What is Web Operations?

January 1, 2010

More than ever before, I meet people via the MBA program and describing what I do as Director of Operations for a Software as a Service (SaaS) company usually comes up in the first few minutes of introductions. Through many such interactions, I have come to realize that many people outside of IT don’t really know about the Web Operations career track.

I guess you could infer that Web Operations Engineers have not really done a good job of evangelizing their contributions (outside of the IT world) to the successes of the likes of now household names such as MSN Hotmail, Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. and the tons of other successful but relatively new companies whose businesses are based on the internet web interaction model.

Web Operations is a broad career track within which fall the major areas and teams  of Systems/Network Engineering, Network Operations (NOC), Database Administrators (DBAs)and Performance and Capacity (PAC) which is usually rolled into Site Architecture. A simple web operations environment at a minimum requires Systems Engineering skill set where the use of a suite of several disparate but interconnected aspects of IT such as server and storage hardware resources (cpu, memory, disk, nic etc.), operating systems, network protocols, web application servers etc. can be assimilated and configured to build the foundation for the application. Database Administrators managing database instances are an integral part of the Web Operation team. A site like MSN Hotmail, YouTube, Shutterfly or Facebook, for example, require huge scale of computing resources physically located at data centers for storing, retrieving and rendering data with as little latency as possible.

Monitoring, administration and management of process and changes to the site are essential to running a Web Operations environment and although it may often be overlooked, no web commerce company can stay competitive without building and scaling on cost-effective and smart hardware and software architecture design, the latter being part of Development Engineering.

Web Operations as a career track is a relatively new field that advanced tremendously in the mid to late 1990s with the advent of the WWW, realization that business can be securely conducted over the web and the subsequent proliferation of dot com start-ups. These events generated a huge demand for web hosting skill set where IT technophiles took up the challenge of leveraging hardware and software tools to help build the infrastructure foundations on which a business application could be hosted over the internet.

Running Web Operations effectively can have a huge impact on a company’s bottom line especially if the business model, as is largely the trend, depends entirely on web commerce for revenue generation. For instance, if a site generating several millions of dollars an hour is unavailable (completely down or simply latent at the point of being unusable) for even a few minutes it can have an adverse affect on revenue not to mention the brand image that the company may have worked hard on and spent millions of dollars on building over time.

So the next time you access anything on the internet or simply read a blog think about not just the content but also how that data is seamlessly and expeditiously accessed and delivered over the hardware and software infrastructure run by the site’s web operations team. 🙂

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The “team” word.

September 22, 2009

Quite often I hear people saying they are part of a team, have just become a team member or are going to join a team or lead a team. It’s one of the most misused words out there and it often amazes me how widely and loosely people use the “team” word. I doubt if most people even realize the significance of the word as much as they use it as part of their daily business vocabulary.

Perhaps the overuse or rather misuse of the word stems from the extensive popularity of being perceived as a “team player”.  It’s no surprise that you find most job requirements list their preference for that “ideal” candidate as someone who has clearly demonstrated that they are very successful and not just capable of working with people as part of a team.

What most people mean when they claim to be in a team is that they are part of a group of people who share more or less a similar work culture, environment and goal. However, in true essence a team is more than that. It is the deliberate formation of a collection of individuals with a set agenda, framework and goal at the onset. It is bound by a framework of Trust (T), Empowerment (E), Accountability (A) and Mentorship (M). To make the point clear, consider a professional basketball team. The coach formulates the group by selecting the individuals for the specific purpose of winning.  He/she sets the structure, environment and framework where players can trust one another, are empowered to make plays, hold one another accountable for those plays and are willing to be coached so that the team as a whole can perform better. This notion of TEAM is consistent with most competitive sports organizations but the business environment does not fully grasp the significance of this notion before proclaiming the formation of a team.

Without the elements of T.E.A.M what you have at best is a group of individuals bound by an objective. This may be good enough if as the creator (coach) you have no vested interest in formulating and promoting a high performing team. However, if you do have a strong vested interest then creating the proper framework where the elements of T.E.A.M can be nurtured and promoted is paramount. This is simply because your success and the magnitude of it depends on how well the team executes and successful execution in turn depends on the inter play work dynamics between the set of individuals.

So the next time you hear someone say they just created a team take it with a grain of salt. They won’t truly have a team unless the realization of what that really means sets in but most groups without the required framework get to be dysfunctional by then.  🙂