CIO Summary: Killer Insights From The IW 500 Conference - InformationWeek
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Chris Murphy
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CIO Summary: Killer Insights From The IW 500 Conference

From HP Chairman Ray Lane challenging IT to the confessions of a hacked CIO, the InformationWeek 500 Conference had plenty to make IT leaders squirm.

"Your best friend is the CMO. That's where the action is really happening." -- Robert Urwiler, Vail Resorts CIO

Remember when the CIO's more important ally was the CFO, to make sure IT got its budget? Urwiler sees the focus shifting, driven largely by the mobile computing revolution that has companies scrambling to put relevant information in front of customers.

For Vail, the partnership between marketing, IT, and the CEO spawned EpicMix, a mobile app that lets the resort company's skiers and snowboarders track their vertical feet, share those stats along with photos via Facebook, and connect with friends who are also on the mountain.

EpicMix was the Vail IT team's first big foray into customer-facing mobile technology. While Urwiler has software experience as the former CIO of Macromedia, his team didn't have mobile app dev skills, or much experience building customer-facing apps. Urwiler urged his CIO peers at the conference to take a similar leap: "Find your own EpicMix,” he said. “We're just a handful of guys in Colorado. It's not like we have big backgrounds in software development."

"If you don't have one today, I guarantee you will have one in the near future." -- Eric Williams, Catalina Marketing CIO

Williams was talking about an enterprise data warehouse. He lives big data--think petabytes, which Catalina crunches so that its retail partners can print out coupons at the cash register customized to their customers' shopping habits.

But Williams says absolute size isn't that important when it comes to the challenge of managing and analyzing a company's data. "Big data is relative to the company," he says. "… If you're in an organization that calls it big data, I guarantee you've already had problems."

The question Williams gets ask most by his peers is whether they need to embrace highly sophisticated data management approaches. He's unequivocal that companies will need an enterprise data warehouse. One problem is that companies' data sets are not only big, but they're also changing very fast, making it more important to be able to do analysis on the fly. And more and more companies will expect to do predictive analytics. "It's in your future, if it's not already here," Williams insisted.

At cloud vendors such as Amazon, Salesforce, and Microsoft, "we see a data center architecture that looks exactly like ours." -- Rob Carter, FedEx CIO

You've heard the term private cloud. Carter put substance behind that overused term by describing the four critical elements at the heart of FedEx's new Colorado Springs data center built on a private cloud architecture: x86 servers, storage, IP networking, and software services. Carter calls them the "four horsemen of dominant design," the standardized backbone around which data centers will be built.

FedEx's new data center is built for general purpose computing--any server can run any workload, making the data center much more flexible and agile. The data center runs on common storage and network protocols, uses commodity x86 servers, relies on a services-oriented software architecture, and uses common database and messaging standards.

As remarkable as the iPad and smartphones are today, Carter said, there's an explosion of personal computing power yet to come that will dwarf those advances. Customers and employees armed with that computing power will demand more from businesses--more information, interaction, and responsiveness. Carter thinks IT organizations need this kind of general purpose, x86-based infrastructure to be agile enough to react to those fast-moving business demands.

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