Cry Freedom

Cry Freedom

As the managing director of a mid-size integrator, Con Zamaris has spent the last 10 years thumbing the vein of emerging technologies. However, the path he has taken is unusual in the channel. Cybersource, the company he created along with three friends back in 1991, remains largely independent of the partner agreements that often prove the bane or salvation of many a reseller. Rather than focusing on the ebbs and flows of developments in vendorland, Zamaris channelled his energies into technologies while the business was still in the development phase.

"After 22 years in IT, I have seen it happen again and again," Zamaris said. "The corporate world thinks nothing can come of anything that was cobbled together by long-haired, bearded, sandal-wearing university types. Then five years down the track they change their minds, and suddenly everyone wants a piece of it."

Zamaris cites microcomputers, Unix, the Internet and more recently Linux as examples of emerging technologies largely ignored by the corporate world in their initial rollouts.

Zamaris' love affair with technology started in the 70s while completing a degree in Physics at Melbourne University, where Con first discovered the Macintosh, the Internet and the joy of programming.

"I am not a hardware person, the closest thing I can do to putting a computer together is pop in a video card. I did the equivalent of PC building in terms of programming," Zamaris said. "I liked the precision. You could literally create something that made the computer do what you wanted through a series of commands."

However hardware illiterate Zamaris claims to be, he soon found a niche in programming early Apple II computers, cutting code for the precursors to today's software developers.

"Programming really involves both hemispheres of the brain. You have to understand the way the user interacts with the computers and reduce that into code," Zamaris said.

While many IT buffs are enticed into the fold by the virtual universes they inhabited when playing games, Zamaris admits to spending copious amounts of time programming games and very little playing them.

"A computer is a manifestation of what happens in the brain space. I liked the fact you could create a universe conceptually, and people would occupy that world while they played the game," he said.

A self-confessed programming junkie, Zamaris makes a clear division between work and home life, after some serious disciplining from a "handful of little boys".

"Over the last five years I have had to keep sensible work times, because I soon discovered that toddlers make doing things from home anything but easy," he said.

Nonetheless, when it comes to his professional life, Zamaris admits to be among the lucky few whose hobby morphed into a career.

"Melbourne University received an early allotment of Macintoshes, and they very much changed my conception of what it was possible to do with a computer," Zamaris said. "They made a break from the primitive graphical interfaces and for the first time we could see how the great bulk of humanity could have access to the processing power a computer offers."

However, Zamaris met with frustration when the business community failed to see the potential of such devices, a frustration that was to be a common thread throughout his career.

"In the early 80s I tried to convince a number of companies of the potential of the Internet, especially in terms of business communication," Zamaris said. "But they couldn't see past the stigma associated with these bearded university types that had developed it. Now the same thing has happened with Unix and Linux."

So when he came to founding and running Cybersource, together with associates David Keegel, Ramon Legnaghi and Jane Derrick, Zamaris chose to buck the trend toward following the vendor-development path.

"We see ourselves as fully independent. We have never had any agreements with any of the big vendors," Zamaris said. "We base all our solutions around open computing platforms and interoperability, about as far away as you can get from enclosed proprietary products."

According to Zamaris, this kind of independence comes at a cost, but ultimately provides a more stable base from which to run a company.

"It is the other edge of the sword. It is never an easy run when you don't have a big backroom spruiker pointing business in your direction," Zamaris said.

On the other hand, Cybersource has largely been shielded from the shifting fortunes of the vendors, having developed the ability to source software and hardware components from a wide development pool.

"You see some of these channel companies that are heavily reliant on partnerships grow very quickly, then belly flop a few years later when the vendor pulls the pin on a certain product line or suddenly goes direct," Zamaris said. "It is a dangerous thing when a company owns too much and has too much control over your business."

Most recently Zamaris' position has gained strength from the emergence of Linux, a force to be reckoned with on the corporate market.

"Because we have been involved with Linux-based systems for a while, we are in a pretty good position to take advantage of the increased interest in this area," Zamaris said.

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