Enabling the Business: Grassroots Innovation in IT

By Bask Iyer, CIO, VMware

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I am very proud of my team here at VMware. Our IT organization is full of incredibly talented people around the world. What I love especially about them is their drive and passion to innovate and make a difference to the business. If my team was an R&D team, their charter would be clearer in terms the zeal for technology innovations.  However, as an IT team, we are on the hook to make sure that the IT infrastructure, apps and services are up and running, 24×7, every day of the year and new functionality and applications required to run the business are getting delivered seamlessly.  So there is this interesting duality – run the business and innovate to grow the business. How do we do both, and how do we find the time and create the space to make this a reality?

Some consultants have characterized this as dual-mode IT. I find that misses the mark. It is also condescending to one group or the other.

The way I look at it is this:  it is human nature to strive to do better and make an impact, no matter where you work – IT, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, Finance, Support, etc. I want to ensure that everyone on my team is able to fulfil their career goals and pursue their personal aspirations. I want to set them up for success and ensure each of them experiences career fulfillment.

As I work with members of my team, what I see is a great desire for stimulating activities and conversations. Yes, they want to think of creative ways to keep the network running or meet the needs of apps developers. They also want to spend time on growing our business or offering new products and services.  There is desire for intellectual fulfillment and an acknowledgment of their impact on the business.

What I tell my leadership team and ask them to communicate across their teams is that yes, it is okay to explore and innovate. It is also okay to fail, but not on our core services. I want them to carve up time to do both – keep IT services running (100%) and also innovate using trial and error.

Some ways our team has been able to do this:

  • Innovation Day: An internal IT-driven event held to drive innovation from consumer to enterprise. The team presents new applications/operations technologies and creates next-generation ideas. Participants then vote for ideas that will be implemented after the event.
  • RADIO participation: Our internal engineering team meets annually (at an event called the R&D Innovation Offsite – RADIO) to discuss and share exciting R&D innovations. The IT team joins in these gatherings as well, as another innovative technical group, to share our own innovations.
  • VMworld: This is our signature customer event, held twice a year. We encourage all IT team members to submit proposals for technical papers and product innovations. Once chosen, these IT team members present their ideas, in the same manner as R&D software engineers.
  • VMware on VMware: I often refer to this as “drink your own champagne”. We are the first consumers of our new products or upgrades of existing products. We provide feedback and report bugs, with a goal of improved our end-customer’s user experience. Next, we share our lessons learned with our customers who can benefit from our experience, in their own journey.

The results are encouraging and fulfilling to my team:

  • Over the past few years, our team has developed an innovative and robust Internal Private Cloud. It has transformed the way IT operates by building a Service Provider organization within VMware IT with its own P&L that builds and operates a private cloud. In addition to the internal transformation, this exercise serves to help the IT organizations of VMware’s customers, as many of them have similar goals to go through the same transformational journey as VMware does. With 50 cloud instances, over 50,000 running VMs, 3,000 virtual desktops, and extensive best practice sharing with customers, this project has exceeded all expectations in terms of increased process optimization, business impact and pioneering new technologies successfully.
  • VMware on VMware is recognized as an integral part of product testing and a gating item before a product is released to GA. We have made a difference in ensuring a better customer experience for our end-users. Many customers have also sought to learn from our journey experience about what worked and where the pitfalls might be.
  • Our IT team members have started releasing a plethora of new mobile apps to increase productivity and offer better experiences to our employees. Popular ones include People finder, Centralized approvals and Sales Deal monitor. There is something for everybody.
  • Given our passion and energy in this area, my team was asked to take the lead on developing and implementing VMware’s IoT strategy. Yes, we now have a dual-personality to match our apparently dual temperament. We function as a stand-alone BU in an area ripe with innovation and thought leadership.

As customers learn about apps or services developed for internal use, we are seeing a great interest in purchasing and paying for them, along with our product portfolio of software defined data center, cloud and mobility products. This was truly un-anticipated. I get a kick when I heard that a customer told one of our sales people that they would like to purchase one of our IT-innovated mobile apps that was only developed for internal use. Many customers find our private cloud experience fascinating. Come, check us out.

Our philosophy of “IT as a Business” is firmly taking shape at VMware. It is not because of a beautiful slide or an external consultant’s recommendation. It is because my IT team wants to innovate and make a difference for our customers. And the EPIC2 culture at VMware (Execution, Passion, Integrity, Customers, Community) empowers them to do that. We don’t force people to fit a job description. Instead we encourage them to grow as individuals to pursue their passions and accomplish their goals, providing time, space and flexibility to move across roles and responsibilities. We dare our colleagues to be themselves and do great things.

 

Bask
On Twitter: @baskiyer

 

 

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