Our Information Systems and Technology (IST) group recently sponsored Tech Madness, a “come get to know us and see what’s new” event in the Esri Café. Team members were on hand to show demos of technologies that were recently implemented companywide, such as a new wireless network and Microsoft Lync, as well as to tell us about all the exciting new initiatives planned for the near future.
I spent a few minutes with CIO Dan Abushanab, who joined Esri last June, and Terry Kelly, PMO Manager, talking more in-depth about future plans and what’s great about being part of the IST team.
What’s your overall vision for the IST Division?
Dan: Esri has been vertically oriented in terms of function: Development, Sales, Marketing, Professional Services, Educational Services, and so on. There are only a few divisions that go horizontally across them, and IST needs to be one of them. My job is making sure we’re providing the connective tissue across groups. It is our core reason for being.
The way I think of building up an IT function is that you’re trying to deliver great business apps and customer facing apps, but how you get there is built on the layers underneath. Our Framework Applications Team helps us do that. They own the layer that cuts across all the applications using common data sets—things such as integration, search, and knowledge management. That only succeeds if it’s built on a really good infrastructure layer. And the infrastructure only works if it’s built on a solid layer of organizational models, people, processes, etc. We’re working on all these layers at the same time but I think the things that have been visible to the company early on have been in the lower layers, for example implementing a single service request system to replace numerous different methods we were capturing information in before. We’ve replaced the wireless network and brought in private cloud capability. There are hundreds and hundreds of home-grown applications used throughout the company. We’re looking at alternatives such as buying a solution that a vendor maintains, upgrades, and improves as opposed to doing it all ourselves.
What’s so cool about working in IT at Esri?
Terry: I’ve been with Esri about 17 years and in IT for 22 years. This is probably the most exciting time I’ve seen here. We’re shifting the dynamic with our colleagues, putting energy into getting more connected with them. We’re taking a hard look at all the technologies we’re working with and analyzing how we can make them all work together. You’re looking at it as a large business solution, not just one piece. There’s this whole interaction stack in play. The third part is the core element that makes Esri so cool—we get to help define our own future. You’ve got this opportunity to come up with ideas and say, “Hey Dan, I’ve got this idea; can we take a swing at it?” And that’s a unique paradigm at Esri that is part of our DNA that you don’t find in a lot of places. So we’ve tackled these two really big items from an IT perspective but stay true to our core.
Dan: I think what’s cool about our group is the same thing that’s cool about Esri as a whole. It’s neat to be building something, to feel like you’re on an upward trend; it’s neat to be growing instead of shrinking. At lots of places, including some of my previous jobs, the conversation isn’t about growth, it’s about how do we keep doing what we’re doing while facing budget cuts. That’s not Esri, even in an economic downturn.
What skills are important to be successful in your group?
Dan: When you’re doing more buying, implementing, and integrating (as opposed to building), there’s more emphasis on project management and business analysis. Those are areas where we’re adding the most skills. In terms of personal attributes, the quality I value more than anything is a “get it done” kind of mentality. If you are doer, a problem solver, if you are determined, if you’ll fight your way through the challenges and obstacles, you’ll be really successful.
Terry: Come in with the attitude of I’m going to make a difference today.
IST has developed and implemented a lot of new systems in the last six months. How do you keep people motivated going forward, knowing things will slow down a little?
Dan: I really doubt we’ll slow down. The business is constantly changing, so there will always be new initiatives we’ll be dealing with. I just think we’ll have better tools and a better foundation to be building on than we have right now. We’ll get to spend more time delivering solutions instead of working on the plumbing.