IT's A-listers: Recharged and ready for business growth and speed

Despite a few years of economic upheaval, these 100 men and women never stopped delivering innovation and measurable business value.

Editor's note: Each year, Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders awards program honors the brightest talent in the IT industry. Even through economic turmoil that for many meant budget cuts and staff downsizing, these 100 men and women continued to deliver innovative projects and measurable business value.

Explore the full Premier 100 package by viewing the list of this year's honorees, along with their photos, predictions, cool projects and more. This year's class joins a fellowship of hundreds of Premier 100 alumni, listed here, each of whom has demonstrated leadership qualities throughout their careers.

To learn the secrets of successful IT leadership, check out the best management advice from Computerworld's editors and learn more about the 12th annual Premier 100 IT Leaders conference, which draws together these IT leader alumni and other top IT executives for three days of learning and networking.

Last year, CIO Steve Phillips and his team turned an 8% uptick in the IT budget into a 75% increase in Avnet Inc.'s e-commerce revenue with a new Web site aimed at a brand-new market segment and unique customer niche for the $19 billion, Phoenix-based electronics distributor.

In a year that the national monthly unemployment rate hovered just under 10%, CIO Paul Cottey grew the IT staff at Accretive Health Inc. by almost 20%, and he set up an agile development process, enabling the delivery of new or enhanced business functionality to healthcare providers every 30 days.

And while most other companies were spending only about one-third of their IT budgets on new projects, Southwest Airlines Co. CIO Jan Marshall was investing a full 50% in new revenue-boosting services, including a new ticketing system, a new customer loyalty program and an entirely new Web site, which is the heart and soul of the airline's distribution channel.

"Whether it's a great or a terrible economic time, we take the same approach. We always focus on opportunities to grow our airline," says Marshall.

This kind of clear, unwavering business vision, bolstered by seamless leadership and integrated technology planning, is what best characterizes the success strategies of Computerworld's 2011 Premier 100 IT Leaders. Rather than pulling the plug on new or ongoing projects during tough times, these leaders instead continually readjust and recalibrate, seeking out new, imaginative and/or lower-cost ways to realize an abiding business vision. They cut costs not so much by narrowing or shifting their business focus or withdrawing investment dollars, but by coming up with creative systems and processes for enhancing services while streamlining operations.

Many of the honorees are heading into 2011 with more cash than they had last year. In fact, 51% of them said their IT budgets had increased in the past 12 months; in comparison, just 36% of the 2010 honorees reported a budget increase in a survey last year. And honorees' IT staffs are bulking up, too: 40% reported adding employees in the past 12 months; in our survey of last year's honorees, just 28% said they had expanded their IT departments.

Marshall says Southwest's IT operations may grow because the airline is expanding into new markets or because it's offering new products or services -- or for all those reasons simultaneously. "Instead of 100 parallel [IT] projects going on, we have some big projects that all relate to the 100 requests we have," she explains.

"We've learned how to synchronize our deliveries," she says of the airline's 1,200-person IT organization. "We've gone to a release-based strategy across our entire portfolio that's helping us manage multiple initiatives and delivery of those initiatives in a predictable way."

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