IT Life: Setting Workers Free With The Cloud

CloudWorkspace

We chat with IT manager at quantity surveying firm Rider Levett Bucknall, Mark Evans, about his fondness for the cloud and respect for Bill Gates

Constructing a usable, slick IT infrastructure is no easy task. When you work for a construction-focused company that has over 2,500 employees, it can be very tricky indeed.

But in TechWeekEurope’s first interview for our IT Life series, we caught up with Birmingham-based IT manager at quantity surveying firm Rider Levett Bucknall, Mark Evans, who claims he has set up a rather easy-to-use system that lets employees work from wherever they are.

It seems internet-enabled technology, in particular the cloud, can do wonders for companies like Evans’ employer.

What’s the size of the IT team there and what kinds of things have you been up to?
The IT team is a core of seven but we do tend to go up and down. This is split between standard systems development, support and infrastructure.

We’ve invested a lot of time on incorporating systems, so we’ve been heavily involved in Microsoft System Centre. What that has allowed us to do is keep a lid on recruitment. I’ve never been someone who looks at building a huge empire, because ultimately that gets paid for by the business.

We’ve kept the team fairly small. We can run EMEA just from that number of people. It’s quite a good return on investment as we don’t need to employ 30 or 40 people. That’s the way I’ve always done IT.

What interesting projects have you been doing recently?
I’ve always been someone who looks for new developments and tries them out. I’ve had my fingers burned on occasion, but usually that’s just in a test environment.

We went down the cloud route about two years ago and deployed a centralised document management system about a year ago. We have been early adopters.

The document management is based on a construction industry product called Workspace, from a company in Nottingham. The idea of the document management system was to allow everyone to get access through a browser. It means we don’t have to worry about what hardware they use, what operating systems they prefer.

We’ve also been working closely with Vodafone. I think we’re currently their largest One Net deployment in the UK. One Net is a system where basically if someone phones your mobile, obviously your mobile rings but then it rings your landline too. Also, if I’m phoning someone in sales and I don’t want them to know my mobile number I can mask my mobile number with the landline number I use from the office. Effectively we’re breaking the landline away from the business so we can work more closely with clients.

That’ll lead onto an interesting project next year. We’re reviewing our office space. If you don’t need to be in the office to use your landline, which is the ultimate anchor at the moment, then why do you need to be in an office? We’ve been working on that idea for around a year.

That’s fairly innovative stuff, in terms of breaking away from the office. What was behind that decision?
I’ve been with the company for 10 years – I’ve been in IT for 20. The reason why I’ve stayed is that it’s ripe for a lot of interesting developments. We’ve got a very accommodating senior management team. They’re prepared to take a risk as long as I stand there and I’m fairly certain about it.

The question I raised with them was ‘do we continue to employ the best people or do we employ the best people who can make it to our regional offices?’ There was a bit of a pause and they went ‘ah!’

But it’s been a cumulative thing over the years. I know next year we have a few leases that are due to expire and we’re going to try to capitalise on that.

There’s been a tremendous amount of trust involved. There’s been some cumulative projects that have been really interesting to work on.

So is the cloud public or private?
It’s private. It had to be really. We do a lot of work for the government. One of our clients is an atomic weapons establishment, they seem to be quite twitchy about plans for atomic bombs wandering away to Dublin with Microsoft.

We’ve stuck with a UK provider called InTechnology, who provide our wide area network (WAN) as well. We use them extensively.

Any plans to go to the public cloud?
I’m optimistic we can start looking to things like that. As for a purely cloud environment where we say to Microsoft, Amazon, Google Rackspace, whoever, here’s all our data please look after it, there are a number of concerns. There are a number of legislative things we’d need to overcome first.

Actually, we’re looking to offer our document management system as an extranet for clients and suppliers. So we’ll be offering something that’s almost a public cloud ourselves.

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