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TIAA-CREF’s Carnegie Compute Cloud Helps Re-factor their Entire IT Approach

Published on 29 September 14
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The next BriefingsDirect innovator case study interview focuses on financial services giant TIAA-CREF restructured its IT organization processes and technology to further their overall business agility.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

At the recent VMworld 2014 Conference in San Francisco, our moderator, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, interviewed Kevin Murphy, Chief Technology Officer at TIAA-CREF, and Matt Santos, Senior Director of Production Services at TIAA-CREF, to learn how the New York-based large financial organization moved from virtualization to private cloud computing and on to software-defined data center (SDDC) benefits.

Here are some excerpts:

Murphy: TIAA-CREF is a very interesting company. It was founded by Andrew Carnegie. We service the academic, medical, and non-profit sector. Part of our mission is financial services for the greater good. The firm has done an amazing job sticking to that mission very carefully. Weâve obviously started to expand over the years, but itâs a unique firm, passionate about providing services to our customers.

TIAA-CREFâs Carnegie Compute Cloud Helps Re-factor their Entire IT Approach - Image 1

Murphy

Gardner: As we know, these days, financial services is a lot about IT. Itâs about data, applications, processes, and streamlining. Tell us about where youâve been in terms of your IT organization. Where were you five years ago and whatâs different now?

Murphy: Itâs a very interesting story. In 2009 to 2010, we were underfunded, under-invested, and almost a clumsy IT organization. In the last four or five years, thereâs been a significant investment by the firm. There's been a lot of focus on changing our process and policies, and also providing a much higher level of service to our customers.

We haven't completed that, because that never ends, but certainly weâve done a full infrastructure refresh. Weâve moved our development organization to agile. Weâre delivering new products to our customers on an ongoing basis and we have best-in-class availability and performance. So itâs a really good story, and now weâre embarking on the next leg of the journey.

Major challenges

Gardner: Matt, what were some of the major challenges that you faced? I think a lot of organizations can relate to the fact that IT has had difficulty keeping up with the speed of business, but what challenges did you face in terms of making a substantial change?

Santos: I can point back to what Kevin was talking about doing the major infrastructure refresh. As part of that, we had built over a thousand virtual machines (VMs) in a very short period of time just to stand up the new infrastructure. We learned back then how quickly we could do it if we got out of our own way.

After that infrastructure refresh was over, we went back to business as usual. Deployments for development teams were taking anywhere from six to eight weeks. At that point, we started to understand that the problem was not with the technology. The problem was with a lot of the process, the people, and the way that we were structured organizationally.

As we started to look at the organization, a lot of the tools started to mature around orchestration and automation. At that point, we realized that it was time to take another look, not only at that technology, but also the way we structured the teams. We talked a lot about converging infrastructure. Weâve actually also started to look at the convergence of the people.

Gardner: Is it fair to say that the services orientation across the board, not just technically but in that larger realm of culture and organization, has been a big part of it?

Today, we have a good portion of our organization that understands, at finite details, our business functions, and itâs made us so much more effective.

Murphy: It was important for IT people to understand the business that they supported. Years back, we didnât have that intimate business knowledge. Today, we have a good portion of our organization that understands, at finite details, our business functions, and itâs made us so much more effective.

Gardner: Given that you have a bit of a track record here, a multi-year effort showing some significant success, is it fair to say that you really had to change wholesale that IT mentality to be aligned with the business?

What Iâm getting at here is a lot of organizations go at this at a crawl-walk-run level or theyâre looking at individual sets of applications to try to change or modernize, or a proof of concept level approach to IT. Is there something in this that required you to do it all at once, and what are the benefits or drawbacks for doing it that way?

Murphy: I donât think itâs a requirement. Iâll give credit to Annabelle Bexiga, our CIO, who started to drive the culture change across IT. Driving that culture change and our starting to think more and more about the way we do business has really opened up a whole new avenue for us to look at.

We have reached best in class. We're on parity. Now, weâre going to what you call that bold step, which is that we have created a program we call Project Everest. We actually have a little bit of fun with it, but weâve created a program that is looking at fundamentally changing how we deliver services in IT, particularly in the infrastructure organization.

Software-defined technology

Gardner: Now, understanding how the technology is also evolving, we can dwell on the people and the process, of course, but the technology is still important. Weâve seen a lot of uptake in virtualization and weâve seen a maturation toward cloud and services orientation.

Now, weâre hearing more about SDDC, software-defined networking (SDN), and software-defined storage (SDS) being more fleet and agile with these workloads. How has that dovetailed with your organizational shift as a services-oriented company?

Santos: Going back again to 2011, and some of the large refresh projects, itâs interesting how you can have the right idea, but have it at the wrong time. We started as part of that infrastructure refresh. We talked about stabilizing which was number one, when we talked about why we did what we did. There were reasons, and there were stability and availability issues that we needed to fix.

Job number one was to stabilize, but at the same time, we started playing around with automation and orchestration back then. From our vantage point, the tools weren't there. The promises were, and so we worked with a lot of different vendors outside of VMware, trying to showcase a lot those technologies, and to be quite honest, it didnât work.

Once we started watching what our engineers were able to do in the cloud space, we realized that thatâs where the future was.

At that point, we decided that we weren't able to stabilize and revolutionize at the same time and we focused on stabilization. About three or four years later, here we are again, but this time, the landscape has changed. VMware is back in the mix very largely in regards to orchestration and automation. So we started focusing on that again. Luckily, itâs a night-and-day difference in the ability to use these tools to be able to accomplish a lot.

Now, what weâre trying to understand is operationally how we hand them to somebody. Do we give them to the development teams? How do we structure our operational models so we donât have silos?


Once we started watching what our engineers were able to do in the cloud space, we realized that thatâs where the future was and we needed to be able to do that both internally and externally. Externally, there are a lot of options, but also internally. How do we structure the teams differently around the technology? Itâs the biggest question that weâre struggling with right now, but hopefully weâll make some strides.

Murphy: Also, there has been a convergence of philosophies. We have a big push now on continuous improvement. Weâre marrying our continuous improving initiatives with the automation initiatives and that is what I call the Four Pillars of Everest.

By taking that view of how we do our operations and how we deliver our services, we're questioning every single facet of our organization and weâre pushing those continuous improvement methodologies. Marrying that with technology and automation to some of the tools from VMware, I think, is going to bring us to a totally different delivery model for our clients internally and our participants externally.

Private cloud

Gardner: Weâve mentioned a little bit about development and agile, making that aligned with operations, and streamlining the ability to outsource and take advantage of the right types of sourcing models, but youâve also got an internal private cloud project that perhaps is a binding agent or even an accelerant to some of these larger issues around DevOps and hybrid clouds. Tell us a little bit about your private cloud initiative.

Murphy: This is one of the areas where Matt and his team and others have done an amazing job. Itâs a true partnership between our organization and development as to how we deliver services. Itâs a really important portion of what weâre doing.

Santos: Weâve had a lot of teams rally around the tools. One of the interesting management techniques that weâve used during this is letting our smart people run, and theyâve done that around the tools. Theyâve created what we are affectionately calling the Carnegie Compute Cloud. As Kevin stated, Andrew Carnegie was the founder of the company. So now, weâre having a little fun with the play on the past and the future.

The Carnegie Compute Cloud, if you were to log into it, is actually a picture of Andrew Carnegie wearing a Google Glass, which allows you to step into the future. But the way we look at it is that itâs a bunch of different things.

We believe that there are workloads that should be outside of the premises and we believe that there are workloads that should absolutely be within the premises.

So organizationally, yes, we can hand the keys over to development but at that point, a lot of things change. We do a lot of things differently. If you think about things like capacity management, instead of looking at it at a server-by-server level, we can look at it by a departmental level where they only have so much to provision.

Also from a standards perspective, thatâs a big one. We've been trying to develop standards and enforce some with PowerPoint slides. We've found PowerPoint slides to be a very ineffective tool for enforcement.

If we give them a server-build option that can happen in a period of a couple of hours, people would choose the fast path. So weâre looking at the technology to do a lot around that as well, but then also behind the scenes, we're looking at it the same ways. How do we converge the teams around this type of technology?

Essentially, this Carnegie Compute Cloud is our central portal for everything. We have endpoint neutrality. We believe that there are workloads that should be outside of the premises and we believe that there are workloads that should absolutely be within the premises.

The Carnegie Compute Cloud is going to be the central landing spot for everything that we do, or the starting point for everything that we do with infrastructure, all the way down to how we run the business.

We're starting up new roles around product management, working with the development team, as Kevin said, making sure that the products we build are built with them, and then weâre going to monitor the products in regards to how theyâre selling.

If my team is developing products and spending development hours on application suites that we are not rolling out, then weâre making a bad product. We call it the business of production services, and so weâre rallying around the Carnegie Compute Cloud.

Dramatic transition

Murphy: Thatâs the evolution that's happening across the industry where weâre moving from one-off engineered solutions to how do we manage the organization as an entity? That thatâs one of the things that we now have the capability of doing with Carnegie Compute. VMware tools have helped a lot and I think the transition for skills and people is going to be pretty dramatic over the next few years.

Santos: Itâs not about the bringing in an engineer that can do the skill. Itâs bringing in an engineer who can automate the skill. Thereâs a lot of work being done and itâs how weâre looking at the individuals that weâre bringing in.

Gardner: Iâve spoken to a number of organizations that, when theyâve attained that scale, when theyâve attained that automation, when it becomes a fabric and they can then focus on the business process issues, they also realize some additional benefits.

A common fabric and infrastructure in a standardized approach allows them to do better data life cycle management and better disaster recovery (DR) operations. There are trade-offs and benefits for the next generation of applications, perhaps a mobile-first approach. Do you see yet, or do you forecast, the ability for you to leverage what youâve already done in ways that are additional benefits in terms of these other IT necessities?

VMware tools have helped a lot and I think the transition for skills and people is going to be pretty dramatic over the next few years.

Murphy: Weâre already starting to see some of the benefit. Weâre rolling out the tools, and as Matt said, delivering to our AD partners without the lengthy requirements and documenting. It's effectively right from the menu. So it gives them total transparency and control.

Gardner: Another important aspect of IT today, of course, is to try to reduce total costs over time. Is it too soon to look at your return on investment (ROI) or your total cost of ownership (TCO)? What are some of the economic impacts?

Murphy: It is too soon at this point, but we have a very aggressive schedule for efficiencies. Thatâs what weâre calling it. We're going after efficiencies in our operation over the next two to three years. We have a definitive business case and we have established targets in areas that weâre going to go within the organization. Whatâs key is that weâve started to see the benefit of it, and again, weâre going to continue to push this over the next two to three years.

Gardner: I donât think we could address an IT discussion in the financial services sector without looking at risk, security, governance, compliance, and audits. What is there about what youâve done that impacts that?

Murphy: A lot of those discussions are happening now. Matt and his team have done a great job building those bridges, and a lot of that work is happening with all of our partners. I mentioned AD but certainly, security, compliance and all the others are also in those discussions, and we are looking forward to build those bridges worldwide.

Necessary conversations

Santos: We started the conversations with them. Anytime youâre talking about automation or anytime youâre talking about moving workloads inside and outside the campus, you understand that those are going to be conversations that youâre going to have to have at some point.

Very early on, we formed that partnership with our security, compliance, and risk departments to make them part of the decision-making process, versus being somebody who provides a sign-off at the end.

We understood that that was a recipe for failure and to be honest with you, they have been very progressive and open-minded in regards to understanding the direction of the wind. They understand that this is where the world is going to and theyâre going to have to figure out a way to have a secure model that goes along with it. Theyâve been fabulous partners from day one, I think because they feel part of it. They were not asked to provide the risk acceptance at the end while we had to explain it to them. We started conversations with them from day one.

Obviously, one the things thatâs more important to us than anything else is the protection of our participantsâ data. Thatâs a foundational item.

Murphy: Not just in IT. We're very plugged into it, but across our firm. Obviously, one the things thatâs more important to us than anything else is the protection of our participantsâ data. Thatâs a foundational item that we have to do with all of these programs. Our firm is incredibly focused on doing that and so are we in IT. It almost comes naturally that we engage with all those other parties.

Gardner: So even while youâve been very bold and looked at your IT organization in total in terms of trying to bring it to a modern level and more sophisticated services delivery capabilities, are there any specific milestones along the way that you can point out as examples that allowed you to sell this better at that cultural level?

Even though you go about this holistically, itâs nice to have short-term goals that you can then point to, get that buy-in, and then move forward. Any examples of an important milestone that helps you make this really part of a business transition, too?

Murphy: Iâll talk at a very high level. Weâre looking at what I call the Four Pillars of Everest. Itâs really going after all parts of our organization. Itâs not just using VMware tools for automation. Itâs also looking at how we do problem and change management, how do we do monitoring, and how do we do participant notification.

Gardner: Letâs close out on that look into tomorrow. Matt, as somebody involved with IT operations, it seems to me thereâs a very exciting two, three, five years coming up.

There will be some real improvements in the quality of the technology that supports workloads, commodity hardware, price of storage going down, the ability to move workloads and be fleet across not only the DevOps divide, but across the cloud and hybrid divide. How optimistic are you about where you can take your organization, based on some of these technology trends over the next couple of years?

Role of technology

Santos: Very optimistic. Itâs a great time to be in the industry, especially walking around the streets of San Francisco. You very quickly learn that technology plays a huge part in society. Within the financials arena, we have the wonderful opportunity to be leaders in this space. Itâs exciting to watch.

Within our company, I always use the term "I feel like we have an athletic posture." For years, we were playing defense. We were kind of having our arms up. This has been the first time that weâve been able to be forward looking and playing offense, if you will, versus defense.

So itâs an exciting time for us. There's a buzz in the air. We feel as if weâre delivering, and people are asking a lot of questions. Even to use it as a barometer, weâve been having large-scale meetings, off-sites, with our development teams where the developers actually outnumber the infrastructure representatives. This was was the first time weâve seen that much interest in the way that we deliver our platforms.

This has been the first time that weâve been able to be forward looking and playing offense, if you will, versus defense.

Weâre truly looking at the DevOps model, making sure we understand our customersâ expectations. Itâs been a very, very exciting time to be at TIAA-CREF and to work with VMware.

Murphy: We had one of these meetings just recently, it talks to the passion within that room. The meeting ended and we said, "Okay, development can go. Weâre going to continue on our own infrastructure." Not one person left the room. Theyâre that highly engaged in what weâre doing so it really is a one-IT theme and I think itâs critical to the success of going forward.

Gardner: Just to tie this back to TIAA-CREF as an organization, being involved with the financial resources that drive a retirement phase, or of course, coming into the baby-boom generation where more and more people are going to be going into retirement, these are going to be services that would be mission critical to their lives.

Murphy: Our function within IT and within the firm is mission critical. And we owe it to the firm and to our participants to do everything we can to deliver the highest level of service at the lowest cost possible, and thatâs what this is all about. Itâs a model weâre driving. It allows our AD partners in the firm to invest more in building new functionality for that population, and I think that thatâs the reason weâre in this business.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

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The next BriefingsDirect innovator case study interview focuses on financial services giant TIAA-CREF restructured its IT organization processes and technology to further their overall business agility.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

At the recent VMworld 2014 Conference in San Francisco, our moderator, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, interviewed Kevin Murphy, Chief Technology Officer at TIAA-CREF, and Matt Santos, Senior Director of Production Services at TIAA-CREF, to learn how the New York-based large financial organization moved from virtualization to private cloud computing and on to software-defined data center (SDDC) benefits.

Here are some excerpts:

Murphy: TIAA-CREF is a very interesting company. It was founded by Andrew Carnegie. We service the academic, medical, and non-profit sector. Part of our mission is financial services for the greater good. The firm has done an amazing job sticking to that mission very carefully. Weâve obviously started to expand over the years, but itâs a unique firm, passionate about providing services to our customers.

TIAA-CREFâ


Murphy

Gardner: As we know, these days, financial services is a lot about IT. Itâs about data, applications, processes, and streamlining. Tell us about where youâve been in terms of your IT organization. Where were you five years ago and whatâs different now?

Murphy: Itâs a very interesting story. In 2009 to 2010, we were underfunded, under-invested, and almost a clumsy IT organization. In the last four or five years, thereâs been a significant investment by the firm. There's been a lot of focus on changing our process and policies, and also providing a much higher level of service to our customers.

We haven't completed that, because that never ends, but certainly weâve done a full infrastructure refresh. Weâve moved our development organization to agile. Weâre delivering new products to our customers on an ongoing basis and we have best-in-class availability and performance. So itâs a really good story, and now weâre embarking on the next leg of the journey.

Major challenges

Gardner: Matt, what were some of the major challenges that you faced? I think a lot of organizations can relate to the fact that IT has had difficulty keeping up with the speed of business, but what challenges did you face in terms of making a substantial change?

Santos: I can point back to what Kevin was talking about doing the major infrastructure refresh. As part of that, we had built over a thousand virtual machines (VMs) in a very short period of time just to stand up the new infrastructure. We learned back then how quickly we could do it if we got out of our own way.

After that infrastructure refresh was over, we went back to business as usual. Deployments for development teams were taking anywhere from six to eight weeks. At that point, we started to understand that the problem was not with the technology. The problem was with a lot of the process, the people, and the way that we were structured organizationally.

As we started to look at the organization, a lot of the tools started to mature around orchestration and automation. At that point, we realized that it was time to take another look, not only at that technology, but also the way we structured the teams. We talked a lot about converging infrastructure. Weâve actually also started to look at the convergence of the people.

Gardner: Is it fair to say that the services orientation across the board, not just technically but in that larger realm of culture and organization, has been a big part of it?

Today, we have a good portion of our organization that understands, at finite details, our business functions, and itâs made us so much more effective.

Murphy: It was important for IT people to understand the business that they supported. Years back, we didnât have that intimate business knowledge. Today, we have a good portion of our organization that understands, at finite details, our business functions, and itâs made us so much more effective.

Gardner: Given that you have a bit of a track record here, a multi-year effort showing some significant success, is it fair to say that you really had to change wholesale that IT mentality to be aligned with the business?

What Iâm getting at here is a lot of organizations go at this at a crawl-walk-run level or theyâre looking at individual sets of applications to try to change or modernize, or a proof of concept level approach to IT. Is there something in this that required you to do it all at once, and what are the benefits or drawbacks for doing it that way?

Murphy: I donât think itâs a requirement. Iâll give credit to Annabelle Bexiga, our CIO, who started to drive the culture change across IT. Driving that culture change and our starting to think more and more about the way we do business has really opened up a whole new avenue for us to look at.

We have reached best in class. We're on parity. Now, weâre going to what you call that bold step, which is that we have created a program we call Project Everest. We actually have a little bit of fun with it, but weâve created a program that is looking at fundamentally changing how we deliver services in IT, particularly in the infrastructure organization.

Software-defined technology

Gardner: Now, understanding how the technology is also evolving, we can dwell on the people and the process, of course, but the technology is still important. Weâve seen a lot of uptake in virtualization and weâve seen a maturation toward cloud and services orientation.

Now, weâre hearing more about SDDC, software-defined networking (SDN), and software-defined storage (SDS) being more fleet and agile with these workloads. How has that dovetailed with your organizational shift as a services-oriented company?

Santos: Going back again to 2011, and some of the large refresh projects, itâs interesting how you can have the right idea, but have it at the wrong time. We started as part of that infrastructure refresh. We talked about stabilizing which was number one, when we talked about why we did what we did. There were reasons, and there were stability and availability issues that we needed to fix.

Job number one was to stabilize, but at the same time, we started playing around with automation and orchestration back then. From our vantage point, the tools weren't there. The promises were, and so we worked with a lot of different vendors outside of VMware, trying to showcase a lot those technologies, and to be quite honest, it didnât work.

Once we started watching what our engineers were able to do in the cloud space, we realized that thatâs where the future was.

At that point, we decided that we weren't able to stabilize and revolutionize at the same time and we focused on stabilization. About three or four years later, here we are again, but this time, the landscape has changed. VMware is back in the mix very largely in regards to orchestration and automation. So we started focusing on that again. Luckily, itâs a night-and-day difference in the ability to use these tools to be able to accomplish a lot.

Now, what weâre trying to understand is operationally how we hand them to somebody. Do we give them to the development teams? How do we structure our operational models so we donât have silos?

Once we started watching what our engineers were able to do in the cloud space, we realized that thatâs where the future was and we needed to be able to do that both internally and externally. Externally, there are a lot of options, but also internally. How do we structure the teams differently around the technology? Itâs the biggest question that weâre struggling with right now, but hopefully weâll make some strides.

Murphy: Also, there has been a convergence of philosophies. We have a big push now on continuous improvement. Weâre marrying our continuous improving initiatives with the automation initiatives and that is what I call the Four Pillars of Everest.

By taking that view of how we do our operations and how we deliver our services, we're questioning every single facet of our organization and weâre pushing those continuous improvement methodologies. Marrying that with technology and automation to some of the tools from VMware, I think, is going to bring us to a totally different delivery model for our clients internally and our participants externally.

Private cloud

Gardner: Weâve mentioned a little bit about development and agile, making that aligned with operations, and streamlining the ability to outsource and take advantage of the right types of sourcing models, but youâve also got an internal private cloud project that perhaps is a binding agent or even an accelerant to some of these larger issues around DevOps and hybrid clouds. Tell us a little bit about your private cloud initiative.

Murphy: This is one of the areas where Matt and his team and others have done an amazing job. Itâs a true partnership between our organization and development as to how we deliver services. Itâs a really important portion of what weâre doing.

Santos: Weâve had a lot of teams rally around the tools. One of the interesting management techniques that weâve used during this is letting our smart people run, and theyâve done that around the tools. Theyâve created what we are affectionately calling the Carnegie Compute Cloud. As Kevin stated, Andrew Carnegie was the founder of the company. So now, weâre having a little fun with the play on the past and the future.

The Carnegie Compute Cloud, if you were to log into it, is actually a picture of Andrew Carnegie wearing a Google Glass, which allows you to step into the future. But the way we look at it is that itâs a bunch of different things.

We believe that there are workloads that should be outside of the premises and we believe that there are workloads that should absolutely be within the premises.

So organizationally, yes, we can hand the keys over to development but at that point, a lot of things change. We do a lot of things differently. If you think about things like capacity management, instead of looking at it at a server-by-server level, we can look at it by a departmental level where they only have so much to provision.

Also from a standards perspective, thatâs a big one. We've been trying to develop standards and enforce some with PowerPoint slides. We've found PowerPoint slides to be a very ineffective tool for enforcement.

If we give them a server-build option that can happen in a period of a couple of hours, people would choose the fast path. So weâre looking at the technology to do a lot around that as well, but then also behind the scenes, we're looking at it the same ways. How do we converge the teams around this type of technology?

Essentially, this Carnegie Compute Cloud is our central portal for everything. We have endpoint neutrality. We believe that there are workloads that should be outside of the premises and we believe that there are workloads that should absolutely be within the premises.

The Carnegie Compute Cloud is going to be the central landing spot for everything that we do, or the starting point for everything that we do with infrastructure, all the way down to how we run the business.

We're starting up new roles around product management, working with the development team, as Kevin said, making sure that the products we build are built with them, and then weâre going to monitor the products in regards to how theyâre selling.

If my team is developing products and spending development hours on application suites that we are not rolling out, then weâre making a bad product. We call it the business of production services, and so weâre rallying around the Carnegie Compute Cloud.

Dramatic transition

Murphy: Thatâs the evolution that's happening across the industry where weâre moving from one-off engineered solutions to how do we manage the organization as an entity? That thatâs one of the things that we now have the capability of doing with Carnegie Compute. VMware tools have helped a lot and I think the transition for skills and people is going to be pretty dramatic over the next few years.

Santos: Itâs not about the bringing in an engineer that can do the skill. Itâs bringing in an engineer who can automate the skill. Thereâs a lot of work being done and itâs how weâre looking at the individuals that weâre bringing in.

Gardner: Iâve spoken to a number of organizations that, when theyâve attained that scale, when theyâve attained that automation, when it becomes a fabric and they can then focus on the business process issues, they also realize some additional benefits.

A common fabric and infrastructure in a standardized approach allows them to do better data life cycle management and better disaster recovery (DR) operations. There are trade-offs and benefits for the next generation of applications, perhaps a mobile-first approach. Do you see yet, or do you forecast, the ability for you to leverage what youâve already done in ways that are additional benefits in terms of these other IT necessities?

VMware tools have helped a lot and I think the transition for skills and people is going to be pretty dramatic over the next few years.

Murphy: Weâre already starting to see some of the benefit. Weâre rolling out the tools, and as Matt said, delivering to our AD partners without the lengthy requirements and documenting. It's effectively right from the menu. So it gives them total transparency and control.

Gardner: Another important aspect of IT today, of course, is to try to reduce total costs over time. Is it too soon to look at your return on investment (ROI) or your total cost of ownership (TCO)? What are some of the economic impacts?

Murphy: It is too soon at this point, but we have a very aggressive schedule for efficiencies. Thatâs what weâre calling it. We're going after efficiencies in our operation over the next two to three years. We have a definitive business case and we have established targets in areas that weâre going to go within the organization. Whatâs key is that weâve started to see the benefit of it, and again, weâre going to continue to push this over the next two to three years.

Gardner: I donât think we could address an IT discussion in the financial services sector without looking at risk, security, governance, compliance, and audits. What is there about what youâve done that impacts that?

Murphy: A lot of those discussions are happening now. Matt and his team have done a great job building those bridges, and a lot of that work is happening with all of our partners. I mentioned AD but certainly, security, compliance and all the others are also in those discussions, and we are looking forward to build those bridges worldwide.

Necessary conversations

Santos: We started the conversations with them. Anytime youâre talking about automation or anytime youâre talking about moving workloads inside and outside the campus, you understand that those are going to be conversations that youâre going to have to have at some point.

Very early on, we formed that partnership with our security, compliance, and risk departments to make them part of the decision-making process, versus being somebody who provides a sign-off at the end.

We understood that that was a recipe for failure and to be honest with you, they have been very progressive and open-minded in regards to understanding the direction of the wind. They understand that this is where the world is going to and theyâre going to have to figure out a way to have a secure model that goes along with it. Theyâve been fabulous partners from day one, I think because they feel part of it. They were not asked to provide the risk acceptance at the end while we had to explain it to them. We started conversations with them from day one.

Obviously, one the things thatâs more important to us than anything else is the protection of our participantsâ data. Thatâs a foundational item.

Murphy: Not just in IT. We're very plugged into it, but across our firm. Obviously, one the things thatâs more important to us than anything else is the protection of our participantsâ data. Thatâs a foundational item that we have to do with all of these programs. Our firm is incredibly focused on doing that and so are we in IT. It almost comes naturally that we engage with all those other parties.

Gardner: So even while youâve been very bold and looked at your IT organization in total in terms of trying to bring it to a modern level and more sophisticated services delivery capabilities, are there any specific milestones along the way that you can point out as examples that allowed you to sell this better at that cultural level?

Even though you go about this holistically, itâs nice to have short-term goals that you can then point to, get that buy-in, and then move forward. Any examples of an important milestone that helps you make this really part of a business transition, too?

Murphy: Iâll talk at a very high level. Weâre looking at what I call the Four Pillars of Everest. Itâs really going after all parts of our organization. Itâs not just using VMware tools for automation. Itâs also looking at how we do problem and change management, how do we do monitoring, and how do we do participant notification.

Gardner: Letâs close out on that look into tomorrow. Matt, as somebody involved with IT operations, it seems to me thereâs a very exciting two, three, five years coming up.

There will be some real improvements in the quality of the technology that supports workloads, commodity hardware, price of storage going down, the ability to move workloads and be fleet across not only the DevOps divide, but across the cloud and hybrid divide. How optimistic are you about where you can take your organization, based on some of these technology trends over the next couple of years?

Role of technology

Santos: Very optimistic. Itâs a great time to be in the industry, especially walking around the streets of San Francisco. You very quickly learn that technology plays a huge part in society. Within the financials arena, we have the wonderful opportunity to be leaders in this space. Itâs exciting to watch.

Within our company, I always use the term "I feel like we have an athletic posture." For years, we were playing defense. We were kind of having our arms up. This has been the first time that weâve been able to be forward looking and playing offense, if you will, versus defense.

So itâs an exciting time for us. There's a buzz in the air. We feel as if weâre delivering, and people are asking a lot of questions. Even to use it as a barometer, weâve been having large-scale meetings, off-sites, with our development teams where the developers actually outnumber the infrastructure representatives. This was was the first time weâve seen that much interest in the way that we deliver our platforms.

This has been the first time that weâve been able to be forward looking and playing offense, if you will, versus defense.

Weâre truly looking at the DevOps model, making sure we understand our customersâ expectations. Itâs been a very, very exciting time to be at TIAA-CREF and to work with VMware.

Murphy: We had one of these meetings just recently, it talks to the passion within that room. The meeting ended and we said, "Okay, development can go. Weâre going to continue on our own infrastructure." Not one person left the room. Theyâre that highly engaged in what weâre doing so it really is a one-IT theme and I think itâs critical to the success of going forward.

Gardner: Just to tie this back to TIAA-CREF as an organization, being involved with the financial resources that drive a retirement phase, or of course, coming into the baby-boom generation where more and more people are going to be going into retirement, these are going to be services that would be mission critical to their lives.

Murphy: Our function within IT and within the firm is mission critical. And we owe it to the firm and to our participants to do everything we can to deliver the highest level of service at the lowest cost possible, and thatâs what this is all about. Itâs a model weâre driving. It allows our AD partners in the firm to invest more in building new functionality for that population, and I think that thatâs the reason weâre in this business.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

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