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IT Agenda 2004

Which technologies will IT Leaders put to the test this year? Here's a look at the four they say are most promising, plus an inside look at how these leaders separate product hype from reality.

By Mary Brandel
January 5, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - For today's technology leaders, IT not only matters -- it can also make or break a company's competitive advantage. Even with the tight economy, this year's Premier 100 IT leaders vehemently disagree with those who equate information systems with commodities such as electricity.
"We consciously keep an eye on the horizon and categorize the technologies as those in which we want to lead, those we want to keep pace with and those we want to follow," says Jean Delaney Nelson, vice president and CIO at Minnesota Life Insurance Co.
For instance, the St. Paul-based company chose to be a leader in computer/telephony integration, and "it's given us serious competitive advantage," she says. In fact, this year, Minnesota Life has moved up a notch to eighth place in terms of largest group sales in the U.S., and "the reason we're doing so well is our technology edge," according to Delaney Nelson.
It's not easy to keep track of the well-hyped and seemingly endless march of new technologies, and to that end, these IT leaders depend on advisory groups, steering committees and domain experts for reality checks.
"We give vendors 30 seconds to convince us how their technology will pay for itself," says Ben Harris, deputy secretary of operations and technology at the Florida Department of Children & Families in Tallahassee. "If I buy something, it has to help me cut costs in another area. That shrinks the field pretty quickly."
The job is particularly difficult in today's slashed-budget economy. "The opportunities for pursuing the different possibilities are definitely reduced," says Joe Drouin, vice president and CIO at TRW Automotive Inc.
For instance, a skunk works group at Livonia, Mich.-based TRW that experimented with new technologies has been disbanded. As a result, "we have to be really sure that we're not just chasing technology down a dead-end street," he says. "We put a lot more effort into ensuring that what's going to come out will have a clearly defined impact on the business."
Keeping one eye on the horizon and one on current business needs while also considering budgets, your infrastructure, what's hype and what's reality -- never mind the pressures from business people to pursue various technologies -- "it can be very multidimensional," says Lyn McDermid, senior vice president and CIO at Dominion Resources Inc. in Richmond, Va.
Certainly, this is no time for entertaining what McDermid calls the latest "toy du jour." It's increasingly important for IT to take a lead role in knowing what's ahead "so you can say no as much as yes," she says. "It's



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