With an IT Architect Zdeněk Machač About the Past and Future of the ICS

2 Nov 2021

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Zdeněk Machač, Head of Information Systems Development, is no newcomer to us. During his tenure, the institute grew from an almost family environment to its current size. He told us what he likes about the transformation of ICS and what bothers him, but also what his work success is most proud of.

Zdeňek, you work for us as an IT architect in the Information Systems Division (ISD) and head of the Information Systems Development department. You can start by giving the readers an overview of what your job entails.

As an IT Architect in the ISD, my job is to analyze needs, design and implement the architecture of our systems or parts of our systems and ensure integration with others. This includes selecting the technologies to be used, making sure there are not too many, that there is a strong company or strong community behind them and that they have some future. Of course, I don't do all this alone, but with the help of other colleagues.

As a project manager, I am responsible for the running (thus inheriting the role of a system administrator) and development of INET (assigning individual tasks). I also still really enjoy programming – from system libraries, front-end components to individual applications.

As a development manager, I oversee the team members, their satisfaction, and the maintenance of the necessary knowledge. I train new and current employees, supervise or read final theses at the Faculty of Informatics (FI). The boundaries between all roles are unclear, and I only become aware of them when required administrative duties.

What do you like most about your job?

As I indicated in my previous answer, it is the diversity of my work. I enjoy both analysis and design, as well as communicating with "customers". I like to train colleagues and newcomers, but I also want to learn new things myself. And I still like to immerse myself in a code or create new code. I appreciate each area with different intensities at different times, but at least it allows me to switch attention for a while if I get stuck somewhere.

"I like the most the diversity of my work. I analyze, design, communicate with customers, train colleagues and I also learn new things myself.“

What's the work you're most proud of in your time at ICS?

Picking just one thing is difficult for me. From my early days, it's the expansion and centralization of barcode asset inventory at the University and ISEP (A System for Projects Management). However, I am most proud of INET's technology upgrade, its overall development, and the beginnings of digitization of its processes. From the last time, I must not forget the design of the Portal MU architecture, which was completely different from what we have dealt with so far.

INET, which your team is working on, is about to go into a brand new version – at what stage is it, and to what can users look forward?

That's a big topic for us right now and also maybe a nightmare for some. The public contract for the new economic and personnel information system (EPIS) for MU is currently underway, with which INET is very much connected, and its eventual replacement will affect most of the agendas covered by INET. This is a huge opportunity for us to make a significant change in the whole system architecture. From low-level upgrade/replacement of the technologies used, standardization of data integration with other systems, simplification of administration to the overall change of viewpoint of the whole information system, which we call INET 2.0. The focus will be on encapsulating the supplied external system as much as possible, effectively addressing the University's requirements for new agendas or modifying existing ones - preferably in-house but with the help of the supplier's resources.

In our division, we are now working in parallel with the public contract on designing the architecture mentioned above and implementing prototypes of the individual parts of the new version of INET so that we are ready to deploy EPIS with the winner of the public contract next year. The most visible changes for ordinary users will be the overall redesign according to the unified visual style of the university, but also the simplification and clarification of the interaction with INET and the now necessary better support for mobile devices.

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Where would you like to see your department in the future? Do you see room for improvement anywhere?

We are currently facing the huge multi-year project described above, which allocates almost all our capacity, so our immediate future is pretty much mapped out. Hopefully, it will also fulfill the expectations of new student and staff supports to the team. After that, I would like to see us in at least one research/development project in our expertise.

I see our opportunities for improvement mainly in managing a large number of tasks and completing them efficiently. Hopefully, the initiated transition to SCRUM agile development supported by software resources (JIRA) will help us with the former. For the second challenge, I mainly rely on eliminating the technology debt, using new technologies, and increasing the knowledge and skills of the whole team. For myself, I then see room for improving time management, prioritizing work, and increasing delegation of responsibility to colleagues.

Since the beginning of the year, ISD has had a new head Aleš Kubík – who replaced Jana Kohoutková – how do you perceive this change?

Both of them have a very human approach to the employees, there hasn't been that much change, but their ideas about organizing work are different. Jana is a workaholic in a good way, so she has an overview of all the activities in the ISD in almost every detail. She has personally selected, hired, and managed most of us throughout our careers at ICS. So I still have an amicable relationship with her, she supported me in my growth, and I owe her a lot. My lazy and conservative self would not have been so happy to undergo any change, but the termination was announced in advance, so it was not a shock.

Aleš came in from outside, still gradually getting his feet under the table, but he brings the experience of commercial firms, which I generally welcome. Still, it needs some adaptation to the specific academic environment. I look forward to working more closely during INET 2.0 and seeing this as a new opportunity for our growth.

"I am most proud of INET's technology upgrade, its overall development, and the beginnings of digitization of its processes.“

How long have you been working at the ICS? From your point of view, how has the Institute changed during this time?

I started at the Institute in 2003 as an FI student, and like probably most students, I knew nothing about the Institute. I was brought here by my friends who were already working here. At that time, the Institute was a much smaller, almost family-like environment (sometimes literally). Three floors at Botanická Street were enough for us. New colleagues came mainly on personal recommendation, and I knew almost everyone at the Institute personally. Unfortunately, those close ties to FI and students gradually broke down; the Institute grew so large that we had to move from Botanická to Gotex and then to the rector's office.

The geographical separation bothers me; after all, then communication between divisions/departments is not ideal. On the other hand, we are in the center and closer to our methodological collaborators (which is not so relevant nowadays in the age of online tools). Also, the scope of the ICS has grown a lot in the meantime, so there has been an inevitable attempt to centralize some repetitive activities or the operation of auxiliary systems of individual departments. Which I take as a huge plus, but there were a few blind spots and misunderstandings in the process, and there is still room for improvement. I also see the progress of information and communication both inside the Institute and outwards, to the faculties and the whole MU, as a positive.

Finally, please tell us what you like to do when you're not working...

Unfortunately, I often take work into my head to my other favorite activities. But most of my time away from work is with my family, labor at my parents' "cottage", and more recently raising our puppy westie. Long term I clear my head with walks and hikes in nature, as a big Stephen King fan I read his books, but I don't despise a good movie either.

Mgr. Zdeněk Machač

An IT architect and the department head of Information Systems Development in the Division of Information Systems, a graduate of the Faculty of Informatics at Masaryk University.

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