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The Human Element: Colin I’Anson and Today’s Manufacturing Industry

We sat down with Colin I'Anson, HPE Fellow at Hewlett Packard Enterprise and part of Advanced R&D in the CTO office. Currently, he is studying how to make it easier to sell advanced technology, with a big emphasis on industry verticals. As a 40-year veteran at HP/HPE, Colin uses research methodologies to build understanding that leads to new solutions. We asked him to share some of his experiences.

Colin I'Anson, HPE FellowColin I'Anson, HPE Fellow

Tell us about your journey with HPE, where did you start and how did that lead to your current role as an HPE Fellow?
I started in the middle of August in 1980, working for Hewlett Packard, designing test equipment. I had been specifically recruited because my Ph.D. was directly related to a major new business. I learned lots about manufacturing fast. As we were vertically integrated with everything under one roof, I gained a lot of practical experience.  

Coming from a family that ran a small business, I was always interested in how the business worked, so I spent time working in marketing roles and eventually moved to HP Labs in Bristol, which was new to the UK at the time. With some of my colleagues, I was involved in some very successful projects in telecom and system design. This includes my part in probably one of the most impactful projects I’ve ever been involved in, where we created standardised, secure messaging and trusted identities—it is still used today, 30 years later.

Eventually, with my bag of academic skills and business knowledge, I joined a telecom consulting team. They taught me how to be commercial very quickly. And because they could recognise what I did, and I understood what they did, we were amazingly successful. From there, I went into various roles and teams worldwide, providing innovative system design for major telecommunication companies.

I was then recruited into sales and was the first member of the HP sales force to become an HP Company Fellow. I now work in HPE worldwide, supporting sellers. From my privileged position, it’s fabulous to see where the company is going; not just understanding how the emerging software works, but also understanding what a customer thinks—I can see how we will develop the industry, leading as a new type of service provider. As a leading technologist in sales, I appreciate the need to decode the technology into a conversation that the salesforce can communicate.

So, that’s been my journey, from new grad hire right at the very beginning, to where I am today—a great joy. I greatly appreciate the colleagues, the people I worked with, because if I was to name a characteristic of HP and HPE, what’s really important is the people and the ethical foundation that is built into us. It allows you to stick around and allows you to prosper in the best possible way.

 

So, with 40 years in the company, what’s the oldest piece of HP technology you have in your desk and why do you keep it?
It’s my HP 11C calculator. I must have gotten it just after I joined the company. The plastic case is a bit battered, but the calculator hasn’t got a scratch on it. It’s traveled with me all the way. Think about that: it’s a 40-year-old piece of technology. It has never broken down. It has asked for occasional batteries every few years. It allows me to be numerate in a very easy way. You’ve got to listen to problems and scale them with numbers. And although I was taught as an electronic engineer how to do approximation, to get the right number of zeroes and first significant digit, it’s even better if you can type the numbers in very quickly and get answers. Understanding scale has served me all this time. I think the company bought my 11C for me. They might demand it back when I leave. I do hope they don’t.

 

How does your role play into manufacturing?
In around 2015, some of my colleagues in Germany and I talked about what was needed to succeed in manufacturing. I struggled to understand it because, at that time, I could only see it through the hardware products and services that we sold. It was only part of the story. So, I started to listen to the names of the applications and started to bring them together asking, “How does this package called a Manufacturing Execution System fit with the ERP system? How does it work with it?” Initially, my respected German colleagues, who did not have good answers, looked at me as if I was asking the wrong questions—but you can’t stop asking tough questions, and I persisted in the conversation. Very slowly, I was able to draw the enterprise architecture of the manufacturing world. It was a revelation and the keys to understanding scale.

Soon, I was able to talk to customer business owners much more. I was a presenter in conferences because I had a point of view that enabled me to show the bridge between a group of applications that people ran manufacturing with and how it related to the infrastructure that we sold. That was absolutely brilliant for me. Having done so in one industry, I was then able to repeat the process for other industries.

So, my role in manufacturing and other industries is to help the people inside HPE to understand industry verticals.

 

What most excites you about the future technology in manufacturing?
I give great credit to my German colleagues in getting me involved in the conversation about Industry 4.0. They started me on the journey, but it really made me think more about how HPE computational technologies apply to that world. Today, we are concerned with massive volumes of data, how we can avoid moving them around and use them. This is the story of how to produce customer outcomes. The beautiful thing is that as we now look forward, we start to see how we, HPE as a company, are setting ourselves up. We’re starting to make radical differences to people in manufacturing and other industries because we’re going to make the consumption of compute a totally different experience for them, ensuring they focus their energy on delivering their business outcome.

We’ve got to explain how we deliver consumption as a service that really works well for a line-of-business owner, somebody who runs production lines, somebody who will need IT systems around production lines, including the compute that is needed. And we have to know, “How will it work on a consumption basis?” Already, we are in a software-driven world. So, as future technology in manufacturing is driven by software, we, HPE today, are the people powering their software.

 

Any advice you’d like to leave us with?
A value that sticks to me today is to know, respect and love the people around you. The people who exist in your address book—your friends, people who you talk to, people who come to you for a conversation and a chat. These include people who have been managers in your life, who’ve understood how to get the best out of you and understood how to put a hand in through the door, grab you by the scruff of the neck and say, “oh, don’t do that,”or “oh, come here and do something different.” Those are the people I have great respect for. Respect your colleagues all around you, especially for the wonderful, different skills that they’ve got and that you lack.

 

Featured articles authored by Colin:

 


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Hewlett Packard Enterprise

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