Andrew Duncan, Managing Director, SwarmOnline

Written by Alan Robertson on 11 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

Andrew Duncan (@swarmonline)

Job Title/Organisation: Founder & Managing Director, SwarmOnline

What does your role involve?

At SwarmOnline we create and develop bespoke software solutions, tailored to our clients needs. We primarily focus on web and mobile-based apps, which deliver impeccable user experience, whilst seamlessly managing complex and data rich input from the back end.

As managing director, my to do list is extensive and barely drops below double figures. This may sound like a burden to many but working in such an exciting industry allows me little time to dwell. Instead, I manage all aspects of our business. From strategic and financial planning of the business, to making decisions on technology.

I enjoy managing all our clients and ensuring that the solutions we create result in a happy customer. I also manage and help focus my team of superstars, who work tirelessly to ensure the solution is correct for our clients. As a technology geek, I have also earned the privilege of being able to relay some of my business and computing knowledge to delegates at talks from Glasgow right across to Silicon Valley.

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

Businesses and individuals are demanding more from technology. They want an app to enable them to complete laborious tasks and processes in an instant. This requires talented software engineers and developers who can realise these demands and tailor a solution to fit.  

We currently employ some of the best minds in the industry to help us do this, but finding those who have the passion and the unique skill set we require has been somewhat challenging. We have been looking to recruit additional members to our team, but it seems that the lure of Silicon Valley and the big city of London harvest some of our greatest Scottish talent.

It is a challenge which I do feel may become easier as Glasgow and Scotland are building an impressive reputation within the digital and technology sectors. I hope in some way I can contribute to this and create a culture similar to that in Silicon Valley (but without the weather) to keep our talent here and to also entice international talent to join us.

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

Knowing that the expertise of a small Scottish business was sought by one of the big six energy companies to develop an app, which will visit over five million homes over five years, is definitely one of the most rewarding pieces of work we have undertaken.

Seeing this app through all stages of development to its live roll-out has been a fantastic experience. Our application is used by E.ON engineers to allow them to install smart meters into customers’ homes, as part of the government smart meter roll out. These meters give power back to the consumer, allowing them to monitor and reduce their energyusage, which in turn helps to save money too.

How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?

Teenagers and young children are using technology more than ever, so it only makes sense that they might want to help create and shape the future of technology. Children seem to be born with the innate skills to play Candy Crush straight from the womb, with more success than their older (possibly wiser) counterparts. Therefore, it is our responsibility to inspire and encourage the next generation to help us build and realise the future of technology in Scotland.

I currently have two interns, one who is in his final year at school, and another who is completing his degree in computing science. Both of these bright sparks demonstrate such infectious enthusiasm for the projects we are working on, it is hard not to feel that the current skills gap may resolve itself.

It seems that as long as there is an underlying passion for IT and technology then picking up on the technology will come naturally. Whilst this industry may not be as vocally passionate to the outside world about how engaging and challenging a role in computing is, it is very apparent in the Swarm office.

Which new technology excites you the most?

I long for the day when my fridge will order my butter when its running low, buy it from the shop which has the best offer on at the time, and have it delivered just in time before I run out. This will save those desperate mornings remembering you used the last of the butter yesterday once your toast has already popped up. These mornings I could do without. And this day is coming sooner than we can imagine.

The idea of a connected home where individual parameters can be viewed and monitored remotely has already been implemented throughout households in the UK. New smart energy meters, being installed in people's homes (with the help of our E.ON app) pinpoint your energy usage, so you can see how energy hungry your tumble dryer becomes over the winter months and also send that data straight back to your supplier, removing the need for meter readings. 

I feel that we are at the beginning of a very exciting time in the development of a number of smart software systems within the sphere of connected homes and Internet of Things, and have to say that this is the most exciting area for me at the moment. Technology will revolutionise the way we live, keep us entertained, but ultimately allow us to make smarter decisions, and in some cases will remove the need for a dull and menial manual task to take place as technology will do it for us.

Predictions are that we will all have 200 connected devices in our homes by 2022 so the pace of change is incredible and we feel we are at the forefront of developments. We are looking at developing communication between different devices and technologies, customising them to work together in new exciting ways, and have some seriously exciting projects in the pipeline in this area… Watch this space.

What's your favourite app and why?

The success of the human race can largely be attributed to our ability to communicate - historical man may not have used the same words we do today but was still able to communicate information crucial to survival. In a modern context the importance of corporate communication, both internal and external, is what will drive us forward. 

Enter Slack. This app had its humble beginnings as a communication system between colleagues in a gaming business. It works in a similar way to other group instant messenger services and you can create multiple chat channels, share files and it also integrates with a number of additional software systems that we use daily like Dropbox, GitHub, Heroku, Runscope and Zendesk.

From the tech geek angle, Slack uses cross-platform technology, allowing everyone in the office on all their varying mobile devices to have access on their phones, tablets and computers. Crucially, Slack saves us time and helps us run smoothly.

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

I believe that next year will see the mass digital migration of businesses towards mobile platforms and internet connected devices. Some companies have already taken the plunge but have embraced the change with trepidation as technology was new, unknown and much of the gamble was based on customer acceptance of the digital move.

Consumers now expect businesses to have an app, to streamline their exchange. Whether it enables bills to be paid or data to be exchanged, using an app takes seconds and can be accessed anywhere. Corporate Scotland should be reassured that the expertise to develop and implement change is on their doorstep.




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