As a result of our company winning the 2009 Intel Premier IT Knowledge Award (announced on 9/1/09), I had the opportunity to participate in the CIO 100 Symposium Awards in Colorado Springs, CO. It was a tremendous honor to not only be a part of this program but to receive peer recognition for the work we’ve done in building a world-class infrastructure. At the event, I was able to participate in some remarkable sessions. One presentation in particular shared the same approach to leadership I brought to my dev team in buiding our network infrastructure—the very project that was honored with this award. Communications expert Suzaane Bates revealed the eight principles that successful leaders use to motivate their teams:
Read more about the CIO/Intel award and richrelevance’s SSD initiative:
1. It begins with you – your purpose and passion
2. Communicate a clear, powerful mission
3. Learn what motivates your people
4. Make a personal connection with others
5. Make the conversation about them
6. Praise, recognize and reward
7. Walk the talk
8. Empower people
RichRelevance's IT Team
My takeaway from these points is that we as leaders must understand what motivates our employees and recognize that what drives one individual may not be successful in motivating another. Choice of language is also important—different logical and emotional terms appeal to
different members of your team. Above all, I’ve found that all eight suggestions listed need to be approached in tandem. For example, individually making a connection (#4) includes ensuring that people understand the collective objective (#2) and also appreciate the what and the why of each situation and project.All of us who undertake monumental projects with our teams—or even smaller-tasks—can benefit from these takeaways. Building a world-class infrastructure doesn’t just call for cutting-edge technology, it requires operational excellence and a passionate focus. Our team at RichRelevance had a big idea and we did all we could as an organization to rally around that cry. Our sense of common purpose is aptly articulated by a quote from Steve Jobs shared at the conference: “I want to make a ding in the universe.” In the world of IT infrastructures, we’re confident that we contributed a lasting and profound “ding.” We slashed page load times and increased our ability to simultaneously run more complex, data intensive recommendation algorithms. Our response times remain consistently under 100 ms with the vast majority of requests leaving RichRelevance data centers averaging less than 25 ms.
This whole experience proved to me how essential it is—particularly in these fast moving times—to keep tabs on how you are motivating others. The simplest forms of communication can make the biggest difference in architecting a team for success.
To take a deeper look at RichRelevance’s IT Infrastructure, download our latest Speak Geek Tech Brief: “RichRelevance Infrastructure: a robust, retail-optimized foundation”
June 25, 2009 will be remembered in many memories as the day Michael Jackson died, but for those of us working the front lines of Internet infrastructure June 25, 2009 will be the day our servers and the patience of millions of users was tested with the news of Michael Jackson’s death. Here at RichRelevance we were prepared, and easily managed increased traffic across several of our customers, including Sears.com and Walmart.com.
“Beginning at approximately 11:18 PM on July 2nd and continuing through the present time Fisher Plaza experienced a significant power event that required all power systems including street power, UPS, and Generator power to be completely shut down in Plaza East.”
So begins a message on the website of AdHost, an IT hosting provider which hosted in the same space as several Seattle based companies including Redfin, Authorize.net, and Bing Travel. What’s referred to above as a “power event” was actually a fire that ended up taking out these sites, as well as many others. Though Redfin was able to get back up the following morning, some sites took longer – Bing Travel didn’t get back up until July 4th at 1pm. Imagine if your retail site – or one of your vendors – had hosted its entire operation at that data center? How much money would have been lost in the hours after the fire?
Intel Premier IT Knowledge Awards
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The term “disaster recovery” may be scary, but it’s not nearly as scary as the thought of losing revenue during an outage that could last days. Once a retailer realizes that outages can and do happen, there are four things they should do to prevent such outages from impacting their business:
- Set up operations across multiple data centers. Plain and simple, having multiple data centers means that if something happens to one (or more!) data centers, others keep your site up and running. Here at richrelevance we run 5 geographically distributed data centers across the country, with two more on the way. This came in handy when several months ago one of our data centers had a fire and was offline for days, and Sears.com and Walmart.com shoppers noticed zero impact to their product recommendations.
- Build failover protection and scale into your platform. More than just hosting your site across multiple data centers, you should architect your platform such that should one datacenter go down the others seamlessly pick up the traffic without any manual adjustments — and serve that traffic with the your standard level of performance. Our previous experience contributing to the software and/or hardware platform architecture at Amazon, Overstock, Hotmail, and Akamai has helped us here at richrelevance build failover safe, scalable infrastructure.
- Keep it simple! Be sure not to make your system overly complex such that even if distributed it might fall victim to interruption or other issues in the wake of an outage. For example, here was Microsoft’s public response regarding Bing Travel: “Bing Travel is a complex system of servers, databases and networking hardware that runs at massive scale,” explained Microsoft spokeswoman Whitney Burk via email. “It takes a bit of time after an interruption of power such as this one to bring it back online. Given power was restored at 2am today, we feel we had the service back up as quickly as was possible.” Bing visitors would likely have preferred a working website to a public statement.
- Have a disaster recovery plan in place. Know what you’re going to do if disaster does strike. Should, say, two of your three datacenters go down, know exactly what you would do so that that last datacenter isn’t on its own for long.
Consider this a wake up call, and unless you were hosted at that Seattle datacenter, consider yourself lucky this call didn’t cost you revenue. Invest time with your IT team to make sure you’re distributed, scalable, simple, and otherwise ready – and then make sure your vendors are as well. Your customers (and investors!) will be glad you did.
You can learn more about the Seattle incident here:
When we launched RichRelevance, we chose the tagline “next generation personalized recommendations” because the status quo solutions – all first generation products – were not delivering on the promise of a faster, easier, and more enjoyable shopping experience. Our new class of hyper relevant product recommendations was architected to address some of the fundamental issues that plague traditional approaches to product recommendations. I became familiar with the challenges of personalized recommendations while at Amazon where I ran the R&D team focused on personalization. Over the years at Amazon, and again at Overstock.com, I learned a few key lessons that would later inform the core of RichRelevance’s approach. Continue Reading
In response to richrelevance receiving the “2009 Best Place to Work” in the SF Bay Area recognition, one of my advisors reached out to me and asked a pertinent question: what are you doing to preserve your culture?
He sent me a link to an article in the Harvard Business Review on how Pixar (another Bay Area company!) has maintained their culture of innovation for almost 15 incredibly successful years. I never pass up an opportunity to learn from those I admire—and this was definitely one of those. Even if you don’t like rats, you liked Ratatouille; even if you love sushi, you enjoyed Nemo; and everyone loves toys, so Toy Story was a slam dunk. Pixar may not be a model of a perfect company, but especially in a down economy, intelligently investing in people and culture multiplies ROI many times over.