Journey towards Continuous Improvement

By Chad Leverenz, VP-IT Infrastructure & Development, Mercy Housing

Chad Leverenz, VP-IT Infrastructure & Development, Mercy Housing

1. How has your IT operating model changed during the last five years in the Networking industry?

Microsoft Azure was a Proof-of- Concept project (PoC) we implemented in late 2013. Our CIO, Christy Richardson, assembled a team of Cloud and BI Architects to design future-state solutions to replace aging hardware. In January, 2015, we created our three-year vision as follows:

• Azure is our solution platform
• All enterprise services and apps must utilize cloud-management platforms including infrastructure, printing, telephones, wireless, and physical security
• SaaS vendors should support these requirements:
o Utilize our ADFS single sign-on
o Do not require applets, Java, Silverlight, Flash
o Allow ETL ingress and egress to aid in workflows, automation, and logging
o Citrix, Terminal Services, and thick clients are not appropriate solutions

"For the top IT leaders [CXO] crafting a strategy and Vision and visiting it frequently with the team is the most important skill"

2. What do you think are the biggest obstacles that technologists face in working in a more agile and outcomes based model?

First, let’s recognize the advantages: working in an agile shop leverages minimal discovery and small scopes resulting in tangible outcomes that stakeholders can see, test, and recognize an immediate return on investment. Creating momentum is easier, iterations start to make sense to everyone, and the outcomes meet the needs in a quicker timeframe. Expectations evolve and the idea of continuous improvement becomes easier to grasp.

Now the obstacles: in decomposing Vision to Roadmap, and Roadmap to Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), the chasm from identifying detailed minutia to grand Vision is challenged. The apparent non-movement towards the Vision is even more present in small-scoped agile iterations. For example:

You are on one rim of the Grand Canyon and I am on the other. We are three miles apart. You are running towards the east as fast as you can. I perceive your effort as non-movement on my side because you have not changed my perception in the five minutes. Have you stopped to take a break? Are you still running east? Have you possibly turned to run north? Perhaps I am looking at the wrong target—I’ll glance at something else.

To overcome perceived non-movement, utilizing WBS is key because it identifies milestones. This is typical Project Management and necessary for IT leaders to regularly track.

3. Moving from traditional Enterprise Networking to a service offering model requires a major mindset shift in Data CenterNetworking. How did you make that happen?

Unexpected questions were asked when presenting the Vision and Roadmap to the IT department because conversation turned inward. Questions like, “what will I be doing if there are no servers and infrastructure hardware?” “What do you mean by Software Defined Networking?” “Am I going to have to learn how to write JSON and Powershell commands to keep my job?” “Can we revisit my career path?”

Our best assets–people–were going to need to adapt by learning new skills, taking on uncomfortable tasks, shadowing each other, watching Azure videos, and being flexible with daily changes due to rapid vendor advancements. Suddenly we recognized a shift from assembling the right technical skills to assembling the right personalities was the key. Learning had to be collaborative, egos had to be suppressed, the encouragement to say “I do not know” and “why” were looked upon in a positive manner, and we needed to develop in lock-step as a single unit. 

Culture also played a leading role. Executives instill and award employees for demonstrating core values that include mercy, justice, and respect. We assume positive intent in every conversation, which purports that we do things for the right reason, with justification for why we do things, and that makes someone seek to ask questions to learn why, how, and what can I do to help.

4. Even though you do not measure your team on project deadlines, fast delivery must still be important to you. How are you delivering faster?

“Fast” is relative–so we are “fast” if we deliver the job, meet 80 percent of the needs, consider security above all else, and minimize change management. We are here to improve operations by delivering automation, increasing quality, optimizing processes, utilizing workflows, architecting security, and supporting enterprise needs. To achieve those objectives, we collaborate with the Project Management Office (PMO) as often as possible.

5. What set of skills do you think is required for the technology leaders to be successful in the new Enterprise Networking landscape?

For the top IT leaders [CXO] crafting a strategy and Vision and visiting it frequently with the team is the most important skill. Keeping our eyes on the point on the horizon so that we are all galloping to the same place. Staying personally engaged and involved at every level of the department is essential if you want to know the pulse of IT.

For Architects and Directors developing the Roadmap is essential. They should be able to co-own the Vision and decompose it into a Roadmap and WBS. These leaders are our top experts and I expect them to raise everyone’s game including mine, which requires getting out of their way.

Our PMO VP, Gunnar Tande, commissioned a Data Governance Team and a Design Governance Team, which proved to be key structure to ensure the business needs are being met by IT. He recognized how to identify right-sized formality and incorporate optimum governance, process, and “marketing” to create successful enterprise IT partnerships with the business units.

6. Which growing or future technology innovation are you personally excited about?

Azure Enterprise Mobility + Security is the next big value project for Q3. In Q1 of 2018, Data Loss Prevention will be our big project to implement across our Azure cloud environment. In Q2 of 2018, we will look to IoT to bring value and support to our mission. We believe we our data is our most important artifact so we are collecting, architecting, developing reports, dashboards, cubes and intelligence trends, as well as the demonstrating the beginnings of predictive forecasting for all things Accounting, Operations, Compliance, Utilization (IoT), and Executive Decision-making. In 2019, we will look at monetizing data.