"CTO in Focus" Paul Dingwitz, ZEAL Network SE
Different paths and journeys apply to us all and in our most recent interview Gaming Eminence sits down with Paul Dingwitz CTO & Executive Board Member at ZEAL. We dive into his early career and how it shaped his mindset in his position as CTO, how he focuses on empowering technology teams, the importance of technical alignment with business strategy, the Lotto24 integration, importance of security and compliance, and the future impact of CTOs within the gambling industry.
GE) Paul, you have been at ZEAL coming up on 7 years, having been promoted to CTO in 2018. What did you learn during your previous positions in engineering and operations that you feel has given you the best footing for success?
PD) My journey at ZEAL has certainly allowed me the opportunity to see the full spectrum of technology areas before being promoted.
Before coming to ZEAL, a majority of my positions either as an individual contributor or technical leader were mostly focused in the technology operations and security areas. Aside from my previous role as a CTO for a media company, I never had deep exposure to the software development side of things. This was always an area that I understood and worked closely with however, I was never a software developer by trade and therefore this was an area that I needed to understand better in order to be able to lead it.
Over the years before I became CTO, I can look back and focus on a few key areas of learning. The first learning isn't necessarily technical in nature, it’s that relationships matter, chemistry between teams and colleagues matter in order to be successful in your ambitions and goals. The ability for me to recognise the value of trust and relationship strength across groups and area of focus was pivotal in our ability to succeed.
The next lesson learned is the importance of ownership and accountability and how important that is for the individual team members and the organisation. We really had to reinvent the way we worked, moving away from old ways and standard setups and we had to adopt a new approach. We focused on you build it, you own it, you run it mentality. This instantly forced a sense of attachment and accountability to everything that was being done. Years later both areas of learning continue to be large points of focus for me.
GE) What approach do you take to tracking and understanding new innovative technology breakthroughs and the best practice for implementing them at ZEAL?
PD) We have some of the most talented technical minds I have ever worked with in my career, and they have a strong appetite for solving problems and also trying and introducing new technologies. Over the last years we have really tried to empower the technology teams by allowing them to test and try new innovative tools and services that provide value to our business performance.
We have a few ways to introduce new technology into the organisation. We have a Tech Radar which gives us a visual snapshot view of all tech that is in use and all tech that is being considered and where we are with the possible introduction into our working platforms and services. We also have a weekly CCA (Competence Center Architecture), we use this open forum with Tech, Product and others to discuss new tools, services or processes that we would like to introduce. We discuss openly the value proposition, how it will be used and potentially how it might impact existing tools or processes and how we can work together to adopt this technology. This is also a forcing function that many times will retire old tech and services, so we minimise the legacy items. We do a similar session with a CCF (Competence Center Front End) where the topics are focused more on performance, capability, and customer journey. Looking more broadly, we also run multiple business and technology focused hackathons each year which really bring innovative ideas into the organisation.
We see ourselves as a Tech driven company. We invest in great people; great tools and we are always openminded on how we can do things better and more effective.
GE) ZEAL over the past few years due to changes in strategy have restructured, acquired and launched a variety of products that were key to the company's success. With adjustments in strategy what are key focus areas a CTO must address in ensuring future technical alignment with overall business strategy?
PD) Indeed, the last years have been such a busy few years with a great deal of change.
We relocated our business and headquarters from the United Kingdom to Germany. Simultaneously we also acquired an online lottery ticket brokerage business named LOTTO24 based in Germany. You could say that almost overnight we changed our core business model, company headquarters and core product focus.
As the Head of Technology / CTO it was certainly a unique challenge. The acquisition was a company that we had a long-standing relationship with. Many of the people had previous working relationships with ZEAL and there was a long history between our two companies. The emotional and people challenges were large and certainly most important to solve. Beyond that, we faced a significant challenge of continuing to run the portfolio of ZEAL businesses and also keeping the platforms running while merging the LOTTO24 platform into the ZEAL platform. All of this while bringing two companies together and trying our best to minimise any impact to the customer base.
If you have ever tried to merge two live working platforms into one, think of it like doing brain surgery while keeping the patient alive, awake and fully focused. Sounds unlikely and maybe even impossible in many ways. We were able to accomplish this on budget, on time and without impacting customers.
Primary focus points and considerations.
- Focus on your people first. Try to determine what you want to do, where you want to be and what skillsets and personalities you need to accomplish these goals.
- Do your very best not to impact the customer.
- Do everything in your power to regulate the scope of efforts and make your goals and milestones clear and achievable. It’s ok to consider tradeoffs and add follow up items into backlogs.
- Focus on what matters most and be committed to fast follow items.
GE) At ZEAL what technical challenges do you face as it relates to ensuring that new products and services meet compliance and security requirements within specific markets?
PD) We have an entire team dedicated to our compliance and regulatory requirements. In my mind, compliance and security requirements simply hold you officially accountable to what you should likely be doing anyway. It’s a forcing function with consequences.
We take these areas very seriously. On the technology and product side, we have tried our best to have security topics built into the product pipeline. Security investment and security testing is part of the product and not seen as an outside obligation.
The focused challenge over the last years as our business has transitioned from UK based to Germany based and we have also looked at international ambitions. We have many times dealt with gambling commissions and compliance requirements in multiple countries or jurisdictions. We learned how to deal with highly regulated markets and strong compliance restrictions. We have a strong reputation amongst authorities and a great reputation within the industry for being innovative and agile while compliant.
GE) In your opinion, where do you see the impact of CTO’s within the iGaming and gambling industry as the world continues to become more impacted by technology?
PD) The digitalisation of these products and services really puts a large focus on using technology as the primary vehicle for success. I think more and more you see a transition from offline to online and this means the online market opportunity continues to grow. This also means the requirements and success criteria continues to get more complicated and unique to solve.
Technology will continue to be the ultimate tool that we can leverage to achieve success. Strategically speaking, the large technological focus should be on gathering data and using that data to create customised user experiences that feel immersive and engaging. Beyond that, you can certainly say that learning and anticipating customer behaviours and how to service the customer better is certainly how technology should and will be leveraged in the future to better serve the customer.
About our contributor
Paul Dingwitz is member of the ZEAL Management Board since 5 June 2021, after being in charge for Technology Operations, Security and Engineering at ZEAL for more than five years. He has more than 20 years working in the technology sector and more than ten of those years holding executive leadership positions. Prior to joining ZEAL, he was Vice President of Technology for Rue La La in Boston as well as CTO of ONE Media Corp in Atlanta. He also held a senior engineering role at CNN where he helped develop and deploy the first online live video portal for the network. His background and expertise is diverse – across operations, security and engineering – all starting 1997 with Military service early in his career. He studied Technology Management at the American Military University (AMU/APU).