Solved Problems

I took time out a few weeks back to attend Edward Tufte’s One-Day Course on “Presenting Data and Information” and learned several new things and had several ideas reinforced by the methods and examples that Edward used. One of my favorite things that Edward brought up was encapsulated in this quote: “These are largely solved problems (displaying information); don’t get an original, get it right”. This of course immediately brought to mind the dreaded “Not Invented Here” syndrome and led me to think about how often I’ve encountered this in the IT world. On the other hand, innovation is terribly important and we take it very seriously at EMC - so how do you find the right balance of “solved problems” and innovation? Continue reading Solved Problems

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Product Management

Awhile back I got a call on a Friday night that is familiar to many consultants, “Can you be in City X on Monday morning?”¬† The program manager on the other end of the phone remembered hearing that I had a degree in Product Management and was eager to get me in front of his customer who was looking to transform his organization into one that managed infrastructure according to a Product Management Lifecycle (PML).¬† Now I admittedly view the world through PML-tinted glasses, but this concept had really piqued my interest.¬† The idea was a pretty simple one: convert his organization to be product-oriented and merge the PML with the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework and the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) that the organization was already spottily using.¬† As a Unified Field Theory devout I was hooked!

The customer, like most, was approaching the development, testing and management of their infrastructure through a number of siloes: people thinking about the long term strategy; another group concerned with the implementation of systems; a group that tested the integrated infrastructure; a group responsible for the daily management of the environment; and an organization dedicated to interfacing with the customer to understand their requirements (and on occasion their satisfaction).¬† Strategy, architecture, engineering and operations were divided across the organization with several silos within each knowledge area.¬† No one was incented to work together, no one had a vision of the entire infrastructure as a “system” and finger pointing was the order of the day during any outage.¬† Walking around the several floors the IT department was spread over there was an air of discontent, people bolted for the door at 5pm, at the latest, were largely disengaged and took pride in the walls they put up around their particular part of the organization.¬† Worst of all the business, their customer, was unhappy and questioning why they were spending so much on that black box called IT.

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The changing nature of Information Technology

I’ve been lucky enough to be in our industry for the last 17 or so years and I have seen all sorts of changes, as we all have. If I think back to my days as a research assistant at a university using the engineering lab Sparcs to create lab reports and pass emails back and forth with other researchers, I’d never have envisioned helping to design and run a system that would send out more than six million customized emails per hour less than ten years later.

In the early 90s IT departments, if you could call them that for most organizations, were necessary evils, a band of misfits who toted various cables and dongles and floppies around to who knew what ends. Today IT is at the heart of several large industries, the difference between successful, profitable businesses and those on the bubble. We’ve seen the industry evolve from sysadmins being a bunch of doctoral and master’s students to kids graduating from high school knowing how to program in a number of languages with a CCNA certification. When I try to imagine what the next 17 years will bring I’m mystified to be honest, the change has been rapid and amazing.

There are a lot of challenges facing us as we move forward as a profession. The interconnectedness of today’s market means that everyone wants access to everything, NOW. Cell phones are becoming viable compute platforms, they are fitting 32 cores on a chip and we have a pretty ubiquitous, fast fabric tying most of it together. At the same time there is more regulation now that pretty much the sum of recorded history to about five years ago. My colleague, Chuck Hollis, talks a lot about the need for a CFO of Information, I think he’s on the right track. But that new position requires tools for reporting and analysis that cut across the many silos that make up IT and the heterogeneous infrastructures supporting them.

No IT framework like ITIL or COBIT or MOF will act as a silver bullet, no off the shelf Resource Management system will give you all the insight you need, no new analyst acronym like GRC will encapsulate everything you need to worry about. A change in the way we design, implement and manage our infrastructure is required to ensure that IT continues to be a source of business value and not just a cost center, or worse the place were Information goes to become confused, lost and irrelevant.

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