Bold CIOs are breaking free of legacy tech

It's hard to become a nimble digital disruptor if you're weighed down by systems anchored in the past. Many CIOs are working to escape the grip of outdated IT.

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Rotary Club members who donate $1,000 or more to the Rotary Foundation get a lot of special attention. They are named Paul Harris Fellows in honor of the organization's founder. They receive a certificate and an elegant lapel pin. It's an important award in the Rotary world, and one that has been around since 1957. But recently it had become the source of a lot of unhappiness.

"We were hearing incessant complaints from [donors] because recognition would sometimes arrive two to three months after they made the contribution," says Rotary International CIO Peter Markos. "This is a big recognition in our clubs, so they were looking for something more like two to three weeks." The culprit was Rotary's badly outdated processes and technology. "We couldn't do it in less than six to eight weeks, and sometimes twelve," Markos says.

Any CIO in a large organization that's more than 20 years old will understand his dilemma. "I don't think Rotary is different from a lot of other organizations in that we have systems that have been around for a while," Markos says. "Some were built to fill a need 15 years ago when they couldn't find a product in the marketplace. Then they cobbled other things on until it became a maintenance nightmare." So two years ago, the organization began work on a three-year plan to replace its older technology with more modern alternatives, and to simplify its systems as much as possible. That has resulted in many changes--beginning with much faster recognition for Paul Harris Fellows. "We've implemented a solution with a guaranteed [result in] 10 days," Markos says. "We've been meeting that."

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Clay Johnston, global CIO of GE Power & Water, says business execs are leading the charge to ditch outdated tech. They're asking: How do we go faster? How do we move from a industry business to a digital industrial business?

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