David Grant: CTO of the Year Finalist

SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - InfoWorld CTO of the Year finalist David Grant is not your typical propeller-head engrossed with technology. The CTO of the online auto-buying network autobytel.com can barely contain himself when he talks business.

"We have the ability to launch on multiple models: 'homesbytel,' 'loansbytel,' 'cars and boats and sails bytel,' anything 'bytel.' So our engine is not vehicle-specific ... there's no reason why if you bought a motor home, you couldn't buy a car to pull it behind it at the same time," Grant says. "That model works regardless of the industry."

Grant has had an impact on a number of business initiatives during his year in the CTO chair, most notably autobytel's international push. Central to the effort was a database-driven localization process built around an n-tier network based on Microsoft Corp.'s COM (Component Object Model), and a partnership with Unisys' services organization to roll out quickly internationally.

"Where speed is king, those who are fastest win. David has been able to identify -- and secure -- the best and most efficient partners for faster development of autobytel.com's products and technology architecture," says Ann Marie Delligatta, executive vice president and COO of autobytel, who was CTO until Grant came on board.

As such, Grant has kept his hands in a lot of new business initiatives, taking a role in initiating expansion opportunities for autobytel, such as autobytel Direct, and affecting the company's business models.

"I get very much involved in new revenue models and actually have brought several of them to our CEO that are actually spinning off new businesses for us,"Grant says.

Grant's ability to generate new revenue opportunities makes him a trusted "partner" to the executive board.

"In an Internet company, business and technology are inextricably intertwined:

Technology is business and business is technology," Delligatta says. "David provides the picture of what we 'could do' and then collaborates with the rest of the management team to decide what [autobytel] 'should do.' "Grant says that this dual leadership position is increasingly key for e-business, and to maintain an edge on the competition.

"CTOs are very much emerging as somebody who's well-informed of who the technology competition is and how you can use technology for new revenue models," Grant says. "We don't want to do business for the sake of technology, but in many cases, technology becomes the enabling mechanism for new business."

This perspective is particularly important for CTOs at dot-coms to differentiate themselves among the sea of start-ups, Grant adds.

"You know, in the dot-com industry, most of these companies are technology-centric," Grant says. "The CTO plays a very significant role not only just in evolving and developing the technology, but strategically making partnerships with different companies to develop new revenue streams."

Throughout his career, Grant has kept his focus on the big picture while managing the technology operations.

"My background had been very entrepreneurial: I started companies like RXConnect.com, and I worked on the GPS [Global Positioning System] program," Grant explains. "After that, I tried to start satellite navigation companies.

So I'm very involved [in the business]. Whenever I see an opportunity to make more money, I'll go out and develop a business plan, start to work on financial and revenue models, and present it to our company."

With this in mind, Grant says he realizes that consumer-based Web sites need to focus on the long-term buying experience from start to finish.

"We realize that if you take a car that you bought for $20,000 and you follow that car over 10 years, you'll spend $32,000 maintaining that car. What we want to do is help the consumer manage that commodity for them, or that asset for them, in the most efficient way, and the most painless way," Grant says.

It's this strategic understanding of what partnerships Internet businesses need to become a market leader that separates Grant as an IT executive who can set a winning technical agenda for the company.

Going forward, Grant's key technical challenge for bringing services such as these, which leverage a business-to-business relationship, to fruition is integration, Grant says.

"What I see kind of as a technology driver in the b-to-b space is really the integration, which is going to be key. A lot of these systems, when you start to really push back, are using EDI [electronic data interchange], more traditional hookups like terminal emulation, and wrappering Web pages around protocols that are not necessarily IP protocols and HTTP protocols," Grant explains, adding that the company has invested heavily in XML for its data sources. "We need a more robust way of making that work. So there's connectivity integration to the back-end legacy systems that will be there until those models are replaced."

Grant is not only a master of the technical domain but a sharp salesman, ready to pitch his business with the next breath. After an animated conversation about autobytel's strategic direction and technical initiatives, Grant couldn't help but seize a possible customer opportunity: "So how'd you buy your last car?" he asked.

David Grant, autobytel.com

Age: 38

Title: CTO

Years at company: 1

Biggest success: International rollout of autobytel siteKey challenges: Generating new revenue streams for the companyPersonal note: Totally focused on the online customer experience.

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