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Leading iRobot's IT: Virtualization, disaster recovery and compliance

Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor
Hi, I'm Kristen Caretta, associate editor for SearchCIO-Midmarket.com. In part two of my exclusive video interview with iRobot CIO and vice president of information technology Jay Leader, we will be discussing his IT strategy, changes to his data center and more.

What are some unique IT challenges that iRobot faces, given it's mix of consumer, military and industrial customers?
Jay Leader: We're kind of an interesting mix. The complexity comes from our desire to kind of balance being able to serve individual constituencies and individual requirements while at the same time trying to be cost effective, of course, to be able to leverage across both our divisions and to be able to create a one-company kind of operating model. So that is the challenge because some of the things we do are common and can be shared, but others are unique to the customers we serve or the segments that we work in. So there's a big difference between that, of course, between an autonomous vacuum cleaner and an autonomous bomb disposal robot, so the development cycles are different, the manufacturing and engineering models are a little bit different, so there's definitely some challenges in how we balance being able to provide areas for innovation and individuality while at the same time trying to maintain an umbrella of effectiveness, control and reuse across the organizations. So that's more complex here than it is in some other places that I've been.

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IRobot's CIO talks virtualization, compliance and more

Is the iRobot IT department supporting the business at all with innovations, or is it just enabling it from the back end?
Leader: Our IT group, we are support mechanisms to our divisions. So none of the work that we do ends up in a robot. So that development work, the product development work, is done internal to the division. So our skill sets are really in trying to provide the enabling technologies and enabling the architecture and platforms to allow those people to work.

So from an application standpoint, many of the classic kinds of things like ERP, CRM, financial systems, engineering and PDM systems that we use to support the people that actually do the software development and administrative and all the other functions within the divisions. So we are separate, we're a corporate function, we service all of our business segments and business units, but we're not involved, other than providing platforms, operating platforms and tools to software developers to use and hardware developers to actually do the development of the products. We don't get directly involved in that development.

What are some regulatory issues that you face as far as compliance, audits, working with military as well as consumer customers?
Leader: The Department of Defense and military customers have pretty specific constraints and requirements, be it from a security standpoint, the way that we run our networks, who we buy from, who we export to and who we control. In addition we've got, of course, we're a public company so we've got SOX compliance. So we're fairly heavily regulated and we're fairly heavily audited and our security schemas and our operating structure has to meet all of those requirements. Those are table stakes to do business with the government and with the military in particular.

So we have some things that are confidential and classified and we have to be able to provide the infrastructure to be able to support that. So yeah, that here is of paramount importance and of course, for us, we have to maintain that if we hope to continue to do business with those kinds of partners and customers.

Has the economic crisis affected your IT strategy at all?
Leader: Well, I wouldn't say our strategy. Our strategy is our strategy, and good strategy is developed irrespective of market condition. I would say the place that it impacts it is how we deploy and how quickly we deploy and how much we invest and how fast we do it. But our strategy needs to be pointed at what we need to do as a business to succeed. So we're always judicious about what we spend, and in these conditions you want to be extra careful to make sure that you're really spending on the right things. But from a strategic standpoint, what we want to accomplish is the same. The way that we're going to go about that does, of course, have to metered by what the financial resources are and what the market conditions are for our customers and suppliers, but strategy will stay the same.

Are there any recent changes in how you're running your data center and are there any areas of improvement?
Leader: So we're making a big investment in virtualization, as I think a lot of companies are. That's a technology that's well proven and really provides some cost-effectiveness for us. Data center operations are the kinds of things where you never want to notice them, because once you notice them that means something bad is happening and I'm happy to say that bad things haven't happened to us and I'm very proud and happy about that.

I think disaster recovery, that's obviously something on lots of people's agendas and it is on ours as well. And I think part of our virtualization initiatives are designed to do more robust disaster recovery and make that more efficient. So data center, that's another table-stakes kind of thing. You can't run good IT unless you have an efficient data center. And operations. We're blessed there, we've got good people, we've got good infrastructure to be able to do that. But virtualization and SAN, that's where we're really making the investments this year and probably into next as well.

For more information on this and other midmarket CIOs, check back often at SearchCIO-Midmarket.com.


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