Gary Ennis, Managing Director, NSDesign Ltd

Written by Alan Robertson on 12 November 2015 in Feature

For 100 days, Connect is running through our Tech 100 for 2015, profiling the key figures driving the digital agenda in Scotland

Gary Ennis (@nsdesign)

Job Title/Organisation: Managing Director, NSDesign Ltd

What does your role involve?

NSDesign is essentially a digital agency but trust me when I say we do a lot more than web design. Day to day I'm kept busy with the "Consultancy and Training" arm of NSDesign, delivering workshops to groups of businesses, or helping particular clients with their digital strategy. We're fortunate to work with a whole range of businesses, from tech start-ups to iconic Scottish brands, and in the public sector space I'm regularly out providing digital and social media support and training to most of the local authorities and business support agencies. No two days are the same.

What do you consider to be the most imminent challenge in your line of work?

For many of our small business clients, one of their biggest challenges right now is actually using the various social media tools and platforms to get a result from them. Most now embrace tools like Facebook from a marketing perspective, but few are really at the stage of truly becoming social companies i.e. embedding it into their business practices and aligning the use with business objectives, and measured ROI.

Social media, online reviews, digital word of mouth - none of this is going away. And with most of the world now active on at least one social network, businesses have to work harder and smarter to retain custom from even their most loyal fan base.

For larger companies - and indeed the public sector - one of the biggest challenges related to social media is their staff. Social media policies are no longer enough to ensure the company culture is one of social adoption and not social fear.

Corporates who 'ban Facebook' are seen as dinosaurs and are losing out on hiring the best talent. But this must be balanced with staff training, ensuring everyone realises the huge dangers - both legal, and reputational - of doing it wrong, but also the big rewards when done right.

What has been the most rewarding piece of work you've undertaken?

There's many examples I could cite from my 17-plus years of doing this. A recent one would be "Working Digital" - an ambitious three-day conference that we put on last year in partnership with East Ayrshire Council who trusted us to pretty much run the show.

It was a huge effort from our team but the result was truly inspirational with some amazing feedback from the companies large and small who attended. The aim was to encourage a 'digital first' attitude among Scottish businesses and so we showcased world-class speakers, tech experts and innovative local businesses, as well as talks and workshops from myself and others in the team.

We also made sure we used the technology to it's maximum impact. Live video feeds from international speakers, Google Hangouts, live streaming - and archiving - of the full conference, live Twitter walls, additional presentations online, promotional Vine submissions from attendees streamed over lunch, 3D printing demonstrations, mobile phone voting and more.

Working Digital took advantage of every digital trick in the book to provide a rich multi-platform experience that far extended beyond the walls of our venue in Kilmarnock. We ensured that we practiced what we were preaching - the use of technology to make a positive impact.

It was a great few days and it was a bonus to recently be awarded a Commendation in the Herald Scottish Digital Business Awards for the conference.

How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?

We're getting there slowly but surely. There's some great work being done with Modern Apprenticeships - we're on our second in two years and it's a great way for digital companies to help nurture the future talent that the industry needs.

Then there's new initiatives like CodeClan, an industry supported 'skills academy' to help fast-track the vital coding and programming skills that Scotland's tech companies are asking for.

My personal opinion is that there's still more to be done at grassroots levels. More coding for school kids or classes on entrepreneurship. Most of the schools still ban social media and mobile phone usage in the class rather than encourage their usage for development and innovation.

It's a challenge for sure, but with the right people spearheading the right initiatives, there's no reason for Scotland not to thrive in the digital sector. Giants such as Skyscanner and FanDuel prove we can do it.

Which new technology excites you the most?

There's so much happening right now that it's difficult to pinpoint any specific examples. I'm excited by wearable tech (I have my Apple watch to prove it) and the direction that's going in. Google Glass was maybe deemed a failure but the concept is still being worked on and when combined with advances in BIOtech etc, I'll be the first to sign up for the implant on my retina.

The whole 'Internet of Things' is another area with massive potential. Full of risks yes - do I want my driverless car to be hacked? - but full of massive potential for a utopian world. Why shouldn't my shaving foam re-order itself from Tesco (other supermarkets are available) when it's nearly empty. Simple things that would make my life so much easier.

What's your favourite app and why?

The one I'm on the most has to be Hootsuite. It's a social media dashboard that allows to me manage all my social channels from one convenient place. Tools like this allow me to give the impression that I'm "always online", when the truth is often the opposite.

I'm also a big fan of the ScotRail app. I spend so much of my time travelling the country and where possible I like to take the train. Their app keeps me in the right place at the right time, and while I might have the odd moan to them on Twitter about delays etc, on the whole, their app and their social media content keeps me right.

What, for you, will 2016 be the year of from a technology/digital standpoint?

The year of INTEGRATION. Everything will talk to everything else. My mobile will control everything (more than it does already): my home, heating, lighting and security.

I'll be able to feed the cat too I'm sure. Social media will be everywhere and not just used to entertain the public with videos of people feeding their cats. We might stop actually calling it social media and just accept it's how we talk to people, personally and in business.

Data will flow freely between my FitBit and my health file at my GP's surgery. And that in turn will alert my insurance company, my employer, and my dietician*. Scary?  Probably, but it's where we're going and those who embrace it and the companies who exploit it will reap the rewards.

*I do not actually have a dietician... yet.

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