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I’ve watched almost every user presentation at Openstack.org, from BestBuy and Comcast to the National Security Agency. EVERY one of these organizations started with a few evangelist developers and either a half rack or a full rack of servers. They didn’t start out with a big budget or a lengthy plan with detailed justifications; they just did what they could with what they had. And in every one of these cases, they’ve been able to transform their business with the help of OpenStack cloud software.

So, what’s the secret behind that transformation? It’s a fundamental shift in the age-old strategy, “ready, aim, fire.” Unlike the military, your entire business is at war every day. One move by your competitor can change everything. Just as smart weapons caused a shift from the centuries’ old war fighting paradigm to “ready, fire, aim, aim, aim,” it’s up to the modern IT department to do the same with smart teams and smart strategies that contribute to overall business goals. Gone forever are the ready-aim-fire days of studying everything for months before acting.

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Ready, fire, aim is not fundamentally haphazard or undisciplined, as it might sound and as many might think. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It is using smart teams, smart money and smart adjustments to strategy to hit the right moving targets every minute that you’re in business. Sadly, the ready-aim-fire model is still the mode of operation of too many companies and IT organizations today.

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Once you fire, and you have to fire fast, then it’s aim, aim, aim. And the aiming never stops. What this means is that your company needs smart teams marking the right moving targets. You need smart intelligence infrastructure and a skilled team to know what to aim for and when, and what targets to avoid that might actually throw you off track. If your marketing department has convinced your CEO that the company needs to launch a new online service within 60 days and everyone buys in, then that’s your high-priority target. Forget other, less essential targets you were firing at that won’t contribute to overall company success.

Your best smart weapons are your smart teams. It’s a small, smart team with a hot idea followed by rapid, sometimes messy, next steps that can get the job done effectively. It’s NOT a 40-page PowerPoint or business plan. To quote General George Patton: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

And crucial to the successful deployment of a smart team is the leader – the CIO. The CIO must empower a smart team with strategic command and control systems, and most importantly, strong guidance. This means having key people on the team who know what they are doing. Otherwise, you have people who are like troops who never went through boot camp – not the type of skills you want in your foxhole. Rather than micromanaging, the CIO needs to be focused on the broader picture and be in touch with what’s going on in the industry. It means knowing what moving targets are worth firing toward. It means constantly adjusting and sometimes letting a smart weapon go before failing by trying to hit a moving target that you’re not ready to hit. It means incredible focus on what’s important at the moment. It does not mean firing at ten or twenty moving targets at once. It might simply mean firing at one moving target first, and knowing the difference.

In addition to a smart team, to be truly successful in leveraging technology, software and development to transform business operations, you need smart tools. OpenStack cloud software is one prime example – a powerful tool ideally designed to facilitate early experimentation and trials for new solutions, allowing you to ready, fire and focus your aim on new strategic solutions. Spend some time at OpenStack.org as I did watching testimonial videos, and it becomes evident that their stories share a common theme. They all found success by using OpenStack software to ready, fire, aim, and many are still doing it.

Toby Ford, assistant vice president of IT operations strategic realization at AT&T acknowledged that the company’s executive leadership knows that they must change—and OpenStack is seen as a catalyst to rapidly advancing a flexible and agile DevOps environment.

As an example of key areas of innovation, Ford pointed to the opportunities to transform how video entertainment content is stored and eventually delivered to AT&T U-verse customers using OpenStack. By going beyond prior constraints of the legacy vertically integrated infrastructure model, AT&T will be able to re-engineer their network architecture. This will allow them to distribute both key functions and multimedia content—thereby placing them much closer to the ultimate user. And how did they get there? They readied themselves, fired aggressively and aimed at a cloud solution that will ultimately change their business.


Jim retired from the Air Force as a Colonel in 1992 after 21 years building fixed and mobile telecommunications networks for the Department of Defense. Early in his career he led the program that installed anti-jam radios in tactical fighters.

His Air Force career was highlighted by serving in White House Presidential Communications for the Reagan Administration/National Security Council. While there Jim was responsible for modernizing and securing the fixed and mobile communications for the White House with an annual modernization budget of over $30 million.

As the CIO for the National Reconnaissance Office Mr. Opfer led the initiative to install a global redundant secure network and completely update the IT infrastructure from mainframes to client servers. At the NRO he was responsible for over 1,700 people worldwide and a $280 million/year budget where he was known in Silicon Valley as the “venture customer” who started many startups with early customer funding, to include Cisco, GRiD Systems, and NeXT Computing.