SIM CAC Chapter meeting Feb 12 notes

“Leading IT in a Geographically Dispersed Organization.”

Lee Congdon, CIO, Red Hat. (Summary by Tom Lodahl)

Red Hat is different. Lee Congdon, CIO of Red Hat, talked about running Red Hat’s IT across 60 offices globally. But you have to understand: Red Hat is totally different from his previous stints at IBM, Citicorp., and Capital One—all of them big, with more-or-less traditional organizational strucrtures. Red Hat doesn’t sell Linux—it’s distributed free—they test, package, and support it, along with JBoss middleware. Linux itself was developed in open-source “communities,” with no hierarchy, no “employees”—only autonomous members—and no hard and fast rules about software development. Many Red Hat employees were Linux people, and brought with them some of the norms, attitudes, and working styles experienced there. They also brought with them a passionate commitment to the open-source philosophy, still a key element of company ideology.

Managing Growth. So Congdon parachuted into an alien civilization distributed globally, with 170 IT staff and 40 contractors. His major challenge is not geographic. It’s how to help the company manage the transition from a small, passionate, anarchic outfit, scaling up to a large, much more standardized one, with everyone aligned to a business model. Seems less like herding cats, more like shoeing an octopus.

Mission. But his mission is pretty clear: use world-class technology and demonstrate the wisdom of open-source. Objectives: 1) enable rapid business growth; 2) improve team operations; 3) lead the information technology process; 4) maintain financial transparency re IT cost; 5) build infrastructure so as to support acquisitions.

Tools. So the IT strategy has to align with business strategy, and the enterprise architecture is how it gets integrated. Technology-enabled collaboration is essential to accomplishing these ambitions. So they have:

Pervasive email / Many wikis
Many mailing lists / Collaboration software
Strong intranet / VOIP/ VPN’s
Pervasive chats / Voice messaging
A new group calendar / Video conferencing

Chat rooms are defined by topic areas and participant lists. There is now an IT leadership chat room, which links to others, including the help desk. Chats seem to be supplanting email to some extent, since email has ballooned hugely in most such organizations. Lee mentioned one staffer who routinely monitors 25,000 emails a day. He said they don’t use videoconferencing much because the vast time differences require the guy in Pune to get up at 2 am to go to the conferencing facility. Phone is easier on all concerned.

Teamwork onsite, thinking offsite. Again, to facilitate collaboration, they are tearing up their office space and reorganizing how it is used, so it now includes more group spaces (teaming rooms, huddle rooms). They expect the reorganized space to accommodate 2.5 times the number of people it does now, at little added total cost. They have developed a philosophy about space use: do your teaming onsite, do your thinking offsite (at home or wherever). The problem here is that staff like working offsite, but their managers are less comfortable with it, by and large.

Organization. Most of the IT staff are in Raleigh, but for each of the key global locations, there is an IT counterpart to the business chief. Congdon is strong on IT governance (along with fiscal transparency), and IT has recently adopted a Portfolio-project management system to bring order into the IT-business alignment process. (It’s not open-source, since none are yet available). All IT management processes are aimed at 1) innovation and 2) value, while being consistent with the open-source ideology.

Conclusion: Red Hat is worth watching, so see if they can keep all the open-source cats aligned with the business as it grows. IT plays a key role in this effort, as a provider of collaboration tools, technology demonstrator and enabler of innovation and value-creation. Anyone want more challenge than that?