The time has come for small and medium businesses to get the recognition they deserve, according to Andrew Savory, newly-appointed Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at open source systems integrator Sirius, with a new generation of smart British technology companies proving that they can deliver services just as well, sometimes cheaper, and sometimes better than their large entrenched counterparts.
Savory, an active member of The Apache Software Foundation, joins Sirius from the LiMo Foundation, a non-profit technology consortium dedicated to creating the first Linux-based mobile operating system for smartphone devices. Coming from an open source, small business background himself, Savory is excited to see a step-change in the way that SMEs are being viewed, thanks to initiatives like the government's G-Cloud.
“There's a lot of buzz at the moment around the G-Cloud and stuff that the new government developers are doing in terms of quick iterations, pushing out services fast, seeing what works, seeing what doesn't. I think that's absolutely the right way to deliver services,” says Savory.
“The old monolithic approach of spending three years specifying something, 10 years delivering something, and then you suddenly realise that actually the need for it disappeared nine years ago is rubbish. So I would like to see a lot more organisations going down that route.”
Savory says the exciting thing about the technology industry at the moment is that organisations are no longer willing to wait for technology to catch up with their needs – they are expecting technological solutions to drive business processes. There is also a lot more political and economical pressure for companies to consider SMEs for delivery of services, he says, as those that take a slow approach to rolling out infrastructure will be overtaken by competitors.
However, it can still be difficult for small businesses to make their voices heard amid all the vendor noise, which is why Savory believes that SMEs can benefit from clubbing together and forming consortiums. This allows them to extend their profile and reach, as well as potentially leveraging cost differences in different countries.
Back in 2000, while running a company called Luminas, Savory set up a business consortium with six other companies across Europe, which later became the model for the Open Source Consortium in the UK, founded by Sirius chief executive Mark Taylor.
“The benefit that we had with the consortium was that we could go to large customers that would previously have said they were not interested and say, we're not just this small IT services company from the UK, we're six companies across Europe, we cover multiple time zones and we can draw in a pool of resources from companies all across Europe,” Savory explains.
He adds that, in comparison with American companies, organisations in the UK tend to be a bit scared of the unknown, averse to risk and unwilling to accept failure. However, he believes that failure is an important part of the business development process.
“The best thing you can do is fail fast,” he says. “I've seen some initiatives that go on for years and years and never get an output and nothing ever works. If it doesn’t work, move on.”
A new approach to education
Savory believes that the key to growth in the British technology sector is better IT education. Rather than teaching children to use specific programs, like Microsoft Word and Excel, they should be taught to use word processors and spreadsheets in a more general sense.
“Ten years down the line, we may not be using MS Office, we might be using Office in the cloud through a web browser, so it might look substantially different,” he says. “We might be using Google Docs, or OpenOffice, or LibreOffice, and at that point we've got a massive training problem on our hands, both for the staff that are trying to use these tools, but also for the IT departments that have got to manage their use.”
Savory says that a lot of countries in Europe have already rolled out Linux desktops and free software in schools, universities and enterprises, and the UK could soon find itself in the position of being grossly uncompetitive, because young people are coming out of school with significantly fewer skills.
He also welcomes the government's plan to overhaul in the way ICT is taught in schools and focus on programming, suggesting that, in combination with initiatives like Raspberry Pi, it could start to change the way that people think about IT.
“I get slightly nervous that we're seeing a massive talent drain of everybody moving into mobile app development. If anybody can write an app and get money for it, what's the incentive to work on some of the other computing problems like writing a word processor or writing open source software?” he says.
“I think it's fantastic that people can write apps for phones and see pretty much instant results and carry their software around with them. That's awesome and I wouldn't want to stop that for the world. I just hope that we can retain some focus on programming for desktop environments.”