Is poor leadership the biggest risk you can take? Former MI5 Director weighs in at DTX Manchester on how to manage uncertainty and lead teams through challenging times

On Wednesday morning at Manchester Central, the former Director General of MI5 delivered a warning to an audience of technologists at DTX + UCX Manchester. 

“You cannot work in a vacuum,” Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller declared during her keynote speech on the biggest tech stage in the north. 

“You have got to work with others. Listening to all employees, creating diverse teams, and collaborating at scale is critical.” 

Baroness Eliza emphasised the need to lead by example to reinforce change - with the ex-MI5 Director General alerting the audience to the risks of “uninterested” leaders (staff can spot them a mile away).

Baroness Eliza found during her time as Director General that you’re never lonely as a leader, as long as you don’t put yourself on a pedestal. Through taking the time to get to know all levels of the workforce, she built the camaraderie and spirit needed to carry them through difficult moments. 

The former intelligence leader leveraged these layers of connection to unlock fresh ideas and find new opportunities to challenge the status quo. After securing a two-fold budget, she set an ambitious goal to deliver a scale of effectiveness that was five times greater than previous performance. To do so, there was a targeted focus on whether each approach was the quickest and best value for money and if so, was it driving progress in the right direction. 

As businesses look to elevate and optimise digital transformation plans, prioritisation remains a hot topic, with companies keen to know how to stay at the forefront of the latest technology while remaining true to business strategy. Many leaders cautioned against rushing towards a solution, without actually having a true customer problem in mind. 

This mindset was echoed throughout the show, with Adam Platt, CTO at Sykes Cottages, revealing on a keynote panel that his company had thrived through the employment of a “tribe structure” by dedicating unique resources to specific areas of the business that allowed them to “focus and prioritise” in a more effective way. 

Johan Jegarajan, CTO of PwC also emphasised that every part of an organisation must be underpinned by tech today, and that “the discussion is less about how a budget works, and more about the need for a budget to be digitally-led.” The journey to becoming a more cost-effective, goal-focused, more secure organisation is a complex one, but as Leanne Fitzpatrick, Director of Data Science at The Financial Times stated, it’s a collaborative mission.

The push to become cost-effective is being seen across many areas of the tech stack. In a panel on cyber security spending, Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA at Exabeam, pointed out that the old attitude towards cybersafety is that “something usually has to go wrong so something can go right” - meaning it takes a breach before any budget can be allocated to security. Now, it feels like that is beginning to change. 

The rest of the panel noted that during a period of financial constraint, finding money for cybersecurity is a challenge - but one that an organisation ought to be actively aiming to resolve, with Dorian Skeete - Head of IT Security at Boohoo Group - explaining the importance of companies embarking on a journey of “risk-based decision-making”. 

A huge number of visitors were in attendance to heed the advice - with registrations for DTX + UCX Manchester the highest recorded since 2019. 

Day two of the show commenced on Thursday - with Matt Dawson leading the keynote speeches in front of another bumper crowd.