The best CTOs of 2010

A major recession didn't stop these technology leaders from upping the ante on their technology or using it to survive tough times

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Connecting staff to the information they need

Trent Parkhill
Vice president of IT, Haley & Aldrich

In consulting organizations such as the engineering consultancy Haley & Aldrich, time is money. If consultants can't find what they are looking for or can't locate expertise within the firm, business comes to an (expensive) halt. The consultants then must re-create work they know has been previously created. IT vice president Trent Parkhill knew that problem all too well: He had been an engineering consultant at H&A before heading IT, so was intimately aware of their barriers to accessing knowledge and information.

H&A had 15TB of information, growing at a rate of 70 percent each year, with half of it scattered across 21 offices. Information across the firm was contained in multiple formats; email archives contained valuable information but were inaccessible. To give the consulting staff timely access to all this information, Parkhill worked with Coveo to combine the structured and unstructured data from its enterprise systems, into a central, unified index -- without moving any data. That replaced the previous search system whose lists of results overwhelmed users.

The new system's use of an indexing layer that sits above all enterprise systems also let Parkhill provide information services configured to search department's specific needs. For example, H&A now has dashboards focused on various business departments and processes that contain just-in-time analytics and multisource information about a customer. Parkhill credits the new approach to information access for helping H&A restore 11 percent of the profits lost during the recession, largely due to the savings in consultants' time.

Drastic cuts and just one shot to save the company made this CIO the CEO

Michael Raneri
CEO, Zecco Holdings

Under the leadership of then CIO (and now CEO) Michael Raneri, online financial services company Zecco recently launched a complete rearchitecture of its Website and trading platform meant to provide greater scalability, stability, and extensibility for Zecco's rapidly expanding customer base. A lengthy site outage in 2008 had demonstrated the business simply could not continue as is.

Then the recession hit, starving Zecco of income just at the time it had to reinvent its core technology. Raneri laid off 70 percent of the engineering team to save money, while company management resisted further technology investments. Raneri convinced management to let him shift most core development functions to China, to lower costs dramatically, as well as adopted agile development methods to speed the time to market. Investors agreed with the plan and provided the necessary funding in January 2009.

From there, Raneri's team was able to spend 2009 building the new Website and laying the groundwork for the new trading platform. The new, stable Website launched in January 2010, and the trading platform should go live this summer. Raneri's team made all these changes while maintaining and updating all its previous site infrastructure -- in effect changing wheels while the bus was in motion. Raneri also led the launch of new research tools to improve the customer trading experience. Internally, Raneri led the rollout and integration of a new CRM system, which had to be integrated with a number of disparate information systems coming from both internal data sources and external partners.

As a result, Raneri was named CEO in January 2010.

An extreme data center reduction also leads to a new security approach

Ken Silva
CTO, VeriSign

Ken Silva's primary goal over the past year has been to reduce the overall number of computers and applications it takes to run VeriSign's services through data center consolidation: from 17 to 4.

Before Silva's initiative, hundreds of services on both the corporate and product fronts were running simultaneously, using a good deal of energy and requiring a significant level of employee attention. As Silva went through the consolidation process, he took inventory of necessary services and applications and found ways of consolidating the corporate and production services. Although the number of production services didn't change in the consolidation process, the number of internal services dramatically decreased. That's because Silva discovered his teams had multiple applications and systems in place to perform the same tasks, such as several code-tracking systems and patch management tools.

The key challenge Silva faced when reducing VeriSign's server infrastructure was to keep services up during the move. Not only do internal services need to remain running, but the products that VeriSign offers to customers and their 1 million Web servers must be available at all times. To do so, Silva's team built a redundant set of equipment that provided a great opportunity to enhance disaster recovery and business continuity processes. It also used virtualization to simply migrate the services virtually from one data center to another.

So far, Silva has reduced the data center count to 5, one above his goal, though he expects to ultimately achieve the goal of 4.

Silva also was forced to rethink the way VeriSign runs firewalls and other security mechanisms. Traditionally, a firewall simply manages IP addresses and ports, which are either allowed or not allowed through. As Silva started migrating services, he looked at newer application-aware technology that analyzes the packets as they come through to ensure they are what they claim to be. This makes it much more difficult for a worm, a virus, or a rootkit to communicate back home because they're trying to transmit information over a protocol that isn't what the firewall thinks should be running.

Merging two companies -- and two IT teams

Ajay Waghray
CIO, Verizon Wireless

In January 2009, Verizon Wireless completed its purchase of Alltel. CIO Ajay Waghray and his team were tasked with finding the savings promised by Verizon executives to justify the purchase. Over the next nine months, the IT team successfully executed the largest and most complex billing conversion in the company's history, integrating a record 11 million subscribers from the former Alltel Wireless into Verizon Wireless' single billing system. To address both teams' unfamiliarity with the two companies' systems, Waghray directed the teams' leads to work closely with each other, to learn and determine the best plan of action, while he forged a unified IT team from what had been two different cultures.

In parallel, the team retrofitted and rebranded more than 300 retail stores and integrated 11 call centers, providing store and customer care reps across the country access to the same tools and enablers nationwide. Most important, the team was able to accomplish all of this while maintaining IT's high level of service for the rest of Verizon. By October 2009, Waghray and his team successfully reduced the cost of operations and positioned Verizon Wireless to move forward as a single, unified company.

A new CTO revamps his infrastructure for growth in just months

Aris Zakinthinos
CTO, I Love Rewards

Ariz Zakinthinos joined I Love Rewards as CTO in June 2009 and was immediately faced with a critical issue: The rebate-processing firm's old order processing system could not handle the Christmas rush -- the busiest time at I Love Rewards because of the enormous redemption volume. Zakinthinos led the creation of a new back-end order processing system in two months, with the ability to integrate third-party shippers and suppliers. He also moved his developers from Java, which couldn't scale to I Love Rewards' needs, and to PHP.

It also resolved a vexing issue around performance monitoring, both of the rewards points (which are worth hard dollars to I Love Rewards) and of employee performance for customer service. The old system's monitoring and reporting were unreliable, and they took long times to run. Zakinthinos' team reworked the reporting system to be bug-free and automatic so that HR managers can track problem resolutions in near real time. As a result, customer referrals climbed, accounting for more than half of new business.

As part of the back-end ordering system project, Zakinthinos led the effort to integrate the order processing system with NetSuite, which I Love Rewards uses as its the back-end financial system to manage accounting and product inventory. NetSuite told Zakinthinos that the effort was the fastest integration of this complexity it had ever participated in.

This article, "The best CTOs of 2010," was originally published at Get the latest technology news and insights from the InfoWorld Daily newsletter, and discover the best products and technology leaders at InfoWorld's awards section.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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