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4 ideas to steal from IT upstarts

Beth Stackpole | Dec. 13, 2013
When startups grow up, their IT must mature as well. Here's how four hot companies are choosing tech that's serious but not stodgy.

"SaaS has been key in keeping our IT organization small," he explains. "IT has become more of a policy center, and business teams manage their own deployments. It keeps things moving faster and is far more efficient."

Idea No. 2: Self-service rules
At Square, the hot e-payment company started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, cloud apps play a key role in an IT philosophy centered around customer experience, internal and external.

At Square, employees can frequent an IT bar, modeled after Apple's Genius bars, for day-to-day support.

Much like at MongoDB, Square production engineers in the early days pitched in on IT chores like configuring servers. But once the company hit 30 people, the firm hired an IT contractor to handle routine IT tasks like imaging, setting up new machines and maintaining file servers, Wi-Fi and automatic backups.

"We needed to build out an IT organization so production engineers could devote 100% of their time to building products for merchants as opposed to troubleshooting systems or finding a power cord," explains Bob Lee, Square's CTO, who is also responsible for internal IT.

In addition to the outside contractor, Square maintains an IT staff that works closely with Lee and the engineering team — a synergy Lee says make sense because it promotes collaboration while aiding in scalability. "Rather than the IT team performing the same rote task over and over again, they engineer [internal] solutions. Coupling them with the rest of production engineers aids in collaboration," he explains.

The combined team has been charged with building a self-service IT infrastructure that Lee says makes it easy for Square employees to get their jobs done. For example, an internally developed iOS-based central tracking tool helps employees keep tabs on everything from upcoming Square product enhancements to lost-and-found items.

One of the keys to easy collaboration is providing [employees] all the information needed to do the job. Bob Lee, Square

In the same vein, the team developed an internal app that delivers shortcuts to hundreds of pieces of documentation or websites that can help employees do their jobs better, from signing guests into the building to finding out who's working on what product or getting the scoop on the best local pizza delivery.

What's not self-service is designed to be as easily accessed as possible: when workers need help, they can frequent a new IT bar, modeled after the Genius Bar in Apple stores, to get day-to-day support and handholding.

"It's all about making things fast and frictionless for internal people," Lee says. "One of the keys to easy collaboration is providing all the information needed to do the job."


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