Transforming IT into a Profit Centre by Leading with People Instead of Technology
There are two approaches to IT. You can spend your time managing and maintaining your infrastructure, which makes you a cost centre, or you can add value and contribute to your company’s bottom line, transforming IT into a profit centre.
As the CIO of , I have chosen the latter path. Over the last decade, my role has shifted from focusing on technology to focusing on outcomes. It’s like driving a car instead of tinkering with the engine: You get where you’re going faster.
Are You Sending the Wrong Message to Management?
IT teams typically spend a lot of time on maintenance, fiddling with dials, and playing with widgets. This keeps the lights on but sends the wrong message to management. By continuing this approach year after year, management sees IT infrastructure as a utility, like electricity, and a necessary cost to keep the business running. If they can flip a switch and everything works in the background, IT will be out of sight and out of mind. As a result, they are hesitant to invest in new infrastructure and will always ask you to do more with less.
Over the years, my IT team has reinvented itself. We moved away from the cost centre approach to infrastructure. We no longer toil to fix what’s wrong. Instead, we explore the limits of technology and find new ways to contribute to the company’s bottom line. In doing so, we have also changed the mindset of our executives, who now ask us to do more with more.
Concretely, this translates into faster approvals for new projects and IT budgets. Management sees that infrastructure investments yield qualifiable and quantifiable results.
Swapping Money for Time
One way to become a profit centre is to swap monetary value for time. You can always make more money, but you can’t manufacture time. That became evident for us in 2011. Like other construction firms in Australia, Langs Building Supplies was finally emerging from the global financial crisis, and we were faced with the triple whammy of having to replace our computer, storage, and network infrastructure. Instead of looking at our infrastructure refurbishment from a cost perspective, I approached it from a user experience angle. How could I use technology to give my IT team and everyone else in the company more time? What would it take to create a better employee experience?
Back then, we were using Sun Ray thin clients from Sun Microsystems. These bare-bone machines were good enough at running remote applications, but they couldn’t provide adequate individual workspaces for everyone, including our CAD/CAM users. I needed a flexible solution with enough processing might to satisfy our power users.
After explaining our situation to a colleague, they suggested . At the time, Nutanix was a young company and an early player in the emerging hyper-converged infrastructure market, and I thought it was worth a look.
Choose People Over Technology
When I took a closer look at Nutanix, I thought the platform’s ease of management could give us back some time. However, I also felt Nutanix seemed too good to be true. How could a newcomer deliver on such bold promises?
Shortly after that, I met Cameron Stockwell, our local Nutanix sales engineer, at a conference. He acknowledged my scepticism and rolled into my office with a cluster of Nutanix nodes a few days later. He plunked the hardware on my workbench and said, “Do your best to kill it.”
I was ripping cables out and stuffing them back in, yet my Nutanix test cluster never faltered. However, there was one bottleneck they couldn’t overcome. Nutanix had yet to add GPU support to its hyper-converged appliances and was a no-fly zone for my CAD/CAM team. Cameron assured me that they would work on this feature, and, given the otherwise stellar performance of my loaner cluster, I took him at his word.
The entire sales process was like embarking on a journey instead of cementing a deal, and throughout the many conversations with various members of their team, I felt like Nutanix had my back. It never seemed like people were trying to sell me anything; instead, they wanted to positively impact my business. Ultimately, I chose Nutanix for its people. I took a chance on the fledgling company because its team had vision and integrity. The implementation process that followed confirmed my hunch.
If the Pilot Succeeds, Accelerate Your Plans
We rolled out our first Nutanix clusters in 2012, and it didn’t take very long. In retrospect, the hardest part was taking the nodes out of the box and installing them on racks. The next step was setting up 100 users with VDIs to see how well Nutanix and virtual desktops compared to traditional infrastructure. If the pilot proved successful, our initial plan was to migrate the entire company to Nutanix-based VDI over two years.
After six months, we changed our tune. During a board meeting, our executive team asked if there was a reason why everyone in the company wasn’t running on Nutanix. When I told them that the pilot project was running smoothly so far, they asked me to accelerate my plans. They wanted us to migrate everything right away.
“Hang on,” I thought. “What just happened?” They didn’t ask for a business plan or a big presentation on why it was a good idea. Our board saw the value of Nutanix and gave me the budget to make the switch. Talk about whiplash! Within weeks, we had added more Nutanix nodes, switched all our users, and migrated our SQL databases, ERP, and manufacturing tools to the platform. There was some resistance at first, but I found a group of champions who convinced their colleagues to let go of their physical desktops.
By then, word of mouth had spread. I asked for five engineers to pilot Nutanix, and 30 volunteered. These early adopters showed the rest of the engineering team that VDIs was as good and even better than they expected. When other engineers saw their colleagues working just as effectively and with more flexibility than they did before, they quickly came on board.
Technology You Can Update During Business Hours
That was more than eight years ago. In that time, we have gone through three Nutanix upgrades and changed our hardware vendor. Pre-Nutanix, we had to rip everything out and it would take days or weeks to migrate users and apps to new infrastructure. Our team had to work nights and weekends to ensure business continuity.
With Nutanix, we can rack new clusters and migrate everything over during business hours without pulling anything down. We can add new servers, recondition the old ones, and let the cluster do its thing. What needed months of planning now takes a day and is transparent to users because there are no disruptions.
Work Anytime, Anywhere
Eliminating downtime is especially important for our international operations in Vietnam and Pakistan because they require different maintenance windows. It is equally important to our Australian workers because we have built a work culture that allows our team to work from anywhere in the country, be it our Yatala offices, a Brisbane café, or Bondi Beach.
Nutanix has improved our general quality of life because team members can easily log in and out of their machines wherever they are, whenever suits them best. Sometimes people leave early for football practice and log back in after their kids go to bed. We encourage that and can support it with Nutanix.
Having used VDI all this time also put Langs Building Supplies ahead of the curve when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, since our people were already accustomed to remote work. When the lockdowns came into effect, it was business as usual for us. While other companies struggled to implement solutions that would keep their teams collaborating while distanced, we simply scaled up what we were already doing.
Spend Less Time Managing and More Time Experimenting
My team used to spend 60% of our time maintaining basic infrastructure. That figure has shrunk to 5%. Nutanix simplifies infrastructure life cycle operations by consolidating software and firmware upgrades. Instead of spending all day patching and testing systems, we can use LCM’s single-pane-of-glass interface to update and validate our servers at the push of a button.
Simplified infrastructure management leaves my people free to experiment with new ways to add value to the business in the user lab. They can concentrate on creating first-class user and customer experiences that eliminate pain points and reduce frustration. Customer and employee satisfaction may seem like intangibles, but they have a direct impact on our bottom line.
Give Back to Your Community
Nutanix has given me a lot over the years, so I am happy to give back to the wider Nutanix community. In 2015, I was invited to join the Nutanix Technology Champion (NTC) community as a charter member. There were 20 of us to start and that number has grown to roughly 100. It’s a fantastic program that brings together the top Nutanix users from around the world.
Every Nutanix Technology Champion brings something different to the table. One time, I helped a customer install a Nutanix node after business hours. The guy was on Nutanix’s Australian Slack channel, sweating bullets about adding to his cluster. He was panicking and couldn’t see a way to complete the process.
I jumped in my car with a colleague and we drove to his data centre to help. When another colleague remarked that we needn’t have done that, I replied, “Why not?” Sharing my expertise with others is one of the great joys I get out of working with Nutanix and being an NTC.
NTC also puts me in direct contact with Nutanix. Angelo, who runs the programme, puts out a very informative newsletter that compiles the best Nutanix coverage from around the world. This saves me from scouring the web for the information myself. I also have access to Nutanix engineers, who give us advance information about future releases and ask for our feedback on current and upcoming products.
As an NTC, I also help future customers cut through the marketing talk by sharing my real-world experiences. It is my way of paying back Cameron and his people for keeping their word. I share the unfiltered truth about Nutanix and how the company has delivered over the years without making a sales pitch. That’s what Cameron did when I shared my doubts, so I’m happy to do it for new Nutanix customers.
Lead with People, Not Technology
Over the years, I have learned to lead with people, not technology. To succeed, I start with a vision and find the people to make it happen. Only then do I look at possible tools and tactics.
I also don’t stop at what’s possible. Technology moves fast, but the solution I need today may not be available for another six months or even six years. So, I find something that works now, even though it might take me in another direction.
Nutanix has helped steer my vision over the last eight years by providing the tactics, the tools, and the people to make it happen. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. I am grateful for the company’s contribution and am proud to share my experience with others as a Nutanix Technology Champion.