What being a catalyst looks like when you're CIO

Red Hat's commitment to working transparently and collaboratively has changed the way I operate as a CIO
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CIO as Digital Leader

Last month, along with more than 12,000 Red Hat co-workers across the globe, I celebrated We Are Red Hat Week. It's a special time for us to recognize and honor the values and spirit that make Red Hat truly unique.

At Red Hat, our mission is to serve as the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners making better technology the open source way. We're unabashedly an open organization, which means we excel by – as our CEO Jim Whitehurst puts it in his book, "The Open Organization" – "engaging participative communities both inside and out."

We measure success by how effectively we bring people both inside and outside our walls together to collaborate on projects that can ultimately benefit everyone.

In short, we measure success by how effectively we bring people both inside and outside our walls together to collaborate on projects that can ultimately benefit everyone. Our open source products and business model make us special; the way we work makes us exceptional.

I've been at Red Hat for two years, and in that time I've seen firsthand how the company's mission and spirit can reframe the way we think about our jobs, because it's changed the way I work as CIO.

For one thing, it reframes my conversations with the various stakeholders a CIO typically manages — even the vendors supplying some of the tools that enable Red Hatters to do their great work. When I enter into conversations with people whose software we're even thinking about deploying, the first thing I stress to them is how central open principles are to our company, and how important open technologies are to Red Hatters. In this way, I'm acting as a steward for our company's core values when I represent us in technology discussions.

New relationships with vendors

I approach vendors not only as a potential customer but also as a willing catalyst wishing to partner with them.

The nature of those discussions is radically different than those I've had with vendors in the past. I approach them not only as a potential customer — as someone purely looking to derive value from them — but also as a willing catalyst wishing to partner with them to make something great, to advance the state of the art, or to improve people's lives. I get to help them realize the importance of the open source way and experience its power, which is both an exciting prospect and a humbling honor.

This was the case last year, for example, when Red Hat partnered with BlueJeans Network. Like most globally distributed organizations, Red Hat requires a videoconferencing system to connect associates collaborating every day. We use BlueJeans for this, largely because it works well on the Linux-based systems we're supporting. Throughout our relationship, I've been able to act as a bridge between our internal support team and the teams at BlueJeans to ensure that product feedback from Red Hatters finds its way to developers. ("You guys are ... very vocal with your feedback," Chief Product Officer Mark Strassman once said to me. Clearly our relationship exposed him to Red Hat culture!) I took some of our most frequently asked questions to Mark in San Francisco, where we sat down for a recorded interview so he could address Red Hatters directly.

On top of that, however, we were also able to achieve an even greater open source victory when we advocated for BlueJeans’ adoption of the open source WebRTC protocol. New versions of BlueJeans' products now support WebRTC by default, which means those products can interoperate more effectively across networks and get users into their video meetings more quickly. That’s a true competitive advantage for the company, because it encourages open-focused customers like Red Hat to stick with them in a crowded and competitive landscape. But BlueJeans is becoming more active in the upstream WebRTC community, too — so the work they're doing will benefit everyone using the technology, not just Red Hat. That's what being a catalyst means to me: Not just giving Red Hatters a voice in conversations with our partners and vendors, but working with those partners and vendors to forge relationships with benefits that transcend all of us.

IT talent benefits

The experience also helped me be a better advocate for the open source way. I could explain to BlueJeans teams how engaging with open source communities enhances their products' security and reliability. I could also explain how giving BlueJeans employees opportunities to contribute to upstream communities can act as a powerful retention engine at a time when the war for IT talent is raging.

Working openly doesn't just mean contributing code. It means operating transparently and collaboratively in all you do. If I hadn't been having conversations like the one I'd had with BlueJeans, then someone at Red Hat would have asked me why I wasn’t. With great transparency comes great accountability — one of the many reasons I love working at Red Hat.

[ Editor's note: This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. ]

[ How can you build a more open and collaborative organization? Get the free eBook: The Open Organization Workbook, for advice from more than 25 leaders, consultants, and other practitioners.]

As Chief Information Officer, Mike Kelly is responsible for leading the information technology organization at Red Hat Inc., the world’s leading provider of open source solutions. Since joining the organization in 2016, Kelly has focused on leading the IT team as they provide the tools and technologies that enable Red Hatters every day.


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