Sunday, November 11, 2007

We all just wanna be big rock stars!

Just as I was leaving for this trip I was going through papers and came across this picture of me taken as I turned 21. I have included it here as I was about a year into my computer career and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Like most teenagers at the time, I wanted to play sports and become a sports star. As much as I liked rugby, my parents had the good sense of talking me out of joining one of Sydney’s premier rugby league teams.

But the one thing I never thought about was being a rock star – sure, I could play a cool chopsticks on the piano (with enough advance warning) – but to become a musician on the world’s stage was just not one of my goals. Having come through the 60s and adjusting to life in the 70s, I wasn’t too excited by where music was headed anyway.

Today there’s rarely an occasion when I turn on TV, where yet another reality show isn’t being promoted! And among the more popular are those featuring the lifestyles of rock musicians – new and old. First, there was MTV with it’s “MTV Cribs Presents: How to live like a rock star” where the extravagant life styles of today’s rock stars were featured. There was another reality show simply called Rock Star, where contestants were competing for the lead singer spot with the Australian group INXS. In more recent times, we have even seen the legendary guitarist Gene Simmonds, of KISS fame, taking the family on shopping sprees and pretending to enjoy living a life far removed from the glare of the stage.

And then, of course there’s a song, from the Canadian group Nickelback, getting a lot of airplay that is simply called Rockstar. It seems to me that a day doesn't go by without it being played. I kind of get the sentiment behind the lines:
“I’m gonna trade this life for fortune and fame
I’ll even cut my hair and change my name
Cause we all just wanna be big rock stars!”

Cut my hair? Taking a second look at the picture I have included here, it may not have been a bad idea!

I have read that a Minneapolis newspaper, the Star Tribune, ran a sweepstake competition back in 2006 where the winner would live like a rock star – getting the use of a limo for 8 hours as well as the services of a personal assistant! Obviously a few steps down the ladder from what the real rock stars of today expect, perched as they are, at the top of the entertainment food chain!

The only time I was exposed to any taste of the life of a rock star was back in 1981 when I flew from the New York to Paris on the Concorde. As the only non-smoker on the flight, I had the the back section of the plane to myself. Throughout the brief 3 hour flight, I caught several people coming to the galley to take a look at me seated by myself – and eventually, the flight crew told me that there was speculation by the other passengers on exactly who had the back of the plane to himself? I didn’t look a sports star, so I had to be a rock star – but no one recognized me!

It was against this background that I was surprised to see in one of this week’s editions of the Financial Times (Wednesday, Nov 7th) a back page feature on HP’s Randy Mott, where the article’s headline read “ ‘Techie rock star’ sets a cracking pace”, and where the article began with:“Randy Mott’s trail-blazing project to overhaul HP’s technology could set the standard that other companies need to follow …”

With a pedigree stretching back to Wal Mart, where he built a solid reputation as a Chief Information Officer (CIO), the journalist then went on to add:“… his techie rock star status was further enhanced by five years as CIO of the personal computer company, Dell.”

So what exactly is it that Randy Mott is doing that qualifies him as a rock star? What was he doing that warranted this kind of attention from the press? As I went back through my notes for this blog, I ran across the expression “setting the standard” a couple of times. When you look at what Randy Mott has committed to do, then yes, he is setting a standard that puts him well ahead of his peers. The numbers alone are quite staggering, but in the context of the three year timeframe that he has set for the project, even more impressive.

According to the Financial Times:“The number of data centers is set to fall from 85 to 6; the number of applications in use will tumble from 5,800 to 1,400; and the 750 data marts throughout the company will disappear altogether to be replaced by a single data warehouse …”

The Financial Times then went on to add:“HP is using its own software extensively to manage and run its data centers and business intelligence software called “NeoView” will be used to field queries to the single data warehouse: ‘Having good information to support the business was a key element’ Mr Mott says.”

The bottom line to all of this is that, after executing on all of this, Randy Mott will effectively take the annual investment HP was making in its internal IT down to 2% of revenues – the industry norm – and free up essentially $2 Billion in cash that can be used for investment elsewhere in the company.

I have been around data centers for most of my IT career and have always had a strong interest in what goes on inside them. I have seen state-of-the-art operations centers decked out with ceiling to floor projection screens; the partitioning of computer rooms into separate computer, storage, and networking areas each managed by their own skilled support staff; and the deployment of multi-site data centers capable of surviving any planned or unplanned outage. But what Randy is pursuing is at another level altogether and the scope of the undertaking is mind-blowing for nearly all of us. And assuring a measurable return on the tremendous investment involved, really does place him on another playing field entirely.

OK – so now I see the rock star. Not only do rock stars set standards, but the good ones generate enormous amounts of cash. The more successful rock stars have incorporated themselves, as David Bowie once did, offering the public shares in the enterprise and listing themselves on stock exchanges.

In today’s enterprise, anyone who comes in and unlocks the amounts of cash now being talked about within HP, is deserving of the title rock star. For many years now it has bothered me to see some of the plans unveiled by CIOs. Plans that address deployments that will take four, five, and even ten years to complete. Technology investments in solutions already past their prime! Incremental changes rather than the radical innovation being pursue today across HP's IT landscape.

Over the coming months I will be developing additional postings on the topic of innovation as I believe that this is really what has fueled the growth of NonStop deployments and contributed more than anything else as to why, after more than three decades after the first NonStop I was delivered, the platform remains as relevant today as it ever has all that time ago.

Yes, there is safety in staying with a vendor, in staying with a known development model or with software already well-understood. But as the amounts being earmarked for these projects steadily climb over time – isn’t it good to see that there are some CIOs prepared to “bet the farm” and to come at the problem with a completely different perspective.

Just as successful rock stars have changed the course of music and carved out highly lucrative careers, so do some CIO’s as they press ahead with innovative ideas. While I was first amused by the title bestowed on Randy Mott, I now see that it makes all the sense in the world. I am pretty sure he didn’t change his name and I am just as confident that he didn’t have to cut his hair. But in every company there should be a “rock star” setting higher standards, and Randy Mott sure fits this image at HP!

No comments: