Up close and personal: Q and A with judge – Steve Broadhead

Steve Broadhead

Tell us about your experience and what makes you an ideal Tech Trailblazers judge?

Experience? Far too much! I remember when 8-bit computing was exciting. Ideal Judge? I’m from Yorkshire and we got electricity last year, so I’m now in the 20thcentury, if not the 21st yet…


Which categories do you specialise in?

Those which the Techtrailblazers on high tell me to specialise in! As an IT guy, turned IT journalist, turned product tester, my view is that you need to know as much as possible about every aspect of IT, since none of it works independently to the rest – cause/effect etc…


What trends and disruptive technologies are you seeing in this/these areas?

So many technologies claim to be disruptive when, in truth, they are just new variations on a theme. Ironically, the IT user base is so conservative (in Europe at least) that often the truly disruptive technologies die prematurely, or are simply beaten up by the cheap n dirty alternative. Which is why we have more Ethernet ports still active than a sailor has girls ports therein, why the IT world still runs on TCP/IP and why, for example, it took virtualisation four decades to truly become globally accepted. Positive trends? Making proper use of the cloud (itself 4th generation outsourcing) such as in the worlds of security and wireless. The IoT is here, but that’s essentially just the latest take on directory services. And just how disruptive is it to have an oven that can be remotely controlled by a phone? If it can download a recipe, then use robot arms to make the pizza and have it ready for when you get home (allowing time for a GnT first), then THAT is disruptive technology… So I’m looking for technologies that makes things BETTER. Nothing can be more disruptive than that.


What challenges need to be addressed over the coming years in these areas?

The primary challenge is sifting the common sense (see above) from the marketingese, so that the investment and development focus is spent on worthy technologies. The problem all too often is that a trend emerges and 100 “me too” start-ups attempt to jump on the same silicon bandwagon. Working out which of these has real credentials and longevity is not getting any easier.


What markets do you see as emerging in importance in enterprise technology?

I don’t think it’s market per se, so much as solutions at the enterprise level. The classic perspective is that businesses should focus on their core business and not let IT get in the way (unless they are an IT company!). So, if you manufacture biscuits, IT should only be relevant as a means of streamlining and improving business operations. Therefore, a “solution” based approach to IT, whether it involves cloud-based operations or not, which minimises the requirements of internal IT to understand the minutiae of every different technology and vendor out there and lets them get on with rapidly deploying the technology and improving the business, is what is important.


What will make a startup stand out in your opinion? 

The primary stand out element has to be relevance. That old classic “creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist” is more relevant than ever. Thereafter, I’m looking for a smart execution plan and speed to market. Nothing kills start-ups more than high operating costs, combined with slothfulness to market. WRT the latter, that relevance factor becomes more critical than ever, in terms of convincing an IT team that they NEED this product, without the requirement for a 12 months sales cycle.


Any other tips for entrants?

Be honest, focus on real benefits, not the detail of the technology to the nth degree, or the marketing spin (especially not the latter) and, if in bribe mode, please ensure the wine is of the finest vintage -)


Give an example of someone in technology who has inspired and helped shape your career? And what qualities made them such a good mentor or champion for you?

There are two elements here. One is those who I saw doing IT the wrong way – primarily within my first five years of working in industry in the DP (as it was known then) departments of end user companies; those whose primary aim was job protection and free lunches from their favourite vendor sales managers and to Hell with real business benefits and actual intelligent assessment of DP/IT strategy.  The second – and positive – element, is those who took me under their wing when I moved into the world of IT publishing and gave me the confidence to do my own thing and not be afraid to cross over long-established boundaries and, er, become a disruptive technologist!