Tuesday, October 7, 2014


A lot has been written on employee engagement and it seems to be top of mind for a lot of executives. I had a discussion recently with a CEO friend of mine who is concerned that his employees aren't really engaged. They had done a third party engagement study, and I'm sure paid a fair amount to have it done, and weren't excited about the results.

"How can I get employees more engaged and excited about the company?" he asked. Now I'm sure in the expensive study he paid to have done they had some great business school advice which had all the latest buzzwords in it. What he really wanted, I think, was down to earth help.

I'm not one to beat around the bush so I asked "Well how engaged are you with the  employees?" So below is my advice to be a more engaged executive which will then lead to more engaged employees.

1. How many employees do you know? In this case it's one building with 350 or so employees. In my mind he should be able to at least recognize most of them by sight. Now maybe it's unfair to expect him to know their family history, hobbies and spouses name, but his direct reports and their direct reports is a small group. I worked for one VP of IT who had "flash cards" of his team made up so he could remember them better.

2. Does he eat lunch in the company cafeteria.  In my opinion the best way to get to know people is to be seen by them. Grab a table and a sandwich and talk over lunch. It's easy to hate the CEO, it's harder to hate "Rich".

3. Make communications frequent and informal. Anyone that thinks a quarterly newsletter is going to help change culture is missing the point. Culture takes time and investment and great communication. A newsletter, probably written by marketing, isn't going to do it. Now I'm not saying that's a bad thing, in fact I think company newsletters are great, but that's not communicating. When you do need to send an email out or voice mail etc, let your personality shine through. People like people so let them know you are a real person.

4. When you have bad news to deliver, get it out of the way as quickly as you can, without a lot of spin. We've all heard the usual canned speeches, dispense with that and speak what you mean. A rule of thumb is this "If you need to take 3 days or more, or a committee review to get a communication out, it's spin". That's OK for an annual report but this is your employees, your family, open up and be yourself. Now that doesn't mean airing dirty laundry or trade secrets, but being honest and open is OK.

5. Explain the why. Many years ago the company I was at had a gap in our product portfolio and there were a lot of startups filling that need. I was surprised we hadn't bought one and finally got a chance to talk to our CTO about it. It turned out that we had reviewed several and couldn't justify what they were asking based on the amount of revenue we expected the product to bring in. Clearly the executive team had spent a lot of time thinking about this and once I knew the reasoning, it made sense.

What are some other tips you have seen help get employee engagement working?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Another company to watch - Infinio

I haven’t had a chance to talk about a lot of the cool companies I've run across lately. I've seen a few, Ziften, Cloudbyte and this one, Infinio. I actually got to go meet the Infinio team in Cambridge yesterday which was great. I always forget how cool Kendall Square is until I get to spend time there. 

So here’s my notes in Infinio. Standard disclaimer… I don’t work for them and I’m not speaking for them, but if you are interested in them I’d be glad to introduce you…

You know how when you are designing storage you have to think about not just capacity, but the number of drives too. I remember we needed around 500GB of storage for our SAP instance but we ended up having to get 8 times that amount of drives to reach the number of iops we needed for the application to perform well. That seemed crazy to me.

Now it’s a bit better now, if you are buying new storage you can have them add in SSD drives and most of the storage companies now do auto-tiering so that “hot data” goes on the faster SSD drives and the rest goes on the spinning disks. But SSD is still really expensive and if you already have your storage environment, it’s a project to add SSD to it.

Enter Infinio. They claim, and I say claim only because my team hasn't done it, that you can download their software, install it, and have a much better performing ESX environment in 30 minutes with no downtime. I went through the install and it took less than 10 minutes, but that was in a lab in ideal conditions, point is 30 minutes is definitely believable. And yes you read that last paragraph correctly, it’s just software and you don’t need to reboot…

The way it works is it allocates a VM on each ESX host and essentially uses memory on the box (currently 8GB) and a single vcpu, as part of a distributed cache. There is also an additional VM for a management console that needs 2 vcpu's. 

The metrics were impressive, though I have to admit I don’t remember the details. It seemed like it showed at least double the performance but did a really nice job smoothing out the disk loading too. Don't take my word for it, or even their word for it, take an hour and test it in your environment. 

In theory this would also reduce the amount of network traffic to the storage too so it could help you stretch your 1Gb data center a little longer and avoid having to upgrade to 10Gb. Of course my company, Extreme Networks, sells network switches so I probably shouldn't point that out…

Now there are a few gotchas... It supports ESX with NFS datastores, if you use block level datastores like iscsi it won’t help. Now I don’t think they said this, but I can imagine that they are going to work on a version that works with iscsi too. Right now it only works with VMware as well. If you are using HyperV or something else, you’re out of luck for now, again I wouldn't be surprised if they are thinking about future releases adding support for other vendors but they definitely didn't say that.

So if you are running ESX against NFS datastores, check it out. You literally can install it at lunch, test it and uninstall it with no downtime. You might be surprised at how well it works.

A few other folks have looked at this. One is Jonathan Frappier,  who you definitely want to follow. He has a blog called Virtxpert and covers a lot of super cool virtualization stuff. The Infinio specific posts are here

Another person that talked about Infinio is Steve Duplessie from ESG. Again definitely someone good to follow, ESG has great research and Steve is an awesome speaker and definitely knows what he is talking about. He discusses Infinio in this video.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What is IT+?

Many CIO's I talk to are 100% confident that they have an awesome IT department. Sometimes though when you talk to their users you get a different story. I don't think CIO's are wrong to think they have a really good team, I mean we all like to think we are the cream of the crop but here is a hypothetical scenario I want you to think about.

Imagine, if you will, that your company just re-branded and now you have all these new templates you want to get people to start using. A user calls into the service desk (or emails if that's more believable for you) and asks where to get it.

A good IT department will have a service desk that says "You can get the updated templates from the marketing site at http://marketingsite/, obviously substituting the URL for the right one.

A really good IT department will then follow up the next day and ask if they got it OK, needed any help installing it or using it, and maybe even offer training if the user seems confused.

An IT+ department will do all of that, but then go to the administrators and see if there is a way to automatically install these templates globally to everyone so that users everywhere can automatically see them when they chose to create a new template.

Often times, and what the gold star service is, would be an IT department that is so in tune with the business that the marketing team and IT already thought about this and had the new material lined up and ready to go because IT thinks about what they business needs and the business knows IT will help and brings the into the loop early. Ideally this conversation happens at all levels of the business, not just the CIO and CMO level.

Take a minute and think about how your service desk would respond. Would they even respond? If not you need to address that pretty soon. Build a metrics report showing SLA's around response time and make sure you, the CIO, review them every day and get rid of people who don't get it.

Would they ask "What's powerpoint?" If so I'd suggest training. A lot of training actually. Your service desk is the fact of IT and you need them to be on top of their game all the time. Make them the early adopters (at least some of them). Show them it's OK to learn new things and get them to be innovators. Just because they are helpdesk not architects doesn't mean they don't have great ideas.

Are they good? Congratulations. Do you want them to be great? Then let them know it's OK to suggest solutions to the real problem. Closing the ticket is not the same as fixing the problem. Let them know that you expect them to do both, and then make sure your admins understand that message too. You want to encourage them to work together to solve issues.

And if you want the gold star, make sure you encourage your team to talk to their peers in the business. It's OK to sit in the caf and have a cup of coffee with the marketing team. I mean clearly if the network is done that's not the right time, but let them know part of their job is relationships.

My previous CIO gave me the goal that 30% of my time should be spent internal networking. It was probably the best advice I've gotten. Once you meet people on a personal level and become friends, you become more than IT, you become "Rich who works in IT' and it's much harder to blame or dislike a person than a department or title. Plus you get rid of business alignment problems that plague most of our industry.

That's my suggestion for a cold, snowy Maine day. I'd love any feedback or comments.