For Serco CTO Ron Lewis, the cloud has been key to consolidation. In the months leading up to the company“™s acquisition of SI international, in December 2008, Lewis guided Serco toward the cloud. The outcome: an operating model in which core back office processes “” such as HR transactions, labor and reporting, expense reports, and purchasing ability “” shifted to an online portal. The result: Groundbreaking. Up until that point, much of company growth had been occurring in field offices. Now, participants could bring critical core transactions to other offices courtesy of a URL. “I“™m happy to say that, today, that is how we operate the company,“ says Lewis.
Leveraging SOA approaches
Much of that cloud infrastructure was built upon SOA-based architecture. “If you look at SOA-based architecture, you“™re taking your core business services, breaking them down, and then building a layer of software that potentially you expose to the public “¦ you build applications around that layer,“ says Lewis. Security, he adds, was baked into that approach. “There are a consistent set of standards for how you do SOA architecture that we were following,“ he says. This past year, the company also did a “deep dive“ to determine any security holes. The results confirmed the soundness of the system.
Replicable lessons for government customers
The philosophy of SOA and the cloud to further end-to-end business processes “” each will be adopted by government customers with greater frequency over the next five years, predicts Lewis. “One of the things that was helpful in our ability to consolidate data centers was the whole notion of being able to virtualize the physical server,“ says Lewis. “You will hear a lot of talk from government about how you can take a physical server, create a virtual image of it, and put it on a much larger enterprise-class service so you can lower costs and power, as well as be able to provision more quickly “” that“™s certainly a trend that“™s going to continue.“
So will the push toward operating in the cloud. “I think the ability to take your business processes, break them into a core set of services, and then implement those services using web services will be a key component for government customers,“ says Lewis. “The two main frameworks that people will be using to build the next generation of software will be Microsoft.net or the Java EE 5 framework,“ he adds.
Meanwhile, SOA and cloud computing are opening the door to more flexible collaboration tools. “Things like portals, extranets, and collaboration rooms such as WebEx will play a much bigger role [in organizations],“ says Lewis. That“™s what market realities are dictating. “When you look at the workforce, the typical tech worker today is somebody who grew up with this technology “” they“™ve had laptops and cell phones since they were kids,“ says Lewis, who oversaw the launch of an extranet among Serco“™s tech force in 2007. He adds: “I can already see the next generation of software tools for building with a web application and there is a component in this next generation of tools that allows you to build, and integrate, end-to-end business processes through the web.“
For Lewis, the role of CTO is about continuously pushing the envelope. “Not just being content with where we are today but how we can use technology to think differently about how we“™re going to deliver a process or a service internally,“ he says. “We“™re a growth company,“ he adds, “We grow organically, in double digits and through acquisition. When you“™re doing that, the IT of your company can make or break you. IT is a critical part of our company to support our projected growth. We plan to be at the front and center, at the table.“
UP CLOSE: Ron Lewis, CTO, Serco
Tech tools he“™s tracking: “Right now, I“™m spending some time really understanding a technology that“™s being pushed by JBoss around Seam, a framework for building web applications,“ says Lewis.
Personal: Lewis is a basketball fan. “The analogy [to executive leadership] is you have to practice to get better, you“™ve also got to be able to adapt fairly quickly to competition,“ he says.