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Chris Ward

Chris Ward on making IT proactive

By Chris Ward

Technical Director, Vermont Systems Ltd

Though Chris Ward has always worked in IT – with a first-class degree in Computer Science and an extensive stint at IBM to his name – it was his job with Vermont Systems that was to emerge his unanticipated business leadership.

When the 2008 recession hit, Chris took over the business and 15 years later has grown the company to become a successful business supporting SMEs with their tech.

Reflective of how Chris has grown the company, Vermont Systems now helps businesses to flourish by harnessing the value of technology with proactive and protective IT support.

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What are the specialisms and services of Vermont?

We outsource IT for small and medium-sized businesses. A lot of people in our space focus on fixing problems as quickly as possible; we focus on making sure businesses don't have problems in the first place. We help people to manage their technology risk and mature their technology or IT function.

IT is often a function for businesses that lags behind and then becomes a source of stress – rather than being an enabler, it becomes an anchor that's dragging them back. We help to develop IT within the company so that it supports them in running their businesses.

What types of businesses do you support?

Our customers are in a diverse range of industries but the people we work best with are growth-mindset leaders. People who are excelling, being innovative, unique, trying to disrupt their particular space, and running great organisations to do something really good. That's in our DNA as well – we always want to be better tomorrow than yesterday. They're also the businesses that tend to need us the most because as they're pushing their business forward they need a lot more planning and diligence to make sure their IT plan matches up with their business plan – we help them to manage that change.

It links to one of our core values which is joy – our team brings a sense of joy to the customer by helping them to achieve the things they want to do, and the team also experiences that joy by loving what we do.

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Are there common factors regarding IT risk management that apply to all businesses?

I think the reality is most business leaders don’t know the risks that they’re carrying from an IT perspective. People don’t have a process for identifying the risks, working out the business impact, and creating a plan to mitigate those risks.
The disconnect between IT and the business is at the centre of the problem. IT risks are business problems and require a good line of communication between the business and the IT function.

The other problem that we’re all facing is that every year the amount of money we all spend on cyber protection goes up, yet the number of data breaches also continues to rise.

I think we’ve all got to live in a world where we assume we’re going to get a data breach in the same way that we think about fire. In the same way as a fire, you can reduce the impact of an incident through planning. With a cyber incident, you can get back up and running quickly with minimal impact on your customers and data, or you can be down for several weeks with catastrophic impact. The difference between those two outcomes is what you do in advance of the incident. It’s an assume-breach mentality rather than just focusing on prevention.

What’s your take on new technologies such as AI and the opportunities and challenges they pose in terms of IT security?

There’s obviously huge potential, and huge risk. It’s both ends of the spectrum and what we see over time is that technology ends up becoming more valuable to our businesses but also highly critical and more complex. That’s going to continue with the new technologies like AI, business intelligence, automation, and other new technologies we can leverage.

To maximise the benefits, we need to have more focus and diligence around IT to keep everything working, reap the rewards successfully, and navigate the potential pitfalls.

We’ve got to get past fighting the low-level risks so that we can have the time, budget, and brain space to harness the new and awesome things that have the potential to really take businesses forward.

No one knows yet where the real ROI is going to be versus the real risks. It’s all new, we’re still figuring it out, but it’s got to be collaborative – it’s a really fascinating time to be in technology.

"What we see over time is that technology ends up becoming more valuable to our businesses but also highly critical and more complex."

Who or what inspires you?

I’ve found so many people to be so helpful. I’m excited about finding the Old Bond Store because I think what I find most inspiring sometimes is the small relatable stories like someone personally achieving something or overcoming adversity. I love people’s stories, hearing how people got started and what their passion is – I find that really engaging with so many learning opportunities.

People in my industry are so generous with their time. I’ve been involved in communities in my sector that are so open and helpful. It’s always useful to speak with people who are a bit ahead of where you are and have experienced the challenges you are facing.

What do you enjoy doing outside of the business?

I love surfing: one of my goals for this year is to get back out in the water more. There’s nothing better than watching the sunrise over The Needles whilst you’re out having a dawn surf before work.

I also like running; it clears my head and I particularly love spending time in the hills and mountains.

My wife and I have also got two amazing daughters and we enjoy lots of family time together.

"To maximise the benefits, we need to have more focus and diligence around IT to keep everything working, reap the rewards successfully, and navigate the potential pitfalls."

Chris Ward - Technical Director, Vermont Systems Ltd.