Can you keep ahead of progress? An exclusive interview with Rick Smith of iNoc

Can you keep ahead of progress? An exclusive interview with Rick Smith of iNoc

Rick Smith, the VP of engineering and services at iNoc, doesn’t have to worry about getting invited into the boardroom. As one of the company’s founders, his participation in setting company direction is a given. While that might not be a strategy for every CIO or IT leader, Rick’s situation represents a growing niche of IT in Wisconsin.


INoc is a remote network operations company, so the technology and staff that Rick oversees is the company’s life-blood. IT is becoming a more and more critical component in many companies’ ability to do business. For iNoc, IT is the business.
That central role of technology presents some unique challenges, especially when blended with growing a young company. Rick is often facing what will become the common issues for IT leaders, before there’s a lot of common experience to fall back on. One example is capacity planning. You’re probably thinking, just like I did, “Capacity planning? What’s so out there about that?”
Well, when Rick talks about capacity planning he’s not talking about the servers and the bandwidth. He’s talking about the people, and it’s much more than just making sure there’s somebody in their network operations center 7×24. That’s not to say Rick doesn’t do both of those kinds of capacity planning, but he’s also investing significant effort in capability planning, developing the expertise and knowledge of his network engineers to keep ahead of the ever-expanding capabilities of the networks they design and manage for their customers.
Before an executive decides to hand over the keys to their network infrastructure, they have to be absolutely sure that iNoc engineers know what they’re up to. The iNoc training plan can’t include on-the-job training.
Keeping iNoc staff expertise ahead of expanding network capability is an ongoing challenge. It starts at the top with Rick and his leadership peers participating in industry efforts that shape the network, like the Internet Engineering Task Force. Growing staff expertise through certifications, like the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certification, is also part of the picture. Bringing the established knowledge of stable IT services from the ITIL to network operations helps create the solid processes necessary for reliable networks.
Another way Rick builds capacity is by actively participating in the open-source code movement. INoc developed its network monitoring offerings by creating a cohesive package of open-source network tools and bundling that with their own network engineering expertise. Just like a rising tide lifts all boats, improvements in the pool of open source flow naturally into iNoc capabilities.
Rick and his staff feed that process as well by returning improvements they may make on any open-source code they use to the community. Their added value comes from their experience as engineers and the way they blend open source with off-the-shelf packages and some proprietary development.
Rick also manages his expertise capacity is by watching his customers. What they’re adopting shapes what technologies Rick pays attention to and helps point the way for where to invest in building expertise. For example, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that wireless capabilities are going to be part of most any network solution. It may be less obvious exactly how that plays out.
Community networking is an example. Initial public utilities across Wisconsin were considering offering network access as part of their service based on their on-the-ground infrastructure. When the legislature put restraints on offerings by local government providers, that created a niche for wireless solutions. Those community wireless networks are testing network capabilities in unique and interesting ways and Rick and his staff are watching.
Strangely enough, in a knowledge economy, building capability is as much about the work we do and the communities we participate in as it is the training we take and the formal credentials we earn. IETF and ITIL, open source and community involvement, all adds up to Rick and the iNoc staff being ready for whatever comes next on the network.

Q&A with Rick Smith

What’s the latest book you’ve read?
A Stake in the Outcome : Building a Culture of Ownership for the Long-Term Success of Your Business by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham
What websites to you visit regurlary?
Network vendors, competitors
What magazines do you read regularly?
Network Computing, InBusiness, Madison Magazine
What’s your favorite quote on leadership?
“Obstacles are just things that distract the mind from the goal” – Vince Lombardi
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Unloading agriculture by-product I was allergic to.

Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC of Madison Wis. Prairie Star specializes in managing the organizational impacts of technology. He can be contacted via e-mail at or via telephone at 608/345-3958.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.