Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Who are you? (Who who, who who?)

I have a post written about some of the upcoming challenges IT is facing, but after reading the comments from the last couple of posts, it seems clear that many readers aren't really sure what most IT people do for a living at Intel. Many of my posts have have assumed this is common knowledge, which is my bias showing. PC and server support are clearly important to Intel (and any other corporation), but they are not all IT does, and account for a relatively small percentage of IT resources and budget. My goal here isn't to be defensive, but to provide a baseline so there will be some context in future posts.

As some commenters pointed out, IT is pure overhead - it's not Intel's business, and it doesn't generate revenue. But IT is nonetheless essential for Intel to conduct business. We do almost 100% of our business via eCommerce - billions of dollars worth of transactions flow through those systems. Who built those systems? Who maintains them? How do we know they're accurate and reliable? The answer is that it's mostly IT. With all those transactions and products moving around we can get our revenue numbers each quarter to a fraction of a penny. I couldn't begin to explain all the complexity here, and it doesn't begin to compare to the complexity of a processor, but it's still complex. And for the most part all these apps run reliably. The same is true for our planning tools, sales tools, and HR systems. Like any other large corporation, we have thousands of databases that all need talk to each other. Some are purchased apps/databases (SAP, Peoplesoft), some are custom, and many are hybrids.

IT has hundreds of application programmers: A lot of people who write SQL, VB and C#, a few C/C++ programmers, and ton of people who customize code for tools like SAP. There are also database design and architecture people. Practically none of our business apps know how to speak to each other natively, so we have to design the data and interfaces to make them compatible, or have them share data via some middle-ware tools. We also have a lot of database support, network support, information security, and business specific tool support people.

Each group at Intel has a set of tools they need (or want) to run their business, and it's IT who people design, develop, implement, and support them. This includes all the work done for Intel's external web sites as well. Sales and Marketing must have hundreds of tools supported by IT. In addition to developers and database people, you need project managers, some program managers, QA people, release management/integration, and application support. We also need to release regular updates of purchased tools. Enterprise upgrades aren't a matter of just slipping a DVD into a drive: when a app is highly customized and/or integrated with other tools, it can't simply be upgraded. The ripple effect may required changes to dozens of other tools, which creates a ripple effect for development, testing, release, and support.

The picture I'm trying to paint is one where there are thousands of applications and databases that run Intel's business 24x7, most of which are undergoing upgrades and changes on a regular basis. Every week there is some kind of huge application, networking, email, security, or other change/upgrade taking place. The IT environment is anything but static.

A question I hope you're all asking by now is: why? Why is the environment for Intel business so complex? Why do we have so many changes? Why do Sales and Marketing (and Finance, and HR, and the product groups require so many tools? And why can't we just buy tools off the shelf and implement them and save all this development and integration cost? I'll try to address that in my next couple of posts, but will give you a hint: it's not IT who decides how many tools the business groups need, nor when a purchased tool isn't adequate.

And btw, I don't begrudge the engineering and manufacturing their place at the top of the Intel food chain. Some brilliant, dedicated, hard working people are designing, testing, and manufacturing amazing products. But once they're doing designing and building them, they have to go out the door. How they get sold, accounted for, and supported all requires systems that IT require IT people to support them.