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February 23 2011

Interim report card on O'Reilly's IT transformation

report cardLast year O'Reilly Media committed to a new journey: An IT strategy was adopted with the intent to transform the way technology was delivered to support the goals of the business. It was equal parts ambitious and essential.

We're more than six months into the execution of that strategy and it's clear there is still significant work to do be done to realize the benefits. Some things have gone really well and some areas continue to challenge us. In this blog I'll share and grade our progress to date.

While continuing to have success in the marketplace, O'Reilly Media recognized that supporting the future needs of the organization would require a rethinking of how IT was delivered. Motivated by the same growth factors as many businesses, O'Reilly Media required more innovative solutions, delivered with greater speed, and at the right cost.

Working closely with leaders and other key stakeholders across the O'Reilly Media businesses resulted in an IT strategy that was agreed upon in the fall of 2010. The strategy was based on four major pillars:

  1. Governance
  2. Architecture
  3. Strategic sourcing
  4. Hybrid cloud

I discussed the four pillars in a previous post.

Here's how we've done in each of these four areas:

1. Governance

There's one indubitable truth to all IT organizations: demand for services always exceeds supply. Try as you might, it's an appetite that can't be met. One of the core goals of IT governance is to ensure — with so many competing demands — that the right things are being prioritized and addressed. Responding to the person who screams loudest is not an IT governance strategy.

In reality, governing priorities require a process that is well understood and supported across all teams. It's also considered a burden, albeit an essential burden I would argue, and can meet with considerable resistance. I wrote about the difficulty in implementing IT governance here.

At O'Reilly Media I am really proud of our progress with IT governance. I do recognize that some of the progress is back-office and not immediately apparent to our end-users. I'm confident that will come in time. All the essential components of IT governance are in place and it is fully operational. The process begins at ideation and runs across decision-making right through to implementation. Today we have a fully agreed upon IT roadmap of projects that stretches to 12 months and soon we will have a view of the next 18 months. It's a process that has enabled us to move forward with essential projects such as business intelligence and author tools. Bravo!

The grade for this area reflects the fact that the full process is only recently functional and it is still not in a state where most people who interact with IT can see the full value. What we have to do is refine the process, make it much more agile and lightweight where it makes sense, and demonstrate results that clearly show it is the right way to align technology with business goals.

Grade: B-

2. Architecture

O'Reilly Media, like most businesses, runs a collection of complex systems that support its operations. And like most businesses those systems have evolved over time as needs dictated. Unfortunately, unless there had been a grand master plan back at the beginning, things work because of brute-force efforts at integration; not because of a well thought-out multi-year architectural plan. That's no criticism of our business. It's just the way things have happened for most organizations.

An enterprise architecture approach aims to reverse this trend and take the long view. It means ensuring that IT is designed and aligned to support the goals and strategies of the business. To do this, the structure and processes of the business must be well understood and documented.

In O'Reilly IT, our first step was to create a new position to lead our architecture strategy. The solutions architect role was filled and that person is now beginning to describe the next steps and create milestones in the difficult but highly rewarding journey ahead of us.

There is much to be done, such as creating an architectural review board to govern standards and make critical design decisions; to fully enumerate an IT service catalog; and to integrate an architectural mindset into solutions development.

I'm going to assign this a lower grade. It's not a reflection of the challenge and our success to date. It's merely an appreciation of the level of effort ahead of us.

Grade: C

3. Strategic Sourcing

While acknowledging the concerns people have over strategic sourcing, it's an area of our strategy that everyone easily understands. Strategic sourcing is about identifying and applying talent from wherever there is a viable source, at the right cost and at the right time. Done correctly, it should also result in internal staff working on higher value work.

Strategic sourcing is also a way to convert IT from an organization that when capacity gets tight, must resort to saying "no." If you want IT to be an enabler, it can't also be a roadblock. Strategic sourcing turns the situation from a "no capacity" problem into a discussion about investment. If it's really important, capacity can be purchased. (I'll discuss this specific subject in more detail in a future post.)

I've said it many times; strategic sourcing is not an equivalency of outsourcing. Strategic sourcing might mean using existing staff, and even skills that are available in other parts of the business.

In this area we've made good progress. We've completed a full project using a combination of existing internal employees and a newly identified off-shore company. We've also hired several US-based contractors using new talent placement vendors. Our existing team has found our strategic sourcing efforts to be complementary to our efforts and indeed our internal work is being elevated to higher-level value.

Strategic sourcing is now part of our project on-boarding process. Some process remains to be completed. But we're aggressively moving forward as the business gets more confident in our ability to supply capacity, and as we see an improving economy that is showing signs of a tightening supply of full-time talent.

Grade: B

4. Hybrid Cloud

O'Reilly owns several data centers in addition to utilizing a colocation facility. It's an organization that has historically allocated a physical server for each application. Maintaining and supporting this infrastructure is costly, high effort, and a distraction from the higher value work that we could be doing.

That said, a private cloud strategy that predates the existing strategy had been in place for some time, and some applications had moved into an internal virtualized infrastructure.

Our hybrid cloud strategy proposes to quickly identify application candidates to move into the public cloud or replace with software-as-a-service equivalents, and as appropriate, move the remaining applications to our private cloud.

On paper, hybrid cloud for us seems obvious and straightforward. O'Reilly Media has the risk posture and ambition for such a strategic move. However, it's clear now that we've faced unanticipated obstacles.

The key issue is that the resources you need to do the heavy lifting are often the same resources that need to maintain and support the existing infrastructure. It's a classic chicken and egg paradox. You can't make progress on reducing the overhead of the legacy infrastructure when you're consumed with maintaining that infrastructure. In addition, we wanted to hire a person to lead our cloud strategy and soon learned that such talent is scarce at best.

So what have we done? We identified a person on the existing team to lead our cloud efforts (although we have to wait until he finishes a high-priority infrastructure project) and we've had to queue up some critical maintenance projects in advance of our cloud migration work. We are also in the process of identifying external partners to help us implement our cloud solutions.

On balance this means we haven't made the progress we've wanted. We're deeply committed to this strategy and are now optimistic we'll make significant progress soon. You can read more of my views on cloud computing here.

Grade: C-

Overall, I've been generally pleased with our progress. A lot of work remains and it will be some time before staff across our businesses experience the benefits of this strategy.

We're still in the deep fog of change. We're experiencing a combination of talent changes (new people joining us and some legacy staff exiting), expected process growing pains, and some strategy implementation bumps.

Change is tough and can be frustrating for both end-users and IT staff.

In my view, implementing our IT strategy is like changing the wings of an aircraft in-flight. We're making considerable change but at the same time we can't disrupt the services and projects that are already underway. To this end, I am deeply grateful to the O'Reilly IT team as we haven't skipped a beat. We continue to deliver a considerable volume of value to the business while fundamentally changing the very nature of how we deliver that work.

In addition, it's also important that we've continued to get support for the changes across the business. Those that see the changes are very pleased and others remain patient.

If you're going to succeed with your IT transformation, you've got to keep the business on your side.

Being CIO can be a tough gig. But seeing positive change and how, when done right, technology can empower people and teams to do amazing things, is exhilarating and reminds us of why we do this work.

Photo: Report Card by Mark Gstohl, on Flickr


January 19 2011

3 types of IT leaders: maverick, innovator, guarantor

There is little recognition that the operating profile of IT leaders can vastly differ from organization to organization. This is most pronounced when studying how technology vendors sell to this audience. It can often appear there is simply one type of person leading every IT organization. Variations in needs are seldom reflected in the way products are sold.

There is an array of independent inputs that determine the style of each leader. Take for example the industry in which the person works. The approach of a CIO that leads a B2B industrial products business is going to be vastly different from one that runs an IT department at a university. Now also consider the culture of a business. It's not possible to have the same style leading IT at a highly risk-tolerant, innovative tech company versus providing the essential needs for a conservative and low-tolerance-for-risk insurance giant.

For many of you, this might sound obvious. But why then do marketers, analysts, consultants, and so many pundits (I'm probably guilty here too) so often sell to this community like it's one dimensional?

I don't mean to generalize too much. We should certainly recognize the brilliant jobs so many salespeople perform. Rather, the advice in this post is for the group of salespeople who could benefit from thinking differently about the diversity of every IT leader.

The following guidance can also be used by recruiters when thinking about filling IT leadership roles. In this instance, it can be asked: do the characteristics of the organization align to the skills, experiences, and personality of the person being hired?

Finally, if you work with or for an IT leader, it might help you in thinking about how to manage the relationship in a positive way.

Here I present my vastly condensed categorization schema for the IT leader:

1. The maverick

This IT leader works for an organization that thrives on taking risks. You're likely to see lower levels of vendor standardization; this IT leader likes to try lots of different products and the organization's broad portfolio of hardware and software reflects that.

The maverick IT leader is likely to have a higher level of comfort with open source and with quickly adopting less mature technologies. The background of this IT leader is likely technology-based and he/she has extensive IT knowledge.

The environment requires this person to move fast. Sitting on long, protracted RFP submission proposals, for example, will not go over well, nor likely be a common approach. Speed and agility are popular qualities with this IT leader, but there is a trade-off with standardization, repeatable processes, and predictability. Often this person succeeds with the sheer brute force of determination. But this benefit can often come at a price.

Advice: When working with this IT leader, be conscious of his/her low patience and less of a long-term commitment to any one direction.

2. The diligent innovator

This IT leader operates in an enlightened organization. He/she understands that IT innovation can bring considerable benefits, but this leader doesn't necessarily make a first-mover play.

In this organization, occasional managed risk is supported with the caveat that homework is done and a back-out strategy exists. This IT leader is often asked to be agile in responding to needs while also being encouraged to push back on requests that don't align with business objectives or may disproportionately introduce unnecessary complexity. It's often a hard place to operate because the pull to take greater risks must be balanced with diligent decision-making. This can often result in a slower pace of activity, or in the worst case, in an impasse. The focus on diligence with underlying encouragement to innovate makes this a popular posture of IT leaders, but it can be the hardest of the IT leader categories to succeed in.

Advice: Be sure to provide this IT leader with plenty of assurances, good quality information, and support throughout any initiative.

3. The rock-steady guarantor

The ask of this IT leader is often the simplest: keep the essential systems running, don't take too many risks, and keep the technologies moderately current. This person doesn't need everyone to have the latest versions of software. They keep a close eye on new developments, but almost always take a late-majority approach to implementation.

While it sounds like this IT leader has it the easiest, that is the furthest from the truth. This person is being asked to keep everything working. Disruptions and surprises and not well received by management. Naturally, this makes the IT leader less agile, forces processes to be more bureaucratic, and change is much harder to make happen.

For most of history, this organizational profile has succeeded by being conservative and moving at glacial speed. The jury is out on whether this method is sustainable in today's economic environment. The IT leader at the helm of this type of organization has considerable challenges ahead. He/she will see increased pressure to operate in a way that has been historically inconsistent with the risk profile of this type of business. A large amount of CIOs fill this category.

Advice: This IT leader requires a considerable volume of analysis to make decisions. Be sympathetic to rigorous approval paths, and prepare to support commitment to projects in the long-term.

I expect most IT leaders will have styles that overlap among all three categories, but it is highly likely that the predominant characteristics live in one of them. Of course, I'm really interested to hear from anyone who thinks they know an IT leader who doesn't belong in any of these categories.

A short blog post can never do justice to an important discussion. I've left out a lot here, such as budget control and who the CIO reports to. But what I'm trying to do is raise awareness and provoke a dialogue. There isn't a one-IT-leader-fits-all model. IT leaders are fundamentally different based on the organizations they lead.

Knowing and considering the subtle and not-so-subtle differences with each IT leader will help marketers better reach and resonate with them. It will help anyone who works with the leader to have more successful interactions and outcomes. Ultimately, it will be better for the IT leader and the organization.


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January 04 2011

Can good IT managers make great business leaders?

Recently, many people have been pointing out to me how my O'Reilly blog on IT leadership and the attendant observations on technology have been resonating outside of the IT community. Specifically I'm told, the subjects I'm writing on have meaning and value as general business management content. As I pondered on this notion, it struck me (and it's obvious in hindsight) that in a world where technology is a fundamental foundation of almost all business, there's not a great deal of difference between the skills required for good IT management and that of general management.

However, as true as that might be, as I further considered the thought, I concluded that good IT management doesn't necessarily equate to great business leadership. We hear it all the time: today, CIOs and IT leaders must be able to partner with other members of the C-suite and in addition to running the operations of IT, be able to grow the business through IT enablement.

After all, the CIO is first and foremost a business leader.

Here's the ask: the CEO wants more value from IT, the COO wants optimized operations, and the CFO wants it all at the least possible cost.

This requires the CIO to understand business and — surprise — have some form of general business background. That being recognized, the most common path to IT leadership is still through the IT organization, and that means the CIO strength may be of a technical nature with a nuanced flavor of management. That can often present a problem.

It's important to recognize that to run an IT project or to manage a team of IT developers requires good management techniques. But all too often, IT professionals exist and operate in a vacuum resulting in a variation of management absent of inputs such as market forces. In other words, the typical IT manager, for example, may never be exposed to a P&L statement.

This is not by intention, but comes about as a result of how almost every IT organization operates. Largely shielded from the real work of the business, IT has both the convenience and the limitation of working with internal sponsors who are captive customers with no choice of supplier. That couldn't be any more different than leaders who were groomed with and are working with the open marketplace. Put another way, acquiring management skills within the IT organization may result in a myopic view of general management.

The best IT managers I've seen have a background of both IT and general management. Many IT managers do not get to work in a non-IT environment. But the IT managers that do best are often those that have had more business exposure than their peers. Take that as a tip for any aspiring IT manager.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that a great IT leader doesn't need a technical background or a good understanding of technology. That's necessary and expected. After all, one assumes that the reason for wanting to be an IT leader stems from a passion for technology often reflected in a life of mild obsessiveness with geekdom. What I am suggesting is that a technical background with IT management skills may not be enough to cut it as a great business leader.

To succeed, an IT leader must learn to talk in the language of business. For example, cloud computing is about potential cost reduction and new business opportunities, not some abstract technology term that introduces a suite of complex new service models. The latter has a place at your IT team meetings, but will do little to invoke attention in the board room.

A great IT leader is also a salesperson who takes an idea and inspires the audience. He or she must drive emotional commitment from a team and sell a vision that people can buy. That killer combination of communicating IT innovation in business terms, understanding the numbers, and eliciting belief from the C-suite can form the backbone of highly effective business leadership.

Without these skills the CIO can often be relegated to order-taker and maintenance guy.

Being a good IT manager is hard. Being a great business leader is harder. What separates them is not just the ability to continually and uniquely inspire, but first to be a really well-informed and skilled business manager. Get the basics right, learn the business, understand the financial aspects, think big picture, talk the talk, inspire through your values, and then deliver. Hit many of these on the head and you just might shine as a business leader in the C-suite.


December 09 2010

White House proposes sweeping federal IT reforms

For years, the differences between the use of information technology in the public and private sector have been glaring. Closing the technology gap has been one of the most important priorities of the administration's IT executives. Today, the White House released a report (below) that acknowledges those issues and proposes specific reforms to begin to address the IT gap that Peter Orzag, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the White House, highlighted this summer.

This morning in Washington, the White House will host a forum on information technology management reform hosted by federal chief performance officer and OMB deputy director for management Jeffrey Zients and U.S. chief information officer Vivek Kundra. The two will lay out the Obama administration's strategy to reboot how the federal government purchases and uses information technology. The event will be streamed live at It's also embedded below:

Key reforms proposed in the plan include:

  • Create career tracks for IT program managers
  • Move to pilot projects with more budget flexibility and greater transparency in the implementation process
  • Develop IT acquisition specialists to closely align acquisition with technology cycles in the broader economy
  • Following the model of Social Security, enact the requirement for complete, integrated teams to be in place before projects are approved
  • Launch "myth-busting" campaigns about acquisition of federal IT.
  • Use "TechStat" sessions and other accountability measures to end or accelerate troubled projects
  • Reduce the number of federal data centers by at least 40 percent by 2015.

November 23 2010

The four pillars of O'Reilly's IT strategy

This week I delivered the detailed framework for a 3-year IT strategy for O'Reilly Media, Inc. The strategy is the culmination of several months' work to fully understand the current state of the business and the vision for its future. Together with the goals for growth, the strategy focuses on many of today's common IT requirement, such as: delivering more for less; increased agility; greater access to decision-enabling data; and improving customer service. It also directly addresses stress points in the existing technology environment and forms the basis for the IT organizational design required to support future business goals.

As I wrote about in a previous blog, it was essential that the context of this strategy consider O'Reilly's culture of innovation while introducing the right level of predictability. Too much of either unmanaged innovation or codified predictability could limit our ability to grow and, in my view, be a recipe for IT failure.

While there is considerable depth and breadth to the strategy, I will share the simplified, four core concepts on which it is formed. Each is essential to move us forward. I'm not giving away any secrets here, as these are all fundamental concepts. But, it does achieve my objectives of being highly transparent in our thinking and for providing ideas to others.

The four pillars of our IT strategy are:

1. Governance

IT governance is all about making smart choices in allocating scarce technology resources and being accountable for the resulting performance of those decisions. These choices include those that consider cost, risk, and strategic alignment. While governance almost always exists in some form -- i.e. without it being explicit, somehow decisions get made -- maturity and predictability of process will really only be achieved by clearly understood and agreed upon governance processes. We'll focus on the right quotient of governance, lest it stifle and suffocate the things we do really well.

2. Architecture

As systems become increasingly interdependent and a small change in one application can have significant downstream impacts, it's no longer possible to take a narrow, single-system view of solution development. New requests must be handled with an end-to-end process mindset. Introducing new capability will now require an architectural perspective that considers qualities such as reuse, standards, sustainability, and data use. Over the medium- to long-term, smart architecture can lead to higher-quality solutions and reduced overall costs.

3. Strategic sourcing

Contrary to popular belief, strategic sourcing does not automatically equate to either staff reductions or outsourcing. Sure, unfortunately for many organizations this is the way it has manifested, but for many others it is about creating flexibility in identifying and temporarily acquiring talent from wherever it can be provided when it is needed. That talent may be internal, for example: Is there someone outside the IT department but within the business who can help with a project on a temporary basis? But it could also mean quickly finding a scarce development resource in Argentina. We'll use strategic sourcing as a supplemental talent management approach to developing and supporting technology solutions.

4. Hybrid cloud

Historically, many organizations, including O'Reilly Media, built and hosted their own IT solutions. There's often good reason to do this, particularly those systems that use proprietary innovation and are essential for market differentiation. Outside of this category, IT has become increasingly commoditized -- i.e. basic services offer no competitive advantage but are essential to core business functions (think of email or file storage as examples). Utilizing more commodity-based IT products and services enables the IT organization to elevate its value proposition: to work on the most complex business problems and be a true enabler of business growth. At O'Reilly Media we'll continue to build out our internal cloud infrastructure and pursue more external cloud capability and software-as-a-service solutions.

We're under no illusion that making significant progress in all four of these areas will be easy. There's a level of change management that will challenge us in new ways. But we'll gauge the pace as we progress and make corrections as necessary. To me, inherent to our strategy is the capacity for flexibility. It's not possible to get everything right, but it is essential to quickly correct when things go wrong.

I'll continue to report on our progress and I welcome your feedback.


October 25 2010

Can predictability and IT innovation coexist?

Organizations that succeed in consistently converting ideas into value, and then profiting from them -- the art and science of innovation -- are often those that have balanced rigid process with agility. The reconciliation of predictability and innovation is at the heart of many IT transformations, even if it isn't an overtly focused intent. In other words, leadership wants more value from IT and more contribution to the bottom line, but they want it without compromising the core business functions that technology supports.

Typically, IT transformations try to achieve two things:

  1. Improve existing services by increasing quality and capacity while finding ways to radically reduce cost.
  2. Spend less time managing and maintaining back-office systems and redirect resources and capacity in order to enable new business opportunities.

To address item 1 usually requires the implementation of optimal processes, and to support item 2 necessitates innovation. Unfortunately, in the effort to ensure the compliance of processes, an organization can stifle, or in the worst case, create high entry barriers to innovation.

As an example of rigorous process, IT project governance often requires a level of analysis and support that just isn't available to risky new ideas. Since the absence of concrete evidence can be a showstopper for many decision-makers, ideators are deterred from proposing their ideas in the first place. After all, who would want to expend energy and enthusiasm championing an idea when there is a very good chance it won't even be entertained?

An IT organization can overtly follow a path that is predictable (read: rigidly process driven) as it may be right for its profile. Think about financial organizations like banks and insurance companies, or the constraints of regulation in healthcare industries. These types of organizations lend themselves to a sharper focus on process.

Then there are businesses that make innovation their modus operandi. I think about technology-based start-ups and industries where complacency means certain obsolescence. For example: miss a beat in the fast moving mobile phone domain and you're toast.

Lastly, there are a large percentage of businesses that want to be both predictable and innovative. Most importantly: they don't want one aspect to trump the other.

Today, every IT leader needs to consider this dichotomy for the business domain in which their business competes: whether to run an IT organization that is equal parts predictable and innovative. Strategies that can reconcile these two agendas have positive observable and measurable results. At the same time, organizations that don't reconcile these aspects often see lower levels of IT innovation. I'd bet that we each know the category in which our own organizations belong.

In O'Reilly IT, ensuring that we achieve the right degree of process while charting an innovative course is an important part of our transformation journey. As I've written before, it begins with winning over your IT staff and your internal customers. Then it's about clearly defining the limits of process within your organization. What will the culture permit?

When process overrides its benefits, it couldn't be clearer: your business stakeholders will reject it and it will fail. So tread slowly. Look for those organizational signals. Examples will include decreasing participation in process-based meetings; non-responded emails; and missed deadlines. Above all, when you begin to find the right balance, loudly communicate the benefits of the process. It needs to resonate with the participants. When it does, you know you're headed in the right direction.

If you're unsure whether your IT organization reconciles predictability with IT innovation, test it. One of the simplest ways to do this is to ask. You might be surprised at what you hear.


October 11 2010

IT transformations must begin with hearts and minds

The role of the information technology (IT) department is changing. In simpler times it was the bastion of back-office services like data storage, network operations, and ERP systems. Today, both its purpose and the demands placed upon it are quickly evolving. Driven largely by economics, the IT function is outsourcing many of its commodity-type activities; looking for ways to rein in out-of-control support costs; and being asked to be more central in helping to enable new business opportunities. Simply put: the C-suite is demanding more value on its IT spend.

For many IT departments, moving from a largely back-office role to being an enabler of business growth requires nothing less than an IT transformation. This can often translate to painful, but essential change in the way IT is sourced, organized, and operated. But more importantly, it is about shifting the mix of IT dollars spent away from maintenance and into new investment. A successful IT transformation should result in 60 percent or more of all IT spend being available for new projects that can be directly tied to business growth.

Getting there is not easy.

Many IT leaders tasked with this directive leap deep into the strategy by quickly shifting priorities, shutting down projects, and using sheer brute-force to change the dynamics. This approach can work, but it will come with a price.

Like all change, and given its particularly complex nature, an IT transformation must be managed in a deliberate and multidimensional manner. Sure, the heavy lifting is essential, but it should not be the first thing that gets done. This kind of radical change must start with the CIO and his or her managers engaging in collaborative discussions concurrently across the business and with the IT team. As the impact of the change will be experienced by almost everyone, setting expectations and getting as many people as possible bought into the strategy at the outset is essential. An IT transformation will be tough, but it will go smoother and will be better understood and accepted when leadership has won hearts and minds.

As CIO of O'Reilly Media, I'm leading our own IT transformation. Driven by our desire to get more done, more quickly, and to continue to be at the leading edge of innovation in the business areas in which we compete, requires nothing less than a significant shift in how we execute our IT function. We'll keep doing the things we do well, but we will take a careful look at everything else.

Over the next few months, I'll be blogging candidly about our experiences: both what is working and where we are being challenged. I want you, the O'Reilly Media community to be part of the conversation in this change. We've started to work on hearts and minds and that also means we've got to do a lot of listening. So go head, tell us what you think.


July 14 2010

Taking on IT challenges at California scale

Teri TakaiCalifornia has the eighth largest economy in the world. Its information technology infrastructure is immense, with thousands of staff, networks and complex legacy systems. After the boom and bust of the dot com era, California's budget woes have also been immense, which has driven staffers to do more with less, a common refrain in IT departments during the Great Recession.

To learn more about how California is tackling these challenges, I spoke with its chief information officer, Teri Takai. Given Takai's nomination by President Obama to be assistant secretary for Networks and Information Integration at the Department of Defense, her perspectives on IT are of interest to many observers.

After the jump, Takai explains what the term "Gov 2.0" means to her and she talks about how California is taking on data center consolidation, green tech, scaling legacy systems and more.

Note: I conducted my interview with Takai in late May, and a lot has happened since then. Relevant background is included below. If you'd like to jump right into the interview, click here.

New capabilities for e-government have gone online at, driven by the explosion of mobile and social media in recent years, along with reduced costs for storage and virtualization. Those trends have been matched by the escalating energy cost of data center operations and increased demand for e-services. In February, Governor Schwarzenegger issued an executive order to reduce the state's data center space by 50 percent by July 2011 and to cut energy usage from IT operations by 30 percent by July 2012.

That executive order focused on standardizing IT governance and increasing spending transparency to improve management of California's more than $3 billion IT budget. As Information Week reported in June, the state has made progress toward data center consolidation and cleaning up other IT operations. The status report posted on in June is available here.

Last week, the Infrastructure Consolidation Program (ICP) established by the Office of the Chief Information Officer to carry out that executive order completed California's consolidated e-mail security and encryption service, E-Hub. That said, there's still a long way to go. Recently, an outdated payroll system came to light when the Governor attempted to cut the salaries of state workers.

While my interview with Takai predated that development, her replies, below, offer perspective on other areas.

What do the terms "Government 2.0" and "open government" mean to you?

Teri Takai: Open government, to some extent, is a part of Government 2.0. We have historically talked about delivering services online rather than inline. We've had a concept, which has been around for several years, around "e-government." The thing that's changed dramatically from just a question of citizens getting access through a portal and citizens actually being able to receive services online is the explosion of mobile devices and new social media tools.

Many social media tools are starting to become almost commonplace. Normally, I'm not a great proponent of saying technology drives change. Business processes do. But I think that one of the interesting things around social media tools is that in many cases, the capability and ability to connect is actually found in business processes.

How is the state of California integrating green tech? What investments have had the most return?

TT: We believe overall improvements in the way that we do IT give us significant opportunities and improvements from a green standpoint. Right now, we've done a lot of basic blocking and tackling.

For example, we had a print operation at our data centers. We put software in that allows you to look at this stuff online. The management piece of that change was, rather than going out and saying to all of the departments, "Wouldn't you like to convert over to using the software and viewing online?" we said, "We are switching you over unless you give us a valid business case why we still need to produce paper for you."

When you take that kind of approach, it's really interesting. If we had asked them to switch over, we wouldn't have gotten much response. When we tell them they're going to, the interesting thing is they just let it happen and we're hearing very little pushback.

In terms of investments that have the most return, we believe that we need to be a part of reducing our data center footprint. We know what the statistics are, in terms of the amount of energy usage by data centers nationally. That's not just a public sector problem but a private sector problem. We need to ensure that we're using server virtualization, storage virtualization, and that we're putting them into secure, purpose-built data centers. I've got more than 436,000 square-feet now. Only about a third of that is in what I call a true data center.

How do virtualization, server consolidation, data center efficiency, and renewable energies factor into California's IT strategy?

TT: We have to address the executive order that the Governor signed around server virtualization, search virtualization and the movement into purpose-built data centers. In our large data centers, we've done reviews to look at where we could get short-term gains. Things like putting up plastic paneling and redirecting air conditioning.

The interesting thing here is that what we're doing will make us more green and sustainable and it will be more cost effective, more secure, and more reliable. We don't have to go after green as a separate initiative. It's a part of our overall effort to make sure that we're spending IT dollars wisely.

The piece that we haven't spent a lot of time on yet is the renewable energy factor. We're certainly using standard calculations and measurements around the savings that we're getting. But in terms of actually looking into some of the next generation capabilities of energy, we're not really focused on that because I wanted to start with getting these operational components accomplished first. now includes many different services. What's been your strategy for building out the site and the program?

TT: The strategy is to continue to push not only the IT community, but to also push the program as an alternative way of doing business. We're continually pushing it. We're publicizing it. That's what we're doing externally to get all of California on board.

It hasn't been any one single thing. We focus on the program areas to get business done. We focus on new stuff, getting it out and getting people comfortable with it. We're trying to highlight all of the new things so that people don't get used to just portals or just visiting a departmental website.

In terms of the infrastructure, I don't know that we do anything terribly elegant. As we see the demand coming in, we adjust. It's difficult to know when you put something out there what's going to be a hit. When we put the website out for the stimulus, we had no idea. We've noticed that when we update the website, in particular the map, we get lots and lots of traffic. And then, of course, it tapers off.

Given California's budget constraints, how are you maintaining or migrating from legacy systems?

TT: Despite our budget challenges, we still have plans to renovate and actually put in IT infrastructure for our corrections organization. We're moving ahead with our enterprise ERP for financials. We're moving ahead with our enterprise ERP for personnel. We are doing a major system renovation in unemployment insurance. While it's not everything -- and we still have a lot of legacy systems around -- between federal funds and our legislature recognizing that IT is very important, we're moving ahead, even if it's slower than what we had originally anticipated. was moved to Amazon's cloud, and that was a bit of a tipping point for an official .gov site to be hosted externally. But I'm guessing you won't move into Amazon's cloud anytime soon. Is that right?

TT: That's correct, but that's "never say never." We actually do a very small bit of hosting in the Amazon cloud. We're constantly looking for the right infrastructure and where we should be going.

Note: This interview was condensed and edited.


June 14 2010

A constellation you should know

IMG_0133.jpgThis blog post has been sitting on my computer’s desktop for a few weeks now.... I’m finally getting around to telling you about a great week I had at the end of May. It started off with a brief trip to Northern California with stops at Dale’s amazing Maker Faire (equally impressive were his sprinting skills as he leapt into action when a tent nearly blew over), various technology companies and a local high school to visit friends and business colleagues. I even had the opportunity to meet my fellow Edu 2.0 bloggers, Betsy and Marie, for an Afghani dinner and conversation before heading back to Chicago on a red-eye flight. I left Silicon Valley, inspired as always by innovation and ideas, and admittedly, a little envious of general Northern California life.

At the end of that week, though, I had an experience that made me realize that there’s innovation happening in my Chicago backyard, too. Invited by executive director Sandee Kastrul, I participated in a weekly high tea ritual at i.c.stars, a work force readiness program that prepares young people for IT careers in business. My subsequent visit really got me thinking about how we’re supporting adults’ education needs.

I first met Sandee this spring when we both were presenters for a TEDx event at the National School Boards Association Conference in Chicago. As a former science classroom teacher with a background in theatre, Sandee artfully told the compelling story of her journey to create i.c.stars. She basically started her organization after seeing the limited opportunities her high school students upon graduation. Call me jaded, but I’ve grown skeptical of educational programs in general as some seem to pay lip service to notions about affecting change. I was intrigued Sandee’s story, and when she consequently invited me to high tea at i.c.stars, I saw this as an opportunity to see if her work was the real deal.

i.c.stars started about 11 years ago with the primary goal of preparing high school graduates for careers and leadership in business and technology-related professions. The screening process to participate is rigorous according to the i.c.stars web site, "Using multiple interviews and written assessments, candidates are screened for experience overcoming adversity. Our participants have developed a set of resiliency skills that create a profound sense of purpose and ambition for long term community leadership. The same resiliency skills that form the basis of community leadership, also form the basis for business leadership. Our participants stand out from their competitors in the job market as a result of their ability to overcome adversity and thrive in the high pressure, high stress environment of technology and the internet."

During their time in the program, participants learn a variety of skills through team managed projects. After their 16 week cycle is completed, graduates of the program find employment with the help of i.c.stars staff. The organization notes that 100% of its graduates during the last four cycles have found employment with firms such as Allstate, Grainger, Accenture and Microsoft. i.c.stars also serves as a temporary employment agency for corporations and part of the fees charged for these services returns to the organization in order to sustain its programs.

IMG_0131.jpgHigh tea at i.c.stars is a daily ritual where members of a cycle gather to network and learn from a visiting professional. A selected team member greets the invited guest and interviews them briefly before introducing the visitor to the rest of the cycle. Tea and cookies are served and following the lead team member’s introduction of the featured guest, everyone takes a turn introducing the person next to them and pouring them a cup of tea.

Walking into the board room at i.c.stars on my appointed day was slightly like what I imagine it's like to be on the set of the Apprentice. Approximately a dozen friendly business-clad young adults were seated around the table, and I had the guest of honor spot at its head. Introductions began and were fairly lengthy, giving insight into the character of each team member. In nearly every single introduction, examples of perseverance were given, ranging from how one person helped another during “Geek Week” to another expressing appreciation for a colleague who came through on projects when other teammates were notably absent. Pictures of work and relationships developed through this introduction ritual, but more importantly, group members were affirming the personal characters and work ethics of their colleagues. It seemed like such a positive, uplifting, and beneficial practice; not only were team members boosted through thoughtful, positive words, but they were also learning to give effective feedback. There’s an art to this for sure, and explicitly teaching and practicing interpersonal skills is important, particularly for young adults who might not have always heard kind words at home or in school.

After introductions, I explained my education and career path, reflecting on the choices I’ve made along the way. I particularly ranted about the current state of American education and my belief that we’re providing unequal experiences for students, particularly in our urban schools. While I’m probably not the typical high tea guest in that my background is rooted in K12 institutions and not corporations, these participants seemed really interested in public school policy. i.c.stars graduates are charged with becoming community leaders; effective leaders know that education systems affect business, so I think my observations might have given them some perspective.

My visit to i.c.stars was memorable for a variety of reasons. First, it makes me contemplate work force readiness, a topic that has not previously held a great deal of interest for me. After hearing Sandee’s stories and meeting her current set of students, I’m wondering how our society is supporting young adults once they graduate (or don’t graduate) from high school. How are we trying to boost people who might have been disengaged from formal education? There seems to be a real need for more scalable programs like i.c.stars when addressing this overlooked niche within education.

A small portion of my day was spent at i.c.stars, but it yielded a big impact on myself and the i.c.stars students. Not only did I stop to contemplate my own life and career paths, but the students practiced skills necessary for business success and potentially learned from my experiences. Just think how powerful it would be for other busy people to take time just hang out with those who are new to a profession. This makes me think of the concept of reverse mentoring and of Google’s 20% time. How is your place of work giving back to others? Being professionally generous with your time and expertise can be mutually beneficial.

Finally, I was struck by the i.c.stars students’ general smarts and motivation. With a tad more confidence mixed with a bit of fearlessness, I think they will be ready for action once they’ve completed their 16 week cycle. Clearly, Sandee and her team have taken a vision and made it happen teaching people to stand on their own two feet and take on the world; they are well on their way towards their goal of creating 1000 community leaders by 2020. What I’d love to see beyond this, is 1000 more strong programs like i.c.stars in place by 2020. What are you willing to do about workforce readiness? What other stellar programs currently exist? How are we tapping into the potential of young adults?

March 24 2010

At the Forefront of the Next Industrial Revolution

I chose Limor Fried, founder and chief engineer of Adafruit Industries, as the subject of my post for Ada Lovelace Day for four reasons:

  1. Limor is a hardware engineer - one of those bastions of tech in which it's most important for young girls considering future careers to understand that women can excel. Here's Limor, making adjustments to the pick and place machine that she uses to manufacture circuit boards for her creative hardware designs.

  2. pick and place sany2691

  3. Limor is a "complete" entrepreneur, doing whatever it takes to get her business off the ground, from writing software to manage the company's operations, to hiring and management, to marketing and PR, accounting and finance. When I went to visit her recently in her New York headquarters (a live-work space close to Wall Street), there was so much that reminded me of my own early days at O'Reilly, when I was not just a writer and editor, but also janitor and system administrator, software developer and bookkeeper, marketer, head of sales, and business manager.

  4. My visit filled me with nostalgia - and conviction that I was watching a founder who has everything it takes to take a business from zero to success without any venture financing, relying instead on hard work, a sure sense of an open market niche, and a can-do mindset that would rather just do it than hire someone who's done it before.

    I launched my business in a barn that I had renovated myself. Employees had to tiptoe past my sleeping infant to use the bathroom in the house. Limor too lives onsite, with kitchen and sleeping quarters curtained off from the large room that is at once R&D lab, manufacturing floor, and shipping dock. I wrote the accounting system that my company used to keep track of our finances; Limor has written a system that interfaces a scale with online postage services to minimize shipping costs and maximize delivery time for her customers. I saw early on that the best marketing was evangelization of ideas that matter; Limor too doesn't sell products so much as she sells a mindset.

  5. Limor is at the forefront of what Wired identifies as the next industrial revolution, a revolution driven by what I like to call "smart stuff, and dumb stuff made with smart tools."

  6. Over our years watching the alpha geeks, we've concluded that many big technology revolutions don't start with entrepreneurs, but with hobbyists having fun. Think the Wright Brothers and others who enabled the age of flight, the Homebrew Computer Club that helped birth the personal computer industry, the early web sites that were built with no expectation of financial return, the open source developers who wrote code, as Linus Torvalds admitted "just for fun."

    We noticed an upsurge of "hardware hacking" five or six years ago. O'Reilly publishing co-founder Dale Dougherty realized that it was the beginning of something big and launched Make: Magazine in 2005 to celebrate the movement. The magazine took off, and so Dale launched West Coast Computer Faire. Last year's Maker Faire in San Mateo drew nearly 70,000 people.

    At first, the Maker revolution looked simply like a wacky world of invention for the sake of it, for recreation and for learning, or as Dale put it in the tagline for the magazine, "technology on your own time." But as in prior technology revolutions, there was a larger business opportunity hiding in plain sight. Right on schedule, we're seeing the next generation of companies emerge from what at first appeared to be just a bunch of hobbyists having fun. Adafruit is in good company, one of a series of new "Maker Pro" businesses.

    And they are not just small businesses any more. Open source hardware projects like Android are now in the mainstream of consumer electronics. Every smartphone has dozens of sensors; skills learned in Maker projects are now applicable to mainstream applications.

  7. Limor has the open source mindset, working constantly to spread knowledge and enable others. In the video below, Limor explains why she shares her designs (as well as showing off a couple of them.)

  8. Limor has worked to document all the tools she uses, to help other would-be Maker businesses to get a head start. This Makezine article provides a good overview; there's more detail on her LadyAda Wiki. She's also doing outreach via weekly live video show, Ask An Engineer

The purpose of Ada Lovelace Day is to celebrate women in technology in hope of encouraging more young women to realize what a great, creative field it is, rife with opportunity for self-expression, for community, and for financial success. Limor Fried is showing them how it's done.

November 13 2009

Play fullscreen
David Weinberger on What Information Was

November 09 2009

February 27 2009

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