IT leaders who shatter the mold

Some technology executives don't simply defy convention; they craft a whole new definition of leadership. Learn who was named to the Premier 100 class of 2009 -- and how they're blazing new management trails.

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Amen. That seems to be the resounding chorus of Computerworld's 2009 Premier 100 IT Leaders, who more than ever are making a clean break with traditional IT strategies and roles and creating altogether new ones. Frank Sirianni, CIO at Fordham University, is a perfect example.

"It's my personal mission to either come up with new sources of revenue or ways to save money," Sirianni says. In the five-year budget he sent to the university's board of directors, he vowed to further reduce energy, paper and printing costs by seven figures.

Ranging in age from 34 to 62, the 78 men and 22 women who make up the Premier 100 list are collaborators and consolidators. They are environmental and social policy leaders at their organizations. They tend to ignore well-worn lines of demarcation between business and consumer technology and are supporting blogs, wikis, iPhones and social networks. They deploy what works rather than what's politically safe. But they're also politically savvy when it comes to presenting their ideas and winning over top executives who may be more traditional.

"You have to build a good value proposition for the business," says Daniel Wakeman, 47, CIO at Educational Testing Service (ETS). "If you have a way that lets the business do something they couldn't do otherwise, they're willing to listen."

Just recently, Wakeman got the nod from his board to make some of ETS's intellectual property assets available to the open-source community. "The idea is to allow it to grow into a more scalable and robust asset that we'll be able to use to get away from processing assessments on paper," he says.

Transforming the Business

Last but not least, today's IT leaders are breaking cultural and managerial boundaries, embedding technical staffers into manufacturing, finance, customer service and other areas to not merely automate processes, but to also analyze, improve, revamp, and abandon or create them in the overall drive toward business agility.

Tom Hughes, a 2009 Premier 100 honoree and CIO at the U.S. Social Security Administration, sums it up succinctly: "Breakaway IT leadership is business-gutsy, business-savvy and always looks ahead."

Breakaway leadership is also hard, and the hurdles are higher than ever. Major challenges now facing IT leaders include the dire state of the global economy, the increasing complexity and cost of technology, environmental and regulatory pressures, and the need to manage a diverse, multigenerational workforce.

Ironically, some of these same factors are catapulting IT to a position of renewed importance and respect within organizations.

"The more things change, the more they remain the same," says Brian Lurie, 47, CIO at Stryker Orthopaedics. The recent economic downturn highlights the need for IT-enabled initiatives that cut costs and improve customer service -- and thereby increase revenue and profits, he says.

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