By Peter High, published on Forbes
NetApp is in the throes of a major transformation from a data storage company to a data management company. The implications are profound, and the company’s chief information officer Bill Miller is at the center of a lot of the change. As the CIO of a company that serves many IT departments, he and his team have multiple programs that impact and influence product and service design, from being customer one to running the NetApp-on-NetApp program to helping evolve what the company refers to as the Data Fabric, which is a set of solutions that allow NetApp’s customers “to gracefully, securely, intelligently, and quickly move information across their on-prem and off-prem environments,” as Miller notes in our interview. His IT team tests the new utilities and provides feedback on NetApp’s tools and partner solutions.
Miller also notes that his team operates as a bit of a talent factory for the product development organization, for as his team develops insights into the product, some of them are logical candidates to fill needs of that team, either temporarily or permanently.
Peter High: For the past six months, you have been the senior vice president and chief information officer at NetApp. What is in purview of your role?
Bill Miller: I was attracted to this position because it provides me with the opportunity to contribute at the strategic level as NetApp continues to evolve. The reshaping involves functional organizations such as information technology, as well as product lines, product offerings, and how we offer solutions to our customers.
I play two integral roles as the CIO of NetApp. First, I am helping to retool the business as we move toward more cloud offerings and software enabled solutions around data. While the first 24 years of the company were focused on data storage, we are shifting to data management and helping our customers do more with their information. The opportunity to help transform the company and its systems, particularly in the go-to- market space and how we bring those solutions to our customers, appealed to me because it would not be business as usual as a CIO.
The second aspect of the position that intrigued me is that NetApp can utilize its own systems and run its own solutions in its own IT shop to leverage increased productivity, performance, uptime, and a variety of other desirable characteristics. NetApp shares these outcomes not only across the business, but also with customers.
High:Part of the retooling at NetApp includes the programs NetApp-on-NetApp and Customer-1. What role does your team play in these initiatives?
Miller: The two programs that you mentioned and a third that we are spinning up align with our core mission in IT. We relish our roles in all three. In the Customer-1 program, the IT team beta tests our solutions, our products, our software, and the workflows before we introduce them to our customers. The process starts when the Engineering and Product Development teams envision and develop new technologies. The IT team then deploys the product or solution in our hand-crafted, exquisite, global data centers using the latest technologies and NetApp platforms. We provide early feedback to the Product Development and Engineering organizations about how to tune and optimize the products and solutions. IT’s role with the Customer-1 program, however, is not only to be the pre-release customer, but also the early post-release customer. It is a valuable internal feedback loop that optimizes the products by utilizing the partnership, or handshake, that NetApp has between Engineering and IT, which is not the case in every organization.
The second initiative is NetApp-on-NetApp. We run our new products and capabilities in our own operations for a period of time and gather statistics and information such as uptime, availability, change control, and restoration processes. Then, we share what we have learned about best practices both within the company and with our customers through executive briefing visits, roadshows, and through collegial relationships with our peers. We enjoy it because while we are trying to sell a solution to our customers, we also bring information technology and real world experiences to the table which allow us to share the true flavor of what it takes to run the equipment, the platforms, and the software, as well as to discuss the benefits gained by running those solutions.
Our third initiative, the Data Fabric, has evolved from our shift toward becoming a high end, data management solutions company and away from our legacy as a superb storage company. The Data Fabric is a set of solutions that allow our customers to gracefully, securely, intelligently, and quickly move information across their on-prem and off-prem environments. The IT team’s role in this initiative is to test drive the new utilities and provide real time feedback on NetApp’s tools and partner solutions.
High: Are there organizational adaptations that are necessary for accomplishing these new initiatives and having IT more involved in the strategic planning process? Or, is success dependent on the culture and the expectation that this is part of everyone’s job?
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