Q&A: Red Hat CIO talks sharing, collaboration, and openness

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In this interview, Red Hat CIO Lee Congdon discusses the role he sees for openness and collaboration in the innovation process. Congdon also highlights the benefits offered by the open hybrid cloud model, and shares advice for IT leaders who want to guide their business partners on their journey to the cloud.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): We're seeing that as CIOs start talking more about cloud, they start discovering that open source technologies make up a lot of the foundation of cloud innovation. When that happens, they start to wonder, “Well, could we get that same kind of cross-team collaboration internally that these open source projects seems to have externally?” Where do you see cloud and open and innovation connecting together in interesting ways ?

Lee Congdon: Yeah, it’s a great question. There is a trend toward sharing, collaboration, and openness. And I believe organizations would do well to either reinforce that in their culture today or start to move the culture in that direction going forward. You have to find the right balance between what I call “gifted amateurs” — those who may have interesting ideas but may not understand the depth of the problem — and those who understand the depth of the problem but easily get entrenched in a “we can’t do this” attitude or can't see beyond the current set of solutions.

Going forward, finding the right balance in openness, collaboration, and sharing are going to be drivers not only in the software space but in innovation in general. And, of course, with more information tools being built with open source, it gives us great power in terms of making those drivers available instantaneously around the globe.

TEP: You’ve said that you see open hybrid cloud as a perfect manifestation of how you’d build a business-driven cloud because at the heart of open hybrid, you have the power of collaborative development. Do you think CIOs and IT leaders think about open hybrid cloud as something that’s on the tech horizon, or do you think they realize it’s something they can really grasp in the near term?

Lee Congdon: A lot of enterprises are already starting to see personal productivity or data analysis applications move outside their organizations to external clouds. In that regard, many are probably already in a cloud environment. Still, you’re going to have legacy environments in your data center for a long period of time. That implies a hybrid model. Where the open comes in is that the open source model gives you the power to develop your own linkages based on your business needs.

So, for example, if you have a mainframe customer database and a technology that’s not accessible from an iPhone or an Android device, but you still need to incorporate it into your application architecture, one of the great powers of open source is that you don’t have to convince a vendor to write the adapter for you since you can’t see that piece of code. With open source, you can write it yourself and integrate it into, say, your middleware environment or your enterprise service bus or whatever suits your business need.

Firms will still be on traditional technology 20-30 years from now. But the openness in open source gives you the ability to create your own connections, create your own adapters, create your own workflows. And ideally it gives you the ability to share both the development and the maintenance costs with others. That’s certainly something we’re doing as we rewrite our enterprise service bus, which currently runs within our data center on open source technology. We’re using open source technology to make it available across multiple data centers externally, but we think equally importantly, we’re actually taking the data interface layer and making that an open source project so that we can benefit from others in terms of continuing to develop and extend it.

TEP: Can you share any best practices on how to bring business into the cloud fold so you don’t have a lot of renegade activity that requires cleanup and re-prioritizing later on?

Lee Congdon: If your customers inside your enterprise think something is important enough to put their own resources on it and use the cloud, it’s a pretty strong signal that you and your IT team need to find a way to at least put your arm around them and say, “Can we help?” Or, “We don’t have the resources to take this on right now, but we want to give you guidance on the tools and technology you might want to use so that when we do bring it back in, as inevitably we will, you haven’t created a problem for yourselves, for the enterprise, and for us.”

IT organizations that can engage with their business partners and prioritize their needs can also, candidly, negotiate the necessary funding to get it done. If it’s important enough for your enterprise to do it, it’s important enough for the enterprise to do it right. Find a way to work together to build a proper solution rather than an improper solution that you’re going to spend even more time and money retrofitting later on. It’s hard to do, and that’s why IT organizations also need to take advantage of this emerging cloud technology to make themselves more efficient so they can free up budget and resources to work on real business problems.

Read, "Three New Year's resolutions for the modern CIO."

Lee Congdon is CIO of Red Hat. His role includes enabling Red Hat’s business through services, such as knowledge management, technology innovation, technology-enabled collaboration, and process improvement.

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