Scoutbee’s new Chief Technical Officer, Paul Hopton, who joined us in December, brings over 20 years of technical and entrepreneurial experience to the role. Over the course of his international career, Paul has worked with business people, designers, and technical experts and, as a result, excels at creating effective and innovative solutions to business problems. He most recently held the CTO role at companies like unu and relayr, shaping the vision and direction of their software. Paul also successfully completed an Executive MBA at Berlin’s ESMT in 2022. We sat down with him to get to know him a little better and talk some tech.
Could you please start by introducing yourself and your role?
I’m Paul Hopton and I’m the CTO at Scoutbee. It’s my responsibility to look at the product and think about what we’re going to build – with the engineering team – how we’re going to build it, and then getting it built.
What’s a typical day like for you?
My life outside of work is quite ordinary – music, yoga, good food with friends and family, a little cycling, and walking the dog. My life at work is extremely varied.
I spend a lot of time working with the teams, tackling specific challenges. At the moment, we’re at the beginning of the year, so there’s still a lot of strategic thinking going on, planning what we’re going to be doing in the coming year. This involves meeting with partners, thinking about the specifics of integrations, working with the product team, looking at what we want to do with our product strategy, and also the specifics of the bigger user stories we want to build.
On top of that, I meet with engineers and talk about the services we’re building, or the challenges with say, a particular data pipeline.
I might get pulled into a meeting with customers to talk about a specific project we’re rolling out for them. Then suddenly, I need to help somebody with something like an IT topic that needs approval or validation. This path moves around all over the place every day.
Generally, in the evening, I have more time to reflect and work out how I can bind all the pieces together, and that allows me to move forward with the more strategic decisions.
You joined the company in December 2022. Why did you choose Scoutbee?
I looked at quite a lot of companies and Scoutbee fit the bill on almost everything I was looking for. There are some interesting technical challenges and maybe some organizational evolution changes that need to be made. I feel that I can add lots of value in these areas. I enjoy these kinds of tasks and I wanted to work for a company that has good leverage for changing things.
Sustainability is a big topic for me and Scoutbee has the ability to bring such data into supply chain management. That’s one of the places we can make a bigger difference. I see that, as we build out a really good product that’s valuable to supply chain managers and as we help them overcome their crises, we can introduce better metrics for understanding ESG and carbon reduction, and then we get to a point where we can make a bigger change.
So, Scoutbee isn’t a bolt-on greenwashing product, but something which improves the fundamentals for our customers in running their businesses and which can be a lever for change for the better. That was important to me.
Another thing I really liked about Scoutbee was the energy and enthusiasm in the team. I found it very easy to believe that this team will help us become a really successful company and that I would actually enjoy getting there – when you’re a CTO and a 60-hour week is a light week, you need to be able to enjoy yourself as well.
What do you like most about your job?
The variety is important. I enjoy jumping around. My mind drifts if I have to work on the same thing for too long. Obviously, technology is what I understand and know how to do, but it’s also about working with people and people development.
The team I work with – there are product people, but a lot of designers, data scientists, and engineers as well – is great, and I love looking at how you can help folks become better at what they do and help them feel more fulfilled.
I have this role which is to make sure that we have good people and to help them achieve the absolute best they can. So, that’s about helping them understand what’s blocking them and how they can move forward. Or looking at how you can make changes in organizational processes to really get the best out of people. For me, that’s also a kind of engineering.
Could you give me an overview of the maturity landscape when it comes to technology adoption in procurement?
I’m still at the start of my journey of discovering the whole landscape but I see a number of big players with platforms whose technology is beginning to show its age. And I think there are lots of smaller companies, many of whom are quite innovative. There are companies like Scoutbee working with machine learning and innovative ways of enabling procurement.
I feel that most of the small players aren’t at a point yet where they’re really addressing the core needs of supply chain management. They’re still looking at very small levers or very narrow aspects of the problem. And I think Scoutbee can really address some of the fundamentals.
The big companies… I think they’re mostly built on addressing the fundamentals, but they lack the more interesting components on top of that. I still have a lot to learn but I’m very enthusiastic about meeting some of the other companies in our space, because it is an ecosystem after all.
As with anything complex, like procurement, I think it’s important to learn how to collaborate, or where to collaborate, and when to compete.
What are the benefits of AI-powered technology and what value does it add?
It’s incredible when you look at the speed of development in the AI landscape over the past year. We’ve seen things coming out in the last six months, which eight months ago I’d have said weren’t possible.
So, things are progressing really fast but in very unpredictable ways. There was always an assumption that, when it came to creativity, people provided something that AI couldn’t do and I still think that’s true.
I was really excited by the visual possibilities with DALL-E and stable diffusion, and the latest developments around ChatGPT are incredible. Any company not already working in this space won’t have a long future. Interestingly, as the big players all get in on the act, we’ll see the cost of using these models sink considerably, and more creative entrepreneurs will bring new products to market that we can’t yet imagine.
So, basically, I think of AI as a kind of compression. What we do at Scoutbee is compress the internet into a list of interesting-looking suppliers and then we apply a lot more intelligence and our ontology to say: “Okay, these are the really interesting suppliers” and bring those to people. It’s this layered approach of being able to compress the vastness of all the available information, in progressive steps, into something that’s really valuable for people to choose from.
Many fear that the machines will take over. How can organizations ensure that they gain employee buy-in when it comes to technology adoption?
Traditional manual procurement processes still work but they can only produce a certain number of results – they take quite a long time and can be tedious. I think what we see with the AI approach is that we can come back with a much broader, richer list that’s perhaps less accurate, but which can then be worked on. So, I see AI as being an enabling layer for people – it can help them do their job better rather than taking their job away.
Perhaps, in time, the systems will be accurate enough that they can really be relied on but we’re not there yet. It’s at the point where we can come up with some very interesting suppliers to talk to but not at the point yet – and I don’t know if we’ll ever get to this point – where AI will initiate a phone call and negotiate with a cherry farmer in Southern Italy, for example.
At the end of the day, a lot of trading is about human interactions and trust and I think that’s a feature which will stay with us.
How important is having the right workplace culture to ensure successful technology adoption rates?
That’s a really good question. There are lots of different management techniques that you can apply to different sorts of organizations, but I think generally, working with openness and transparency is the best way to reduce fear, especially around these technologies.
If you’re clear about the reasons you’re working with a new technology, both as the procurement manager who’s purchasing the software as well as working with the people, the focus should be on increasing the quality and the quantity of suppliers – it’s not about replacing people. And I think if there’s clarity around this and you can support it with measurements, then this is an easy discussion.
But overall, it’s like any change management process; you need to establish with everybody that there’s a need to make a change and then you need to engage people and talk about the benefits a particular solution will bring, essentially bringing folks with you as you go on that journey. You need to be able to listen to people’s anxieties and fears so that you can address them, and then you can transform the business.
With over 20 years of international experience in multiple roles, what impact are you hoping to make at Scoutbee?
Like almost all digital companies, we’ve done some restructuring over the past twelve months. I think what I can bring with my experience is to look at how we redirect the team and focus on our objectives – prioritizing the most important things to work on, in a lean, efficient way, as we work out how to accomplish this. I see a lot of potential for us to grow revenue and to improve the quality of the product, without necessarily growing the team.
We’ll still be looking at how we can make things better, how we can proceed, efficiently and effectively, using smart choices to grow the product and the company.
And finally, you’re married with two teenage children and a dog. How do you manage to find a work-life balance?
It’s interesting. After having my own startup where you go from having one employee to having 360 people, you go through a lot of evolutions and a lot of sleepless nights. And I kind of made a conscious decision when I came to Scoutbee.
The business is at a different starting point and there’s still a lot of work to be done but I see that what I learn and accomplish at work enriches my family life – although I get in trouble if I try to manage my kids! At the same time, the things I’ve learned from raising kids are important in understanding other people and problems. So, both parts of my life enrich one another.
I still find time to read – just maybe not as much as I’d like. Sometimes, at the end of a hard day, my wife and I might have a round of Mario Kart and a glass of wine. It’s really all about enjoying the small things. I guess I don’t see work and life as two separate things – I see it fairly holistically.