Beyond If Beyond If
Q&A Oct 6, 2022

Product Development in Age of Digital Disruption: A Q&A with Paul Roberts

Our Manager of Australia-New Zealand (ANZ) Digital Products, Paul Roberts, highlights Jacobs’ evolution as a global solutions advisor and provider powered by digital technologies and simplifies the intricacies of digital product development.

Paul Roberts headshot in banner graphic

We’re living in the era of digital disruption, and we need bold digital and technology leadership now more than ever before. Leading this change demands knowledge, imagination, new thinking, an appetite to reinvent and the courage to challenge conventions.

In this series, we're celebrating our team of digital and technology experts and visionaries, spearheading the development and delivery of our technology-forward solutions for smarter working, and better living in Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

For this feature, we caught up with Paul Roberts, our Manager of Digital Products in the Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) region, to understand how digital products align with Jacobs’ vision to become a global solutions advisor and provider and how data solutions help leverage the power of digital and data to help solve the world’s most critical challenges.

Let's get to know Paul:

Hi, Paul! Tell us about you and what excites you the most about your role at Jacobs.

Potential, passion and possibilities.  

There is so much deep domain knowledge within Jacobs’ diverse workforce. We are involved in various global markets and domains that we leverage to create Digital Products to support a more connected and sustainable world.

Everyone I’ve collaborated with is willing to share their ideas and is passionate about their areas of expertise. Together we can make a difference.

Being part of Jacobs as it transforms from an engineering, design, and construction professional services provider to a global solutions advisor and provider means the timing is apt.

Using digital technology, we really do have a great opportunity to challenge today and reinvent tomorrow.

In a career spanning over 30 years delivering enterprise IT solutions, you’ve held many roles - tell us a bit about your career progression.

The first decade of my career started at a United Kingdom software and hardware company that built systems to create early digital mapping - Geographic Information Systems (GIS) weren’t even a thing then. In that role, I learned the importance of data quality. I transitioned into a sales support and customer services role. I was fortunate to travel and work in many locations around the globe, exposing me to a diverse range of cultures. I spent four years on secondment in Saudi Arabia, where I enhanced a mapping system to create flight simulator data. This made me concentrate a lot on process repeatability and efficiency. I then moved to Australia and worked for a small GIS software development company for a short while, where it was challenging to get adequate resources to perform at the desired level.

In my second decade of employment, I primarily focused on managing enterprise-scale software development and implementation. In the early 2000s, I was an early adopter of Agile software development practices, particularly the SCRUM framework; looking back, it was quite a revolution for a conservative government agency at the time. Through this period, I realized the importance of a strong shared vision within a team and the importance of enduring sponsorship.

In the last decade, I’ve used the knowledge gained previously to plan and implement improvements to the information systems used by asset owners and operators directly on the client side and, more recently, for Jacobs’ clients.

My current role allows me to leverage what I’ve experienced from both the software vendor and the client sides to guide how we can build desirable, feasible and viable digital products.

Jacobs is on a path of major transformation journey from an engineering, design and construction professional services provider to a global solutions advisor and provider - powered by Digital capabilities. How do digital products align with this vision? 

Digital products, our own or others, are a vital part of this vision as they can be combined with our skills, knowledge and services to provide unique solutions to our client's challenges. Creating standardized product offerings that can be readily configured for different clients' needs will enable us to simultaneously offer agile solutions to various client challenges. 

Leveraging our global strengths of capabilities, knowledge, client exposure and scale will enable us to create digital products that provide greater insight and value.

“Creating standardized product offerings that can be readily configured for different clients' needs will enable us to simultaneously provide agile solutions to various client challenges.”

Paul Roberts

Jacobs Manager of ANZ Digital Products

There are many approaches to digital product development. How does one choose the right approach for developing digital products?

Investing in developing digital products is potentially risky, and initially, something that appears to be a great opportunity may not guarantee enduring success. To minimize the risk, we are taking a staged approach where we use Design Thinking, Lean Start-up and Agile methodologies to gain certainty about what we are building in a measured way before we choose to invest in the next stage. However, it is a balancing act, and there are, for example, times when speed to market may be an essential factor, and we may be prepared to accept more risk to benefit by getting there faster.

We could develop, partner or acquire a product or elements of it, but each tactic would come with different rewards. So again, the right approach is a balancing act depending on the opportunity context.

As one of the growth engines in Jacobs’ new strategy, how do Data Solutions leverage the power of digital and data to help solve the world’s most critical challenges?

I like the hierarchy framework of Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom.

Hierarchy framework of data, information, knowledge and wisdom

An effective data solution applies digital technology to allow data to be reliably, efficiently and meaningfully translated into information, knowledge, and ultimately - wisdom. By assisting in providing that wisdom and knowing when and how to act, we can help to solve the world’s most critical challenges.

What are some of the most valuable skills for Product Managers? 

Product managers need many skills, or at least the ability to find someone who has them! However, I think the following are fundamental:

  • Empathy – you need to understand the users of a product to make it truly desirable to them.
  • Strategic thinking - is vital when forming a product vision and setting the pathway to its realization.
  • Leadership - every successful product needs a team aligned to work towards a shared vision. Successful product managers orchestrate the team with belief, compassion and tact.

Most interesting career moment?

In 1991, as a ‘Westerner,’ I visited Hungary, a former Eastern Bloc country, to install a digital mapping system for their military. It was less than two years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and although I had to run the training sessions through an interpreter, I have never felt as warmly received by any other clients.

If you aren’t in the office, what would we most likely find you doing?

Of late, it is probably arranging travel or traveling. After a few years of COVID-19 travel restrictions, I’ve been fortunate to visit my parents and family in the U.K. this year and arrange a side trip to tour Northern Italy with my wife and two adult children. Just recently, I’ve been planning a trip to a few spots in Bali later this year.

Paul Roberts rowing at Lago di Braies, Italy

Lago di Braies, Italy

People would be surprised to know that …

Growing up in a village in the U.K., my first job was driving a tractor on a farm when I was 13. Although I now live in a city and it wouldn’t be too practical, I’d love to own a tractor one day!

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

The people and the culture! Since joining Jacobs four years ago, I’ve found almost everyone to be helpful, open and supportive, which is how I like to be too!

About the interviewee

Paul Roberts is a senior professional with 30 years of experience implementing and maintaining enterprise IT applications and data, ranging from strategic review and strategy development to maintenance of operational systems and data.

Having a wide range of project management experience, Paul has led software development, system procurement, solution implementation, data collection and governance, and business process improvement programs. He has utilized and tailored Agile development approaches for software development and other project types.

Focused on asset and spatial information, Paul has been instrumental in delivering innovative business solutions, digital transformation and continuous improvement. He has worked across the transport, utilities, aviation and defense sectors.

Join #OurJacobs team

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable. We’re always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision. 

Let's see the impact we can create, together