Creating a common language
When it comes to business of any kind, the customer needs a reason to choose one supplier over another, and the deal-breaker is most often innovation, according to Michael Brennan, Head of Products and Services at Magic Orange.
"To innovate continuously requires consistent, out-of-the-box thinking to ensure you can meet the customer's demands better than your competitor," Brennan says. "However, it should also be noted that innovation is not something that can be forced. Therefore, the foundation of innovation lies in creating an environment and building a company culture that facilitates a natural path to innovation."
It was Brennan's ability to think outside the box and desire to effect real change that drove him towards product management from the outset, as he suggests this was a career where one must focus on both the IT and business aspects and manage the tension and trade-offs between the two.
"For me, product management is the intersection between business, customer experience and technology. It's about putting customers first in product decision-making and ensuring everyone in the business, regardless of whether they are technical or business-oriented, clearly understands the link between these areas. It's about driving this alignment, so that everyone can agree what the next step should look like and be able to move forward. This enables an organisation to execute in a much more efficient fashion and thus serve its customers' needs that much more effectively."
He points out that his background is in the financial services sector, with a focus on product management, adding he has always been keen on this particular sphere, as there are always interesting challenges to solve.
Having obtained an honour's degree in Business Science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Brennan began his career with an international software and consulting company focused on providing solutions to banks and credit providers within the agri-commodities sector, before moving to an accounting software solutions company.
"There, I was heavily involved in developing new products, in particular, being tasked with building a tool that allowed customers to visualise and obtain information in a logical fashion. This would, in turn, enable them to make better decisions concerning how to grow their business.
"This product did well in South Africa, before garnering attention in the international market. This meant that my product management role expanded significantly, as we allied with global partners and which, in turn, gave me significant experience in distributing products in new markets, as well as tailoring and configuring these to suit particular regions."
Such experience stood him in good stead when he moved to London to pursue new opportunities, working with a financial trading company and then a global commercial real estate firm. Here Brennan seized the opportunity to head up product management across EMEA, leading product managers in multiple countries. Every country had customers and operations with unique strategic needs and collaboration between central and country teams was pivotal to success.
He joined the Magic Orange team after leaving London, to focus on ensuring the highest standard of product management and product innovation so that Magic Orange continuously meets the most important market needs, thereby increasing customer value and expanding the business.
"My role is one of speaking to customers, understanding their needs and then bringing this context back to Magic Orange, ensuring that this knowledge plays an important role in shaping our plans and strategy moving forward.
"Something I have noticed is that budgeting remains a significant challenge across enterprise-level organisations, due to the complexity involved in their various business units, and the services and products offered in a shared services environment. Too often, there is simply not enough time to analyse and understand the details and relationship between the various costs involved."
This leads to budgets being cut or changed without adequate communication between finance and the business units. This can create frustration and a lack of trust in the process, as business unit heads feel they have no ownership of their own budget and spending. This also creates a lack of accountability when it comes to sticking to budgets or being cost-conscious.
"My role at Magic Orange is to solve this challenge and help business take the burden away from finance. We provide a mechanism for the financial team to allow the business to capture what they spend in a non-technical manner - this means no talk of things like general ledgers or cost centres - and to translate this into financial terms for the financial managers. In effect, we help to create a common language for budgeting.
"If I could offer some advice to my younger self, I would remind myself of the fact that, regardless of how hard you work or how perfect the solution seems - it all comes down to how well you are helping people and solving problems to make their lives easier. This is best achieved by delivering the right information, to the right people, so that the right decisions can be made. Magic Orange is committed to ensuring this happens," he concludes.