To reach another person on the internet, you have to type an address into your computer, and that address has to be unique so computers know where to find each other. ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which helps coordinate and support these unique identifiers around the globe, was formed in 1998 as a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation and a community with participants from all over the world. ICANN and its community help ensure a stable, secure, interoperable and unified global internet. The organization also promotes competition, develops policy for the top-level of the internet’s naming system and facilitates the use of other unique internet identifiers. Ashwin Rangan, ICANN’s CIO and senior vice president of engineering, tells CIO Insight contributor Peter High that he provides separate, though related, services to different constituents.
Peter High: In addition to being ICANN’s CIO, you are also the SVP of engineering. Please describe the two parts of your role.
Ashwin Rangan: The Engineering & IT (E&IT) function at ICANN delivers two unique and separate sets of services to two distinctly different audiences: fit-for-purpose solutions to serve the ICANN community and standardized solutions to serve the ICANN organization staff.
In essence, the ICANN community members drive their own needs. There are thousands of community members all around the world, and they all have distinct, hyper-local needs. Therefore, the solution/response tends to hew to a common ground, and tends to “solve” for completeness. Essentially, solutions tend to be global and multidimensional (multi-lingual, multi-currency, multi-national, multi-stakeholder, etc.)
ICANN organization staff members number in the hundreds, but are located in 30-plus countries around the world. The solution/response tends to hew to an adequate common ground, and tends to “solve” for cost. Solutions tend to be one-size-fits-all, based on 80-plus percent commonality, with few localizations, approached from a “the-fewer-the-better” mindset.
Titling my role to just the one or the other would not do justice to the entirety of the functions that are needed. Therefore, a decision was taken in early 2016 to explicitly change the title to reflect the two, but conjoined, roles.
High: You joined ICANN during a period of significant international expansion. Given the many countries that your organization operates in, how is your organization structured, and how have you planned for growth?
Rangan: Indeed, ICANN has hyper-scaled during my tenure. There were about 200 people in the organization when I joined, and now that number is closer to 400. Interestingly, as the internet ecosystem continues to expand, the number of people who participate as volunteers in ICANN’s work also continues to grow substantially. This is best evidenced by ever-swelling attendance at the thrice-yearly ICANN public meetings.
Legally speaking, the ICANN organization is a California corporation, but [it’s] structured as a matrix. We have five regional offices located around the globe. Our headquarters is in Los Angeles, and the other four offices are in Brussels, Istanbul, Montevideo and Singapore. We also have engagement centers in Beijing, Geneva, Nairobi and Washington, D.C., as well as partnerships in Asunçion, Cairo and Seoul, which allows us to reach more stakeholders around the world. Additionally, we have staff working remotely in some 30 other countries. Among the entire staff, we speak some 54 languages!
A dozen functional heads, all with the title of senior vice president, report to the CEO. Half of this team faces the ICANN community in a variety of support roles in their day-to-day work. The remainder serve as internal support planks, such as Human Resources, Finance, Engineering & IT, and others.
Depending on the geo-specific requirements of the community, ICANN organization staff are recruited and/or placed in the closest geographic location where we already have a physical presence. In some cases, the need may be hyper-local. When that is the case, staff are recruited or placed in that geography to provide the needful services or support to the community.
The engineering arm of the E&IT function is centralized. We gather requirements from our community constituents located around the world, and, in response, we custom-craft and deliver appropriate solutions in a localized manner.
Planning for growth in the engineering arm has been challenging, since it is occurring against a background of hyper-growth in the internet ecosystem. It is partially reflected by the global ICANN community. To address demands from this stakeholder community, we have struggled, but, in the end, successfully scaled.
To help us cope with surge-demand, we have contracted with a third-party expert firm, which provides staff with surge capacity. We leverage this capacity to smooth out the peaks and valleys in demand for our time and resources.
The IT arm of the E&IT function is decentralized. Many IT services are hyper-local in nature, needing in-zone handholding. Therefore, we have a few key IT service and support staff located in some of our physical locations. In total, E&IT staff [members] are distributed across 12 locations around the globe.
Planning for growth in the IT arm has been easier. This arm primarily serves the organization’s internal demands. Given better visibility to the organization’s growth, we have been able to better anticipate scaling requirements and responding accordingly.