The five minute CIO: Michael Martin

5 Oct 2012

Michael Martin, managed services manager with Trilogy Technologies

This week, Michael Martin, managed services manager with Trilogy Technologies, shares his thoughts on technology trends and strategy.

Describe your own role at Trilogy: you’ve said it crosses between CIO and CTO – what does that mean in practice?

There are four aspects to my role. I manage and basically developed Trilogy’s managed services and I direct strategically within the internal IT department what we’re using, how we’re using it and what projects we’re going to do. I also do a lot of research on solutions and products that we want to add to our own portfolio.

We have a development arm and we do research on new products and new trends and how we would integrate them into our existing solution. And if we don’t see a product, we develop our own. Then I also review the internal efficiencies and where data goes within our organisation.

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

In this role, business is part of it. At the end of the day we can deliver products till we’re blue in the face but if customers don’t need them and they cost our business money, then they’re not practical. We have to look at what is the realistic value we can bring to the client.

I do a lot of research around not just the buzz trends but what actual products people are buying, and I look at vendors’ progress over the past few years – that tells you what people are buying.

As an IT service provider, you get a chance to see how your customers approach business and IT. Does their work influence what you do, or are you better able to advise other companies because you’ve seen lots of different approaches elsewhere?

 If you take the analogy of the doctor, the more patients you see, the more familiar you are with the symptoms. Every environment we look at will have a similar background, usually a Windows network. We’ll look at the different applications, and company policies and procedures.

We try to make our own IT as the model of what customers should aspire to. You’ve got to practice what you preach.

What’s your take on the cloud?

Cloud is a big trend but it covers such a wide area that the one word doesn’t encapsulate what it’s about. For me, it’s about looking at how cloud can assist a business.

For example, cloud storage is one thing we’re interested in – taking your existing storage but expanding it into the cloud.

The thing is, if we look at how the cloud impacts most businesses, generally it’s introduced in a very slow process, so that adds another layer of complexity because you have apps running outside of the business – either running on your own equipment in a data centre or someone else’s. It kind of adds a layer of complexity as well as maybe taking some of that away.

Virtualisation is talked of as a gateway to the cloud – do you find that’s the case?

Virtualisation is still relatively in its infancy in Ireland. While companies are adopting it, the next phase will be how do we manage it, and what problems does it present?

What kind of problems do you mean?

Traditionally, you might have a customer with a lot of physical servers and the tendency is, ‘if it’s working just leave it alone’. When you move into the virtualisation area, you can get virtual machine sprawl. There’s an underlying platform that needs its own management because the problem is, it’s so simple to run a virtual server.

In the old environment, physical servers had multiple roles because they cost money to buy. Now, because servers are virtual, it’s a case of giving them all separate roles but you need to understand what the implications are for the business. We’re also seeing a huge growth in storage.

And do you think that explosion in storage is always necessary?

When something becomes very cheap, people consume a lot more of it. I can easily add more terabytes of data, but the more I consume, the more I have to manage.

Every project we do now is a virtualisation project. As everybody gets to that stage, that will present its own challenges.

If we take it that businesses will outsource more and more to the cloud in the future, what do you think is going to happen to the role of IT management in those organisations?

The size of your business will dictate largely what your role will be. There will be a large slice of vendor management, if you have external companies supplying you services.

Security will come into play a lot more: the questions of ‘where is our data’ and, ‘how are we protecting ourselves’? 

Let’s not forget also the people using this technology will need some level of support. They’ll still be using devices. There’s always going to be a need to oversee and manage that. The [server and storage] hardware may reduce but ultimately there’s going to be links and many vendors and ultimately that’s going to be managed by an IT team.

What should a CIO over the next 12 months do to get his or her IT in good shape for the future? 

There are two aspects to this. As a service provider, it’s critical to businesses that they have a good relationship with a third party. It’s our job to be on top of technology, to keep on top of trends, whereas they’re keeping focused on the day-to-day operations of their business. Working in partnership means you have a mass of information presented to you without the sales hype – what you should be looking at, and what you need to have.

Another thing is to keep looking at your infrastructure. It’s easy to say ‘it’s working, let’s not touch it’. Look at ways where new technology – whether security, virtualisation or cloud storage – can make your environment more efficient, so it requires less management, and make it more available to staff. You want to take the headaches away from them, too. 

Can this be achieved without a massive increase in IT spending?

There could be just a lot of operational changes that need to happen. There could be software packages of which you’re only using 10pc. If you identify what you want, you know the key areas that will facilitate improvements but with no major spending.

If you have a car that’s constantly flashing lights and constantly braking, you can either replace it, or look back and address the issues there are and get another five years out of it … you might just assume that it’s old and needs to be replaced. Maybe with a couple of spare parts and bit of attention it’s able to keep going for longer.

Gordon Smith 

Trilogy Technologies is a member of the Executive Council of the Irish Software Association. The annual ISA Software Industry Awards will take place on 9 November in the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, and are open for entries.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic