Nine Twenty Technology Blog | An interview with Jonathan Forbes, Chief Technology Officer at Phlo

An interview with Jonathan Forbes, Chief Technology Officer at Phlo

 1st Jul 2019

Digital health business Phlo have recently grown their team again, with Jonathan Forbes joining as Chief Technology Officer.  We caught up with Jonathan to find out how he’s settling into his new role, and hear more about their next recruitment plans. 

 

Phlo Logo

 

Can you tell us a little about your background, and how you came to join Phlo?

I was one of the roughly 50% of people who left Northern Ireland to study on the mainland. I made it to Oxford and from there to a doctorate in experimental particle physics, ostensibly at Glasgow though most of my time was spent in Hamburg working on the Zeus experiment at DESY. It was a wonderful experience that left me with a lifelong love of Germany and its people, and a recognition of the importance of international collaboration with its power to get things done. 

When I’d finished, I moved through the oil and gas and financial sectors, freelancing for a large part of that time. I settled down again with Aquila Insight, where I could build out my ideas for data engineering at scale for businesses like Tesco Bank, Honda, Uber and Next. I helped build a fantastic team of engineers and Aquila was acquired in July 2017. I then ran the team for another 18 months while we integrated into the larger business. It was hugely enjoyable, mixing the energy and innovativeness of a an utterly fearless start-up with the enterprise practices I’d learned from my time in blue-chip companies. 

I see the same fearlessly disruptive qualities at Phlo. Nadeem Sarwar, Adam Hunter and the Phlo team have huge ambitions to change the role of the pharmacy in healthcare. We want to provide the best possible care for patients, reducing the time and making it as easy as we can to get the right medicines to the right people at the right time while maintaining the highest possible operating and care standards. It’s hard to resist that kind of challenge. 

 

Jonathan Forbes - Phlo

 

What does your role in the business entail?

My role as Chief Technology Officer means I’m accountable forour Engineering and IT capabilities. My objectives are to build an exceptional, forward-thinking, nimble Engineering team to deliver Phlo’s capabilities into the hands of our patients and keep our business at the forefront of what’s possible. My team’s job is to use technology to create business advantages that help Phlo meet and exceed people’s expectations of a digital pharmacy. To do it, we will drive technical innovation, experimentation, research and development, automation and other improvements that we’ll translate into a competitive advantage for Phlo.

 

How are you enjoying life at Phlo so far?

It’s great! I get to work with a motivated and talented team to map out and deliver the future of digital healthcare and then, alongside our partners, Futurematik and Ginger, we get to build it. Plus, I’m back in Glasgow again, where I spent much of my early career. Still raining here, I see…

 

Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?

We’re putting the finishing touches to two exciting new components of our architecture, namely our patient-facing web application and our back-office workflow application. These are key parts of our strategic roadmap and it’s great to see them coming to life. I’ll take a moment here to thank our partners, the teams at Ginger and at Futurematik, for everything they’ve done to get us to this point. They’re a joy to work with and both have put their shoulders to the wheel to bring Phlo’s vision to life. 

 

Healthcare - Phlo

 

You’re currently recruiting a Senior Full Stack Developer; can you tell us a bit about the vacancy?

Yes, we’re growing our core Engineering team to accelerate the positive impacts we’ve planned for digital healthcare. A successful candidate will work with our product owner and the rest of our team to drive deliver developments across Phlo’s web application, workflow system and in time, across its wider operating architecture. They’ll be key to recruiting new engineers so we can make positive differences for our patients and our colleagues.  

We’re a cloud-native team and have built strong foundations on Google Cloud Platform in preparation for the advanced analytics we’ll do next. We use React, Koa and MobX in our presentation layer with a Google’s Cloud SQL database behind the scenes. We integrate with Intercom to support patient engagement and Postmark for transactional emails. Interestingly, we use Azure DevOps to manage our deployment pipelines as it’s easier to use than some alternatives. We have integration work to do, linking our services into other internal systems and third party systems and vice versa.  

Remember that under the covers, Phlo and its sister business, Universal Pharmacy, are together a functioning, profitable pharmacy business operating from bases in London and Norfolk. To make that partnership as efficient as possible, shortly we’ll review our Patient Medication Record system to see what we can improve; we’ll be building advanced analytics systems to create state-of-the-art modelling capabilities and we have pharmacy robotics and automation to think about into the bargain. There’s plenty of work to be done. 

 

What sort of candidates are you looking for to join the team?

I think a few common characteristics will be a hands-on fascination and experience with leading-edge technology and its potential, a deep curiosity and laziness. Yes, laziness. I don’t mean sloth, I mean a positive laziness that when combined with curiosity and engineering skill, is possessed by the best engineers. People who know that doing a good end-to-end job now, supported by good judgement and enabled by meaningful configuration and deft automation, can save time in the future. Those characteristics, together with experience of leading a team and instilling the same qualities in other engineers, are very important. 

There will be those who’ve done their time in the development trenches, leading small, agile teams building customer or patient-facing systems and who now want to take responsibility for building up and integrating between a broader range of systems. Many may be engineers in the healthcare sector already, or will see the huge potential of it from a digital perspective. They’ll want to make their mark on that. 

There will be engineers who, in addition to their advanced expertise in front-end technologies, want to work closely with up-to-date technologies like Kubernetes and Docker in always-on environments using continuous integration/continuous deployment tools. They’ll have an eye on the levels of automation that we might achieve across Phlo’s architecture, how we can integrate with external systems and how we can use some of the advanced cloud services to process data, then predict, prescribe and embed outcomes that our Operations team can build into their planning.  

 

What do you like to do when you’re not at the office?

I’m rarely without a laptop close to hand because I get a kick from what it’s possible to do from a command line. I have a fascination with agricultural machinery that stems from a youth spent deep in the Irish countryside. One of the most progressive areas for the application of IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning is in the control systems of modern tractors and their implements. While not quite in the same league, I lavish my attention on a classic 1970 Massey Ferguson, where my predictive analysis skills often tell me that I’m about to get it stuck axle-deep in a bog and so I should phone a friend to tow me out.

 

Think you’ve got what it takes to join the team at Phlo?  Find out more about the Senior Full Stack Developer role and apply now. 

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