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IT LIFE: Jon Wrennall, Advanced CTO

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Jon Wrennall was HMRC’s first CTO, a position he now holds for Advanced. Here is is his career in IT

What is your role and who do you work for?  

I’m the CTO at software and services company Advanced and I work for Gordon Wilson the CEO. 

I’m responsible for Research and Development, covering product management and development (engineering) in order to make a real difference for business and society, and making the complex simple for our customers.

Ultimately, I’m responsible for our products across all the market sectors we serve including education, health and care, legal, ERP, ticketing, public sector, not for profit and application modernisation, as well as the associated 700+ people in my team. 

Jon Wrennall Advanced CTO

 How long have you been in IT? 

I’ve worked in IT since 1989 where I started at BAE in Warton working in flight simulation and wind tunnels.  

 What is your most interesting project to date? 

Everyone says the latest one they’re working on and that’s true for me now. I am bringing together the many and varied facets of the companies Advanced has acquired to date, creating a platform for growth and future acquisition. We have so many great industry leading products and we’re now integrating them, for everyone’s benefit. 

 What is your biggest challenge at the moment? 

There are so many opportunities for enabling real world transformation of our customers and helping them generate significant revenue growth and see a positive impact on P&L. The challenge is prioritising where we invest, balancing today’s needs with delivering our strategic roadmaps to get to these opportunities. 

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 What technology were you working with ten years ago?  

Ten years ago, I was HMRC’s first CTO and I was busy integrating Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise which at the time had well over a thousand applications, nearly 8,000 servers and spent over £1bn on IT. The technologies ranged from the first online self-assessment service to mandating XBRL for company tax. 

What is your favourite technology of all time? 

It’s a combination of Transcranial Direct-Current Stimulation (tDCS) and augmented intelligence because of the massive opportunity they both have to transform our lives for the better.

I much prefer the term augmented intelligence rather than artificial intelligence as, until we get to the point of singularity (which by latest estimates I’d concur with at being circa 2040 – still in our lifetime!), I think we are using technology to augment and enrich human intelligence. 

tDCS creates a wide range of opportunities to stimulate our brains to enhance our abilities and do things not previously possible. While research on this and similar brain stimulation techniques (magnetic, optical etc) has been ongoing for some time, because of the potential inherent risks of experimentation and relative lack of understanding, I believe it remains an as yet untapped opportunity to enhance every facet of our lives in ways that are still presented as science fiction. 

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 How will the Internet of Things affect your organisation? 

We’re already users of IoT with instrumentation of assets across our estate and this will continue as we use and develop our own products to improve service and reduce cost. We are already working on integrating our health and care products with the increasing number of ever ‘smarter’ things in our homes, workplaces, care homes and the like. Our platforms will integrate with, and seamlessly enrich the world we live in, proactively optimising business and creating the opportunity to generate entirely new revenue streams from the data collated along the way. 

 What smartphone do you use? 

I use both an iPhone and Samsung Galaxy.

 What three apps could you not live without? 

I don’t think any app is truly indispensable but, bar the usual office productivity apps, the ones I use most often depend on where I am and what I’m doing. When I’m trying to get around, I need ‘maps’ and increasingly Uber and airline apps.

The others are broadly all related to our increasingly smart home. For example, I use my Geovision CCTV viewing app to check on the house when we’re on holiday, the Evohome remote control central heating app during winter and the IntesisHome aircon control app and GreenIQ irrigation control during summer (not that it’s had much use this summer).   

The app that has most potential is Sensely, which is linked to our Odyssey clinical decision support system (it recently won the prestigious healthcare innovation award for the ask NHS application). It allows you to talk to a virtual doctor and Advanced helps triage the treatment you need.

We’re also integrating Odyssey (the intelligence behind it) into Adastra, our clinical patient management solution, that supports over 80% of England’s 111 service. I hope not to need to use it too often but it has the potential to transform the way we all use our heath service, reassuring, saving lives, and resolving the issues depicted here. 

What new technology are you most excited for a) your business and b) yourself? 

The technologies I’m most excited in for our business are open source enabled open standard integration platforms like Mirth. Interoperability becomes ever more important to ensure we (and you) are not locked into closed systems, but are able to bring together all the discrete systems, processes and deep learning / neural networks to creating insight in ways we’ve only dreamt of. 

Personally, it’s the same technologies albeit from an end consumer perspective. The increasingly frustrating thing is interacting with organisations that aren’t yet even starting down this path and where even a single customer view is still work in progress. I just want to get in and help fix it! 

If you weren’t doing the job you do now, what would you be doing? 

I’d probably have started my own software company.