Red Hat CIO on using agile, automation, and collaboration to move faster

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Crossing the gap to big data

IT and the role of the CIO have evolved significantly in the past few years as digital technology has emerged as a key competitive advantage. The Enterprisers Project caught up with Lee Congdon, CIO of Red Hat, to find out how the need to move faster has given rise to new best practices for today's CIO.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): What are some key actions you are taking to keep up with the increasing pace of technology change?

Lee Congdon: I would say that, for us, automation is essential. It's about giving our organization incentives to do automated testing, to build comprehensive test cases for applications, to automate application deployment, and then to ensure that the roll-out of those applications is based on the success of automated tests as part of our delivery process. The ability to automate is a fundamental capability, from both an IT people and an IT technology standpoint.

Skills development is another approach we’re taking to balance the need to move fast while also maintaining our existing systems. We want to make sure that we have people who are excited about learning to use OpenStack, or people who are excited about using containers to deploy applications. That excitement lends itself to rapid skills development, which benefits the entire IT organization.

Lastly, we try to buy as much as we can versus build it ourselves. (We effectively “buy” solutions from the Red Hat product teams, for example.) Clearly, we’ve built some things that we're very proud of, and we open source those things. But we try to buy solutions as well because I learned a number of years ago that an 80 percent solution delivered very quickly with the ability to iterate and improve upon is better than a theoretical build of a 100 percent solution that takes two years. The reality is that the partial solution that’s available right now almost always wins because you can then, in the real world, determine what you need to add and what you don’t need to add.

TEP: How have you seen the role of IT evolve within the enterprise as CIOs have responded to the need to move faster and stay flexible?

Congdon: Just last week I was chuckling with a colleague about this over lunch. Back in the days before agile, we were building systems with cycles that could be two years long, and IT was accustomed to moving much more slowly. These lengthy cycles would inevitably lead to the business asking for features that never actually got used, which would further extend the development timeline. Nowadays, buy versus build and deploy rapidly are key criteria for success.

Also, the evolution of financial models and trend of moving from CapEx to OpEx has given CIOs more freedom and flexibility of late. Of course, your investors and your financial environment have to support it, but there are advantages to being incrementally more OpEx-based. For example, if you buy a cloud service, rather than being locked into that service for the amount of time that it takes to depreciate the asset, you can simply shift from provider to provider, or capability to capability, much more flexibly. Subscription-based software provides the same flexibility. CIOs are no longer forced for financial reasons to continue to use a solution that’s no longer suited to its purpose.

TEP: What notable changes have you seen within your team?

Congdon: The need to move faster has also generated the need for more productivity, communication, and collaboration tools within IT. So we've made an effort to move away from legacy, enterprise-type systems to consumer or consumer-like solutions. CIOs no longer need to be tied into the internal deployment and maintenance of a system that has traditional legacy characteristics. In many cases, employees can embrace consumer tools without as much change management or training, because they're likely already using those tools. It can be easy, fast, and require moderate rather than expensive change management to get people onto these platforms.

TEP: Any new best practices or advice you'd share with other CIOs seeking ways to more effectively manage change?

Congdon: Agile development has been a huge win. It’s a partnership. We own the projects jointly and we deliver the projects jointly. More broadly than that, an open and collaborative partnership is an absolute best practice, because it ensures that decisions are understood and shared broadly between IT, the business, and others that are accountable. This breeds an atmosphere of transparency. It’s important for us to share the financials clearly, where we’re spending our money, and why. It’s important for the business to share what the business driver is for a specific requirement, and to use that information broadly within the organization to get to the best ideas and the best solutions.

The way this typically works for us is that our IT team owns the technology solution, the vendor management capability, and the integration with our existing environment. The business partner owns the prioritization, the funding, and the change management. There are different models, but the one requirement for this type of approach is a shared accountability between the business and IT. It has been a very significant win for us.


Lee Congdon has more than 25 years of experience as an IT leader. Prior to joining Red Hat® he was managing vice president, Information Technology, at Capital One where he developed and delivered IT solutions for the firm’s corporate functions and Global Financial Services group.

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  

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