Engagement teams focus on customer experience
When Mike Jennings jumped from senior director of IT at LinkedIn to head of IT at Airbnb last summer, he knew some things would be different. At LinkedIn, the business social network, he oversaw a staff of 110-plus people; at Airbnb, the online accommodations marketplace, his staff is much smaller, though he expects to double head count in 2015.
LinkedIn, though still growing and innovating (it was Computerworld's No. 1 Midsize Place to Work in IT for 2014), is no longer a new company. Airbnb, says Jennings, is definitely still in startup mode.
But the companies have one important thing in common: With technology pervading every aspect of the business, IT's primary mission is to support the employees who support the online customers.
"As a consumer-based Web technology firm, Airbnb's IT is set up the same way as at LinkedIn," Jennings explains. "My oversight is most of the technologies that employees use to do their jobs — laptops, mobile, help desk, networks, voice and video, security, and office build-outs."
Then, he says, there are "the consulting type of positions that support the business units" — in other words, IT folks who help drive business strategy. As he did at LinkedIn, Jennings reorganized IT at Airbnb to incorporate business engagement teams whose sole focus is to "understand a particular business unit's needs by walking in their shoes."
These teams comprise an IT business partner (similar to an IT business analyst, Jennings explains) and one or more solutions architects. "Both roles act as a trusted adviser for the business to bounce ideas off of, to perform proofs of concepts, and to develop and pilot homegrown solutions," Jennings says.
At LinkedIn, business engagement teams not only helped business units innovate and develop solutions together; they also helped head off rogue technology deployments. "Some of the departments internally had started to build out their own shadow IT departments," he recalls. "But once we had this [business engagement] liaison in place, they realized it was often easier, faster and ultimately more productive to work with the IT team."
Many of the strategic successes Jennings and his team had at LinkedIn related to alleviating the growing pains of a rapidly expanding organization, and he expects that approach will bear fruit at Airbnb as it continues to grow.
Videoconferencing is a prime example of a technology that's essential to modern Web-based businesses but often delivered piecemeal, with varying degrees of quality. At LinkedIn, Jennings streamlined and consolidated videoconferencing, deploying services to more than 500 conference rooms and moving to a cloud-based multipoint control solution. "That allowed everyone to interact with each other regardless if they were in a boardroom, a remote conference room, at a hotel or riding the bus home — from Singapore to Dublin to San Francisco," says Jennings.
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