Interviews by Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
David Donnelly: Award Winning Senior Technology Leader; Director of the Applications Development Services Department, UNIS LUMIN Inc.
This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with David Donnelly.
As Director of Applications Development Services, Mr. Donnelly founded the department with teams of developers responsible for both consultative practices and commercial software manufacturing lines of business. David is responsible for the design, development, rollout, and support of the custom and commercial applications developed by UNIS LUMIN Inc. Notable accomplishments include the development of a web-based electronic medical record and injury surveillance system for a major national sports league; a fraud management system for a significant Canadian financial institution; a CRM/ERP system for internal use and commercial sale; and development of a five-year strategic plan and implementation roadmap for the Archives of Ontario.
UNIS LUMIN is a business solutions provider with a focus on unified communications, intelligent business applications, storage, security, and managed services. Holding both a Microsoft Gold certification and a Cisco Gold certification, the company offers a broad range of high technology oriented business solutions to assist their customers in achieving their business goals. The company also manufactures two commercial software products marketed world wide.
Prior to UNIS LUMIN, David served as IT Manager, Special Projects for TSB International and as a Senior Scientist for Ontario Hydro Research.
David graduated with honors from the University of Toronto with a dual major in computer science and statistics and holds the government legislated Information Systems Professional designation (I.S.P.) from the Industry Canada chartered CIPS, Canada's Association of IT Professionals (www.cips.ca). He serves on the Board of Directors of IRMAC and has also achieved numerous awards for outstanding service and performance.
The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
Opening Comment: David, you bring an enviable record of extraordinary accomplishment with notable contributions in business, technology, innovation, and leadership. Considering your demanding schedule, we thank you for finding the time to do this interview.
A: It's my pleasure Stephen. As the world of technology is changing so rapidly and covers so many areas, I believe that open communication between technology leaders, implementers, and consumers is essential and I am happy to do my part.
Q1: Often experience generates skills and insights that cannot be obtained elsewhere. What are your key lessons you want to share from these projects?
A: Well that's a big question. Every project is a rich learning experience, but let me pick one key lesson learned from each of several projects executed over the last five years.
Q2: David, you actively maintain competence in technologies such as Voice over IP, mobile applications, Agile and .NET development. Can you pinpoint five areas that managers need to keep on their radar maps? Why?
A: Looking forward 12 to 36 months, I see several areas that IT managers will have to stay on top of. These include:
Q3: Can you provide more details on these technology roadmaps?
A: I could go on for hours discussing our plans for the above areas, but briefly, I would say that UNIS LUMIN is looking at Microsoft OCS and Exchange for Unified Communications and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server for collaborative work. For development environments, we are looking at many of the new .net based or related technologies. In VOIP, we will continue to focus on Cisco Call Manager and Unity but will be rapidly building expertise in Microsoft's Office Communications Server and all of its related components. We are, in fact, currently building a Microsoft based VOIP platform within our lab and working to integrate it with our existing Cisco VOIP system.
Q4: Which specific skills do you look for in new hires to your team?
A: From a technology perspective, the skills depend upon the expected role and tasks that the new hire will assume. We have .Net architect roles, developer roles at various levels, QA roles, MCSE roles, etcetera. Some of these people will also be, or aspire to become, team leads and practice area champions. In addition to technical skills, I look to cultural fit. I place equal weight on both of these elements.
Borrowing from an article that I recently wrote for CIO.com:
"When I speak of culture, I mean work ethic, dedication to task and team, loyalty, integrity and attention to detail. All those factors make individuals outstanding contributors to any community. Cultural fit is crucial when building a (team). I have worked with brilliant people who had egocentric personalities and did more damage to the team dynamics than could ever be made up for by excellent programming. I once had a peer who felt that humiliating less senior staff motivated them and enhanced his own stature. Of course, it did neither.
In every team, there will be a distribution of technical skills and levels but there can be only one standard for cultural values. There will be a tendency for people to migrate towards the lowest common denominator in cultural values, so set the bar high and lead by example.
Evaluating cultural fit is more art than science. A question like, "Do you work hard?" or "Are you a team player?" will elicit only obvious replies. I usually spend 20 minutes or more on topics like family, pastimes and hobbies. You're working on a relationship, not inspecting cattle. As your applicant relaxes and opens up, you'll get a much clearer picture the person, not just the interview mask that all candidates put on as they walk into your office.
Once you move past this first phase of the interview, describe your vision of the working environment you're building and your expectations of each team member. Don't hold back or dance around the fact that the bar is set high. The kind of people you are looking for will want that. If you see fear or hesitation, you're getting an early indicator that the person may not want to work to such high standards. If you get a bad feeling on the cultural fit, don't make excuses for the candidate. Whenever I've made that mistake, I've had to replace the person within the first year."
Q5: What are the essential elements to effective team development?
A: Once again, borrowing from the article that I wrote for CIO.com entitled Building Sustainable High Performance IT Teams, I would list the essential elements to effective team development as:
Managing the team after it has reached maturity is another whole topic, but I have repeatedly followed the above steps to construct effective teams.
Q6: From your many years in senior management roles, which ten qualities and skills work best for effective leadership?
A: In my view, leadership is often about finding the right balance between conflicting drivers.
And some rules that I live by:
Q7: What are the top software development and platform issues that need to be addressed in business?
A: The two things that are top of mind for me are the rate at which technology is changing and the nature of software development work.
As I stated earlier, many software development professionals are feeling overwhelmed by the variety and complexity of new software tools and platforms being released by companies like Microsoft. Complex by the nature of their richness and functionality, these packages take significant time to understand and master. Bearing in mind that most professionals have development work to deliver on demanding schedules, learning time tends to occur after business hours or in short but intense periods between projects. It used to be manageable before the pace of change accelerated so dramatically, but now it's becoming a real problem for many IT managers and their staff.
The other thing that I see is the paradigm shift from building systems from scratch as opposed to starting with a rich and adaptable platform like Microsoft SharePoint and building on top of that. It used to be that products like SharePoint were considered the poor man's solution. They were relatively inexpensive and just adequate in terms of what they did, but no serious business that had access to budget and resources would choose this path over a custom application.
As platforms have matured, we now ask ourselves why we would not start with an appropriate platform. If you were building a house, you would not start by cutting down the trees and milling your own lumber. Why do we need to design every database table and write every line of code? This is a paradigm shift for many software architects and developers and I see significant resistance to this shift. As an IT manager, you have to lead through this transition and obtain buy-in through education and rational arguments surrounding costs, time to market, reusability, and the reduction in tedious design and coding. These tools free the developer and architect to accomplish greater feats rather than diminishing their roles. That's the message we need to drive home.
Q8: Which five resources would you recommend to IT managers?
A: These are the things that I depend upon:
Q9: From the IT leader perspective, how do you see technology integrated into business performance, strategy, goals, and objectives? What would be your key priorities for ensuring business and IT alignment?
A: Too often, I have watch business and IT evolve like two separate civilizations living within one organization. They speak different languages, apply different paradigms, drive towards different goals, and complain about each other incessantly. With egos at play and empires to build, these competing civilizations interact to one degree or another, but both want to be autonomous masters of their own worlds.
To ensure business and IT alignment, you have to start by ensuring that the basic relationship between these two groups is well defined and accepted by both parities. IT exists in most companies to serve the needs of business. That's it! As an IT manager, you must keep that concept in your mind and in your heart and make sure that your staff understands their role in the company. To say that IT serves business does not demean IT or make it less important. It gives focus, purpose, and clarity to the mission of the IT department.
With respect to IT initiatives linking to business performance, strategy, goals, and objectives, ask yourself how each initiative serves current business needs, clears future barriers, or enables business processes that have been identified as important by business leaders. Don't guess what business leaders need, presume to know what is best for them, or assume that if you build it, they will use it. I can't count the number of systems that have been built by IT departments that were never adopted by business users because the systems were never identified as important and did not effectively serve the needs of the end users.
Q10: What should businesses know about future trends in the Internet environment and in IT? What are the implications and business opportunities? Why should businesses care?
A: In a word: collaboration. The pony express, telegraph, telephone, and fax all changed the way that businesses collaborated and accelerated the rate at which business was conducted. The Internet is a similar phenomenon, on steroids. The first wave of the Internet has come and gone. The second wave, more stable, better understood, and more accessible to end users is now ramping up.
Call it Web 2.0 or any other name you like, there is resurgence underway within the Internet that will make people forget about the .com bomb. Through web based collaboration, unified communications, high quality low cost video conferencing, and similar phenomenon, people from around the world will work together as though they were working side by side in the same office. I just had one of my strongest team members move back to Moscow for personal reasons, but he didn't leave our team. Now he works remotely, but with powerful collaboration tools at our disposal, it is almost the same as if he was working here. This is the future.
Q11: Amongst your many awards and accomplishments, which three are you most proud of and why? How can the readers learn from your stories?
A: We have all designed things, constructed things, and delivered things that we are proud of, but in the end, they are things, and like dust in the wind, they will vanish and be forgotten as they reach the end of their serviceable life.
The things that I value most are the letters and e-mails from past employees who believe that I made a difference in their lives. By creating opportunities where none existed, trusting in people who just needed a chance, mentoring, teaching, counseling, invigorating, encouraging, and then reveling in their success, I have achieved great satisfaction in my life. If each of these people go out into the world and achieve great things, then I will have contributed to the greater good in a way that far exceeds anything that I could have done as a code warrior.
Q12: What would be your ten career tips for the ICT professional and the reasons behind them?
A: Not is any particular order:
Q13: Which three experiences most shaped your life and work?
A: In chronological order, the three experiences that have most shaped my life are:
These things have help make me into the person that I am, and for me, the underlying person is core of all accomplishment. The ability to "do" is acquired through hard work, study, and experience. The drive to "do" comes from within.
Q14: If you were conducting this interview, what 3 questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
A: In addition to all of the excellent questions that you have already asked, I might add the following:
Q1: What external organizations do you belong to and what value do these memberships bring?
Q2: What was your greatest challenge in moving from a technical to a management role?
Q3: What do you see yourself focusing on over the next 12 to 24 months?
Closing Comment: David, I thank you for sharing your time and valued experiences with our audience.
A: It has been my pleasure.