The five minute CIO: John Shorten

20 Apr 2012

John Shorten, technical director at TelecityGroup's Irish operation

Welcome to the latest in a series of exclusive interviews on, where Ireland’s IT leaders share their thoughts on technology trends and strategy. This week, we talk to John Shorten, technical director at TelecityGroup’s Irish operation.

Formerly Data Electronics, a €100m acquisition last year brought the previously independent IT services company into the fold at Europe’s largest data centre player TelecityGroup. The company operates three facilities in Dublin and it hosts a range of international and indigenous clients.

How much of the TelecityGroup organisation does your role cover: how many users across how many sites?

There are three main data centres for the Irish operations of TelecityGroup. There are 50 staff within the operations division between all three sites in Ireland.

Do you see your role primarily as a technical one, or a business one?

My role is a combination of both – sales support, technical strategy, guidance, quality management, budgetary analysis along with operations and facilities management – a bit of everything!

Is your 2012 IT budget increased, decreased, or the same as last year, and how will that affect your priorities?

My 2012 budget has increased slightly on last year in line with the enhanced data centre requirements that are standard within TelecityGroup as a whole. Our priority is always focused on customer service. After that, it’s in improving the quality of our data centres and service offerings.

What is your main IT project for this year?

There are many concurrent projects under way in TelecityGroup Ireland, however one of the main IT projects for the year is the upgrade of our managed network service offering, which offers our customers enhanced connectivity across Europe and the rest of the world.

What IT initiative are you most proud of?

The ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ offering is a tried and tested solution that we have put together after many years’ experience of managing the sum parts of the solution individually. We have a skilled team here and prior decisions in this area have proven to be the correct ones.

What has been the hardest challenge since you took your current role?

Being part of a larger group has implicit reporting and auditing on a regular basis. Although we are well used to strict auditing by third parties we have now become part of a larger organisation with additional quality management standards – and more audits!

You went from working in an indigenous company to a large corporate – did you have to change your approach to IT in any way as a result?

There were changes from the way that the indigenous company operated compared to TelecityGroup. Corporate LAN services are now controlled centrally by TelecityGroup, but this has its advantages and allows local skilled IT staff to further support the business through customer-focused activities.

What technology trends are of most interest to you personally and to your own organisation?

The trend towards big data and management of vast data sets is of particular interest to me. This trend has implications on power and cooling management/efficiencies within data centres, as customers concentrate large banks of servers in a small space.

What’s your view of cloud computing: vendor hype or business revolution?

We have been operating a private cloud solution for a long time now so this would appear as a good deal of hype to me. Public cloud offerings have inherent security risks for some of the types of customers that we deal with. The public cloud has been an enabler for customers with lower security requirements and has resulted in a business revolution in this sector.

Bring your own device to work: a logistical nightmare or a trend to be embraced?

This can be a logistical nightmare if not managed properly. A strong, well thought out policy on the use of ‘non-standard’ devices can facilitate their incorporation – however, risk to information assets would in my view be a key item to be addressed, security being the major one. In summary: a trend to be embraced, but with conditions.

What’s your approach to major business applications: build or buy?

By virtue of our security principles and requirements for ISO27001, the more secure option for us is to buy. This ensures that confidential data is not in the hands of a third party. We would tend to use off-the-shelf software with minor modifications for our business applications that are easily supportable.

Outsource or in-house IT?

We promote outsourced IT, as this is one of our key product offerings at TelecityGroup.

Given that TelecityGroup is a European organisation, how much autonomy do you have for IT either at a tactical or strategic level? Do you have to use the same vendors as the parent company, or is there some flexibility?

We have a large degree of autonomy for IT decisions at a local level and TelecityGroup is very supportive of this fact. Given the group now consists of 28 data centres across Europe, the collective knowledge between management of the data centres is shared – along with IT decisions.

We use many of the same vendors as the European HQ, because they are carefully selected. However, we have the autonomy to change this if we feel that the local environment is better served by one vendor over another.

Do you have a preference for using indigenous IT service companies and consultants, or do you opt for the multinational names?

We are vendor-agnostic and choose vendors based on their ability to deliver their services in an effective, cost-efficient manner. We’re not tied in any way to multinational names just because they are a brand.

Have you any plans to add to your own skills this year and if so, in what area?

I recently studied for a diploma in Lean systems which is an area that is traditionally more at home in manufacturing. There are great possibilities for adoption of Lean systems along with Six Sigma in a service organisation. Having worked with Six Sigma in the past, I’d like to augment my knowledge in this area.

How do you stay on top of developments in IT that could help your organisation, and how much time do you spend on this?

By meeting with vendors, involvement with special interest bodies and listening to customers, analysing trends, we’re able to keep informed of developments. We also have a specialist team of engineers who analyse new products and services for inclusion in our portfolio.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic