In this interview, Smart Technologies’ COO Manuel Aquilina talks about his background, how he worked his way to his current role and what it entails, and he shares his best advice for managing teams effectively to people in the same position
Mr Aquilina, could you tell about your background? How you got started in IT and what led you to join Smart Technologies?
I started my carrier back in 2000, when I was part of a networks team that implemented and tested structured networks. In the meantime, I was also studying for a diploma in computer science.
A year later, in 2001, I was employed at an IT company owned by a reputable family business in Malta and there I worked on various projects involving SMEs and government institutions. This was a particularly challenging role, but through it I gained valuable experience in working with different IT systems.
In 2008, together with Joe Aquilina, we started working on setting up Smart Technologies. Initially, I worked as a project manager and I was entrusted with the main project we had with the government at that time: to deliver and commission over 12 thousand PCs within various ministries and departments.
Meanwhile, I continued expanding my technical knowledge by undertaking various vendor certifications and training. Moreover, to enhance my managerial skills, I read for and obtained a diploma in leadership and management with the ILM and a Master’s in Business Administration at Anglia Ruskin University.
In 2015, I was promoted to COO and I have since been an active member within senior management, where I contribute to developing Smart Technologies’ strategy to success.
What does your role as COO of Smart Technologies involve?
My role at Smart Technologies is mainly to oversee the company’s procedures and day-to-day activities. As the COO, my other key responsibilities involve:
- Contributing in various sectors and improve work flows within operational systems
- Implementing new processes and policy in the organisation
- Collaborating with other departments to determine budgets
- Planning the organisation’s long-term strategy
- Researching and identifying opportunity gaps for Smart Technologies
Additionally, I oversee and contribute in major projects with our team of engineers and I also assist our sales team technically.
Your position demands the ability to work effectively under a great amount of pressure. How do you deal with that?
Working under pressure is a skill which, like the rest of our management team, I have sought to develop through experience, technical training and by undertaking various operational certifications such as ISO and ITIL.
In the past years, Smart Technologies has successfully managed to deliver several projects, some of which had very tight deadlines, such as implementing a wireless infrastructure of 250 APS at 30 different sites in 40 days.
Through our managed services offering, our highly organised NOC team operates efficiently to ensure delivery of any job within contractual SLAs, even under serious time constraints. Furthermore, we are equipped to continually support our clients, including SMEs and enterprise organisations, through our MSP Helpdesk.
Another case in point is how we managed to install over 3,000 enterprise-grade access points in the past three years within various schools, hotels, and private organisations. In fact, a lot of this hardware is still being monitored and maintained by our MSP team.
What is the best advice you can offer fellow COOs to improve how they manage their teams?
I would recommend they keep in mind the following 5 rules:
- Invest in your team’s best talent. Basically, I believe that a COO is only as effective as the people he leads, so it pays to surround yourself with the best.
- Learn how to delegate work effectively. In order to achieve the most effective outcome, a COO needs to be able to identify the most appropriate team member for a particular task and delegate. No questions!
- Use time management techniques. To manage an operation efficiently, a COO should know what’s happening in the organisation and find time for several tasks. Time management is a key attribute that every COO must have to successfully manage and lead a team.
- Lead by example in the organisation. Organisational skills are a must for a COO who is working with a technical team. To deliver effectively on their responsibilities, a team must be well-organised and follow the company’s procedures and policies. This is what ultimately distinguishes a professional organisation from one that is not.
- Embrace change always. People who are reluctant to change eventually end up imposing barriers that slow down the whole team. We must all embrace change to successfully grow as individuals and also support the growth of the organisation.