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Kevin Fortune: ‘Machine learning and artificial intelligence are being over-hyped.’

Kevin Fortune runs Systems & Smiles, supporting small businesses with remote IT support, covering everything from software and storage to security, technical support and overall IT strategy. In his spare time, Kevin is devoted to helping to empower people in the community to gain tech skills and mastery through a volunteer mentoring programme. 

 

Kevin, what are the benefits to having you on hand for IT help, instead of an in-house IT team member? 

Many of our clients are too small to justify an IT person. If they can, it’s unlikely it’s someone with decades of experience. When we work with companies, we bring a range of talents to hep them, spanning technical support, customer service, consultancy and also engineers. It’s a package that provides amazing value and experience with ‘always-there’ support. We evolve as the client evolves, with ongoing planning, strategy, implementation and training that changes as their business changes. We try to keep the focus on being both reactive, as an on-call service, and proactive, looking ahead to what they might need.

What led to you setting up Systems & Smiles?

I worked at Apple for a long time, and before that I worked in marketing. Apple computers bridged the gap between technology and creativity for me. I was selling Apple computers and realised there was a gap for experts specialising in helping creative businesses leverage technology better. Since then, it has evolved to be more all-encompassing, covering all facets of hardware, software and services a small business needs to succeed.  

What challenges do you find business face when it comes to their IT? 

Many business owners are used to being in control…technology is often an area, however, that they can’t fully fix themselves when something goes on. Businesses rely on technology but don’t always fully understand it. Staff, particularly younger staff, might be generally tech-savvy but not in a business context – while older staff can be savvy business-wise, but less so tech-wise. Encouraging the two generations to support each other is key.

What do you most enjoy about your work? 

I enjoy helping people, and translating from robot to human. It’s more about the bigger picture of managing people’s expectations, supporting their needs and understanding their perspectives than just setting up devices and software. It’s so easy to get flustered about technology that doesn’t work or respond as you need it to. We are here to help clients keep cool and remove those frustrating barriers.

 

What are the challenges currently facing your sector – both for you, and for your clients?

The challenge for any small business is finding the right customers. Building a strong team is sometimes the hardest part, finding personalities that gel and work well together. For us, technical skills are in fact less important than people skills. For our clients, security and privacy are growing priorities and can cause the most worry for them. The speed of technical change is also a big challenge for client teams. Leveraging new tools and techniques, and not getting left behind, poses big training issues, as ongoing re-skilling becomes more of an intrinsic part of business life.

 

What do you think your industry will look like in 10 years’ time?

Hard to say! Machine learning and artificial intelligence are currently being over-hyped as destroying jobs in coming decades. But this is not a new thing – technology has continually changed the workplace over the last few hundred years. While ’narrow AI’ is automating and replacing particular tasks, we’re a long way from ‘general AI’, which can rival anything like what humans can do. To me the future is new jobs that don’t exist yet, and we’ll continue to evolve into cyborgs. It’s already happened – your smartphone is an extension of you, enhancing certain capabilities.

 

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever been given?

Focus. Say no to ten things and yes to one. It’s the only way you can gain traction in what you’re doing.

 

Who inspires you?

Prince – the consummate musician. If you look on the back of his records, they all say: ‘Written, composed, produced and performed by Prince’. He broke barriers, leveraged new mediums and did everything his way. He was also way ahead of the curve in challenging record industry practices in how they work with artists and his experiments with online music distribution. He also continually gave to charity in private.