Utilizing a Service Offering Model for IT
Oumar Sall, VP-IT, Vox Media
How has your IT operating model changed during the last five years?
In the last five years there has been a monumental change in the IT operating model at Vox Media. We never had to go through the transitions from physical servers to virtual servers to cloud servers—we have always been enthusiastic about software as a service. Although we have been around since 2005, until very recently there was not a focus on internal IT. Many of our internal users are technically savvy and there was a lot of self-support. Changing to a model of broadly supporting users while not being overly prescriptive has improved both enterprise and user outcomes.
What do you think are the biggest obstacles that technologists face in working in a more agile and outcomes based model?
The biggest obstacle that technologists face is thankfully one that can be overcome with listening, expertise, and trust. Requests for specific solutions are the result of a user experiencing a problem and thinking of a solution to that problem. IT engages in a process of listening to understand the problem and working with the user to come to the best possible solution.
In many cases the user-proposed solution is the answer but, when it is not, a better solution to the problem will have been found and the user will have been better served. Working with users, rather than working for them or against them sounds simple, but it is fundamental to creating a trusted IT department.
Moving from traditional IT to a service offering model requires a major mindset shift in IT. How did you make that happen?
Vox Media has always utilized a service offering model for IT.
"Replacing the large initial capital expenses of infrastructure with an elastic and immediate model of computing will empower a new and diverse group of innovators"
The mindset shift that has been required is to bring all of the IT services that are being used under our service offering umbrella. Previously, various working groups would put their own solutions in place—one team would be enthusiastically using Dropbox while another was happily using Google Drive. Since it is our job as IT professionals to support the talented teams at Vox Media, our approach was not to come up with a one-size-fits-all service offering and to limit our range of support to that, it was to bring people in and make their experience better. Now the enthusiastic Dropbox users no longer have to research who initially set it up, find that person, and interrupt them to make their change—they can contact IT. Many of our users are technical, but there are better things for them to be doing than wrestling with service configuration for half of a day.
What set of skills do you think is required for the technology leaders to be successful in the new enterprise landscape?
Insightful perception and communication are the two key skills required for technology leaders to be successful. Having a big picture view of what the organizational and user needs are and the ability to provide people with the information and solutions they need to make decisions is more important than having a visionary roadmap of where specific technologies are going to be in 10 years.
Which growing or future technology innovation are you personally excited about?
Vox Media IT has always thrived in the cloud. The growth of cloud computing has already changed the way systems and services are understood, produced, and delivered. The technology is available and constantly improving, but the very exciting part will be what people do with the opportunity. Replacing the large initial capital expenses of infrastructure with an elastic and immediate model of computing will empower a new and diverse group of innovators in almost every field.
We are all dealing with technology every day. How does technology drive your mission?
Technology has shifted from computation to connectedness. A computer without a network connection is cut off from the services people need. Calendars, email, files, video conferencing, and chat are all dependent on that connection, whether at the office or in the field. We take our mission of empowering our internal users to develop our platforms and communicate to the world seriously, and it guides us in everything we do.