Natalie Duffield

CEO of InTechnology Smart Cities Ltd

Can you tell us about your journey to your role now?

I didn’t go to university even though I got good grades at A-Level, I decided I wanted to earn money, get on the career path and work my way up. Looking back, I’m not sure whether that was the right choice, I do acknowledge that I missed out on the fantastic student lifestyle and the chance to live away from home and all the independence that brings in becoming your own person. I’m sad sometimes that I didn’t experience that life but at the time, I didn’t want to be a student after I’d lost my mum to cancer when I was just 13, I wanted to work and earn. I had a fantastic early start to my career and enjoyed a lot of freedom and growth in other ways which continue to this day.

It was very difficult to get a job at that time because the country was in the middle of a recession. However, I desperately wanted to start out within an office environment so I did temporary jobs to build my experience. It wasn’t the easiest path but it really grounded me in the principles of hard work and gave me the chance to knuckle down with specific goals in mind. The temporary jobs were not always in the career areas I wanted and I was sometimes unhappy but every day, I was a moving a step closer towards a developing an IT career.

I was in marketing for a building firm for a while, doing cold-calling! Then eventually I moved into sales support in an IT company, which was very male-dominated and all the progression was male at that time. I was really interested in sales and I was really good at the cold-calling work – it’s those junior jobs at the start where you really learn and they build your foundations and craft.

Other women in that marketplace would say ‘why do you want to go in to sales? It’s really hard work and the culture is horrible!’ but I think this made me more determined to succeed.  So, I studied hard with the company teams of engineers (because IT was very technical in the SAN market) and after a while I finally managed to convince them to give me a start in sales. I then got my hands on a very poor list of accounts that had been cherry-picked by others but with lots of hard work I started to build new relationships for the business, reconnect old ones and grow in to new areas, I was on my way. Through lots of hard work, early starts and late nights I began to earn a reasonable salary though commission. I was working on very interesting projects because I put in that tenacity, I was as technically design skilled and extremely honest , liked solving problems and looking at things in different ways to build something of purpose giving customers strong solutions with foundations to grow which they loved. I’m still friends with some of those early customers to this day.  You don’t have to go to university to be a success – I still studied, but I did it on the job, and it paid dividends.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Some things haven’t changed – the role is very varied.

I’m a very hands on CEO. I wouldn’t ask my employees to do things I wouldn’t do myself but I expect the same hard work and tenacity I think that’s important. I’m involved with operations, sales, dealing with customers, latest tech innovations, building solutions that will work for smart cities, platforms all to enable strong decision processes and better health and welfare outcomes.

I was a successful Sales Director before I took the role of CEO and the Key differences to the two roles  is simply, whilst in both roles’ strategy is key but you are working on a much bigger scale as a CEO and you head all departments which allows you to get a lot of variety in the role.  I particularly enjoy producing solutions to solve customer problems, in essence you become the key problem-solver. There’s nobody else’s desk you can put a problem to so they end up on yours and when people are stuck you make the decision on the direction. 

Can you tell us more about your company InTechnology Smart Cities?

What is probably most interesting to readers locally is that we provide your (official, free) WiFi in the city of Edinburgh! But we do far more than just WiFi.

We are a smart city provider. We have our own platform where we manage IoT (Internet of Things) services and infrastructure to improve connectivity but also grow and deliver services for Public Authorities and Health bodies.  We have invested over £20 million in our platform and provide 100’s of services to improve lives and outcomes up and down the UK.  Currently we have over 200,000 NHS patients using our services and millions of people using our infrastructure.  We are passionate about digital innovation.

I have always worked in the forefront of technology. I like jobs that lead the way and strive for better outcomes and for innovation. As technology evolves, there is a clear need to innovate services and provide more digital inclusion in cities, towns and rural areas, it’s very exciting.

Oh, and we have around 70 people in the company and growing…in reality, we’re quite big. I’ve worked in the industry for over 30 years so I’ve seen the ways that large corporate departments and projects pull on resource from other areas and countries. 60 people focused on one thing is actually substantial, and I love that focus we have, we are nimble and niche but with years of experience.

And who are your partners?

Private sector, universities, local council, health sector and social care – it’s about streamlining services and innovating the ways that cities function, and work together on projects. The drain on local resources means that mundane tasks need to be sorted by technology, freeing people up for the key tasks and so they can make important decisions faster, for better outcomes to be achieved.  Efficiencies allows people to be happier in their roles and to easily scale resources but also for patients and citizens to benefit from not only efficiencies but better outcomes.  That is revolutionary.

What are you most proud of?

The WiFi in Edinburgh is blanket coverage. It’s always available, it’s free-of-charge, and it’s a free investment from our side – so the Council hasn’t spent any capital on it, which is fantastic infrastructure for all to use.

I’m proud of the software, hardware solutions and technology we’ve designed. We have put in pillars of technological innovation into the marketplace.

That sounds like success after success! Can you tell us what data you work with?

As you know, the WiFi is part of a smart city project.

The trend only data we handle in this instance is compliant with GDPR and opt in regulations and helps to predict what services are required around the city, how to make transport better and more efficient, and how to make the city inclusive for disabled people for example, when cities like Edinburgh are growing and have many tourists. Many cities and towns look at how they’ve grown and how they are continually growing and look at strains on infrastructure and how they can improve things and evolve, many cities around the world are trying to build smart city solutions to assist in this growth.

Is your work supportive of women?

Absolutely – there are more and more women in technology than when I started over 25 years ago which is absolutely fantastic – there still needs to be more and I would encourage any woman to come into this exciting industry.  In key jobs more woman are visible and this is amazing as it provides that diversity of thought in a well-balanced Board. It shows that people are embracing the increasing talent available.

People are shocked to hear my stories of when I started and also, how I rose – I started in very junior roles and now I am the CEO of a business which enables businesses. It just shows that you don’t have to go to university and you don’t have to be a high-quality tech degree to succeed. I want more people to be inspiring younger women and people to identify their vision and follow it, and you don’t have to stick to traditional routes to do this. You can find ways that work for you. if you work hard and embrace and learn different areas of business, you can achieve anything.

More women – I have one daughter, she is attending university – are determined to have a career. When I look at her peers, these young women, they’re inspiring. Women are more interested in having a strong career in key areas and its now part of their fulfilment, I love this. 

In IT, I would like to see more course choices that attract women and say ‘you can learn this technology’. I understand, it took me ages to learn it to be completely fair but once you have the key milestones you can adapt those to any tech role. I joined my company the only woman wanting a role that wasn’t administration and I felt like the three male colleagues I joined with at the same time would pick it up so much quicker than me. But I was determined not to give up and power through and that is exactly what I did even amongst the stereotyping and a bit of goading from both male and female colleagues.

The determination I see in women around me continues to inspire me – and you need that continuing inspiration to see you through the challenges at work. Women can train up and do any role.

What would you recommend to women and girls?

Never give up, even if the door is shut and even if it’s a mountain to climb. Even when it gets tough, keep going. Always have an inspiration and a goal in sight to achieve. Don’t compromise your dreams, don’t let anyone put you down or discourage you, you can absolutely make your dreams a reality by continually climbing over the obstacles.  If the going gets tough dig deep and believe in yourself, you got this!

What do you look forward to in your work?

Making the business more successful!

We’re technical people who deliver solutions so at the end of the day, I take great credit and happiness to breathe something to life and see something grow, from a fledgling state to a matured reality. I am so proud of how we’re shaping the services we’re working on, creating change that is transformational for people’s lives. That’s what I love doing.

What do you tend to do when the working day is over?

The working day doesn’t ever end because of connectivity but in my spare time I like to do mindfulness and yoga, with modern pressures it’s important to look after yourself so you have the stamina to fulfil your ambitions.

I’m very lucky that I’ve stayed friends with the people I grew up with, so I love spending time with them. I have a lovely friendship and the best relationship with my daughter, she has just turned 19 and she is a wonderful person, I love spending time with her.

I’m very in to music and play a lot of music at home.

Do you have a fun fact about yourself?

I DJ sometimes, including for my daughter’s 18th.

Image of Natalie Duffield
Natalie Duffield

You don’t have to go to university to be a success – I still studied, but I did it on the job, and it paid dividends.

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