LANZen: I’m 10 years old – happy birthday to me!

By in banking, general, strategy, uncategorized on Thursday, 16 September 2010

Ten years. That’s quite a few lifetimes in technology. If only you could see what I’ve seen. Apologies for that quote from Blade Runner.

I’ve seen – and been part of some amazing things. Long before 2000. At NCR, my head sticking through a bank wall as an ATM went in. Looking back, that was pretty symbolic.

A lot of firsts. Like the first PCs in banks, designing the first PC-banking support systems, helping Internet banking go live. Building new service centres. Yes, I was there, learning. But it wasn’t until LANZen I began to understand what I was part of…

LANZen – LAN for local area networks and Zen for knowledge

LANZen wasn’t my idea. It was Barclays. Olivetti had just been taken over by Wang then Getronics when Barclays asked if I’d consider going freelance. I’d never thought about it. But they promised me work, so I said I’d give it some thought.

But I didn’t do it then and there. I went to another global consultancy, ICL. Sitting there one day in some grey cubicle I grabbed a scrap of paper scribbled “I resign” and walked out. LANZen was born.

My first two commissions. At either ends of the country!

Two areas of Barclays gave me work. Their auditors in Cheshire wanted to move from Novell to NT and needed an architect a day or so a week. Down in the City, the group supporting the Execs had a whole range of unique challenges. I’d always been a bit radical and at that time, they wanted radical.

They wanted freedom from the traditional constraints of fixed, corporate infrastructures. They wanted more flexibility. I’d always designed for people, not for the technology I was given to work with. It had created tensions for my employers in the past, but not any more. I was free to do things my way.

Laughter – and tragedy

I remember showing a senior bank exec a new Linux portal that gave him the power to access his databases, email and everything else he needed from anywhere. And being told despite it being a prototype, he would use it right now.

I also remember standing in that same HQ and staring in disbelief at a TV monitor as the World Trade Center collapsed. I remember being asked if that same Linux portal allowed the execs to work from home if they had to evacuate and assuring them it would.

But I felt no sense of achievement in saying that, just a profound sadness to be witnessing something terrible unfolding so far away.

Working for the rich – and the famous

It was a rare privilege to find myself designing systems for the “rock stars” of banking like Matt Barratt, Sir Peter Middleton, Paul Idzik and John Varley.

Bizarrely, none of that work was done under contract. It was all on the basis of come in next week and we’ll talk about such-and-such.

That arrangement lasted over four years until EDS appeared and it was bye-bye LANZen. But two years later and I was back in to help get them out again!

Serving up a special recipe

Life at LANZen wasn’t all about providing strategy for high-flying A-list, C-level VIP bankers. I was asked to “go and have a chat with one of our premier clients. He’s found an old warehouse near Moorgate and I think he wants to open up an art gallery…”

It wasn’t a gallery, though. He wanted a restaurant and a charity called Cheeky Chops. That restaurant was Fifteen and the client, Jamie Oliver.

From the strict dress code and formality of banking to working around a Channel 4 film crew in the chaotic world of a celebrity chef like Jamie was quite a shock. But we’ve all seen Jamie’s Kitchen and I guess it all worked out for him.

Everything – from corporate to corner shop!

LANZen has helped some great little businesses start up and grow into quite big ones. Like NTTX, now a respected rail and safety consultancy and E-ZU Solutions, set up by a SurfControl director and a leading IT security provider. Many others along the way, too.

Recently, I helped a great little company called Pro-Stretch re-brand and move into the Cloud with SalesForce. The amazing lady who runs that has quite a success story.

Her first year turned over £200,000, but now, five years later its a £10 million business with clients like Adidas, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret and Marks and Spencer.

From clients to friends

Most of my clients have become friends I’ve socialised with and kept in touch with beyond the work I’ve done for them. Many have trusted me for years, not just a few weeks.

People striving to be successful give off an energy and it rubs off on you. You become driven to make it work, too. Its quite a buzz.

The double-edged sword

Running your own strategy consultancy, in fact any small business is both liberating and constraining simultaneously.

You’ve total freedom to work how you want to, choose what’s best for your client, while at the same time the buck stops with you. You’ve no one to turn to for help and no cover if you can’t be there.

But its that ultimate responsibility for your decisions that drives you to protect your client from the corporate bullshit so many people are too happy to inflict on them.

You recognise it having endured it yourself. It makes you angry because you know its a mask people hide behind to give themselves an easy life. Its easier to stop change occurring despite the benefits it may bring. Why go that extra mile when an inch will do?

Passion – When it’ll do won’t do

You make that journey, go that extra mile because it makes the difference between “OK” and “wow, that’s amazing”. I tell you, those “amazing” moments are worth it every time.

The thing that drove me as a kid and drives me to this day is discovery. Discovering that despite what’s thrown at you, there’s always a solution. Sure, you have to look very hard for it sometimes but when you see something work so well, that moment is priceless.

The common thread that runs through everything I’ve done is that usually, the solution I found wasn’t available a few months before and my client would almost certainly not have been offered it by the EDS, Microsoft and the other usual suspects of this world.

Sure, I missed out on all the corporate entertainment, the golfing days, free Coldplay at Wembley tickets and Rugby World Cup games by not towing the corporate line.

But ask me to re-live the last ten years again and you know, I wouldn’t change a thing!

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