Monthly Archives: July 2012

Service Based IT – Connecting the Dots

This is the second half of my conversation with Ben Haines at MobileConnect in Boston last month. Check out part 1 if you missed it.

Ben Haines, CIO of Pabst (Yes, the ‘PBR me, ASAP’ company) is on a mission. Haines is not only transforming the data center from on-premise to cloud-based, but he is also transforming minds at Pabst. This transformation starts at the top with the senior leadership and goes all the way down to the administrators. Haines is augmenting IT from a technical delivery company into one that delivers services.

“When I started [at Pabst] there was no project manager and no business analyst. That blew me away.” Haines recounted regarding the state of IT department. Haines noted that without those roles the IT team was just keeping the lights out. There was no strategic analysis or management of deployments. Haines decided that hiring those roles should be one of his top priorities. “I need these roles first, and then I need to build out the infrastructure so I don’t need so many infrastructure roles.” By adopting a cloud-based approach to the network, Haines is able to switch infrastructure for analysis roles on his team. According to Haines the capabilities the cloud brings is just the foundation. “The cream on the top is that I’m able to change the makeup of my team replace tactical roles with strategic ones such as business analysts and project managers.”

Haines views the business analyst role as critical in transforming the IT department into a service delivery organization.  As he told me, “I want my BA’s to be the most knowledgeable business person about services. So when the business comes with questions the BA’s are not saying ‘we can start this server up here’, they’re saying ‘this is how you use the product’ and able to really start helping the businesses.” For Haines, this business/product expert is just the first step. He went on to say “then you have to start joining the dots, that’s the integration part of IT which we are moving to. I want to have my team make sure the business is utilizing those tools and training and helping the team.”

Knowing that this is a big change for the team, both in terms of skillset and culture, I was curious as to how he presented this vision to the team? “The reality is it is a bit of brute force at the end of the day.  My first presentation was ‘this is where we are going – jump on board or let’s talk.’ I was very clear.” Haines explain, “It’s going to take us a while to get there.” So how did the team receive it I asked? Haines replied, “The feedback I got was surprising. They were cautious, but very receptive. I think you are better off to throw it out there and deal with the fear than not have everyone know.”

Haines had support from senior management at well. Haines pragmatic approaches to delivering services help keep an even keel in the board room. “I try to avoid the hype, the buzzwords, in any exec meeting. Initially I had to say we are moving to cloud and put a little context around it so they understood it. But now I don’t go into a meeting and say ‘this is the cloud service we’re going to use,’ now it’s ‘this is how we are going to solve this problem, and oh yeah it’s cloud based.’” This type of rapport gives Haines the backing that a CIO needs to make significant changes in an organization.

One of the big changes that Haines implemented at Pabst was to put in Google Apps and switch out Microsoft Exchange.  At first, this caused some consternation with not only his team, but also the user base. The most concerned individual on his team was the Exchange engineer. As Haines explained “I came in a put in Google Apps and he freaked out. With Exchange that is half your job; just making sure stuff works. Now I have him doing Goggle Apps. But he doesn’t really have to do anything; just make sure a user is set up. So now he can focus on MDM, iPhones etc. It really broadens their experience from keeping the lights on to the new technology.” And not only is Haines more strategically using the people on his team, he is making them more strategic as well. “We are putting in Identity Management. What I want to get to is configuring users straight from the MDM solution. That is the integration piece that I want to get my team doing.”

The move to Google Apps also caused issues with some end users. Haines recalled some of the emotion that the move evoked. “If you ever want to tick someone off, take away their email client (in this case Outlook). Luckily, I had management support.” That support helped give him the backing to work through the conflict. “It was pretty rough. I had half the organization saying ‘this is amazing, why didn’t we do this earlier?’ That was mostly the marketing and younger crew. And then I had the ones who just hated me.” But again Haines solved the issue though a more business focused team. “It was more training and figuring out where IT could lend a helping hand. We have to have the skills there to bring users on.

Haines isn’t at his end goal yet of a service delivery IT organization, but he has made huge strides. I wondered if he wanted to build a purely strategic organization. Haines told me, “it’s a balance between strategy and tactics. I’ve put that analysis layer on top, to deliver the right solutions; putting that analysis and strategy layer on top and augmenting the team to deliver on that.” Now that’s a change that most every IT organization could use.

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Getting Out of the Infrastructure Business

Arguably the purveyors of the coolest hipster beers available on the market today, Pabst Brewing Company is also leading the charge on the avant garde of technology under the visionary guidance of Ben Haines. It’s not every day I get a chance to sit down and talk with a CIO who can just as easily speak to BYOD as he can BYOB, so I was excited to have the opportunity to talk with Haines in Boston last month at MobileConnect. Haines, with a keen sense for looking at the big picture, is transforming IT at Pabst to a pure cloud-play though connecting business needs with hosted/cloud-based solutions.

Haines believes that IT needs get back to understanding the business they are part of; IT exists to serve the business and not the other way around.  “IT’s value to the business isn’t making sure the server light is green, its making sure the business has the services they need.” Haines stated.  This attitude is a surprisingly rare quality in a technologist, even at the CIO level. It is easy for those of us in technology to get caught up in the technology and wanting to bring it in-house. While Pabst isn’t 100% cloud based today, Haines is steadily driving the organization there. “Nothing needs to be on-site. I don’t see any need. I’d dump everything off-site if I could.”

Haines has experienced first-hand how the in-house approach to technology can have you running in circles. Haines described how at his prior position at Red Bull he spent two years and several million dollars putting in a WebSphere portal. “By the time we finished deploying it, we had to upgrade it. The upgrade was a nine month episode as well. By the time you get done with that you totally lose focus on the business,” he stated. Besides losing business focus, he also saw that the world around him had evolved as well. “At the end of the install, social was getting started, how do you fit that into the deployment?” His reply drove home the challenge with in-house enterprise technology deployments,   “More SKUs from IBM, with another eighteen months to two year installation and training.”

I asked Haines if moving to cloud services made sense financially and could be easily justified. “From an overall cost perspective it may be a little more, but it depends on which segment. Email is half the cost. I went from $120 per year to $50 per year per user. If you look at point solutions, it is easy math.” But Haines admits that there are some capabilities that, on the surface, a cloud solution appears much more expensive. “If you purely look at your [on-premise] storage costs against a solution such as Box, your storage will win hands down. It’s cheaper to put 4TB in a remote location than use Box. You really need to look at the big picture. What are your software development costs? What is it going to cost to revive that functionality?” It is keeping the complete scope in mind, i.e. the total capability he is trying to deliver versus the total cost, that allows Haines to confidently make the transformation.

The shift from internally owned and maintained infrastructure to cloud services shouldn’t be a blind exchange either. Though he prefers to move as much as possible to the cloud, Haines is aware of the limitation of cloud services. Haines would love to move to NetSuite or force.com for CRM, but past experiences with customization of cloud services keeps his approach practical. In a previous role, after burning through a half million dollars, “I had the’ oh shit’ moment and realized I was creating a bigger beast then I already had. As soon as you start custom coding you are in this whole world of pain…you are still in this world of owning the code. When you move outside of their business model you have challenges.”

While Haines has been able to move many functions, such as email, to cloud services there are still legacy systems that are not a good fit for current cloud capabilities. For Haines, the best answer is to find middle ground, an intermediate step, while waiting for cloud services to evolve. “I have to own some systems right now,” he said. “Everything I own is legacy, so the baby step is going to rackspace. I’ve taken the server room and moved it to rackspace; from rackspace then to public and private cloud solutions.”

I asked him why he thinks IT organizations keep going down the same path of being in the infrastructure business, of needing to own and maintain all of the technology in-house.  Haines replied, “IT habits; the IT comfort zone. That is why IT exists in their minds. Don’t get me wrong, in the past I’ve seen some really cool hardware. I’m geeked-out buying all that stuff. I put in a virtual infrastructure back in 2006 and took fifty servers down to six.” But Haines learned a very pragmatic lesson from that deployment that allows him to be confident in his approach today. He continued on, “It’s fun, but even that took six months to implement. You don’t have that luxury now. It’s about speed and agility at the end of the day, making sure IT can do what they need to do for the business.”

Next up – how Haines is tranforming minds as well at Pabst.

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MobileDay – The Mobile Experience Made Easy

In my year-long experiment with working mobile-only, I have, on many occasions, run into the challenge of needing to join a conference call. While one wouldn’t normally label joining a conference call as challenging, doing so solely from the phone can prove tedious. The difficulty is that the information and pin code for the conference call is either in a meeting invite or an email, while dialing the phone usually occurs in a separate app. I usually have two unsatisfactory options. I can repeat the conference number and pin code to myself over and over like a half – crazed person in an attempt to commit it to short term memory. Alternatively, I can write down the information on a piece of paper beforehand. Fail and fail again – so much for simplicity. That is, until I connected with MobileDay Co-Founder Brad Dupee.

“The whole premise of MobileDay is the notion that it’s very convenient to be on a mobile phone, it’s not necessarily easy,” said Dupee. MobileDay is piecing together the little steps that make a huge difference in the interoperability of apps and services. MobileDay’s initial product offering is a business app that provides one-touch access to any conference call on any service provider from an iPhone or Android smartphone. MobileDay will dial your conference call, PIN and all, with a single touch. “We are tackling one particular problem to launch the company with, which is, one-touch joining of any conference call whether you are a host or a guest of the call,” Dupee said.

There are also a couple additional one-touch features around conference calls and meetings that MobileDay has identified and implemented. The first is one-touch meeting status updates. This feature allows you to quickly update all meeting attendees of your status. For example, if you are running late, one-click will update everyone via email or text. “Rather than searching for you or memorizing your email address, I can just quickly send you an update. I already have your contact information relative to the event right there,” Dupee explained. MobileDay also has a one-touch feature to pull up address in a map app. Best of all MobileDay and its conference solution is free.

While there is some overlap between MobileDay and existing native functionality, Mobile Day provides the ability to do this directly in one-touch from an alert that is displayed 30 seconds before a call. As Dupee explained, “To us, that is our primary feature, when you have a call and you have to get on. Oftentimes it is at that 30 second mark. People realize they have to wrap up one meeting and join the call. And even though you have had a reminder, it is that critical time period right before the call that you realize you don’t have the conference id. Then you have to go hunting for it. It is painful.”

MobileDay has created an experience that is advantageous to all involved in the conference call. “There are independent conference providers that have their app where it works if you are the host of the meeting. But you are out of luck if you are a guest of the meeting,” Dupee stated. “There is an average of 4.5 people per conference call, if only the host can use an app, then there are 3.5 other people who aren’t getting the benefit of the app. With MobileDay it doesn’t matter what you use, it doesn’t matter the service provider, and it doesn’t matter if you are the host or guest. If you are the host you set up your profile information one time in the app. If you want to host a meeting, you can either schedule it from MobileDay or form your regular calendar and it will show up, putting the same details you would normally put in there into the meeting. We can recognize when you are the host based on your identifiers,” he explained.

MobileDay, founded last year in Boulder Colorado, has been in soft launch since that time. However, Mobile Day is kicking things into high gear this week with the official launch of the company. MobileDay is also a finalist in the MobileBeat 2012 Innovation Competition put on by VentureBeat. MobileDay is backed financially by some pretty hefty financial partners such as Google Ventures, Foundry Group, SoftBank Capital, DH Capital, and others.

One-touch features around conference calling are just the beginning for MobileDay. If there is one thing that was abundantly clear in my discussions with Dupee is that MobileDay gets the concept of interoperability and the mobile ecosystem. The amount of effort that went into building the current app, which functions across many different platforms, carriers, and OS variations is a testament to MobileDay’s commitment to building an ecosystem. Dupee and the team at MobileDay are looking at several other services, both mobile and cloud-based, where business users would greatly benefit from one-touch integration. Dupee envisions MobileDay tying together other mission critical business functions with the same seamless simplicity. If the convenience, interoperability, and simplicity that MobileDay offers with one-touch conferencing is any indication of things to come, expect to see many exciting announcements from MobileDay in the near future.

One-Touch into any conference call with MobileDay™.  No matter where you are or what you’re doing, eliminate the hassle of dialing, remembering codes, and writing down conference details.

Benjamin Robbins is a Principal at Palador, a consulting firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobile strategy, policy, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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Just for Fun – The Pink Phablet

On a lark (and bet) I tricked out the infamous Phablet (It’s neither a phone nor a tablet) in a pink rhinestone cover. Couple shots around town – enjoy!

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