Mike Lynch, voted this week as the most influential person in UK IT, doesn’t like to think about challenges, but about opportunities.
If there is someone in UK IT who knows about opportunities, that person is certainly Lynch, who co-founded Autonomy in 1996 and grew it to become a multinational business that he sold to HP for £7bn.
Lynch was announced as the winner of the UKtech50 2011 this week – Computer Weekly’s search for the most influential individuals in UK IT.
The Autonomy CEO – who now also has the rather more cumbersome title of executive vice-president, information management at HP, is a true believer that the UK IT industry is in the verge of something special, with change in delivery models, the cloud becoming more important and unstructured information – his bread and butter – moving further into the realms of video, audio and social, away from the traditional database model.
“There is the macroeconomic environment, which is going to be challenging, but people will have to make sure they are efficient. You see the rise of mobile computing, tablets and so on – that is all good for IT because it means that, once again, we can add more benefit,” Lynch told Computer Weekly.
“Put all those things together and you get times of great change, but also opportunity. And for the CIO that grasps these changes, it is possible to generate differentiation and that is what drives the IT industry. If you can get advantage through the use of technology, then that is the reason why we are here.”
Creating an IT economy
According to Lynch, the UK needs to realise how important IT is to its economy. Given that the country is small and has limited natural resources, he says it is absolutely necessary to invest in the UK’s intellectual and innovative abilities.
“One of the issues is that our economy is far too concentrated on financial services. While there is nothing wrong with that, the problem is that it is not balanced – you end up having all your eggs in one basket,” Lynch said.
“I do believe that one of the most promising areas is around the use of IT know-how. And we do have world-class IT here: ARM, Autonomy, a series of up-and-coming businesses, world class universities,” he said.
“There is a really big economic advantage to the UK to harness that resource, but it is no good to produce greatly skilled graduates and not let IT drive value. So wherever there is a problem that is getting on the way of doing that, it needs to be dealt with.”
Lynch pointed out that it is a lot more common to see interesting start-ups in the UK today than it was when he started Autonomy.
“We have a number of those companies in the UK, so it is possible to do that here – it is vital,” he said.
“You think of what the economy needs to look like in a few years’ time. Unless the UK is producing large IT companies, we will have a real problem.”
A word of advice
Lynch has advice for IT leaders looking to increase their personal influence in their organisation and enhance their ability to innovate with IT – it’s about having the ability to drive actual change instead of simply managing technology.
“It is important for a CIO to realise that we are entering a period of phenomenal change. What that means is that there are possibilities for really solving business problems in a way that was not imaginable until recently,” he said.
“Once you identify what makes a change, just focus on practical solutions that will have a quick effect. The days when CIOs had the luxury of making five-year plans are gone. In the kind of environment we are coming into, it is all about adaptability and quick wins and realising that embracing ideas like the cloud can bring great advantages.”
Lynch says that delivering results is the best way to contribute to increasing the influence of IT on the UK economy.
“The most important thing that you can do is show success. If you take a company like Autonomy, it was a start-up of two people which grew to an $11bn business,” he said.
“That means there are a lot of people who came into Autonomy and trained in IT, and think that investing in IT is a good idea. It is a virtuous circle, and we need to keep that going so the next wave of great companies in the UK can continue to come up.”
While many have compared the Autonomy acquisition by HP to the buyout of UK's flagship manufacturing firm Cadbury by US giant Kraft last year, Lynch disagrees with the criticisms about falling into foreign hands and the potential threat to British jobs.
“The way that tends to work is, if you are talking about an $11bn business, I don’t think [a foreign takeover] is really an issue. For example, all our R&D is done in the UK, I run one of HP’s six business units and I am very much UK-based,” said Lynch.
“What worries me a lot more is seeing bright, innovative companies worth £200m-£300m being bought out.”
Recognition and the future
Lynch has amassed a collection of awards as one of the most important voices in the tech scene– the latest being Computer Weekly’s UKtech50 accolade as the most influential person in UK IT.
“At the risk of making it sound like an Oscar acceptance speech, the fact is that there is a whole group of people that I worked with in the last 10 years to make that happen,” he said.
“But the great thing is, these things show what you can do out of the UK – so let’s see the next generation do it. “
So what next for Mike Lynch? Now a multimillionaire, would he be looking to start something new, possibly become a start-up investor along the lines of Acorn founder Hermann Hauser?
“I still have a mission. I am a firm believer that the whole of computing will evolve to be able to deal with human data rather than database information and that means everything is going to change – and that’s really exciting,” said Lynch.
“At the moment I am running a big part of HP and that gives me the ability of having an impact on the world and make change. At heart, I am still a nerd.”