Tom Meade, Registers of Scotland Digital Director

Written by Alan Robertson on 5 January 2016 in Feature

For 100 days, Connect is running through our Tech 100, profiling the key figures driving the digital agenda in Scotland

Tom Meade (@himmish)

Job Title/Organisation: Registers of Scotland Digital Director (CIO)

What does your role involve?

I was appointed to Registers of Scotland to write a digital strategy that reflects current agile and lean thinking to transform our business processes for our customers and rationalise our IT estate. Following board approval, we have initiated a major delivery programme of rapid and frequent deliveries to continually improve our services, while eliminating technical debt.

Our programme has delivered about £1.5m of recurring benefits already in its first six months and we still have most of the bigger elements ahead of us. We’ve had to work very hard on the agile and technical disciplines to enable this frequency of releases and code quality. We are also creating a new private cloud in the Scottish Government's shared data centre at Saughton House, and virtual desktops and unified comms to support the business of the future.

What do you consider to be the most imminent challenge in your line of work?

The biggest challenge is to find the balance between agility and stability – the DevOps conundrum. We have invested a significant amount of training and education to bring a lot of the Agile principles and practices from development into our operations teams.

We’re seeing big improvements through the use of Kanban and retrospection, but we still have a gap between operations’ need for stability of the demands for change. I am a strong advocate of DevOps, theory and practice in green-field sites. Trying to find the right way for this to work in “brown-field” when many legacy systems are 10-20 years old is, I think, the biggest challenge. 

What has been the most rewarding piece of work you've undertaken?

The most rewarding piece has been introducing lean thinking into operations and seeing teams take the concepts forward with great results. A team undertook a 5S exercise in our primary data centre (sort, set, shine, standardise, sustain). This has resulted in the decommissioning of many old servers, the removal of (literally) truck loads of old kit or packaging, improvement to our cabling, better signage, tighter access controls and better monitoring.

The team continues to improve our data centre and elements of it are unrecognisable from previously. This has a significant bottom-line benefit also. Our power-utilisation has decreased. Our service availability has increase. Our licensing has decreased. Our time to restore and troubleshoot has fallen. Our fire risk has fallen. The team has just run with this as their own initiative which is highly rewarding.

How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?

Scotland can bridge the gap by investing in its potential. There are a number of organisations that are offering Modern Apprentices with IT flavouring – it is incumbent on employers to give the talent of the future a chance, and it’s low cost to do so. Other initiatives on the development side such as CodeClan are doing the right things to create supply. We need to support them.

Which new technology excites you the most?

I’m normally more interested in the software side of things than infrastructure, so things like Docker and visualisation tools normally ring my bell. This year though, we have some big infrastructure work underway and I must say that I’ve been quite taken by the concept datacentre in a box, or cloud in a box.

The convergence of compute, storage and network offers the capability to rapidly create and destroy environments on demand and to scale easily with minimal overhead. The confluence of players like Cisco, IBM, EMC, VMWare and Microsoft in creating alliances in this space indicates to me that potentially disciples like networking, platforms and storage are likely to converge also in the near future.

What's your favourite app and why?

I’m a bore. My most-used app as an Irish man living in Scotland is the Irish Times app (which is excellent). My favourite app on my phone of recent times was a game called The Room.

What, for you, will 2016 be the year of from a technology/digital standpoint?

I think the use of and functionality of collaboration tools is going to accelerate in business. The “video-conferencing rooms” will soon disappear – every desk will be a video conferencing room. Presentations will be less on the big screen and more on multiple small screens in meetings with more interaction from participants.

We are already seeing a huge uptake in our use of Skype for Business, WebEx and others, and I expect this will surge, meaning we’ll need to have wifi, networks and devices to match.

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