“Take the time to figure out what you’re good at and what makes your offering unique,” — CEO Q&A with Paul Phelan of Data Edge. – 21st of June 2023

CEO Q&A with Paul Phelan of Data Edge

21st of June 2023

Paul Phelan is the CEO of Data Edge, an Irish network and application performance management company. The firm was established in 1989 and has a base in Bray, Co. Wicklow. Phelan began his career at Data Edge in 1994 as a Development Engineer and was made CEO in 2019.


What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

I became the CEO of Data Edge in 2019, and that led to a shift in focus for me. Having been CTO for more than a decade, I was more in tune with the technical side of the company, but the new position meant I had to take a wider view of the company’s direction and look at more strategic activities. 
My main goal now is to grow the company, both in Ireland and around the globe. We firmly believe that we deliver a world-class service, and with our main suppliers and partners, are looking to expand our telecommunications network management solutions & timing and synchronisation solutions outside Ireland, with eyes on North America and even Asia. To achieve this, we plan to continue investing in our people, partnerships and platforms.
While my role still maintains a strong technical focus, I now delegate much of the technical and project management tasks to our growing team, which is a small but highly skilled unit. 



What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Communications & Telecoms is the fastest moving industry in the world, bar none.
In the last 12 months we have seen much upheaval among the goliaths of the industry, with many large corporations ‘rightsizing’. We have also seen the continued growth and adoption of AI, and the increasing pressure on the country’s energy grid.
Keeping up with all these new developments and technologies presents a challenge, but it is one we embrace wholeheartedly at Data Edge.
We work with such a wide range of partners and stakeholders, from data centres, telcos, network equipment manufacturers, enterprise customers to government agencies and we always stay ahead of the curve to best advise and guide them.


How do you keep your team/staff motivated? 

At a company like Data Edge, the work is so specialised that you naturally attract highly skilled and driven people. That passion makes my life a lot easier when it comes to motivating the team. 
From my experience, the best way to operate as a manager is to lead by example and trust in your team. That trust and belief in people empowers them and frees them up mentally to do their best work. Creating a positive and enjoyable working environment where people can come together, share ideas and work collaboratively towards a common goal of delivering the best service to our customers goes a long way in running a successful business.


What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Recruitment and skills shortages are an issue across the entire sector and this is also true for us. Our line of work is so specialised that suitable candidates are a valuable commodity.
Despite this, we are always looking to add to our sales and engineering teams and believe that our position as a leader in this sector and offering the opportunity to work on some really exciting projects will help us land the best talent when they are available.  

The Internet of Things and 6G are still nascent technologies but their growth and eventual implementation mean that our services will continue to be in demand.


What new trends are emerging in your industry? 

Timing and synchronisation services and low latency are the backbone of modern telecommunications networks. We provide these services, and they are absolutely essential for the roll-out and ongoing performance of technology such as 5G, and as speeds increase, so will the need for even greater network accuracy. The NBI broadband scheme & the NLLN government national low latency network are great examples of state-of-the-art technology on our doorstep.
The Internet of Things and 6G are still nascent technologies but their growth and eventual implementation mean that our services will continue to be in demand.
One particularly eye-catching area where we are currently focussing some attention is anti-GPS jamming. While some people may only think about this when it comes to modern warfare, this technology is absolutely critical for protecting networks which are needed for everyday life. 
Protection of a source of time is becoming huge, as navigation, timing and synchronisation are reliant on it. We have the technology and should act on implementing it to safeguard our infrastructures.
Meanwhile, we are also leveraging our elevated partnerships with our suppliers such as Spirent, Calnex, and Anritsu who are global leaders in our space. These companies spend more than a fifth of their profits on product development and are committed to investing, influencing and contributing to telecom standards bodies. 
This then allows us at Data Edge to bring the most innovative and cutting-edge technologies, such as jamming mitigation to a global customer base.


How has Brexit affected you?

Simple — we stopped working with most UK-based manufacturing companies! 


How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector? 

We were already set up for remote working when the pandemic struck, so thankfully it did not have a huge impact on us. Also, like a number of other sectors, the effects of the pandemic meant that our services were actually more in demand than ever. With literally everyone online, network optimisation was pivotal to most organisations’ success. 
Many of our operator customers aggressively increased their networks ‘backhaul’ bandwidth during these times and were aided by the capacity planning reports delivered from the systems we had supplied.  I learned that we’re a resilient team in a sector that demands resilience from suppliers. 


How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

What drives us as a team is a commitment to excellence and to delivering the best service possible for the people we work with.
For our sales team, there are very easy sales targets and turnover metrics to define success and motivate performance. For our technical engineering team, performance-related bonuses related to projects & goals are what drives success.

Take the time to figure out what you’re good at and what makes your offering unique, and then work on honing that expertise and becoming better in niche areas. 



What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business? 

Take time to narrow your focus and specialise is the best advice for me. When I was applying to colleges (37 years ago!), I turned down a number of offers for very niche courses that would have pigeonholed me as soon as I graduated. Instead, I did a general engineering degree and learned what areas did and didn’t interest me along the way. This also applies to business.

Take the time to figure out what you’re good at and what makes your offering unique, and then work on honing that expertise and becoming better in niche areas. 


What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Highlights over the last year have included commissioning cesium timing resources in several large telco and utility enterprises. 
We also enjoyed working with Facebook/Meta on its new data centre’s Precision Time Protocol profile and timecard project. 
We also completed our first proof of concept on a wireless AC and DC power monitoring system in a customer’s data centre — this was a great example of an innovative low-cost product that only required a very simple retrofit, and gave massive visibility to the customer of its power usage.  


What’s next for your company?

We are involved in a new program called the National Timing Grid, with the key partners being NSAI, Data Edge and Timing Solutions. The goal of this project is to protect Ireland’s Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), in the event of a wide scale long term signal jamming event. Very exciting stuff!


Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We expect to continue to service our current markets, with the significant addition of providing national timing services to other European countries. This follows on from one of our latest timing projects in Ireland, which has applicability across all European countries. We will shortly be sampling these markets for nanosecond accuracy time measurements to performance monitor other national standard reference clocks.