested in technology. Initially I wanted to be a pilot, and I still fly to this day; however, I failed my hearing test for the Australian Air Force as I had a cold. Instead, I moved onto computing and computer systems engineering. Initially this was just a hobby as I didn’t see it as a viable career path - how wrong I was!
What is the biggest technology challenge in your field right now?
Assisting customers with the sheer variety of business challenges they are being faced with. Labour shortages, hybrid working, sustainability and security are all huge for our customers at the moment, regardless of their location.
How do you separate hype from genuine innovation?
Genuine innovations deliver impact and value to customers, because there is a need for them in the market. NFTs and the metaverse in general are some of the technologies I believe are currently overhyped, both have been invested in heavily but I believe disproportionately to the current potential to help people in real life right now. When we think of innovation from a CTO perspective, we must think about how the technology we are introducing customers to is going to solve a key challenge, make a process more efficient, or help them achieve their business objectives.
What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?
Always be curious. IT is such a fast-moving industry, so the skills you have today might not be completely relevant tomorrow. Understanding the latest innovations is vital as a CTO and understanding whether they are appropriate for your customers is so important. Our roles as CTOs are becoming more strategic, so being able to prove how technology will impact business and customer goals is essential.
What is the most surprising thing about your job?
The variety of tasks I get to do on daily basis, and the areas of business I can cover. At Logicalis, I get to input into many areas of the business including providing insight into how technology can impact the business’ overall vision, and where it can exceed the goals we set for ourselves. I have conversations about how our technology solutions can enable diversity and inclusion within our customers’ businesses, and where we can improve these to further enable D&I. Every day presents a new challenge, and a new opportunity to involve myself in another area of business, and I love every second.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
Sustainability. Business and technology leaders are more aware of technology’s impact on the environment than ever. Despite cloud technologies being adopted across businesses in the last two years, more needs to be done to address how energy inefficient IT can be. Businesses need data-backed plans to lower emissions and reduce their impact on the environment. As business leaders, we need to rethink modern responsible business practices and work with partners and customers to make these a reality.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for fun?
This is a long list, I’ve found myself in many bizarre situations in my life, but they all make for great stories. I think skydiving sounds strange when you describe it to a child, my daughter doesn’t understand why I would jump out of a plane! And drinking coffee that has had the beans passed through the gut of a Civet, otherwise known as “poop coffee” has to be up there too.
What's the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?
Away from sustainability and digitalisation, the changing attitudes of business leaders to technology related issues is the most important thing happening in my industry. Traditionally, IT issues were dealt with by IT teams, regardless of the consequences on the business. Now, technology is part of a business’ strategic hub. Decisions around technology are being made by the entire senior leadership team, and tech is inputting into more conversations than ever. I think the change in attitude is mainly down to the benefits we saw from technology during the pandemic, and business leaders really began to see its potential.
In another life you’d be?
A pilot. Flying was my first love; I was truly devastated when I failed that hearing test. I need to get back to my lessons.
GlobalData is the parent company of Verdict and its sister publications.