Doing business with Howard Nicholls of Network Box

Doing business with Howard Nicholls of Network Box

The general manager of Network Box Australasia is drawn to two of the hottest fields in business technology today - cybersecurity and robotics.


Name: Howard Nicholls

Title: General manager of Network Box Australasia

Twitter Handle: @NetworkBoxANZ

How long have you been in your current role?

Eighteen months, from when we first formulated the concept of our managed cybe security service.

What business technology issue is your organisation focusing on?

We are a managed security services provider (MSSP) and we are focused on cybersecurity, specifically perimeter detection. Our focus is on the boundary between the internet and the internal networks and managing this on behalf of our customers.

The key significance in what we do is really around limiting business risk from cyber attacks. We manage risk through the use of a combination of top flight people, processes and technology.

What are your interests away from work?

Mainly outdoor activities: mountain biking, tramping, sea kayaking – I love making the most of the great New Zealand outdoors.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s a novel set in the near future about an expedition to Mars. One of the crew of six is left behind when the other crew members abandon the planet in an emergency. The next supply mission is not for another four years so it’s a story of survival, of how to improvise, think laterally and solve problems in order to stay alive.

Non-fiction books I dip into quite regularly are Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Freakonomics by Steve Dubner and Steve Levitt. The author of Predictably Irrational is a behavioural economist and he has come to understand how people make purchasing decisions. These purchasing decisions may seem irrational but actually there is a logic behind it. Freakonomics is an excellent read and focuses on why people behave the way they do and what’s driving their decision making. It’s about correlation and causality, a study of incentives and how people get what they want – but written in a really interesting and easy-to-read way.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

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There is a quote from Steve Jobs I really like: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Really the message is surround yourself with a capable team of people who know their own area of expertise and can give you really good advice, rather than thinking you know everything yourself. Get the right people with the right skills, who know what to do, and that will get the right results. I like to think this is something I apply in my working life.

Professionally, who do you admire the most?

Rod Drury, who set up Xero, is someone who has real big picture vision. His ability to develop that vision into an international business is very impressive.

Get the right people with the right skills, who know what to do, and that will get the right results.

Howard Nicholls, Network Box

How long have you been working in IT?

Forever! Essentially, I have been involved in IT in its broadest sense since I started my computer science degree.

Read more: Career watch: A strategic planning scenario for the CIO role

For the last 15 years I’ve focused on software and service - with Alchemy Group (a software development company) and then with Network Box which provides managed security services. Prior to that, I was involved in research and development of intelligent automation for over ten years.

If you weren’t working in IT, what would you be doing?

When I was involved in R&D I was in robotics and that field has progressed hugely in the last few years. If I wasn’t working in IT and cybersecurity I would like to go back to robotics, it’s such a fascinating field, and is multi-disciplinary, requiring a wide range of engineering skills

What was your first job?

My very first job was a summer vacation job during university. I worked on the night shift in a plastics factory in the UK. Essentially, I was carrying out the same repetitive task every 30 seconds for eight hours feeding plastic yoghurt pots into a machine that printed on the labels. That job taught me two important lessons. One, it was really important I continued my studies so I didn’t end up with a job like that, and second, it was not a job that a person should be doing. There are far more worthwhile tasks a human could do to contribute to a business. I believe you should be able to have employment that will give you satisfaction, it’s not just about the money but creating employment opportunities that are rewarding.

What’s the best thing about working with IT executives?

It’s great to be able to work with IT executives who understand how IT can add value to the business. Rather than focusing on the technology itself, they understand it is the application of the technology to the business that makes the difference. It’s not technology for technology’s sake.

What is the worst?

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Getting their attention. IT executives are very busy people and they are often being pulled in many directions. You have to be able to solve a problem for their business, not just push technology onto them.

Can you share one key pointer for keeping abreast of business technology trends?

There are a huge amount of IT resources, but it’s actually really important to network face-to-face with people to be able to learn about their experiences. I am in a services business and we like to talk to people. Being able to share experiences and information in order to solve a problem is a great way to keep abreast.

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