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Sister act: flying the flag for diversity in tech

Having driven her IT firm Xalient to No 40 on The Sunday Times 100 list – of which Vodafone Business is an event sponsor – founder Sherry Vaswani is now hoping her success will inspire other women to join the industry.

Sherry Vaswani had been thinking about Xalient, a developer of software that enables staff based anywhere to securely access systems and collaborative working tools, for three years before she was able to turn her vision into reality.

Vaswani, above, was restricted from starting a new business under a non-compete clause imposed after selling her previous company. She waited less than a day after it expired before incorporating Xalient in 2015.

“During that period, although I was working in a non-competitive sector, I stayed in tech,” says Vaswani, 49. “I spotted a trend for companies moving their applications to the cloud, and more people working remotely, both of which needed to be done securely. Network security is my area and I could see it would be transformative.”

She wasn’t wrong. The surging demand for greater digital security amid the growing threat of cyberattacks and the rise of home working has pushed Xalient to annual sales growth of 84.45 per cent over the past three years. Coupled with revenue of £26.3 million in 2021, that growth saw Xalient ranked 40th in The Sunday Times 100 list of Britain’s fastest-growing private companies, of which Vodafone Business is an event sponsor.

‘This was a chance to build a business that’s a really credible alternative to the sector’s big boys’

Vodafone Business also helps companies grow, and recently launched Vodafone Pulse Connect. It’s a flexible mobile, broadband and cloud calling package with just one bill that lets you add or remove users and tailor services to each employee, so you only pay for what you need.*

And Vodafone Pulse Connect also helps protect companies. Its plans include Lookout Security for Small Business**, providing mobile security and identity protection. The broadband package includes Cisco Meraki’s security and wi-fi device, which updates automatically to ensure you’ve got the latest protection, prevents unauthorised employees from accessing your network, and protects against malicious files; as well as Cisco Meraki Smart Cameras to deter criminal activity, detect threats and provide useful insights into on-site behaviour.

Xalient now employs 180 people in four countries – Britain, the United States, India and Romania – and continues to expand its workforce, with a particular eye on the US, where Vaswani sees the greatest potential for growth. Xalient caters for large global corporations that need to connect their network users and devices to apps and data, securely and efficiently.

“These companies were all very frustrated with the large outsourcers and traditional players who were dominating the network security market but were not very agile and not very focused on the customer,” Vaswani says. “So I thought, this is a chance to build a business that is completely going to challenge that norm and be a really credible alternative to those big boys.”

‘Showing that women can be leaders in the tech business can have a huge impact’

And with hybrid working becoming the norm, companies will need to continue to secure their networks to accommodate remote workers while remaining resilient to cyberattacks.

“Network security approaches used to assume users sit in offices and that you firewall the office, or that you’re logged on through a VPN tunnel and therefore you’re secure,” says Vaswani. “Even pre-Covid, that was an issue. There were big high-profile malware security incidents that proved this approach was not robust enough.”

Xalient takes what it calls a “zero trust” verification approach to securing a user’s devices, which reduces the risk of hackers penetrating a company’s systems. Covid accelerated a trend for home working that was already gathering momentum, increasing an already pressing need for businesses to ensure they have their cyberdefences in good shape.

“Businesses should be very concerned about cyberthreats, especially those companies that are a bit behind on carrying out their assessments,” says Vaswani. “I think large businesses have been concerned for a while, but medium sized businesses are realising they are targets just as much as the large ones. Every business knows there is a threat there.”

As well as focusing on the US market, which accounted for around half of Xalient’s revenue in 2021, Vaswani is looking to invest in more talent and innovation to ensure the business remains at the forefront of network security.

All Xalient’s new products are given female names such as Wanda, Iris, Sona and Martina, reflecting Vaswani’s belief in the importance of increasing diversity – especially the representation of women – in the technology industry.

“I have more of a stage than I realised,” she says. “I recognise there’s an opportunity to help with bringing more women into tech and creating a more diverse society.

“I didn’t used to think that was something I could affect, but I now realise I can. This helps bring the best people into your business. Showing that women can be leaders can have a huge impact.”

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Portrait of Mark Foulsham, Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

Mark Foulsham

Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

With a broad background as a COO/CIO/CDO, C-Suite Advisor, NED, Senior Transformation Leader and Coach, Mark tackles multiple fronts from the advantage of diverse experience in business operations, technology, procurement, delivery and risk. With a deep knowledge of business models from multiple sectors and extensive experience in fast-paced digital start-ups.

Mark’s work across extensive business types, functions and countries empowers him with experience to bear across silos. Mark has built a reputation for advocating cross-business collaboration, taking a pragmatic approach and championing transformative change.