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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Lanvera’s IT 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.

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Splunk = Business Intelligence…

“Splunk is an established tool to measure anything in all areas of the business. NOT just IT.  We must consider it as we look at the need for business intelligence measuring across the business.” – Jonathan Merrill @ LANVERA, June 16, 2017

Splunk was born in 2003 being a disrupting tool set for measuring machine data, easily and accessible.  My colleagues ysed to call it the Google of log data.  At first, it’s focus was the easy target, IT.  Today, it’targeting all areas of the business with demos showing sales & marketing measuring, facilities, business operations, even finance.  Indeed, it’s come along way.

Sitting in our product demo, it’s clear this tool has surpassed IT.  Dashboards, reporting, alerting.  How many times this tool could have redefined the war room experience versus the man hours waste of silo’d IT?

My last thought goes to the hundreds of hours spent data gathering for reporting KPI.  Tirelessly pulling manual data from multiple sources for TPS purposes.  This tool could have replaced all those spreadsheets for all those powerpoints in minutes.

The power of BI.

PS.  Yes, I use Splunk.  I dump my Unifi network syslogs into Splunk using the free version.  I track firewall threats geographically and email reports weekly.  Now if I could just figure how to track my kids usage…

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Find Your Team…

“The best prize life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing. And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people you love. Find your team.” – Leslie Knope, Season 7, Ep13, One Last Ride: Part 2

I will admit, I’ve never watched one episode of Parks and Recreation.  My wife asked if we could watch the last episode and, agreeing apprehensively, off we go.  Although I didn’t get much context to characters, this line caught me towards the end of the show:  Find your team.

So true.  So hard to do.  And blessed when we can.

Find your team and do great work.  Yes, I will.

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First 30 Days…

“First 90 days are important.  Sets the pace.  First 30 days are critical.  Sets the tone.” – Jonathan Merrill

June 2nd marks my first 30 days.  So far, so great.  The adjectives that describe this position are:  exciting, daunting, encouraging, challenging, interesting, and exhilirating.  You know it’s good when you wake up and are motivated to go.  Can’t wait to get there and get engaged.

My to do list for the first 30 was:

  • Observe and Ask Questions.  The business.  The leaders.  The goals.
  • Identify gaps in infrastructure, collaboration, documentation, and process.
  • Assess my team’s capabilities, strengths, and growth opportunities.  Listen.
  • Introduce the knowledge culture to the team.  Begin the building of process and values into the DNA.

May was introduction of team rules, discovering the infrastructure, reading the documentation, hiring our architect, and putting together the to do list.  Cross training culture, DevOps, subject matter experts, CAMS, and working on KRAs and KPIs.  Lots of reading, listening, and absorbing.  And writing.

The tone is set!  Go! Go! Go!

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Introducing The “ORC”.

“Our foundation of systems documentation will begin with the ‘ORC’, the Operations Readiness Checklist.” – Jonathan Merrill @ LANVERA

How are we doing systems documentation? Today, its spreadsheets by system, contained in a knowledgebase article, updated by the knowledge champion for that system. This is a fairly antiquated yet reliable way to manage this type of documentation. The ORC has an interesting history and has evolved for the years. Here is an abbreviated account.

The birth of the original ORC came from former Santander Consumer USA VP, IT Operations and Engineering, James Brewster in 2013. “I want a checklist that every system must have completed before it goes into support.”

The original ORC was a simple checklist of questions to answer:  Name of servers, did we back it up, was it security vuln scanned, etc.. This Q&A went through three iterations as different groups asked for information to be added. The simple checklist turned into a seven tab spreadsheet. The reception by engineers and customers alike in the end was… “awful.”

The next major iteration of the ORC, dubbed ORC-lite, had it’s most influence by former Santander Consumer USA Director of Datacenter Architecture, John Thomas. Feedback took the ORC in a different direction and focused on systems configuration documentation and support capability.  In other words, an engineer-friendly quick to fill out document focusing on support.  That change exploded it’s adoption and was embraced meaningfully across all IT Operations’ leaders.

Victim of it’s success, the ORC came onto audit’s radar when systems documentation became an IT control item, requesting specific system configuration data.  ORC-lite once again became a 7-tab worksheet through the many discussions with these teams.

Today’s ORC is the end result of those deliberations.  John Thomas commented this was some of our best work.  A lot of hard work did go in, but the goal was never a spreadsheet.  Our search for an automated system documentation was the vision.  Could ServiceNow’s discovery engine and business service mapping serve?  I won’t be there to find out.

Nevertheless, the ORC is a great tool for organizations needing a starting point for system documentation.  The ORC lives on!

Link:  ORC 1.0 “template”.

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Life is About Risk…

“Life is about risk.  It’s important to take risks.  Just don’t be reckless.” – Richard Holbrooke, HBO Documentary, The Diplomat

I grabbed this gem as my last four years in banking could easily be summarized by saying, “We didn’t take a lot of risks.  In fact, they beat the risk out of us.”  How do you run an innovative and agile organization without risk?  Not easily.

Some organizations get this.  Many do not.  It’s an important to be risk adverse, but not risk intolerant. Just don’t be reckless.

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Technology is the Enabler…

“Technology is not a panacea for whatever ills.  Technology is only an enabler and needs to support people, process, content and connectivity needs.  Starting with technology has proven disastrous for many companies…” – Deloitte Development, Knowledge Management 2016

Is it possible for companies to have too much technology?  Is the knee jerk reaction to behavior to deploy a technology versus a people solution?  Take employee wasting time on social media.  Line managers know it exists, but do they confront their people to set behaviorial expectations?  Far easier to avoid those conversations and let IT handle.  Technology is the enabler — for good and bad.

Although this quote was in the context of managing knowledge, it’s just as true for every aspect of the business of managing people.  Start with people first.

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Failing to Learn and Reinventing Failure…

“‘Reinventing the wheel’ sounds pretty benign but ‘failing to learn’ and ‘reinventing failure’ are actually what many organizations are facing today… especially troubling given the pace of change…” – Deloitte Development, LLC on Knowledge Managemennt 2016

What a great insight.  So many companies who don’t have a knowledge management strategy with staffing turn.  The fundamental problem of “teaching smart people to learn” and the invisible costs this comes with.

This quote came from DFW’s Knowledge Management interest group.  I highly encourage your participation.  A place where ideas go to be captured and shared.  Next one is May 24.  Hope to see you there.

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