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11/25/2009
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CIO Profiles: John P. Burke, CIO Of Ambit Energy

One hard-earned lesson he's learned: You can't earn trust as a leader in a part-time role.

Career Track

John P. Burke CIO, Ambit Energy

John P. Burke
CIO, Ambit Energy

How long at current company: 3 years

Career accomplishment I'm most proud of: When we launched Ambit Energy, I decided to build all our mission-critical systems from scratch rather than license from vendors. I led the architecture and built the supporting team. After three years, the system and team have supported 29% month-over-month revenue growth.

Most important career influencer: Professor Jeff Sandefer at the University of Texas at Austin's MBA program. He taught me the value of thinking through any venture, as well as how to be detailed in forecasting and design without getting bogged down in "analysis paralysis."

Decision I wish I could do over: I was working as a consultant in the '90s when a customer asked me to become a VP over their IT group. I agreed, but continued working with the customer on a part-time basis because I was committed to other clients. I discovered you can't earn trust as a leader in a part-time role. I should have turned down the offer or rejected having direct reports.

Vision
Advice for future CIOs: Be intimately familiar with the technology being used. You don't need to be able to program a router, but you shouldn't be intimidated by playing devil's advocate with a senior network engineer.

The next big thing for my industry will be ... the implementation of the smart grid and the deployment of smart meters. Imagine hourly reads on customer energy usage, as opposed to one read every 30 days. Some of these products being offered to consumers will transform the industry, such as time-of-day rates on energy.

On The Job
IT budget: $10 million

Size of IT team: 40 employees

Top initiatives:

>> In-house system development and extension: Business demands a high level of system automation. We have a number of large system development initiatives, including the implementation of a workflow system, advanced product rating, e-bill, and document management.

>> Compliance and security: Monitoring and processes to keep bad guys out while expanding our network, applications, business partners, and physical locations.

>> Scaling all systems and IT processes: Establishing a production support IT help desk, purchasing and installing an enterprise SAN, and implementing a 24/7 live network operations center and software redesign to facilitate horizontal scaling through hardware and virtualization across all systems.

How I measure IT effectiveness: IT provides our business detailed transparency on all project requests, including ROI analysis and alignment with Ambit's annual strategic plan. We measure our effectiveness based on our ability to accurately budget and deliver projects. We also measure success through weekly system-uptime reports.

Personal
Colleges/degrees: Rutgers University, BA in economics; University of Texas at Austin, MBA

Favorite president: Ronald Reagan, because he stood up for strong economic policies

Business leader I'd like to have lunch with: Steve Jobs--he knows how to make things happen

Best book read recently: Horse Soldiers, by Doug Stanton

Personal computer: Dell Latitude D630, fully loaded

If I weren't a CIO, I'd be ... a musician

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