NetApp: Young Company, Mature ITBy Hailey Lynne McKeefry Print
NetApp strengthens its IT organization and creates a three-year strategic plan to meet the demands of a rapidly growing business.
NetApp entered the high-technology scene in 1992, offering storage and data management solutions. Since then, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has grown substantially each year, forcing it to quickly adopt information technology practices that are more common in mature organizations.
“We have a very complex business applications environment,” says Marina Levinson, senior vice president and CIO.
The IT organization supports more than a hundred applications, including six tier-one apps from vendors that include Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP, Siebel and Tibco. On the hardware side, NetApp has more than 200 of its own network-attached storage (NAS) filers and 1,500 servers from Fujitsu, IBM and Sun Microsystems. In all, the company has more than two petabytes of storage.
Today, NetApp boasts sales of more than $3 billion, with approximately 8,000 employees in about a hundred locations in 46 countries. The IT organization, which includes 450 people—both permanent employees and contractors—supports six data centers: three in the United States and one each in Europe, India and Hong Kong.
A New Sheriff in Town
When Levinson joined the company in June 2005, her first objective was to develop clear, strong governance and a three-year IT strategic plan. “At the time, we had hardworking, dedicated people, but we didn’t have any governance around how to prioritize IT investments,” says Levinson. “One of my first actions as CIO was to establish robust governance within NetApp.”
As a starting point, the company put in place a number of function-based councils (such as a finance council), along with a steering committee that includes both IT and executive members, who are tasked with prioritizing the company’s IT and business process investments. The IT steering committee approves all investments of between $100,000 and $1 million, while expenditures of more than $1 million go before the executive staff.
To get funding for a project, the executives and IT professionals, along with the business partner who is doing the work, must jointly fill out a template outlining their proposed project and its projected outcomes and then present it to the steering committee for consideration. In addition, the company has recently begun to require that business partners return at a later date to report on whether they reached their objectives.
“We put these governance processes in place in 2005, and went through a few incarnations to make them more effective,” says Levinson. “We found that we had a disconnect between the functional councils and the steering committee, so we worked to close the gap and improve communications.”
These processes were designed to ensure that NetApp allocated its dollars to appropriate IT investments and to enable executives to monitor progress against the company’s committed roadmap. They also would allow the company to identify business challenges and make appropriate adjustments to its IT plans to address emerging trends.
“The new processes ensure that we are always working on the priorities that are most important to the company, as opposed to [responding to] those who scream loudest,” says Levinson. “We are getting to the point where we are good at governance.”
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