Week 33, 2017, “Half the R&D staff will be Programmers…”

“Days before BMW’s 100th birthday, its board member for research and development described plans for a completely overhauled company, where half the R&D staff will be computer programmers, competing with the likes of Google parent Alphabet to build the brains for self-driving cars. (GOOGL.O)” – Article from UK Routers, “Exclusive – At 100, BMW sees radical new future in world of driverless cars”, March 4, 2016

Not commonly known, LANVERA is a 30 year old organization in document solutions. As I walk the print floor, it’s maturity is absolutely felt in the print operation. The professionalism of the team and attention to detail by all the supporting people. Printing documents is our business and we take it serious.

Nevertheless, why our organization is taking a turn is the recognition that this industry must include digital or eDocuments. Our development efforts have been kicked up a notch to focus on making our solution more accessible in the digital world.

Just like BMW, organizations must constantly be looking for ways to offer more valuable services to customers. And like BMW, we are shifting to meet this new challenge.

“LANVERA’s technology and delivery capabilities are the future of our company.” – John Baldridge

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Week 32, 2017, “Confidence Is Building…”

August is my three month mark working at LANVERA. The IT transformation is in full swing and much of the work we have been working on is being felt.  The leaders report three months of network infrastructure stability and confidence is building. This is good for morale across the organization and I am humbled by the hard work.

Our highlights to this point are:

  1.  We hired our security-focused system engineer, Jeromey Lange.  A seasoned technical veteran and leader, Jeromey is going to bring a dimension to the team to reinforce the DevOps culture Steve Taff and I are trying to build.  Certifications include VCP, MCSA, MTA, ITILv3, and Tintri.  He is going to take on Alien Vault USM and run our security practice. A next level player.
  2. The commitment to VMWARE NSX and SDN. With heated discussion and negotiation, the engineers are taking on VMWARE’s NSX technology. We’ve chosen Mobius to partner with us to lead us through our NSX rollout. This milestone is particularly significant as our hopes this decision will see meaningful gains as our DevOps platform.
  3. Workstation Technology Refresh projects kicks off earnestly with work on hardware standards and continued support to develop on the Microsoft platform. Considerable time being spent working the requirements and desired specifications nets decisions of continued use of Dell hardware.
  4. McGuire Solutions has wrapped up the network engineering work and submitted his recommendations. The physical network is comprised of mostly security components on a Cisco Nexus backend. Greg’s team will be engaged to realize the solution starting in September!
  5. Investment in Coppell’s datacenter. We will be upgrading the internal infrastructure to uplift the technology foundation. Examples are patch panel rewire, electrical re-wire, electrical redistribution, and upgrading to cabinets.

Always forward!

\\ JMM

Week 31, 2017, “Obtains Certification = Display Knowledge = Shows Confidence”

“The good news is that certification provides you with a verified foundation of expert, real-world knowledge to build on, so you’ll be ready to ramp up on the job 39% faster than your peers. If you’re still not convinced, 38% of IT pros said that certification helped them perform complicated tasks more confidently. It’s science.” – Born To Learn Blog

We’ve agreed as a team that there is a need for baseline competencies. That skills and experience are vital to our success. If any one area lacks, the team has to compensate for our weak areas that we accepted. When those weak areas accumulate because we couldn’t trust team members to perform complicated tasks, the team fails.

As such, we’ve made a bold move to mandate VMWARE VCA DCV certification as a baseline team member qualification. Expectations laid to stay current. We are implementing advanced VMWARE technologies and there is too much risk to bring in unskilled people.

Goal: Everyone on the team has VCP, MTA, and Nimble certifications.

Before And After Certification\\ JMM

Week 30, 2017, “Faster, Cheaper, Or Better”

“Technology is only valuable if it results in faster, cheaper, or better. If not, it just sucks up time and money that could be put to better use somewhere else.” – Jeff Haden, INC. Magazine

This quote is timely as we are actively investigating VMWARE’s virtual networking technology NSX.  Remarkably, the technology is capable and connected deeply with our strategic DevOps philosophy.

However, my struggle is NSX’s cost.  Sans discussing the specifics of our pricing, the math roughly equates to $2000 per server for 3 years.

Organizations with a small technology footprint, is NSX valuable enough for faster, cheaper, or better results?

\\ JMM

“Everything You Want Is On The Other Side Of Fear”

Quote from the movie Atomic Blonde, a slogan scrawled across a Berlin wall in the pre-Berlin wall era.  Having lived in that time period, the movie certainly plays out the 80s themes with music to match.  The characters blithley lighting up cigarettes and often pouring themselves a drink as the plot rains down violence in a world of secret agents and film noir.

And yet, the movie has an unsettling grittiness that is surmised in this quote.

\\ JMM

Week 29, 2017, “Force Of Movement”

“You decide. To have a good attitude or to have a bad attitude. To respond or to react. To give generously or to give begrudgingly. To offer a helping hand or to look away. To help others up or to look past them. To invest in yourself or to coast through life. You decide.” – Tom Ziglar

Today’s blog’s message came through the various communications with former colleagues that put a reoccurring theme to the week. In essence, many verbalized frustration with the lack of career opportunities and disappointment that careers are motionless and not financially meeting goals at that point in there life.

Before I give words of encouragement, let’s talk about you. Let’s talk about your performance over the past twelve months. How did you progress on your goals? What did you achieve so far this year? What education goals did you hit? Who did you mentor with? How have you invested in yourself?  Now prove it.

Many of my colleagues who are stuck will leave the organization they are in at the same state of self investment as they arrived. And still fail to recognize the competitive nature of our market and complain to anyone who will listen about their circumstances.  Experience alone doesn’t give the force of movement to careers.  Something must propel it forward, intentionally and consistently.

This is the message: You are accountable for your career. Not your employer, not your family, not your community, and not your government. You have the power to change you. The resources are out there. Your leaders gave you opportunities to grow and you chose not to.

Hard message. But necessary in this time of indignation and entitlement.  Consistent Action = Consistent Results.  Put that Xbox controller down.  Turn off Dr. Who.  Open a book.  Talk to a teacher.  Get a plan for yourself.

Zig Ziglar often has extolled the virtues of attitude, goals, and investing in yourself.  This is the roadmap of winners.  You have the capability to win.   No more excuses, team!  Go do it.  Today.

\\ JMM

Week 27, 2017, “It’s Go Time”

“Does anyone have any questions on where we are going and your role how to get us there?  No?  It’s go time, team.  Always forward!” – Jonathan Merrill

Here we are at the 60 day mark and we are looking back with awe and anticipation. Although this isn’t the exhaustive list, the highlights are:

1. We hired our system engineering architect, Sonny Mendoza. A US Navy and IT veteran, he brings deep expertise in both the VMWARE and Microsft stack. A proponent of VEEAM and NIMBLE, two complimentary technologies currently in house. His experience in both the SMB and large enterprise space is evident in his questions and answers. He has been an amazing addition to the IT team, bringing in sage experience, a positive energy, and can do attitude.

2. Wrote and implemented IT maintenance policies focusing on patching and security remediation. The policy includes an change freeze period, quarterly reviews and update schedule, and architectural review. Formalizing maintenance was the first step in establishing a relationship and accountability with teams testing patches and reducing risk. Establishing a schedule communicates when IT infrastrucutre will be updated so development and print operations has down range visibility, setting reliable expectations.

3. Implented enterprise password management. Our specific requirements were password sharing with teams, role based access control, automatic password rotation, password auditing and history, Active Directory integration, and high availability. We migrated from a KEEPASS situation to Click Solutions’ Password State.

4. Implemented the enterprise auditing solution. Speaking to vision, the solution needed to give unprecedented transparency to all teams as we marry up audit data with change management practices and and enabling a better support visibility across all teams. Netwrix Auditor is a best of breed tool and is supremely designed for SMB organizations. Microsoft space initially targeted. Additional work still to go covering VMWARE, Exchange, SQL, and networking.

5. Implemented an asset-focused network management tool. Many of my former team members won’t be surprised, but I am firm believer of LANSWEEPER and giving teams’ access to manage their resources. This tool gives teams a birdseye view of whats installed, what errors exist, and health of resources applied. When we rolled this out, teams were presently surprised at what’s going on and assists in the troubleshooting of issues. Now we are collaborating.

6. Exited out of CenturyLink’s hosted services. We are continuing to evaluate our strategic partners and aligning to goals. No fault of CenturyLink, we determined to go another direction. We thank them for their stellar services provided.

7. Implemented the ORC process. Documenting systems should be a part of our DNA. This process enforces the C (Culture) and S (Sharing) in CAMS. We asked for leadership buy in and got it, trained teams, now set goals. 100% by Jan 1.

8. Implemented Death By Meeting’s, “Tactical” and “Stand Up”. Next up is strategic. Goal: Lower adhocs.

All this in 30 days! And doesn’t include the projects in flight. Here are some quick bullets of things we are building:

  • Workstation Technology Refresh. Uplifting the workstation platform, bringing in new tech.
  • Active Diretory Refresh. Cleaning up the past, rolling out RBAC, and enabling teams. Trust, but verify.
  • Network Refresh. Rethinking wireless, local area, and wide area networks. SDN for the win.
  • OpManager Proof of Concept. Manage Engine’s solution is comprehensive. Amazing value for what is delivered.
  • Splunk Proof of Concept. Can anyone argue that Splunk isn’t an amazing tool? Evaluating it’s place.
  • Alien Vault USM Proof of Concept. Having had experience with Nessus, Qualys, Nexpose, Alien Vault is a challenger.
  • Data Operations Proof of Concept. Automating core functions internally. Managing 10k scripts or jobs requires control.
  • Intranet / Employee Portal.  Rethinking SharePoint’s place.

It’s go time.

\\ JMM

Learning IT. Got The Skills? Prove It…

Do you or your people have the necessary certification and competencies?  If not, here is list of resources I routinely push people to who need help getting their education in higher concepts kick started:

Free Sites

Microsoft Virtual Academy – Free IT Training.  Start here.  And learn everything you can get your hands on!
Microsoft Technet Events & Webcasts & Virtual Labs  – A plethora of concepts and technical deep drives. Go watch one during your lunch break.  Even better, Virtual Labs are Microsoft’s products in a virtual environment. Most have labs attached to actually learn the product.
Born To Learn – Blog on Microsoft Education Opportunities – Some free, some discounted, has a monthly spotlight/discount program.
VMWARE Hands On Labs – Learn VMWARE on their infrastructure.  Many have videos and narrative attached.

Not Free

Pluralsight – ($30 p/mo) – Recommended.  Check into it!

User Groups

DFW Cisco User Group – Since 1996, the longest and most successful Cisco user group.  Cisco and many local IT organizations sponsor.  Everything from Cisco routing and switching.
VMUG (Vmware User Group) – Another large and long time running group focused on the virtualization dogma we know as VMWARE.
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Week 26, 2017, “Vision”

We are coming up on the 60d mark at LANVERA and wanted talk about information technology’s vision for 2017.   In the first 30d, Steve and I had multiple conversations with various leaders throughout the organization about priorities, needs, and vision.  A central theme emerged. How can we take IT to the next level, enabling our software development teams to build and test quicker without encumberance? How do we monitor key pieces of the technologies faster and leverage automation? How do we give more traditional IT functions to business units so we can more efficiently support our customers? How do we do knowledge management protecting intellectual property? And how can IT help infuse a positive values culture?

My recommendation to Steve is what I’ve expoused for over a decade: A culture of enablement, services, and transparency.  Let’s unpack these three areas.

IT Enablement.

Giving our people the freedom and resources they say they need to do their job. Traditional IT is the top-down command and control approach that is arguably out dated and killing organizations abilities to be agile. Traditional IT’s leaders have the ability to control, but that is not where innovation comes from, is it? If we want LANVERA to feel like owners, what must give our people exactly that: ownership. This includes access rights, privledges, and determination of their tools. IT’s role will be to give them the framework, healthy auditing, and constant oversight. This will let teams do what they need to do: Be awesome. And not just our development teams. All teams.

IT Services.

IT as a utility is not a new concept and dominates the cloud model. It’s successful because it’s utilitarian approach. However, what if IT’s role is that of consultants leveraging our resources? Traditional IT’s reactive approaches are usually the result of poor IT to business engagement. Or worse, poor strategic planning with the business and IT alike. This divides and compounds. IT will offer menus of services and cost, including professional services. Teams will choose what they need, when they need it, and the resource cost of that service delivery. IT is the consultancy to the business that encorporates not just core IT functions, but how we can partner with teams to do more leveraging IT. To achieve, we crank up IT’s role as educator and communicate far far more.

IT Transparency.

Technical people not given good intel or access to actionable information will make assumptions about your network. This silo’ing of information breeds fear, uncertainty, and doubt across teams. Once made, hard to reverse perceptions, especially if baked over time. If we are going to embrace DevOps, we have to show a commitment to CAMS: Culture, Automation, Measurement, and Sharing. I’ve tested this theory over my career and have been surprised every time: the more information you give, the better the decisions are made, especially during crisis. As we monitor and measure, we’ll ensure all teams have access to these systems. All teams will see how resources are utilized, changed, and managed. We’ll also include audit data like who, when, what, how. Working as a team means establishing trust and accountability as a part of the culture. We start with ourselves.

The Direction.

Transform IT from a top-down production support focused team stuck in reactive and manual states to a infrastrucutre services based team focusing on network health, security, and reliability.  Key strategic initiatives include focusing on security postures, auditing, monitoring, and automating core functions. Others include technology refreshes, examining our strategic partner relationships, and working towards vision through the three IT culture pillars.

“You know, Jonathan, that all sounds great, but you really haven’t said how your going to do all that.”

Your right.  And if your reading this, your on this journey with me.  More to come.

\\ JMM