IT Life: The Never Ending Story

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

Follow on:

Jon Tilbury, CEO of Preservica, discusses life, death and preserving data for eternity

Jon TilburyJon Tilbury is the CEO at Preservica, an Abingdon-based tech company that works with customers such as The Met Office, The UK National Archives and the Swiss Federal Archives in order to preserve and ‘future proof’ their files so that they will be protected and available forever.

What has been your favourite project so far?

We are asked to digitally preserve a huge range of information including the national records of 10 countries, a vast database of 2 billion birth and death records and the health of Victorian London. But my personal favourite is the preservation of the Washington DC Punk Archives – that just shows my own youth is now consigned to history.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago? 

We were in the middle of early research into Digital Preservation techniques in several large EU funded research projects, a great way to meet the cutting edge customers and academics and to work out the best way to solve the problem of accessing today’s information tomorrow. Collaborative research can be frustrating at times but it is a great technical dating agency.

child reading a bookWhat tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?

My hope is that Digital Preservation will be built into a wide range of information management platforms so that it is always possible to read and interpret any digital information in a way expected by future generations. This will make it ‘business as usual’ for the corporate CIO and even consumers, rather than limited to the pioneering work of governments, academics, archivists and researchers, or what we would call “memory institutions”. Rapid evolution is vital because I expect Google and others to have some amazing ways of presenting the information in ways we can only dream about.

Who’s your tech hero?

I admire the techies that think about the long term, not just about today, but who plan long into the future so their system or information is useable so long as it is needed. That’s why Vint Cerf’s recent campaign to highlight the dangers of a 21st Century Digital Dark Age was welcome. I also love techies with a logical order to their information, who are able to simplify problems rather than make them more complex, and who make tech available to non-techies as a result.

Who’s your tech villain?

I’ve met many CIOs who think just about the immediate here and now and who leave their successors with a digital nightmare to resolve. We’ve all worked on projects with undocumented systems and formats that provide no help to anyone a few years after they are created, and the investment in IT is lost very quickly as a result. The CIO who can’t imagine the future is the villain of the today’s enterprise.

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?

I’ve been in the IT industry for 30 years so have seen many technologies come and go, from mainframes to laptops to mobile. My current favourite is the explosion of cloud computing led by Amazon Web Services which puts high quality and enormously flexible compute power in the hands of a vast range of users.

What is your budget outlook going forward?

We are growing quickly (around 50 percent PA) as more and more organisations realise that the digital preservation of information is vital and needs expert technology and people to make it happen. In the last 12 months we have signed a large range of customers and are starting to see the shift from large and small public collections to large corporations such as BT and HSBC.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?

I like companies that can change the way we think about IT. Amazon Web Services are currently doing this with cloud which is why we are delighted to be one of their Advanced Technology Partners. Microsoft did this with the birth of personal computing, then adapted through laptops, servers and now the Azure cloud. And Google has huge potential to contribute to innovation in a wide array of areas.

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?

To have a holistic and integrated view of the information lifecycle of a business, from creation, immediate use, management, security, compliance, and long term retention and preservation. Think of the proliferation of data – more in the last year than the last decade, and this is only set to continue. The challenge for CIOs to control it is huge, and probably why they aren’t getting to grips with it entirely as yet.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?

Our technology is available both on cloud or on-premise but I feel that that battle is about to be won by cloud, especially for smaller organisations and for non-core functions of large organisations. My mantra for my own company’s IT is cloud first wherever possible rather than absorbing the hidden costs of operating our own systems.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I loved drawing maps so wanted to be a cartographer. Now I just digitise them to make sure we preserve the history of the world’s borders and regions – more important I would say!

Are you an expert on display technology? Take our quiz to find out!