It’s quite amazing to think and reflect on that fact that I’ve been in the business of helping build big stuff for the best part of 16 years.
When I say building big stuff, it’s not big, shiny new stuff like your Salesforce or your AWS but, y’know, real big, knock-your-socks-off awesome stuff like airports, refineries and power stations – it’s the kind of stuff that you gawk at with sheer amazement on “How Do They Do It”, watching teams of the world’s best engineers and construction workers, choreographed like a Russian ballet, come together to erect some of the most amazing facilities on the face of the planet.
Having been in the midst of it all, I can tell you that it’s nothing but absolutely awe-inspiring, unbelievable, incredible and a whole lot of fun to have worked in as many countries as I have done years.
As I get ready to embark on a new phase of my professional life and leave the world of dust bowls and diggers behind for now, I wanted to do so by finally being able to unveil one or two things about the way we transformed IT in the organization I am so fiercely proud to have served, and to share a little about why I am taking the chance to go in a different direction, one which I hope will ultimately be able to benefit other organizations, irrespective of their business, by focusing on building and delivering some truly world class solutions.
Ready ? Then let’s begin.
Bechtel is, in my humble opinion, one of the most truly amazing companies in the world and without doubt a great place to work. A privately owned, fourth generation run organization, founded in 1898 by Warren A. Bechtel, it has a history, a heritage, a culture and ethics that makes it the envy of the Engineering & Construction business, and, having been part of the organization since 1996, it really isn’t a surprise that 2011 marked the 13th year in a row that Bechtel has been named “Top US Contractor”.
Providing agile IT services to people and locations that are, quite literally, spread across the four corners of the globe to support a complex global business is not a challenge that is unique to Bechtel, nor to the construction industry in general, but the way in which “we” approached this challenge, culminating in the design and deployment of what became an industry-recognized poster-child for private cloud has proven to be an enormous success and is without question the basis of a solid platform from which the execution of future business-aligned IT strategy in Bechtel will be launched.
There is an argument for and against the notion that “great leaders are made, not born”. I am not sure which side of the fence I sit on with that particular hypothesis, but my experience tells me that there are not many people around who could have achieved what Bechtel’s visionary CIO & SVP, Geir Ramleth, did in leading the multi-year IT transformation. Inducted into the CIO Hall of Fame in 2008, Mr Ramleth has given several interviews over the recent years that capture the essence of the need for change and how that change was driven. Below are summaries of those.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been given an opportunity to take over the Bechtel IT Global Systems Engineering Team back in 2006, culminating in my relocation to the USA in January of 2007. By virtue of that role, I became a part of the small core team that was hand-picked and tasked with defining and leading the new direction and making the vision a reality.
If I were asked to summarize the experience over the last 5 years, I would point to this quote from the CIO magazine article above:
"Ramleth identifies three ways employees respond to change. “You have some people that just take you on blind faith and say, ‘This makes sense, let’s figure out how to do this,’” he says. Next, “there are some early followers who say, ‘I would like to be there, but tell me that I am not going to get hurt.’ They don’t need too much convincing.” In the third group “are the people who become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”
The key to winning over the staff is to look for individuals in the latter group whom you can convert from pointing out everything that’s wrong with the new plan to helping you figure out what has to change to make it right. Notes Ramleth: “I often say to people, ‘I don’t know of anybody that embraced change that ever got hurt by it. Most people that embrace change benefit from it.’”
I have written previously about the “softer skills” I believe are needed to pull off such a major transformation without leaving blood on the floor and bodies in the corridor – ultimately, to succeed, one needs the kind of senior leadership support offered by Mr Ramleth, both as “boss” and “mentor” but then there must be a solid group of people who will operate on “blind faith” – that’s how the hard stuff gets done and I’d like to think I was firmly in that camp from day one.
So…if everything is so rosy in the garden, why would I possibly want to leave and go seeking a new challenge ? Fair question. Let me have a crack at it, in no particular order.
First, despite the fantastic things I have worked on and achieved, the fact remains that, like many other folks, “we” a hugely talented IT department supporting a business. The business is not IT, nor will it ever be. That alone comes with a set of constraints that are obvious – deliver and support what the business needs – driving too much change is hard. Really hard.
Second, we are, I believe, at a very exciting time in the always-cyclical nature of the IT industry as a whole. There is a great coming together of the “promise and delivery” of cloud technologies that, based on my experience, will be absolutely game-changing for businesses if they are understood, assessed and applied with a clear business focus and a workable execution plan. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to be part of helping define how that shakes out across a myriad of customers ?
Third, as you all know, I have been a passionate and sometimes (too) vocal a proponent of open standards, open source and private clouds. I firmly believe that there are many “traditional” enterprises (no, not like Netflix and no, I’m not going there again) who are truthfully only just getting to grips with what virtualization can do for them (P2V and ratios and all that jazz) but aren’t yet far enough along to realize that this is simply a cornerstone of their cloud strategy – the real benefits come as virtualization becomes embedded and organizations look for “what’s next?” in terms of automation, orchestration, advanced security and portability….all as a platform for what is really coming down the line – mobility and information value. It’s a challenge, sure, but it’s a heck of a good one.
I am not a particularly complex person, but I am absolutely driven by a professional curiosity that consistently challenges status-quo thinking, in which will I not accept that an unproven statement such as “it’s fine the way it is” is a valid answer and certainly not a realistic go-forward strategy. My overall passion for technology is equally for how that technology is packaged, implemented, delivered and its valued derived by a business as much as how the core technology itself is created.
It didn’t take me a great deal of anxious introspection or deep soul searching for me to admit my myself that I have some bits missing from my proverbial canvas. If everyone is honest with themselves, they will see and feel gaps some too. There recently came I point where putting all the above into context, I figured that I couldn’t learn what I needed to learn, I realized I couldn’t scratch my itch and I conceded that to get the experience I need and make the difference I want to make, so it felt like a good time to move on.
That’s why I’m delighted to announce that I am joining the guys at cloud.com as the Vice President of Enterprise Solutions.
Now, this announcement isn’t exactly a bolt from the blue as I’ve known the guys there since the halcyon days of “VMOps” (their original name) and, in my now previous role, they had always been a fantastic company to partner with – great leadership, highly talented technical people but above all, a fantastic attitude to working with organizations big and small to understand and deliver the promise of their product. In fact, I’ve seen that flagship “CloudStack” product grow up from what was a pre-release Alpha, shoe-horned into the engineering lab into a slick, flexible product that is a core building block in powering some of the biggest and most successful clouds out there today.
I am thrilled that the guys at cloud.com feel my experience will be a natural and positive addition to their team and I am looking forward to getting going, being involved across the board, learning new skills, gaining new experiences and above all, committing to helping other organizations (I guess I call them customers now ?) to be successful in the design and delivery of their IT transformation programs by ensuring that they extend beyond virtualization to where the real benefits lie, now and in the future.
Above all, I believe that technology must be simple – simple to acquire, install, operate, upgrade and replace. As Arthur C Clarke said..”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – I feel that must be true of any creator, or deployer of, that same technology.
On a final note, I would like to extend a sincere debt of gratitude to all the amazingly talented people at Bechtel, especially those that I have had the pleasure to lead and influence over the last 5 years. There is a wealth of incredible knowledge and skill there and a simply great leader at the helm.
Thank you one and all.