Premier 100 IT Leaders: The Rewards of Risk-taking

IT leadership can be a high-wire act of managing game-changing projects at high speed. Here's how the Premier 100 make it work.

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Creating Win-Wins

Successfully working with trusted vendor partners also means "you have to think beyond outsourcing," Dajani says. "Our intention is to make sure our supplier is successful as well. But I also demand a lot. I have to work with them to change their old structure and not just rub them off for a dollar here and there."

One of the most recent ecosystem collaborations is a private cloud built for Kraft by HP. "I know the world is changing, and my goal is for [our vendor partners] to be better at what they do and I want to be the first customer," he says. "I push them to innovate."

Jim DiMarzio, CIO at Mazda North America Operations, says he teams up with vendors to tap into skills the company doesn't have in-house.

For example, "we found a vendor to help us on an iPad mobile application project because we had no skills with iPads," he says.

GlaxoSmithKline's Touey also believes in the power of partnerships, but his strategy is to stick with only the largest vendors.

Prior to the transformation launch at GSK, "we had a culture of building everything internally with .Net, Business Objects and Java. We bought a lot of servers, which is costly and makes it very hard to make changes," he says.

Now, by contrast, "we innovate by continuing to build strategic relationships with Oracle and IBM. There are a lot of vendors out there selling cloud and SaaS, but our strategy has been to play with the big boys. I'm not one to jump into the cloud with a midsize company," Touey says. "If they really have something, they're going to be bought up by the big guys. You have to be very judicious in terms of who you pick as your partners."

In contrast, Target CIO Beth Jacob took a huge risk in cutting ties with the giant retailer's big cloud provider, Amazon, to build and launch its new website on its own technology.

"Given our size and scale and that we want Target users to have a consistent experience, we made the right decision," she says. "We put our No. 1 priority -- multichannel retailing -- on our own technology."

But that's not to say it all went flawlessly. In the first few months after the new site launched in August 2011, there were at least three different outages. Yet, Jacob says the business rewards of building and hosting the site in-house far outweigh the "early bumps in the road."

"We've built huge insight into our capabilities and into our guests, which are both key to the future of multichannel retailing," she says.

Target IT is also a learning organization, and those early outages provided valuable new knowledge and experience. "If you're going to innovate, you have to be committed to learning, too," she says.

Jacob emphasizes that the new website was a project of unprecedented scale, with more than 1,400 people working on it at its peak. "It was one of the biggest e-commerce projects in history," she notes. Nevertheless, it took just two years to complete.

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