Scot Finnie: The Premier 100 Class of 2011 faces down economic adversity

This issue of Computerworld has introduced you to 2011's Premier 100 IT Leaders. As has been true of every P100 class in the 12 years since we began recognizing IT's best and brightest, this year's honorees are an exceptional group of men and women. But are they exceptional in ways distinct from the IT leaders in the 11 classes that preceded them? Yes: This group is defined by its need to face down economic adversity. With the economy struggling to return from a devastating recession, they had to find ways to boost productivity while continuing to innovate and deliver significant business results.

In fact, every P100 class has been distinct, just as each Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference has its own feel, themes and key topics of conversation. The reason many alumni honorees return to the Premier 100 conferences year after year is to network and be part of the electricity the attendees generate. The P100 is where strategies for meeting the coming year's challenges crystallize, and that will likely be true of this year's event, which will take place March 6-8 in Palm Desert, Calif.

In 2008, the Premier 100's overriding themes were the advent of cloud computing and the rise of services-based IT. Last year, still in the depths of the recession, the key topic was how the ultimate goal of IT is not only to do things less expensively and with measured ROI, but to deliver key competitive differentiators and even generate revenue.

The personality of 2011's Premier 100 is beginning to emerge. You might sum it up as "Full speed ahead!" Coming out of the recession, smart IT shops are positioning themselves to help their companies grow. For example, 51% of this year's P100 honorees said their IT budgets had increased in the previous 12 months (and the average increase was 13%). Last year, just 36% of the P100 honorees said they had seen budget increases. Likewise, 40% of our 2011 honorees said their staffs had expanded in the previous 12 months; just 28% said that last year.

It's also interesting to look at the types of projects that Premier 100 IT Leaders are undertaking. At the top of the list is application development, including ERP and CRM software. These are complex, longer-term projects -- the types of initiatives that many companies put on hold in recent years. Security, including projects involving antivirus protection, identity management, single sign-on, firewalls and VPNs, also made the top five; that's another area that tended to get back-burnered when the economy was hurting. These new priorities tell me that IT shops are ready to get back to fleshing out and maintaining infrastructure. They're not afraid to dive in now.

This year's Premier 100 honorees are also marked by intestinal fortitude. They, and their companies, are willing to invest in rapid development of systems that will yield key business functionality or help increase revenue (you can read about several impressive examples of this in "Seamless Leadership," by Julia King). As our leaders' companies come out of the recession, they are urging their people to excel, knowing that this is how to move the business ahead. They see opportunity in the gradual recovery.

Business vision, a willingness to go the extra mile to avoid saying no to a business need, a commitment to rapid development, and a habit of finding faster, lower-cost ways to meet business goals -- these are the hallmarks of the Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders of 2011. I can't wait to see what they do next.

Scot Finnie is Computerworld's editor in chief. You can contact him at sfinnie@computerworld.com and follow him on Twitter (@ScotFinnie).

Next: View the full list of 2011 honorees

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