Friday, October 24, 2008

Zero latency enterprise

When I first started working at Dunder Mifflin several years ago, one of the learning opportunities I took advantage of was a product tour of their Zero Latency Enterprise offering. The concept is pretty simple: if you throw enough computing power and network linkages at all your databases and keep the files in a standard format that is readable from one to another, it's possible for all of them to be constantly up-to-date. For instance, if a customer calls your support line and provides previously unknown information or an update to existing data, that data is instantly fed to the CRM system to more effectively market to the customer, the e-commerce engine to update shipping addresses, and so on down the line such that everything is always in synch.

If you have ever worked in an enterprise-level IT environment, particularly one with multiple legacy systems that aren't used to talking to one another, you know pulling this off is easier said than done. In fact, it's so much easier said than done, that Dunder Mifflin was not even using their own offering. Nearly four years ago, they embarked on a massive project to achieve these capabilities (though I don't think that the true "ZLE" product was part of that plan). My estimate is that project is still at least three years away from completion and even then won't work the way they really want it to.

IT systems weren't the only source of latency in the company. In fact, there was far more in just the day-to-day tasks required to get the work done. Let's say I was working on a project and needed input from five stakeholders in order to complete that particular phase. If all five stakeholders had to be in the meeting together, it typically took between one and three weeks to find a single one hour block where they could all meet together. And I'm not even talking about a live meeting; this was just to get them all on a conference call at once. If the meeting was to be face-to-face, an exceptionally rare occurence, we were talking a good month of lead time. Ironically, lead time for a video conference was often even longer than for a face-to-face meeting.

The other thing that I got really used to was a non-traditional work day. I'm not talking about going for a lunch ride in the middle of the day or starting early and ending early. Instead, I'm referring to an early morning conference call to speak with people in Europe and then on another day, and sometimes even the same day, having a late evening conference call with someone in Singapore. Even if there were no conference call, checking email at 11:00 p.m. was de rigeur in order to facilitate the flow between the Asian working day, the European working day, and having everything ready to go at the beginning of the nominal hours of my working day.

I'm bringing all of this up because a few of you, either in comments or in person, have asked me how the new job is going. Let me summarize:
  • There is no Singapore office. Which means no 10:00 p.m. conference calls with Singapore.
  • There is a London office, but I think only two people work there, and I'm pretty sure they don't even know I exist yet.
  • When I need CEO approval for something, I don't just give up right there because my middle management status doesn't warrant his attention; instead, I walk over to his office and ask him.
  • I have scheduled exactly two meetings with co-workers. Turns out that was just because old habits die hard. I should have just walked over to their offices and said "do you have a minute?"
  • All of the hardware in the entire company is managed by two people. If I am wondering about how something is configured, I can get a straight answer. I didn't even used to ask these questions, because even if I could find the answer, the complexity of the answer far exceeded the depth of my understanding.
  • All of the software in the entire company is managed by another half dozen or so guys. See above.
  • I can still go on lunch rides. In fact, there are nearly as many people in this office who will go out on lunch rides as there were in my old company. Except that there were roughly 175 times as many people at my old worksite as there are at this one. And we have our choice among excellent options for both road and mountain biking, whereas before only road riding was an option.
The only real downside to this job compared to my old one:

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