IT Life: Cisco CTO Wants To Train Britain Up

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Cisco’s Ian Foddering loves Maggie Philbin, hates email, and wants to fix the skills crisis by getting kids excited about tech

Ian Foddering is the chief technology officer for Cisco in the UK and Ireland. In that role he gets to oversee the information security function and work on getting Cisco’s architectures right – both within the company and at partners and customers.

He also has a couple of other roles: He is the technical spokesperson for Cisco’s involvement as the network infrastructure provider to the London 2012 Games. He also has board level input into Cisco sustainability strategy, and regularly speaks on the subject.

And he has one more big mission. He wants to fix the skills shortage, by firing the nation with tech enthusiasm.

Olympic visions

How long have you been at Cisco, and what’s it like? 
I’ve spent 12 years at Cisco, and been CTO for 18 months. Before that, I spent four years at Nortel, coming through Nortel acquisition Cogent on a graduate programme. Most of my time at Nortel was spend in the public sector space.

Cisco has been a whirlwind ride, dealing with the channel, enterprise and public sector. The UK CTO was previously an inward-looking role, looking at development, engineering and capabilities. Now it is an external-facing role, intended to create a distinct voice for the UK and Ireland markets.  We want a voice to articulate our views.

What’s your favourite project so far?
The latest one! Cisco is one of the sponsors of London 2012, and that has led to some very interesting conversations. It’s not just networking – it is about the legacy.

Our British Innovation Gateway (BIG), announced in January lets me get embedded alongside entrepreneurs and startups. I’m speaking to you from one of our National Virtual Incubator sites in Greenwich, set up to support British innovators, and maybe help them to become the next Autonomy or Tweetdeck. We have closed the first stage of the BIG awards for innovators, and are whittling them down to twenty, for the semi-finals.

Also we have set up Networking Academies in schools across the UK. We are using the Olympics material to excite and connect to students and give them a different perspective on networking (See a video on this subject here).

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
IP telephony was a rising star then within Cisco, and it’s been a very very exciting ride. I helped with designs and supported our partners in their first IP telephony deployments.

One of the first deployments we made was in the financial services sector. It was very exciting to see a traditional environment embracing a very leading edge technology. Cultural challenges are often the biggest thing to overcome.

Now IP telephony is almost commonplace, but ten years ago, traditional vendors said it wasn’t the way to go.

What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
The world is becoming more connected, and people talk about Internet fridges that can order your milk – but I think there is so much more that is possible!

There will be sensory networking in the utilities sector, creating a truly integrated smart grid and smart transport system. In ten years time, public transport may respond to us, based on our patterns of moments. We will be so connected, it will know where we want to go, and adapt to our demand.

There are very interesting opportunities in the Internet of things – taking big data, making it valuable, and computing it in real time. It will drive the adoption of IPv6, and lead on to other things.

Inspired by Maggie Philbin

Who’s your tech hero?
What triggered my involvement in technology was a TV show, on Thursday evening at 7.30. Tomorrow’s World showed me the first computers and the first satellite TV. As a teenager, I found it very appealing.

So my tech hero is Tomorrow’s World presenter Maggie Philbin. It’s dangerous to meet your heroes, but I’m working with her on TeenTech, a campaign to drive  technology in schools, and she has a passion for technology for students and parents.

It’s taken us to Downing Street and Buckingham Palace – I’d never have foreseen that ten years ago! Maggie is working on creating the next role model, perhaps an equivalent to celebrity culture, but in the tech sector.

I’d like the next tech hero to be an equivalent to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg – but from the UK.

Let’s stamp out email!

Who’s your tech villain?
Email. It’s a time consuming, hugely unproductive use of time. It is a deluge of information that comes whether I want it or not so you have 3000 emails when you are away for a week. It’s a to-do list, for people to go through and tick-tick-tick, and what we do is based on what comes into our inbox. There’s a compulsion to copy the world on replies. There are much smarter ways of doing this.

ATOS made a bold public statement to stop using email internally. The next generation workforce rarely engages with friends and family through email – it is typically through social media and text.

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
The obvious answer might be the iPad or iPhone. They are fantastic devices, but the thing that makes them so powerful, is the Internet itself. Without that, they are just clever devices, but the value they deliver is the connectivity, the ability to tweet or instantly find the next train home.

What is your budget outlook? 
We invest in technology, but have to justify it, the same as any other organisation. We are investing heavily in video to the home for employees using our on EX90 and EX60 telepresence platform. With the adoption of social media platforms, maybe we can move away from an email-centric environment.

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT department today?
The biggest challenge facing IT generally is the lack of skills, the depth of the talent pool. If you look down the pipeline, there is a shrinking pool of graduates, and a shortfall of capable people to work in the industry. That will cause problems in the UK, unless we work with the academic sector, business and government. This has gone beyond a CSR (corporate social responsibility) objective – it is a critical component to our future existence. We need depth and breadth of talent for the future.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?
Cloud. I can’t imagine anyone says different. But you have to remember this is a delivery mechanism not a strategy in itself. People seem to jump to “what is our cloud strategy?” but first and foremost you need an IT and business strategy.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
A builder. I guess if you look at some of the conversations I have, they are around architecture in the IT sense. I may not have achieved the lofty heights I am associated with architecture. But can I fix it?  I’m sure I can!

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