Making IT An Integral Part Of EMC’s Business

A few years ago, when I was working in one of EMC’s business units, I gathered our top technology and product-management leaders into a conference room. We were meeting to discuss ways we could improve innovation and collaboration among multiple product teams. Just before the meeting was to get underway, a senior architect casually complained about an IT policy that she saw as defeating the purpose of a crucial network architecture feature.

Other architects in the room promptly pronounced the policy “ludicrous,” and within seconds the group was fully immersed in a solid round of IT bashing. After blowing off some steam for a few more minutes we got down to business. If you’re an IT product engineer or developer, or have a similar background, this is undoubtedly a very familiar story.

The cause of scenes like this should be equally familiar—to IT folks. Corporate IT systems, and the people that build and maintain them, have been treated as overhead costs seemingly forever. And we’ve usually measured IT management success the same way we’d grade management of physical buildings, plumbing and electricity.

It’s no surprise, then, that IT departments quickly learned to defend their systems from change. Changes tended to be disruptive, and delivery of those changes was expected at break-neck speed. More often than not, that translated into greater costs.

Non-IT people, under ever-growing pressure for greater business agility, grew to see “classical IT” as an inflexible impediment to achieving their goals. So it’s also no surprise that neither side of typical IT relationships could fully appreciate the other’s perspective.

Nonetheless, I was surprised last week when I shared a couple “IT bashing” anecdotes with someone in EMC IT. He’d never realized just how—let’s say, unsympathetic—EMC’s engineering community opinion of IT had become.

The Shift Away From Cost Center Thinking

One way to break out of “cost center” thinking is to manage IT like a business within the larger business. In effect, information systems users become an IT organization’s “customers.” At the very least, this way of thinking gives IT people incentive to listen to its users. And it provides a simple model for cost accounting. Best of all, it makes “customers” keenly aware of the costs of IT services they consume. That, in turn, encourages them to be more conservative, and make use of IT as efficiently as possible.

Sounds attractive, doesn’t it? It’s been a pretty popular approach in recent years. Major consulting firms continue advising IT leaders to adopt it, and some IT vendors offer technology to help organizations set up such a model. The only problem with this idea is that it might actually work—with unintended consequences. An IT organization that’s run like an independent business will likely end up being treated like one: an IT vendor.

I don’t know about you, but in my experience customers simply cannot and will not view their vendors as trusted partners. Running IT like a vendor institutionalizes the its separation from the rest of the business. Worse, IT can easily get in the middle of conflicts among corporate divisions because each “customer” has incentive to balance its needs and budget, and compete for IT resources—with little regard for what’s best for the corporation as a whole.

The good news is that few shops take this notion to its logical extreme. But no matter how far they go down this road, they’re left with a fundamental problem: IT has become a crucial operational asset, but juggling multiple “I build what they tell me to” relationships puts IT at increasing risk of becoming an operational liability.

IT Is The Business

I asked our CIO, Sanjay Mirchandani, about EMC IT’s relationship with the rest of the company. I’d heard that he wanted EMC IT to become more “service oriented.” Did that mean treating EMC business units as customers?

Sanjay’s answer: “Absolutely not.” Instead of running IT as a separate business, IT has to become an integral part of the business. I’m sure many of you have heard that phrase before, too. But our goal is to take this simple concept to a whole new level.

Sanjay sees EMC IT as much more than part of EMC’s business. As he put it, “IT is our business.” That’s not meant as merely a cute slogan. It’s a statement with multiple meanings—and our intent is to make them all true:

EMC is in the IT business. Ok, that’s straightforward enough. We build and sell IT products and services.

EMC IT is the operational core of EMC’s business. This is true of just about any business today. But this is also about IT becoming more than merely a supplier and operator of tech gear. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, our IT organization’s goals are almost entirely business oriented, not technology based. In other words, EMC IT does its part, based its strengths, to improve business performance. Sounds amazingly like other functional parts of an organization, doesn’t it?

EMC IT runs EMC Technology “First and Best.” If we expect customers to use our products to form the core of their operations, we need to do the same. EMC IT has become a live production testbed for EMC technology. Testing begins in an “EMC IT Proven” crucible. Once successful, IT can “turn up the volume” in full production on multiple dimensions, and at global scale. We’ve been doing this with V-Max, Vblock, Desktop Virtualization, and more.

EMC IT improves EMC products. In addition to finding problems that only show up in unpredictably dynamic production environments, EMC IT has begun to partner closely with product engineers to find and test solutions to those problems. IT can also provide real world input on product direction and integration, and can “wood shed” ideas in prototype and Alpha stages of development in addition to Beta testing typically done in our industry. Projects are underway with several product groups, ranging from Avamar to VMware, with more being added every month.

EMC IT improves EMC solutions and services. As IT develops ways to solve problems or create new capabilities, it will share them with our Solutions and Services organizations. Likewise, those organizations can lend their expertise and experience to help EMC IT address problems and create new solutions. For example, our Infrastructure Consulting Services organization is helping EMC IT plan and execute a datacenter migration from the Boston Metrowest area to North Carolina. (I’ll share more about that in a future blog post.)

EMC IT improves EMC’s market leadership. Our IT organization is “all in” on taking EMC on a journey to Private Clouds. We’re not merely betting EMC’s business on it—we’re betting EMC’s business operations on it. But we want to go beyond demonstrating that private clouds are more than mere vision or hype. We want to show everyone what EMC IT has done—successes and mistakes—and share what we’ve learned along the way.

Would this approach work for IT in your organizations? Let me know!

About the Author: David Freund