Kainos has an eye for the future of tech

As one of only two Northern Irish companies listed on the London Stock Exchange – with operations across the globe – software firm's chief says skills in region are a major attraction

29th January, 2017
Tom Gray, chief technology officer at Kainos

Founded in 1986, and now employing almost 1,000 people, Kainos is one of the great international success stories to come out of Northern Ireland.

Listed on the London Stock Exchange, the company is now a multinational with operations in Belfast, Derry, Dublin, London, Amsterdam, Gdansk and Boston – and, equally importantly, has clients around the world, from North America to Europe and even as far away as New Zealand.

Tom Gray, chief technology officer at Kainos, who joined the company under a placement in its early days, said if they could do it all again, they’d do it the same way.

“Northern Ireland is absolutely where we started, and if we were doing it again we’d pick the same place: our business is about skills and the skills are here,” he said.

Part of this is because Northern Ireland is a solid location for tech development and investment.

“Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI) has always been very supportive and we continue to work with them as they build more interest in Northern Ireland. And, of course, we take advantage of their skills and training programmes where it’s appropriate,” he said. Since the 1980s, Kainos has moved from being a start-up, part-owned by International Computers Limited (now Fujitsu) and Queen’s University Belfast, to its current status as one of only two Northern Irish companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.

It works across many different sectors and has particular expertise in healthcare, finance and the public sector.

One of the company’s best-known products is Evolve, a software platform, developed in conjunction with medical practitioners and hospital managers that is the UK market leader in the digitisation of patient notes in the acute sector of the NHS.

“We developed Evolve initially to help hospitals reduce the number of paper records by putting them online and making them easy to access.

“In Evolve-enabled hospitals, you now see clinicians and surgeons walking about with iPads, instead of the manilla folders of old. We can give access to patient records anywhere,” said Gray.

More recently, Kainos has developed Evolve Integrated Care, a cloud-based integrated care solution, and is working with InTouch Health in California to produce software that will allow clinicians and patients to engage remotely with a network of specialists.

What the future holds for both Northern Ireland and Kainos is more investment.

The company recently worked with Invest NI to produce a curriculum for data scientists, a skill set that requires a blend of hard and soft skills, according to Gray.

“The soft skills, such as the ability to explain the business benefit of technology, is arguably the most important because it's about contributing to a company’s strategy - and you need to be able to communicate this to C-suite executives,” he said. Being based in Northern Ireland has given Kainos access to a wide range of skilled individuals and, despite the development of the web, geographical clusters remain important.

“There is a broad spectrum of individuals who are able to upskill themselves through various web-based resources, so there is an ability for those skills to be distributed across the world. That said, you still tend to get clusters of expertise. In Northern Ireland, the obvious example is cybersecurity, which was recognised as important early on.

“We believe this is a vital discipline, and we are seeing increased interest from researchers and investors.

“The challenge for Northern Ireland is ‘what is the next cybersecurity?’ Is it AI? Is it something else?” he said.

Whatever it is, it’s certain Kainos will be at the forefront of it.

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