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Leveraging Infrastructure: a Game Plan for increasing your Team's Velocity

By Jeff Jacobs, CIO/Global IT, OCLC

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Jeff Jacobs, CIO/Global IT, OCLC

 You may be running fast...in the wrong   direction.  I’ve been an avid sports enthusiast my whole life, both as a  participant and a fan. And like any competitor, I know that  how fast you go only matters if you’re heading in the right  direction.

“A good technology strategy is easy to assemble when it’s aligned with the business”

That’s the problem with development efforts that focus on improving specific feature lists, processes and project  turnaround times. If you’re headed in the wrong direction,  then you’re only doing the wrong things faster.

 At overall velocity, we needed a heightened focus on direction  as well as speed. To do that, we concentrated on a strategy   to leverage a new converged architecture to make sure that   when we went faster, we were going the right way.

 Where is your goal line? 
OCLC provides cloud-based software for thousands of   libraries around the world. This includes both back-office   applications needed to run modern libraries, and user  facing services that help people find and access library materials anywhere in the world. In addition, OCLC builds  and maintains World Cat, the world’s largest database of   library bibliographic information, with data about more   than 2 billion items owned by libraries worldwide. We   are a cooperativethat operates on a model by which our   members share the costs of our services.

OCLC shares objectives that stem from our members’   sense of mission and purpose. We are not driven to return a  profit to shareholders; we are driven to help our members    share knowledge in ways that help people achieve personal   and educational goals. I have experience in both for profit  and not-for-profit organizations and I know firsthand that   both are equally important and challenging.        

That distinction may not sound important when discussing how to implement a converged infrastructure,but I assure you, it is vital. Because while I can offer you three relatively standardized ways to help get a program like this started, the most important step will depend on you. You will need to set a goal that exists above-and-beyond your IT organization’s environment in order to justify the changes you’ll be making. Your strategy must be a reflection of needs of the business.

The drills—your baseline metrics
   It’s important not to confuse goals with metrics. “Decreasing  downtime” isn’t a goal. It’s one metric out of many.   When working toward understanding how to increase   development’s velocity, you’ll first want to establish a  baseline of meaningful performance metrics. Depending   on your systems, metrics might include service availability, labor needed for updates and number of network    connections, among others.

 It’s also important to capture the initial state of your most   important metrics. You’ll be comparing your team’s results  against these numbers to see how you’re progressing.   Make sure to establish a baseline for every process that’s    important to your core business functions.          

 The bench your component inventory

 Until you understand your current assets on a platform,  database, language and line-by-line coding basis, you’ll   never really know with confidence   which processes, tools and hardware   you need to keep, improve or   eliminate. In this instance, you’re   like the coach taking a look at   the bench of players you have  available. You want to play to your   team’s strengths, not just individual   abilities. What can they  accomplish together? And  at what velocity?

This is the heart of a  converged architecture   strategy. You’re deploying  infrastructure fit for purpose, not fit  for the masses. Your objective a   set of network, server, hardware and    software resources optimized to work    together across multiple (ideally all)  stages of development to address    multiple business applications.

 Now is when you need to review   the benchmarks from the first step   against both individual components    and how well they work together    in a converged environment. You   may have a very high-performing   component or system that is simply  not going to work with your long term business goals. You may have   a very low-performing application  that, nevertheless, is vital to moving   forward.

 Making cuts removing  the snowflakes
  
 The benefits of converged architecture   to your long-term development    velocity depend on having all of   your components and environments     within a single system. However,   environments pose another challenge    altogether. You have to eliminate   unique environments or “snowflakes”   because they have a direct impact on    your development team’s velocity.  Those one-off environments, software   configurations, pieces of hardware   or even processes that don't fit within  your new, converged architecture   must be eliminated.

 Operating with snowflakes in place is like asking an outstanding  basketball player to play on your   football team; that player might be a talented individual, but unable to help   your team move toward your goal. Snowflakes can slow your progress by   increasing unnecessary complexity and multiplying errors because   development environments don’t    match test or production environments.

 On the other hand, when the critical  components of your network, compute   and storage layers all work together,    you’ll benefit from greater reliability,  easier quality assurance and faster  time to market increased velocity.

 It’s not always easy. You may be   forced to jettison some projects that   have a long history and many internal  fans. But if a component doesn’t work   as part of the team, it will only slow or pull the rest of your organization in the   wrong direction. You lose velocity.   That’s the danger of snowflakes; each    “unique and special” environment,   piece of hardware or procedure takes    away your team effort.

  So how do you manage the cultural aspects of moving to a converged   infrastructure? How do you deal with   the pain of “melting snowflakes” that    A good technology strategy   is easy to assemble when    it’s aligned with the business   may have a lot of support? Focus on the  vision and the end game.

 Going for the goal line
 Aligning the project with your   organization’s vision is up to you.  What does your company do? What do   your owners and leaders feel strongly  about? What are your customers   trying to achieve? Find out. Because   in the end, that’s what will bring your   strategy and whole team together to   rally around a project of this scope.

  For OCLC, it’s all about helping   libraries around the world share  knowledge. Our members are our    heroes. They’re dedicated to helping    people achieve more through education   and research. So when I put together   our plan to improve our velocity  Trough implementing a converged   architecture, I made sure that every part   of that plan was a step toward the goals   our members want to accomplish: 
• Less downtime so that library users   don’t have to wait for materials
• Faster updates so that new features   could improve efficiencies for our  users
• Increased throughput so that  requests and repairs get handled  Before they become long-term   concerns.

 Technology tools exist to achieve  business solutions. Optimization   means nothing unless it helps your   customers achieve their goals.

 Winning as a team
 A good technology strategy is easy to  assemble when it’s aligned with the    business. You can admit that there will be  challenges. Document them and share  them. Provide full transparency. The  openness and increased transparency  of the processboth before and after   will help mitigate those concerns. There will be costs in the short term, but you  can point to increased credibility and  confidence in the marketplace, which    leads to a stronger brand identity. Staff  may be reluctant to discard particular  processes, hardware or “snowflakes,”  but they’ll be more productive and less    frustrated in the long run. And they’ll   better understand how their actions  contribute to the team’s overall success.  
 
We’ve already seen some benefits   at OCLC to this strategy. We’ve had a    quick uptick in overall availability of our   services merely by changing processes   and procedures.

 As the CIO, you’re the coach.  You know your players. You know   the tools you have at your disposal.  You know the players that work and   the ones that don’t, even though they   might be team favorites. If you can set    a goal based on your organization’s   vision, you can inspire your team  through all of the hard work and  achieve greater velocity, marking a  pivotal change in how you manage   your IT infrastructure. 

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