IT's rising stars: Next-gen leaders transform the enterprise

Tomorrow's CIOs are already transforming enterprise IT as we know it, bringing their fresh, sometimes radical visions of how technology can enable business now and in the years ahead.

Ask Armand Rabinowitz about his senior-level IT position at Hyatt Hotels, and here's what you won't hear: any talk of applications, architecture, virtualization or storage. No mention of data centers, networks or the cloud. Not once does he reference a single piece of hardware. Not once does he use the word user.

It's not that Rabinowitz doesn't care about those trappings of enterprise IT -- he does. It's just that he views them as a means to an end, and the end is what excites him. When asked to describe his job -- he's Hyatt's senior manager of IT process improvement -- he talks in a rapid-fire clip about creativity, change management, service delivery and the customer experience.

"Really what I do is IT innovation," he says. "I came to Hyatt" -- from a career in the West Coast entertainment industry -- "because I saw there was an appetite for leveraging technology to change hospitality's sea of sameness." Rabinowitz, 37, specializes in wooing younger customers with a more high-tech, high-touch experience. One case in point: He took the lead in developing a new online lock system that allows guests to bypass the front desk by checking into a room via mobile device and then using their loyalty card as the room key.

Those kinds of customer-facing, tech-driven process improvements are Rabinowitz's passion, and he thinks and hopes that IT is headed toward more such innovations. "Traditionally, information technology has been the backbone of a business," he says, "but it was just keeping the business functioning and performing, not helping to drive it forward."

"Drive it forward" could be the motto for Rabinowitz and five other IT leaders designated as "rising stars" by their managers, who themselves were named Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders this year.

Too young to be baby boomers, too old to be millennials, these rising stars, all thirty- and fortysomethings, have years of experience behind them and years of growth ahead of them. Demographers would peg them as Generation X, but slackers they're not: If their bosses have reached the pinnacle of their careers, the rising stars are acting as their lieutenants, very much out in the field rather than waiting in the wings.

Though their titles, duties and industries vary widely, these rising stars all see themselves as facilitators who can fix business problems with tech solutions and, as Rabinowitz puts it, "conduct the orchestra of contractors and vendors" with which most companies now engage, thanks to outsourcing and the move to cloud computing.

That line of thinking is in sync with the marketplace, says John Reed, senior executive director at Robert Half Technologies, an IT staffing firm. "When you think about the role of an IT leader, the job is very different than what it was even just a few years ago," he points out.

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At the Premier 100 conference in Tucson, Ariz., Armand Rabinowitz from Hyatt Hotels chats about what the new breed of IT leaders are looking for in an IT career. It's no longer about "keeping the lights on."

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