IT Life: Minds And Machines

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Lawrence jones UKFast

Lawrence Jones wanted to be a musicion. Now he orchestrates a tech empire

 

Lawrence Jones is the CEO of internet hosting company UKFast, which he formed in 1999. The firm provides colocation, cloud and managed hosting.

ukfast office

Team spirit

What has been your favourite project so far?
The new offices! We bought a building for the UKFast HQ last year as we’d outgrown our former spot on the 28th floor of City Tower. Our new place had been left unused for years so it’s been quite an undertaking, transforming it into this amazing space for the team to work and relax in. Watching people’s faces light up when they see what we’re providing for them is a great feeling. Creating an environment is about creating surprise – unexpected, nice surprises.

And it is also a test of how strong your team is. It’s not easy working in an office that’s being renovated, but it shows just how strong that collective spirit it. Good things come to those who wait and this office space is definitely worth the wait.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago we were trying to create user-friendly hosting environments and control panels that allowed people to simplify their day-to-day IT work.

It’s so interesting to think about what has happened in the world – even over the last 12 months. Development has just sped up massively. I think you could even argue that it’s at its fastest pace in years. The solutions that we build now are enabling and encouraging people to develop more, code more and create more. Everything’s becoming more accessible and everything integrates more easily – which is the perfect situation to breed innovation and speed the evolution of technology even more.

CeBit social share cloud people businessWhat tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
It’s difficult to anticipate, but I think one thing we’ll see more of is collaboration. If you compare ten years ago with now – putting software on a computer, putting 26 floppy disks into a machine, it was just infuriating. And then trying to get software to work with each other was a huge struggle. Everybody was pushing back, but now it’s almost the opposite; whoever collaborates the most wins the race. So, you have things like Google and Facebook and all the different APIs that feed into these types of systems.

Ultimately, the one that works the best with all of them wins overall. I think we’ll see more and more technology that focuses on interaction and on making things easier, faster and more enjoyable for people. And I think the approach will be an altogether more collaborative one than we’ve seen in the past.

Steve-Jobs-BW-obit-square

Jobs – hero and villain

Who’s your tech villain?
Steve Jobs. Yes, he changed the world but there seemed to be a lack of care for the people around him at times. I think his obsession with technology was greater than his love of people. In his later life I think he might have realised that.

We all make mistakes in life, but I think he could have set a better example. Having said that, there is an argument that you don’t get extreme results unless you have an extreme personality…

Who’s your tech hero?
Steve Jobs! His obsession and his ability to bounce back and fight for what he believed in has given everybody hope. It means that anybody can do what Steve Jobs did if you’re prepared to put your neck on the line and take risks.

pebble steel smartwatchWhat’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
The watch. The only thing that you can’t ever get back is time. It’s a great reminder, that little thing ticking on your wrist, reminding you to keep making a difference. How you choose to spend your time will determine so many things in your life and the lives of those around you. Time is the only thing that’s equal to all people.

What is your budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?
It’s growing. We grew from £16m to £20m between 2012 and 2013 and experienced strong growth last year too. For us, this means that we can plough more money back into the business, into better products and services for our customers. The model of UKFast is to reinvest, and recently, we’ve reinvested directly into product development, the support environment and security grants for existing clients. Every year we reinvest 25 percent of our turnover into research and development.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
My mum and dad’s. They’ve taken on one of the most difficult markets – a hotel in Britain by the sea – and they’ve filled it all year round. Whilst they don’t embrace technology to the extent we do, they’ve managed to run a business and have a great lifestyle in their seventies, which keeps them young.

They live on the premises, but it’s a self-sufficient and well-operated business. Also, they’ve managed something I’ve never been able to. I’ve never been able to step back to the degree my mum and dad have and I think that’s really important, so I look at them as far more successful than I am, in that aspect.

Keeping pace with technology

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
Keeping pace with developments in technology. I think the best way to do this is to allow your team the freedom to develop the products and services they think are meaningful, which is why we have development days.

For the people in our tech support teams, if you show signs of being a good developer with the right temperament, there’s no reason you couldn’t move into the RnD team. It’s important for IT companies to create an environment where people can steadily progress, which leads into one of the other challenges; managing people’s expectations and retaining talent.

IT is a really fast-paced environment with a lot of demand and there are always people in other companies who will promise more or be able to pay more. So, you’ve got to be able to pay people well, but it’s also about creating a workspace that they’d struggle to find elsewhere, letting them know how valued they are and investing in their continued development and wellbeing.

To cloud or not to cloud?
It’s an interesting one and I think it depends. Yes, cloud can be more flexible than dedicated hosting but you’ve got to consider the specific needs of your company. There are several different types of cloud and each one has something different to offer. Personally, I think if you have sensitive, mission-critical data and applications, a dedicated server is best for providing that peace of mind. But many companies are also happy with private cloud, where the entire cloud environment is dedicated exclusively to them with none of the shared elements you see in public and hybrid cloud solutions.

It’s also worth considering the provider behind the solution. Obviously, keeping data safe is a top priority so cloud infrastructure needs to be secure, reliable and resistant and you need to know where it is based. It is so easy for businesses to fall foul of data security rules because they don’t check where their cloud data is stored. ]

Make sure that the provider you choose has the technical expertise to support the product and be there to do this for you 24/7. If the product is built with the latest premium technology and is backed up by great support, then you’re onto a winner.

cloud music spotify © Instruct9r Shutterstock

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be a musician and, with my parents’ encouragement, I worked hard to get a scholarship to Durham Chorister School. But, even from a young age, I wanted to take the money I’d make from doing this and create something – a business, buildings – I had big goals and ambitions even then.

On a side note, I think a lot of children have aspirations and plans and we should definitely be encouraging that. I set up my first business at seventeen after earning money playing the piano in Manchester hotels. It was called the Music Design Company and it supplied musicians to venues in the North West. So, that initial ambition has come to pass, in a way, and it has just grown and evolved since then.

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