End Of An Era

Truth be told I’m a bit too choked up to say much other than how proud I was to have been part of a brilliant, dedicated and professional team. I joined demand247 in it’s first year in 2009 and we took it from a startup business doing ATG support and maintenance to the top table of eCommerce delivery with a stellar client list and some brilliant sites in development. It ended on the threshold of greatness.

So what happened since April last year ?

The aspiration to be a regular blogger didn’t even last the first few weeks of starting with Demand247, so what happened?

I think it’s fair to say that I got busy, very very busy. Having a senior position in a startup company is demanding and very rewarding, it also requires focus, dedication and a responsible head – helping steer the team to strive to delight clients.

In a small business you quickly realise that you have to do *EVERYTHING* yourselves, if you don’t do it there isn’t some other function or role in the organisation that can flex or be arranged to pick up the slack, this applies to working through the invoicing and chasing up timesheets, answering RFPs, calling clients, dealing with critical situations to making the coffee and tidying up.

I’m really pleased to say that October 2010 marks the 2nd Birthday of Demand247 and we are now embarking on Year 3 – we’ve hit our revenue plans for the first 2 years and grown from a small nucleus to a permanent staff that can be self-sufficient. We are keeping a sizeable offshore team working very hard to support, extend and develop existing and new eCommerce sites. We started supporting ATG clients but are now setup to work with multiple eCommerce vendors – with a clear market / client technology approach. We know what differentiates D247 from the herd – we specialise not just in the build, but the long term run, manage and optimisation of sites. We keep our clients up all night! Up through the day, round the clock and the calendar.

When an eCommerce site fails the impact to a modern retailer is immense – lost sales, lost reputation, lost faith. When criticism can spread virally and reputation awareness is a motivating concern of Marketing ensuring a reliable and dependable web presence is ever more critical. I’m going to expand on this a bit more in future posts – lessons we’ve learned and now apply with our clients, what were doing with different technologies – from getting Hybris running in a private cloud to building highly resilient architetures, from baselining an ATG BCC (the hard way) to tackling unstable web sites.

Year 3 is going to be amazing and I’m really proud of what the team has achieved in such a short time. You’ll have to excuse me now, apparently it’s my turn to make the coffee….

The virtues of bunking off

Today I concluded that as I’m in the departure lounge I will be the likely recipient of an ‘S-Goat’ trophy for trying to do something creative last year that didn’t quite evolve as expected. An email exchange also frustrated me with the short-sightedness of some parties in a certain brand that can’t see past the end of the ‘i’ in their name. I would moan about ‘cost-saving’ that has inspired the cancellation of employer paid home broadband that seems to have got everyone else’s goat. Seeing as I’ve already terminated that agreement (mostly in response to being on the receiving end of BT customer care neglect) it would be a bit churlish.

Consumate professional that I am I decided to do something  inspirational rather than merely tedious, I bunked off (well for about 90 minutes, still made and took calls – consider it a ‘health and safety’ break on a longish drive home).

On my return journey from IBM Warwick, I took a right turn at Milton Keynes, got lost down a few suburban streets and eventually found myself in Bletchley Park, with just enough time available to get a cup of tea in the canteen.

Hmmm, shot into the sun and with a cherry picker in the shot, not the worlds best photo of Bletchley Park!

Hmmm, shot into the sun and with a cherry picker in the shot, not the worlds best photo of Bletchley Park!

I’ve been promising myself I’ll go for years. Bletchley is a place I’ve ‘missed’ before in my life. I would have trained their as an Air-Traffic Control Engineer had I been born just a year or two sooner than 1973. When I was a ‘sponsored undergraduate’ for National Air-Traffic Services I was the first intake NOT to go to Bletchley Park but to go to Highfield Park. Which in itself is a fab place that used to be owned by Mohammed Ali, Neville Chamberlain and Dumbledoor. It’s still a great ice-breaker question answer; ‘I used to live in Mohammed Ali’s house’ or ‘I learned all about Radar in Dumbledoor’s house’.

I paid my £10 which now gives me access for the rest of the year, I’m sure the family will be thrilled on our next visit to Birmingham when I take a detour en-route, after all there is a good canteen and a new play area for the kids.

I immediately went downstairs in Block B to see the Bombe reconstruction, Alan Turing Statue and several Enigma and Lorenz encryption machines. Wondered around the site, contemplating where my NATS pre-deccesor Alistair Barclay was reputed to have repaired motorbikes in his room.

I wondered up to the main house, strolled around various rooms including the Ballroom and noted that I didn’t see much reference to the contribution of Shaun Wylie (my other link with Bletchley is that in IBM I’ve worked, albeit briefly with Shaun’s daughter Helen Wylie).

I then went to the ‘National Museum of Computing’ in Block 8 (Lucky to be open on a Tuesday) firstly to see the operating re-build of Colossus MKII, where I was amazed to find Tony Sale doing some maintenance work. I was awestruck – I just stood there with my mouth slightly agape for about 10 minutes, here is the worlds first ever electronic programmable computer, running, reading punched tape and being dilligently maintained by a former director of the BCS, nothing short of incredible.

I did a quick explore and found some recently donated Radar workstations from West Drayton (which were rather like seeing old friends) plus a stack of associated DEC PDP11 machines used for Radar processing (before the ‘Node’ system replaced it, which itself is now superceeded by the systems in Swanwick). I also found two visitor who used an air-traffic systems acronym I recognised from 15 years ago and in striking up conversation found that they were recently retired former NATS engineering instructors who pre-dated my time but who knew all of the people and places I hastily discussed with them.

My visit culminated with taking a couple of photographs of the two machines responsible for firing my interest in IT – a ZX81 (possibly the most important thing my parents ever brought for me, it arrived in a carrier bag, second hand from someone my father worked with) and a ZX Spectrum. The display also has Mac’s, Orics, Amigas and an Apple Newton (last saw one of those in the hands of my friend Alex Starr @Twixi on Twitter and now at AMD).

This device to be avialable on the IBM 'buy your own laptop' scheme (aledgedly)

This device soon to be available on the IBM 'buy your own laptop' scheme (allegedly)

I also saw a Research Machines 380z’s which was the first machine I ever experienced at Blakenhale Junior School – big thank you Mr Harwood.

My soul has been restored, my faith in the brilliance of smart people striving together to solve seemingly intractable problems in very trying circumstances has served as inspiration. Inspiration I will cary forward into my new venture with Demand 247 but also to resolve my current responsibilities and engagements at IBM to the best of my ability (mostly by not ‘bunking off’ on a whim).

There’s a superb ‘Forties Family Festival‘ event coming up at Bletchley on 25th May, do try and get along, it’s good for the soul you know.

£499 and you get Lotus Symphony for FREE!

£499 and you get Lotus Symphony for FREE!

Finally, here’s just how far the internet and communications has taken us in the past 25 years, £499 for a modem, but you do get a FREE copy of Lotus Symphony.

Oh and here’s the ZX SepctrumZX Spectrum on display too >>

A new adventure begins

For a few days now I’ve been developing a mental image to help share what I’m currently preparing to do. I’ve been imagining that I’m base jumping with my career. You meticulously check everything, ensure your parachute is packed properly and that the landing area is clear, the wind is just right, then you pause, clear your mind and at some point you choose to jump, to step into the void.

Today I have resigned from IBM UK to begin an exciting new adventure. From early May I will be the Technology Director of Demand247 who are a young and vibrant provider of hosted and managed services.

Lotus and IBM has been my life for very nearly 13 years and I want to thank everyone that I have worked with, you are all remarkable people and I owe a lot to a great many friends, colleagues, mentors and managers. I’m nostalgic and dewy eyed with memories of projects (good, bad and ugly), business partners, sales gigs, events and social time together (especially the BOI ‘residency’ in Dublin in 2000/2001, Vegas, Barcelona and Lithuania).

I want to also thank my family for putting up with all the late nights, time away from home, early mornings, insistence on dabbling with a laptop or a Blackberry at any available opportunity and who are now putting up with me becoming all entrepreneurial.

Thankfully with increasing ubiquity of social software tools my departure from IBM should only be a small hurdle in the maintenance of communication, for those that want to stay in touch here are some means to do so:

Blog: http://www.paulmartinsmith.co.uk

Twitter: http://twitter.com/paulmartinsmith

Email: paul@paulmartinsmith.co.uk

As I seem to have a soundtrack for everything I do, so as ever, I have prepared a spotify playlist to say ‘Goodbye‘ with.

With Demand247 I’ll not be a million miles away and I’m looking forward to working with you on hosted solutions in the future.

Very best regards


A 'rather chipper' Paul Smith

A 'rather chipper' Paul Smith