Many CTOs are instrumental in enabling a key business objective through the implementation of a key technology. This year's CTO 25 winners had several such examples. For example, Virgin America's Bill Maguire had to start an airline from scratch in just months, and to do so he made a risky bet on open source technology.
Greg Framke at ETrade Financial quickly developed a trading platform that let the firm expand into six countries, allowing multinational trading. MasterCard Worldwide's George Spies took his SOA savvy and used it to launch a new global debit platform as a secret project. And Agito Networks' Timothy Olson saw an opportunity for a new product offering that he then pulled off in just 20 months.
At Lehman Brothers, Hari Gopalkrishnan had to revitalize a moribund back-office system, which he used as an opportunity to introduce technologies such as grid computing and to increase analytics-based insights. Antelope Valley Hospital's Humberto Quintanar inherited an IT environment in deep freeze, requiring a major effort to get the hospital's technology up to snuff.
Matt Kesner at Fenwick and West saw a new business opportunity for his law firm, one that he could meet by reconceiving forensics technology into a service offering. At OhioHealth, Jim Lowder wanted to use digital signatures for health records, but first had to convince the state to accept the technology as legal.
A focus on management savvy
The best technology does no good if you can't get your users to adopt it, or your management to pay for it. Several winning CTOs used their people skills wisely to accomplish their technology goals.
For example, at the State of Alabama, Jim Burns used a tough-love approach to integrate the dozens of technology fiefdoms into common platforms so he could get a manageable baseline for adding new services for the citizenry. At FirstHealth of the Carolina, David Dillehunt had to keep nurses happy while addressing an inventory management problem.
Vivek Kundra of the District of Columbia applied a portfolio management model, using stock-market practices, to identify problem projects early and either change out their managers or kill them altogether, freeing up resources for projects that would have real impact. At Aflac, Gerald Shields had to rethink his IT budget management to get out of the "mother, may I?" game with the CFO.
At Avnet, Bill Chapman had to rescue an acquisition whose economic justification was threatened by a severe data-architecture incompatibility -- but his real challenge was getting his team to be open-minded about legacy SOA services as well as the new employees. At WSO2, Paul Fremantle used what he calls a player/coach approach to help his team deliver a string of advanced products.
Georgia Aquarium's Beach Clark's key challenge was to provide — with an IT staff of just five people — a mix of general and specialty technology systems for his unique business. At Credit Suisse, David Reilly wanted to change the tenor of his discussions on his virtualization goals from technology-based to benefit-based. And Jon Williams at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions had to get his team to stop developing applications in isolation and instead look at developing together using open source components -- a major culture shift.