IT Life: Taking Government To The Clouds

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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CIO of Eduserv Ed Zedlewski talks to TechWeekEurope about mind-reading telephones, cloud security and how his desire to be a fighter pilot got him into IT

Eduserv is a non-profit company specialising in public sector IT, primarily government, health and education sectors. This week, it has launched a suite of consultancy services to help charities and government departments make informed decisions about whether they should adopt cloud computing.

Ed Zedlewski, the current CIO of Eduserv, has been its Deputy Chief Executive since incorporation in 1999, and prior to that played a critical role in the development of the services that subsequently became part of the company.

In this interview, Zedlewski, tells us how he spent too much time jumping off his garage as a child, discusses his love of combustion engines, belief in biologically embedded technology and shares his frustrations with the data deluge.

Engine © Evgeny Korshenkov Shutterstock 2012Engine of progress

What’s your favourite technology ever made?
It has to be the internal combustion engine. I’m consistently amazed by both the engineering skill and innovation which brought about this technology. Every day, most of the world relies on a vast variety of physical principles and precision engineering to propel people at incredible speeds in very short spaces of time. When you consider the scale of the engineering involved against the actual power output, it’s simply staggering – but something that we very much take for granted.

Which technology were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago, Single Sign On was the technology on everyone’s lips. I remember going to Redmond with Microsoft – and this was before Google was really on the scene – to talk about the problem of having too many credentials. Secure web services were also starting to get more important, as organisations began to use the web for increasingly sensitive and commercial purposes.

What technology do you expect to be using in ten years time?
Today, we have a problem with collaboration that I believe will be solved in ten years time. The telephone, that staunch communication technology, remains an unnatural process: dialing digits and picking up a physical object is almost like putting in an IP address into your browser, rather than a website name.

In the future, collaboration will improve – not only will technologies detect where we are, and predict our likely communication patterns (video, voice, IM, etc) but also our mood and preferred cloud services. All of this intelligence will be embedded in wearable or biological technology, allowing us to be productive on the move.

What has been the favourite project in your career so far?
I’d have to say our new cloud service. We’ve gained new customers, partners and invested millions of pounds in a project which has made our overall business direction much clearer. To some extent, we were just in the right place at the right time, but there was also a lot of sweat and brainpower going into it!

What is the greatest challenge for an IT department today?
I don’t think we’re ever going to find a ‘one-size fits all’ solution to the problem of cost-effective information management. There are too many disparate challenges, too many tools. We have to keep chipping away at the problem, but will never find a panacea.

Making Rolls Royce and driving BMW

Who is your tech hero or villain?
One man, who in my mind is equal sinner and saint, is Bill Gates. He wasn’t necessarily a visionary, but his entrepreneurial spirit is almost unmatched. He brought a passion to technology and an understanding of what people want, surrounded himself with the right staff so that Microsoft could deliver what he wanted.

He also managed to pull off a number of successful business acquisitions – such as PowerPoint – which has become the de facto standard for presentations, and flawlessly integrates with the rest of the Office suite.

Which company do you admire the most, and why?
It’s got to be BMW. They consistently provide products of fantastic quality. They’ve managed to match reliability with variety, refreshing their lines every seven years and updating them every 3-5. They strive to improve performance and create an efficient car, whilst also creating something very desirable. The automotive industry is often on a knife edge with environmental pressures and market mood swings, but BMW has managed to balance efficiency and quality incredibly well.

Slavoljub PantelicWhat’s your budget outlook?
It’s growing, and as long as we keep moving in the right direction, it’ll keep growing. People want to work with talented SMEs which don’t charge inflated prices, and we are providing exactly that. We’ve got to keep working hard, but the fact that we’re a not-for-profit organisation means that a higher percentage of our spend goes into R&D, so that we can provide the best technology for customer needs, without worrying about pleasing shareholders.

To Cloud of Not to Cloud?
Definitely ‘to cloud’. You get far better service and value by ‘clouding’ than not – although cloud is certainly not right for every situation and every company. We use cloud services from other companies internally – there’s no point re-inventing the wheel.

There have been a lot of worries about cloud being insecure, but in many cases, keeping data local is a lot less secure! Whilst you do need to be choosy, and it does depend on your organisational structure, cloud generally allows you to consolidate data into a highly controlled, single-instance service which is looked after by experts.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
A fighter pilot. Inspired by too many WWII movies, I spent a lot of time making flying machines when I was a child, jumping off the roof of the garage – I’ve had a broken ankle and a few sprains to show for it. When I was old enough, I took the RAF entrance tests, but I was too tall to be ejected from a fighter plane safely. I could have joind the RAF in another capacity, but I had my heart set on being a fighter pilot.

After that minor setback, I went to university and following graduation, began working at Rolls Royce Aerospace: if I couldn’t fly planes, I was going to help design them, and I worked on the Tornado engine. From that I went into programming, and the rest of my voyage to CIO chair is history!

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