Premier 100 IT Leaders 2008

They're simplifying IT and showing the business how to innovate.

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But the business has come to expect nothing less from IT, he adds.

"Our CEO has always pushed for innovation. They expect it and have become used to technology solutions that enable the artists to use their creativity," he says. "We want to take technology out of the way and give them solutions that allow them to create things that people haven't seen on-screen ever before."

Pushing Beyond Boundaries

Michael Carlson, 44, CIO at Xcel Energy Inc., has been heavily involved in analyzing and optimizing business processes since moving into the top IT position at the Minneapolis-based electric and natural gas utility two years ago. His initial focus was to vertically integrate internal processes and systems for field operations, logistics and inventory management.

Now, the innovation push is on horizontally integrating and optimizing systems and processes across partner companies to develop and deploy a system known as SmartGrid. Relying on networking and messaging technology, SmartGrid will support a broad array of processes involved in everything from power plant and power distribution activities to providing consumers with analytic tools so they can proactively monitor and individually control their power consumption.

Carlson, who is leading the cross-functional SmartGrid team, says Xcel has lined up a handful of partners willing to jointly invest in the new business model. "We expect to have all of our partners on board by the end of the year, and we'll actually start building out a [prototype] smart village over the next 18 months, through 2009," he says.

Carlson's conviction that all technology projects must be set up on a value-based model is clearly evident when he talks about the SmartGrid project. Also evident is his commitment to knowing the utility business inside out.

"For an IT organization to be an effective business partner, it must maintain and expand its understanding of the business operations and how the technology is being leveraged and relied on to deliver consistent and reliable business process," he says.

"If you think about it, the Wright brothers couldn't fly a plane today [because of all the computerization and onboard electronics], but Edison could show up more than 100 years after the development of electricity and run a utility grid," Carlson says. "We've stretched to where the next step has to be the application of IT."

Broadening the Business

Tapping IT to help streamline communication with clients led to the launch of a major new practice at Fenwick & West LLP, a 530-person law firm in Mountain View, Calif. CTO Matthew Kesner is co-leader of the new information management group, which grew out of a successful IT project known as the computer forensics investigations unit. The unit was started in response to a client's request for help in managing electronic discovery for a lawsuit. The other party involved in the suit had produced the equivalent of 50 million pages of files, which Fenwick & West's client couldn't afford to duplicate. NEXT  


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