IM, Hype, and Going Global: An Intel Manager Talks

by Geoff Koch


What's it like working in a global office? Intel's George Moakley talks daily business, software, client-server computing, and emerging markets.

Okay, so it’s impossible to find any one person to be a proxy for all the creative tensions faced by tech managers today. Still, George Moakley isn’t a bad nominee.

In his post with Intel® Solution Services, Moakley is buffeted by everything from business pressure to hype-filled jargon to globalization. His job is to point Intel’s consulting practice to a few fixed strategic objectives on the horizon-to solve customer problems and advance Intel technologies.

Yet keeping a firm hand on the rudder can be tough given the day-to-day information monsoon of e-mails, PowerPoint* presentations, phone calls and what’s undeniably the über digital touch point with his geographically distributed team.

“Hold on, let me just reply to this IM before we get started,” says Moakley. "'Can’t talk now... in interview...'" Moakley reads aloud his abbreviated instant message-speak response as the sound of his clicking keyboard comes through over the phone.

Setting his IM status to “away” is futile, he explains. His Intel colleagues know that if he’s online there’s a good chance he’s available, even for just a moment, to send along a needed tidbit of information or comment on an emerging problem.

Which leads to perhaps the first observation about high-stakes tech jobs today: no matter how senior, everyone works in interrupt-driven environments. “There are vice presidents on IM here,” says Moakley, worldwide director of practice and solution management.

Interrupt-driven Advantages

By the end of the interview, Moakley has apologized again a few times for fielding other instant messages and even (gasp!) one shockingly anachronistic cell phone call; but he doesn’t hesitate to praise the tools that lead to such a stop-and-go style of work.

For starters, the tools help to create important real-time ties between Moakley and his staff, none of whom work from his home Intel campus in Arizona. IM is particularly useful, especially when it comes to improving the quality of the meetings that invariably fill a senior manager’s calendar.

When participating in important internal conference calls, Moakley says his staff sometimes sends IM updates about body language, quiet comments or backchannel questions arising at remote Intel sites.

Some may lament the era of constant digital distractions. Here, however, the information received via IM helps Moakley do what any attentive team member does in a roomful of flesh and blood colleagues: gauge and respond to a group’s mood.

For those who harbor any doubts about the value of fully and transparently broadcasting these subtle cues, consider Hewlett-Packard’s work* with DreamWorks Animation SKG to create the ultra-high-end Video Studio Collaborator*. According to BusinessWeek magazine, DreamWorks paid several million dollars for a system that can maintain a 30-megabit-per-second connection between remote locations. Standard co rporate videoconferencing systems connect at 768 kilobits per second, and thus yield an often choppy video and audio experience.

The New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman provides a euphoric account of his experience with the system in his 2005 book on globalization, The World is Flat.

“[I]t was so realistic that you could practically feel the breath of the other parties to the videoconference, when in fact half of us were in Santa Barbara and half were 500 miles away,” Friedman writes. “Because DreamWorks is doing film and animation work all over the world, it felt that it had to have a videoconferencing solution where its creative people could really communicate all their thoughts, facial expressions, feelings, ire, enthusiasm, and raised eyebrows.”

For those tired of trying to capture all of that nuance in IM, BusinessWeek reports HP to be working on a scaled-down version of the system. An announcement about general system availability might come near the end of 2005, according to the magazine.

Trading Noisy Tech Debates for Prosaic Problem Solving

Moakley’s endless meetings are about far more than winning hearts and minds among his Intel peers. Rather, the time is filled with the hard work of seeking common ground between the interests of Intel at-large and those of current and potential customers of his consulting group’s services.

Intel, of course, is first and foremost a manufacturer of advanced silicon devices. One way or another, all of its employees, including Moakley, work to keep Intel factories busy producing standards-based building block components that can plug into a range of industries.

Consulting, by contrast, is rarely a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Industry- and geography-specific knowledge is essential, as is understanding of current technologies, whether or not they emanate from Intel.

Moakley is hardly alone in navigating between custom-fit and standards-based approaches. Nearly everyone working in software today, for example, has to come to at least some preliminary decision about the Web’s evolving participatory nature, dubbed Web 2.0 by tech publisher Tim O’Reilly*.

According to InformationWeek’s* Aaron Ricadela, who attended the October Web 2.0 conference* in San Francisco, O’Reilly and other proponents say Web 2.0 “is about lots of things that client-server computing, or even the Internet, for the most part, hasn’t been. Instead of pages that load, it’s about sites that feel like software. Instead of software that runs in a browser or on a cell phone, it’s about apps that span devices. Instead of being all about content from Web producers, it’s about content being produced by people everywhere: blogs, wikis, digital photos.”

Sounds promising, but client-server computing isn’t evaporating tomorrow. At the same conference, Ricadela reported from a Microsoft-hosted dinner and a panel discussion by a handful of Microsoft execs, “The Microsoft gang acknowledged that Office* will change as a result of the Internet, but pooh-poohed any idea of giving away a stripped-down, ad-supported version of Office.”

Loud debates about open versus proprietary technology are reminiscent of those comparing horizontal and vertical solutions. Moakley, however, says that solving real customer problems is rarely about absolute claims of any sort.

A glance at the Intel Solution Services Web site shows this decidedly middle-of-the-road approach at work.

One navigation option is browsing the (horizontal) industry-agnostic “What’s Your Business Challenge?” dropdown list, which includes “Implement a digital supply chain solution” and “Maximize return on data center investments.” Another option is skimming the (vertical) “What Industry Are You In?” list, which includes financial services, healthcare/pharmaceuticals, transportation and others.

“A big part of our strategic planning is just working to understand where the market is going,” Moakley says. “Basically, we’re looking for overlap between solutions we can take to the market that make use of Intel technology, and the technical problems our customers want us to solve.”

It won’t spark controversy, but the comment points to a second commonsense truth about tech today: no matter how cool, technology is merely a hobbyist’s toy unless it solves a real business problem.

Got Jargon? Lose It

As an example of separating tech fact from fiction, or at least of parsing out claims of tech revolutions from more staid tech evolutions, Moakley points to the hype and jargon surrounding service oriented architecture, or SOA. There have been multiple announcements-in 2003*, 2004* and 2005* -about the pending and utterly transformative arrival of SOA.

Moakley, however, downplays SOA as really just an evolution of the years-long enterprise application integration efforts. EAI, Web services and SOA all are versions of the same thing – building applications with standards-based APIs that can more easily talk to each other. While there’s certainly potential here, it’s impossibly optimistic to expect overnight miracles from SOA features such as machine-to-machine inventory lookup.

A bigger opportunity, Moakley believes, is helping businesses answer more basic questions, usually articulated in plain English, about their data centers.

“Someone taking a top-down view of the hundreds or thousands of servers in his business is likely to ask: ‘How do I actually manage all this?’, ‘How do I monitor when this server is getting busy or that storage volume is about to fail?’, ‘How do I land new business services on all these servers?’, ‘How do I get a handle on my increasing wattage per square foot?’” Moakley says, giving examples of the types of questions his consultants are tasked with solving.

This decidedly straightforward forward approach won’t land Moakley in Wired magazine, though it has won Intel Solution Services consulting projects with the likes of Proctor & Gamble (PDF 124KB), DuPont, Electronic Arts (PDF 158KB) and many others.

Gotta be Global

Perusing the complete list of Intel Solution Services case studies, it’s clear that much of the group’s business is done outside the United States in countries such as China, India and South Korea. The distribution of Intel Solution Services worldwide locations -there are more centers in China than in Europe, Japan and Australia combined-suggests the importance of these emerging Asia Pacific markets, as well.

Many non-U.S. solution centers are staffed by local engineers and consultants, which leads to a third basic maxim about tech today. Namely, it’s a global market for everything from labor to computer chips to value-added solutions and services.

“There are lots of best known methods to selling into emerging markets,” says Moakley. “One is recognizing that the people who are most likely to understand a local market are the people who live there.”

Not that it’s easy to manage such a far-flung work group. Moakley’s calendar includes lots of meetings before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. In fact, he often schedules the same meetings twice to provide locally-friendly times to his geographically distributed teams.

And what if Moakley gets bleary eyed from all the early morning and late night work? Well, since setting his status to “away” doesn’t work he can always just shut down that IM application and hope for the best. Ultra-high-end videoconferencing is still at least a few months away, so he’s safe for now.

Additional Resources

In recent years, Moakley has been both an occasional author for and interview subject of the Intel® Developer Zone. His dialogue on wireless security with Intel strategist Chris S. Thomas, translated with the help of writers Regina Lynn Preciado and Matt Gillespie, is available at Wireless Security Demands More than Technology. Moakley’s hype-free look at Web services, Strategies to Avoid the Unpredictable, is not currently listed.

Related Links


About the Author

Geoff Koch, a former Intel writer and editor, is a freelance writer, editor and Big 10 sports buff in Lansing, Mich. He recently co-authored "Open Source Development: A Platform Perspective" for the Intel® Developer Zone. He also wrote the "Software Developer FAQ: Intel® Virtualization Technology," which describes a few of Intel’s own virtualization efforts, and "Computer Security: The Hardware/Software Solution," based on an interview with Intel security researcher Victoria Stavridou-Coleman.


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