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Top 10 Takeaways from Gartner Data Center Conference (Part 2)

Last week was my first Gartner Data Center conference. About 3000 people gathered to compare notes and learn from one another. Know this: you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the ever-growing pile of information-age data.

Yesterday, I wrote part 1 of my top 10 takeaways from Gartner Data Center Conference. Today, I present to you part 2. Feel free to check out part 1 incase you missed it.

6) What kind of team should you hire?

Linux skills were high on the recruiting shopping list. And multiple analysts emphasized how hiring managers must value candidates with open source community ties. Solving problems – with the least cost and delay – requires more external collaboration than ever before, and folks stuck in the old-school mindset of “not invented here” need not apply. In a session on performance and availability monitoring, for instance, the interactive survey found that the audience uses open source technologies at 3x the rate of other options. The fastest-growing data centers hire the experts (bright people who work and play well with others), as opposed to outsourcing, in order to achieve true agility. When the audience voted on what lessons they’d take home from the biggest data centers Gartner profiled, “use more open source” was the top pick.

7) What’s to be done about mobile?

I laughed when the keynote called out “end users driving IT” as a trend in the next 5 years. Really who else would you want driving IT? Lawyers? Yes, we all carry smart phones and tablets – of every possible variety - and expect help getting our jobs done with these devices. Yes, your CEO or customer will complain if there’s no wireless access in the elevator or stairwell. I personally have refused to move desks at a previous company, because the intended office space didn’t get mobile phone signals on any carrier (really, that can’t be called Class A office space anymore). And all the photos we’re snapping and tagging and uploading, all the check-in data, and all the 2-way channels your organization is communicating on – they generate more storage and analysis volume than you ever thought possible. Or budgeted for. Or staffed expertise for. But the teams that figure this stuff out will have a serious competitive advantage.

8) What should you watch out for?

Several Gartner analysts spoke about technology like it’s turned into an invasive species. “Think you don’t use cloud resources?” asked one speaker. “Take a walk around your organization & you may be surprised.” The ease with which departments can subscribe to online services these days -  and the degree to which your organization’s people, products, and processes can become dependent on these – should not be underestimated. 39% of your peers say they are getting involved in brokering services that various departments desire. If you’re not at the table asking questions up-front about service levels, limitations and overages, data ownership and extraction, security and disaster recovery, then it’s likely nobody is doing this due diligence. But you should expect to be called in when the mud hits the fan.

9) What determines your destiny?

Essentially your dashboard does. While most data centers plot the percentage of issues that are resolved at first contact (over time), only 1 in 20 adds to this graph the percentage of tickets re-opened. A frequent inquiry question to analysts is apparently “how many people should we have [on staff]?” Yet the data one might use to justify new hires (like plotting weekly incident counts and showing how mean time to resolution increases above a certain incident rate) is rarely communicated. Keeping costs down wasn’t top on the list of how CIOs are measured, by the way. Consistently delivering business solutions topped the list. So gathering and distributing the data that shows what’s needed is in your job description.

10) What’s next?

In an interactive survey, conference attendees said that the top 2 things keeping IT from contributing to business innovation were keeping the lights on (>40%) and “not being seen as strategic” (>20%).  If this sounds like your organization, consider the excellent advice given by one speaker, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who described how IT has transformed the armed forces. Faced with so many people who don’t understand tech, translating your tech needs into terms a layman can understand is a critical skill. But you MUST get control your own budget. “If you don’t control the spigot, you can’t succeed by slapping at the water coming out of the faucet.” Planning sessions for 2013 are underway in conference rooms worldwide. And while not everyone follows the same fiscal year, the important thing is to get a seat at the table.  That’s what’s required of technology leaders in this time of unprecedented technological change.

I’ve included a lot of numbers here, and so I thought I’d end on a story that brings home the challenge of leadership on a more human level.

One remarkable session at the conference featured a technical crisis of life-and-death; we were fortunate to be addressed by Captain Sully, pilot of Miracle-on-the-Hudson fame. For 3 chilling minutes, we experienced the flightpath and transcription of the tower & crew dialogue, in their quest to land an engineless plane. I really liked how Captain Sully emphasized relentless professional training, a personal commitment to lifelong learning, and checking your ego at the door as key to their survival. He pointed out that the entire airline industry improved its safety record (by several orders of magnitude) once it was no longer a career-limiting-move for a crew member to call a captain’s attention to an error or concern. He acknowledged that pretty much every rule the industries follow comes from something that went wrong, costing lives in too many cases.

He shared that he didn’t always have all the answers:  “Do you have any ideas?” is what he asked his first officer when it became clear that nearby airports weren’t near enough.  The increasingly-adamant automated alerts didn’t communicate any information they didn’t already know; they just added to the noise. No flight simulator had enough data about a water landing for Captain Sully to have practiced what he did next. But it worked.  And he clarified that the job wasn’t over with the splashdown. Everyone had to pitch in, including passengers who had actually paid attention during the safety briefing; with the help of the crew, they got to the life jackets, and helped each other access the flotation devices. The feature film is coming soon, and I know it will be a lesson in leadership that I’ll share with my family and friends.

I hope you’ve found something helpful in my top 10 Gartner take-aways, and would love to see you there next year. In the meantime, here’s to lifelong learning.

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