2007 InfoWorld CTO 25: Chris Uriarte

CTO, Retail Decisions

When Chris Uriarte needs a forensics fix, he doesn't turn on "CSI." As CTO of Retail Decisions (ReD), he has a slew of online fraud and threat studies at his fingertips.

"[Forensics] fascinates me," says Uriarte. "People have these images of teenagers sitting at home and trying to hack into Web sites, but that's not who we're dealing with. These guys are professionals: They get up and go to work every day like you and I do, and they're determined to do a good job, just like you and I."

Building technology to find those fraudsters has been Uriarte's job for the past eight years. ReD processes electronic payments — with a focus on credit card transactions — for large banks and retailers, including Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Sears. The company snags fraudulent transactions and "things that don't look right," says Uriarte.

Leading a tech team of about 25, Uriarte oversees projects on four continents, as Retail Decisions processes transactions from 120 countries. Last year, the 300-person company handled about 11 billion of the 65 billion total worldwide credit card transactions — and Uriarte expects the numbers to rise. That expectation, coupled with ReD's expansion into China, South Korea, and Australia, prompted last year's move to replace ReD's entire three- to four-year-old infrastructure.

"I thought there was a real chance that we would have to go with a quick-scalability option in the middle of the holidays, so we needed to have the best architecture out there," explains Uriarte, who was also impressed by how much bang he got for his IT buck. "It was surprising — in a beneficial way — to see the tech market catching up with a lot of the stringent business requirements we have in terms of real-time processing."

The eight-month project had to be done with no downtime and "no margin for error — you need to test things out and be confident in the solutions you put together, and have a really comprehensive deployment plan," says Uriarte. ReD put in new Sun and Dell servers, upgraded Oracle databases, and replaced its homegrown data replication system with new global real-time, high-speed data replication technology from GoldenGate Software.

The result? A megascalable architecture that's robust enough to handle holiday-season traffic bumps ("always, always in the back of my mind," says Uriarte) and meet superstringent customer SLAs, as well as flexible enough to incorporate customer-requested functionality — not to mention new tools to fight new threats, he says.

"The world changes in the business area we're in," he explains. "We have to find the new ways people are perpetrating fraud, we have to find new techniques that these fraudsters are using, and we have to stay ahead of the game. Because we're running a 24-7-365 shop, that's a lot of pressure."