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CIOs plot their response to tech's unstoppable forces

Patrick Thibodeau | March 7, 2011
IT managers adapt to mobile and other changes ahead (see related video interview with Gary Lee of Carfax, below)

FRAMINGHAM 7 MARCH 2011 - PALM DESERT, Calif. -- Insurance companies are always trying to peer into the future to determine risks. That's an approach that Frank Wander, CIO and senior vice president at Guardian Life Insurance, has also found useful when it comes to planning his company's IT direction.

Wander has looked ahead and sums up his belief about preparing for the future this way: Travel with as little baggage as possible and be ready for rapid transitions, particularly in the mobile era.

The world he sees coming is one that will be saturated with mobile devices, ubiquitous computing, technologies that give rise to new competitors that meet all their IT needs through services, and employees who can and do work outside the office from anywhere in the world.

Wander's response to these trends has been to reduce the number of data centers Guardian uses from six to two -- one that's owned by the company and one that's maintained by an outsourcer. He has also shifted to cloud-based systems for storage and other needs, using both internal cloud setups and hosted offerings provided by vendors, and he has eliminated platforms and deployed Linux on x86 systems "in a very large way."

"We have been working for the last few years to actually eliminate as much technology as we can," said Wander, explaining that the goal is, in part, to free up resources to invest in other areas.

The transition could involve eliminating Unix systems, but Wander said that may not happen because the vendors may change the economics of Unix deployment. But the goal, said Wander, is clear: "We are going to unclutter the environment and lower the cost of delivering services."

But that need to "unclutter" IT environments is colliding with the widespread embrace of mobile devices and the advent of ubiquitous computing -- two trends that, on the surface, seem complicate, rather than unclutter, IT operations. The adoption of mobile devices was a leading theme at Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders conference here.

IT managers, in panels and in interviews, say they have little choice but to embrace and adopt the multitude of devices that are arriving.

When Whirlpool CIO Kevin Summers looks at the way some of his company's executives have taken to using multiple devices, he sees that it's apparent that the groundswell of demand for every new gadget that hits the market is unrelenting.

"I realized as a CIO this is something I couldn't stop -- that I had to embrace it and make sure that we had the right technology in our organization to support it," Summers said, "


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