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IT Life: It Used To Be All About Mainframes

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Colin Bannister, VP and CTO for UK and Ireland at CA Technologies, answers classic TechWeekEurope questions

Colin Bannister spent over 30 years working in the IT industry, on both the supplier side and the end-user side. His previous employers include Tesco, NatWest and Royal Bank of Canada. These days, he looks after local operations for one of the largest independent software corporations in the world. Bannister has been the VP and CTO for UK and Ireland at CA Technologies for the last five years.

He says his speciality is not so much the technology itself, as its applications and business outcomes. We spoke to Colin about education, Bill Gates and how IT resembles a loft full of old stuff. 

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Making a contribution

What has been your favourite project so far?
I actually have two. One of them was with Tesco after I already joined CA, when we created a whole new market off the back of technology that already existed. It was born in one of those water cooler conversations with their technology architecture director Mike Yorwerth, who was looking at sustainability initiatives. Carbon footprint, energy consumption, that sort of thing.

And in those conversations, we realised that IT could make a major contribution to driving down the carbon footprint of Tesco as a global organisation. What that resulted in is a couple of brand new products that Tesco now use to manage their energy. It also created an adjacent market for CA.

From a personal perspective, one of my favourites has to be the work I was doing for e-skills. They describe themselves as the “glue between the government, the learning institutions and employers.” I’ve been involved with e-skills for seven years, and a while back we identified one of the biggest challenges in the industry: the students coming out of university don’t have the skills employers are looking for, they are not productive from day one.

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So we created a brand new degree called ‘IT management for business’, which is now taught in 14 universities across the UK, and it is a degree where the learning outcomes are defined by employers rather than academia. In five years, we had some outstanding individuals come out of this programme. If we are to make IT a sustainable industry in the future, we have to make sure that education is fit for purpose.

I get very frustrated when people complain about the IT skill shortage, but just sit back and do nothing about it.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
I was already at CA Technologies ten years ago, and that was when we started offering serious tools and technologies for distributed, or ‘cloud’ computing. I’m an ex-mainframe guy and that was a huge change. In some sense, we were ahead of our time because we had these sexy 3D interfaces to make Unicenter packages easier to use, which actually didn’t resonate with the market very well.

What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
In this industry I can’t even predict what will happen next week, let alone in ten years’ time. I think the Internet of Things is going to have a dramatic effect on organisations, including CA. IT will start to look very different as we add more connectivity to devices such as fridges, cars or wearable computers.

All of these things will be Internet-enabled, and our customers will have millions more devices in their supply chain. We are already becoming used to interaction with any organisation from whatever device, wherever we are.

bill gates MicrosoftWho’s your tech hero?
I think Bill Gates is, in some sense, my tech hero. He did cause chaos while I was working with mainframes at NatWest, but when we look back at the impact Microsoft had, I think he had a clear vision of how the IT industry would develop. I was lucky enough to meet him a few times, and he’s an astonishing individual.

Who’s your tech villain?
The whole point of IT is it brings value, so most organisations are doing everything for the right reasons. The villains have to be all those virus writers out there. I just ask myself: why? What’s the point?

Diving Computers - from Divernet
Diving Computers – from Divernet

It will never get simpler

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
I’m a big fan of scuba-diving, so from the technology perspective, I like the wearable computers designed for diving. Going from manual tables when you have to work out dive times and depths to a device which tells you everything at a glance was fabulous.

I’m also a massive Apple fan, as a consumer. I love my iPad, but I don’t do any work on it. My laptop is by far the best device for creating content, but you can’t beat an iPad for consuming content.

Budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?
We do a lot of different products, and if you look at our latest results, it’s almost flat. The great thing is a lot of our technology is still very relevant in a recession. We can’t ignore the global economy, but the company is staying strong. I believe we can’t save our way out of recession, and IT has a great potential to help companies get out of this mess. 

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
I like the organisations that disrupt the market, in a positive way. Apple does that, and they don’t market what they do, or how they do it, they market why they exist as a company. Then there are other organisations like Google and Amazon, who have come into the IT industry and have shaken up the traditional way of doing things. I think that’s very important.

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
On of the challenges of IT is it never gets any simpler. We are constantly battling complexity. I always think of IT like my loft at home – I always throw stuff in and never throw stuff out. Why would we get rid of something that still works, and thus has value? So in IT, we just add to old stuff and the complexity is ever increasing. As a result you lose time, and 80 percent of your budget goes just to keeping the lights on, and not innovation.

However, IT has a fantastic role to play in driving innovation. If we could only shift that 80/20 balance to 70/30 or 60/40, so that IT focuses more on the future, that would be extremely valuable to any organisation. 

To Cloud or not to Cloud?
For me, the cloud is another delivery mechanism, a potential part of your IT supply chain, with potentially massive benefits, if it’s used wisely. It’s not the answer to everything by any stretch of imagination, but it has its important role to play. 

What did you want to be when you were a child?
Like a lot of children my age, I was big on football. I was always kicking a ball around. I wanted to be a professional player, but never had the ability to really do it.

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