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Chris Smith

Sales and Marketing Director at Blue Chip

At IPExpo, Blue Chip's Chris Smith discussed how the company's IBM Power Cloud capabilities are providing a flexible future for businesses in all kinds of industries. This interview, conducted by Bill Mew, was first shown on the Disruptive Live channel.

Chris Smith: When I was a child I either wanted to be a lead guitarist in a rock band, or I wanted to be a movie star. Currently I work for a company called Blue Chip. We specialise in managing and supporting critical IT for businesses. I started there over twenty years ago, and I'm now the Head of Marketing and Sales for Blue Chip.

At the weekends when I’m not working for Blue Chip, I currently coach my son’s football team, it’s kind of like herding cats to begin with now it’s a little bit easier, they can play a little bit better football and I’m sure he’ll grow up to be some kind of highly-paid football star. What excites me about the future of technology at the moment, the huge strides we’re making in AI, particularly around the use of IBM’s Power AI hardware and how that can give customers massive insights into their data.

The advice I would give about technology is 'don’t be afraid of change'. The only constant is change. Don’t fear it.

Bill Mew: Okay, well that video showed us some a very quick introduction to our next guest Chris Smith, who’s joining us from Blue Chip. Chris, having shown everyone that little video, please do a little bit more of an explanation about who you are, what your role is at Blue Chip.

Chris Smith: Okay, so, I've been at Blue Chip for twenty-three years now.

Bill Mew: That’s almost a life sentence!

Chris Smith: Either supremely dedicated or institutionalised. One or the other! Probably a mixture of both. Yes, I’ve been at Blue Chip for twenty-three years. We’ve been going for just over thirty years. So we're specialists in IBM mid-range hardware. And have been for that whole period of time. The last ten to fifteen years, we’ve been branching more out to manage services and cloud services as well. So we now offer these IBM mid-range systems in the cloud for customers, as well as other workloads, Linux, Microsoft, the usual stuff and the ability to move into other Cloud providers, of which there are many.

Bill Mew: And is there still very big demand out there for some of the other mid-range systems? Both in the cloud and...

Chris Smith: Very much so, yeah, so our customer base is very diverse in fact. Everything from banking and wealth management to pharmaceutical, distribution, manufacturing, high street, pretty much across the board, everyone. The main common factor is the technology they use.

Bill Mew: I need to disclose, I’m a former IBMer and I, well, almost did a life sentence with them myself. So I’m very familiar with the technology. I mean, it’s great technology, but actually, it’s the technology that doesn’t do anything. It’s the way it’s applied and the way that you guys implement it and make it work for your clients. What are the biggest demands that you’re seeing, either in moving stuff to the cloud or into simplifying systems and providing money?

Chris Smith: Yeah, so like you said it’s the applications that deliver the business needs. So we look after the commonalities. We look after the infrastructure, the operating systems and somewhere safe and sound to house it. So we’re big on security. We’re big on the fact we own our own data centres. So not using third-party locations for this. So we’re in control of the whole supply chain. There’s no engineers waiting outside to come and fix things, that sort of thing, so, we have full control over that giving the customer the control of the application so that they can they can deliver the value back to their business. Back to your question and your point around the kind of workloads we’re being asked about, it’s all about analytics now, in reality. A lot of call for AI and we offer that to our customer base because their data they’ve got, their precious natural resource is in our data centre already. So it doesn’t have to leave the perimeter for them to do that kind of analytics and investigation, if you like. So we deliver a platform to do that with IBM’s Power AI and other platforms to enable them to interrogate that data and gain value from it. And I think at the moment when you think about things like Cloud, Cloud means a lot of things to a lot different people. AI means even more things and even more vagary around it to different people at the moment. So I think there’s a lot of people still finding their feet as what they can do with it.

Bill Mew: And so you offer a broad range from on-prem to private cloud to hybrid cloud, to burst in to IBM’s own Cloud. What’s the sort of range of offerings you have?

Chris Smith: Well, pretty much everything really I mean, so, key for us is most of the customers have an IBM system in the core of their infrastructure. So we deliver private cloud to some customers. We have multi-tenancy cloud as well. We also have multi-tenancy cloud in a PCI environment as well. So with PCI DSS, Level 1 for managed services, so we do that for banking and anyone handling credit card details as well, but we can do that private and multi-clouded in that environment, multi-tenanted in that environment as well. So, beyond that we also offer the ability to go into things like the IBM Cloud, Azure, Amazon, Salesforce, you name it. There’s connectivity there. And I think these days people need that hybrid multi-cloud, whatever you want to call it, approach.

Bill Mew: Obviously in this hybrid multi-cloud event, it’s a multi skilled environment and skills are a real challenge out there. How are you guys sort of a finding that you have a specialisation in this area, where you can really apply a difference?

Chris Smith: Yeah, so I think for us the skills is often a challenge for the customers, not so much for us. So our focus on the IBM mid-range and also mainframe as well, enables us to deliver skills that are growing shorter and shorter. Lots of people retiring moving on to do other things people don’t leave college and university now with skills in zOS or IBMi, Os or anything like that. So we have to offer those skills to our customers.

Bill Mew: Well you must be in great demand.

Chris Smith: We're quite lucky, it’s very busy, very busy. And in fact that’s driven us moving to the next level of development. So over the last, let’s say eighteen months, we’ve been so busy delivering customers, it causes a bit of a backlog. The traditional way we would deliver that on, if you like, classic core switching and things like that, every change window would fill up very quickly and you’re only doing a change on core networking once a month it means you get very busy and you can’t deliver all the time. So we’ve actually moved and we’ve launched a new software-defined data centre. So completely new separate infrastructure, built within our data centre allows us to deliver everything, much much faster than before. So whereas traditionally could take up to twelve weeks to deliver infrastructure, we can now do it with an SLA in forty-eight hours. Which is quite scary really so I guess what we’ve done is we’ve taken the Power systems, the IBM systems into the modern era, if you like, so people can expect the same functionality they get from AWS, Azure and the other cloud providers and even if they're using their own VMware, they can get that now from Blue Chip in the cloud.

Bill Mew: And it’s a software-defined on-demand world and you’re right there.

Chris Smith: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So I think we the first to do it with Power systems in the UK, so it’s a huge benefit for us.

Jillian Kowalchuk: And you touched on the skills kind of gap or at least on the customer and not necessarily in Blue Chip. How have they retained you for twenty-three years, as a millennial, as someone who’s you know, statistically going to change careers seven or eight times. What is the brand culture or you know how have they retained all of the talent there?

Bill Mew: Apart from the concrete boots that stop you moving!

Chris Smith: Yeah, the golden handcuffs! So I was there for him from a young age, I was an engineer so I come from a technical background, so, I know a lot of these old infrastructure from the past all the way up to now and I think you touched on the culture there, it's the culture of the business. So an entrepreneurial business, I know the managing director very well. We get on very well. So and it’s a great atmosphere to work in. It sounds a little bit cheesy to talk about a family atmosphere but it is like that, I’ve been there for so long now it’s like a second family to me.

Bill Mew: In terms of your breadth of clients, obviously, IBM has its own sectors where it’s particularly strong, such as the finance sector, do you tend to mirror a lot of that? Where are you particularly strong in terms of your spread of cloud focus?

Chris Smith: So we do have a strong area around banking and finance, that’s why we have the PCI DSS Level 1 accreditation, because it allows us to deliver services to people that are handling credit card information and we found that essentially bought in customers that are not IBM-focused. Last year we brought in a payment card provider, who initially divested out of Apple Pay and they’re writing another piece of software for Android now to allow banks to use several transactions in the same way. So these guys don’t have any Power systems what they needed was a PCI environment that’s safe and secure for their application, which is what we’re delivering for. So there’s a strong play there, but like I said before, we cross all sorts of different industries.

Bill Mew: To many people who are new and cloud native, they see the IBM environment as very old hat, but you’ve got to remember that with MQ, and a lot of the old technologies that are still running most of the financial networks across the world.

Chris Smith: There’s something in there and the thing that surprises me more often than not, is the amount of mainframes there are still there.

Bill Mew: Absolutely.

Chris Smith: Most of the major banks have a mainframe hidden away somewhere, a lot of the major supermarkets in the UK have mainframes still as well. So there’s a place for everything. And for me, it’s a lot like the approach to a multi cloud. You put your right applications in the right place. You need something that’s highly critical and cannot afford to go down and put it on a mainframe. If something is not quite as critical, there are other places to put it, if something that you need the flexibility on you just throw it up in the cloud. So there’s a place for everything. There’s no one answer.

Bill Mew: Well, if there’s no one Cloud, there’s no one technology, there’s no one else.

Chris Smith: Indeed.

Bill Mew: And that’s why people need to be as multi skilled as you guys are.

Chris Smith: Yes, yes! I’d say that! Yes. That sums us up, yes!

Bill Mew: So at the show here yesterday and today, are you guys speaking, are you guys presenting?

Chris Smith: We’re here looking around. We have a number of events. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it earlier in the week. I was speaking at an IBM event. So, today I’m looking around seeing what’s happening and what’s new and available, and looking for new partners as well, because we’re always looking to enhance our capabilities and we’ll do that through partnerships when possible.

Bill Mew: Anyone out there tuning in, Blue Chip - they’re looking for new partners, so, get in contact with Chris Smith, I’m sure he’ll be very pleased to have a chat. We’re enormously grateful for you coming and joining us today. But before you disappear in terms of where you’re taking the company next, what the new horizons are, do you have any big ambitions, are there big big sort of avenues in sight for you guys? And what’s on the horizon?

Chris Smith: I think for us, we are re-launching our services based on the software-defined approach. So our ability to deliver things very very quickly and very scale-ably and to change things quickly as well. So we’ll be relaunching the branding around that in the next couple of weeks. So people can look forward to looking out for that. Okay, been heavily involved in that and really that’s going to underpin our ability to grow and deliver more services. When you think about it, I tell you, reducing from twelve weeks to forty-eight hours the time to deliver a customer’s infrastructure is going to fast-track as to growth.