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Premier 100 IT Leaders: Earning the rewards of risk-taking

February 27, 2012 06:00 AM ET

"From a decision-making standpoint, speed forces you to be crystal-clear on the priorities of the organization," Jacob says. "We have very clearly defined initiatives that are shared by the entire company. It's that clarity that helps us be faster."

Doug Porter, CIO at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, says he recognizes the value of innovation and learning, and he's committed to giving IT staffers time to experiment, learn and innovate. Most likely, he says, "we'll land between having dedicated innovation days or allowing some percentage of staff time to be used for innovations that the staff feels need to be made."

As Kristin Russell, CIO of the state of Colorado, sees it, calculating, managing and taking risks are part and parcel of innovation. So is failure. "If you're not willing to take risks because of fear of failure, then you're not evolving and innovating," she says. "We don't learn from successes in life. We really only learn from failures."

Russell moved to state government from a rewarding private-sector career as an IT executive at companies like Oracle and Sun, and she's no stranger to success. In many ways, she says, her biggest risk recently was making the move to public service, which came with a significant pay cut and a distinct absence of executive perks.

But she is intent on capitalizing on her experience in the commercial software industry to improve state government services. One of her first big initiatives is to create a systematic way to mitigate the risks associated with the state's many antiquated computer systems.

She wants to create a risk index, based on factors such as information security and the number of citizens a system impacts, to prioritize the order in which systems should be replaced.

Russell is also exploring several novel business and IT concepts, including collaborating with government officials in neighboring states to create a shared storage cloud. Another idea is to funnel state research and development funds to a private company to build SaaS systems, which the state would own and which other states could use for a fee.

"Some people see it as blasphemous and totally risky, but in my mind, what I'm trying to do is remediate risk with alternative solutions," Russell says.

"It all comes down to the freedom to fail. Fail first, fail fast, fail often and recover," she says. "The way I look at it, nothing is not correctable. We can correct a bad decision, but we cannot correct indecision."

Next: Return to the full list of 2012 honorees

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