IT execs share stories of simplification

Three IT executives from very different industries are leveraging technologies, such as provisioning, knowledge databases and virtualization, to help reduce complexity in their organizations.

The three executives participated in a panel discussion about the technical and managerial issues they face today and going forward. The three execs are among Computerworld's sister publication Network World's 50 Enterprise All Stars of 2005 -- companies recognized for exceptional use of technology.

One area where all three speakers said technology has made an impact on their organization is in automating or simplifying tasks that would otherwise fall on staff shoulders.

Coppin State University in Baltimore manages about 6000 user accounts, including students, faculty, and employees. Adding new accounts and managing existing ones are mundane tasks that are best done by automation, not staff, says Ahmed El-Haggan, vice president of IT and CIO of the university.

"We found provisioning systems helps us; we set the rules and it just works," El-Haggan says. By building intelligence into the system, the university removes the need for staffers to get involved, he says.

At Nook Industries, a manufacturer of linear-motion components, learning the company's product portfolio well enough to be able to sell to customers can take up to one-and-a-half years for new employees, says CEO Chris Nook.

To help shrink that window, the company is building knowledge databases that act as learning tools for products such as screw jacks, which have 45,000 basic configurations and millions of potential combinations.

Kyle Ohme, director of information technology with Freeze.com, which hosts a number of Web sites for downloading desktop software, says the virtualization of his company's server structure has helped significantly to reduce complexity.

Three years ago, the company embarked on a project to design and build an on-demand structure to support its growing Web sites. Today, the company can roll out or swap out a server or storage component in a matter of minutes. This model has allowed Freeze.com to reduce at least two full-time server administrator positions to focus on other issues, Ohme says.

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