IT executives rise to the challenge

How IT leaders are driving their businesses

Darryl Lemecha's career-defining moment as an IT executive began on the day in February 2005 when his company, ChoicePoint, had to notify 145,000 consumers that some of their personal information might have been obtained by identity thieves posing as operators of legitimate businesses.

After the discovery that the Georgia, U.S.-based data aggregator had erroneously sold credit and other identifying information to the thieves, internal security and privacy processes were turned upside down, said Lemecha, CIO and senior vice president of shared services.

Since then, ChoicePoint has changed how it stores and handles personal information and has strengthened its credentialing procedures for individuals and businesses that want to use the data, Lemecha said this week via e-mail. He himself has spent significant amounts of time explaining to customers and business partners what happened and what ChoicePoint has done to make sure it never occurs again.

"This experience has been tremendous for me," Lemecha wrote. "While I would not wish the last 24 months on any CIO, it has been life-changing. It caused me to push myself and my teams to levels I didn't think were possible."

Lemecha is among the executives whose accomplishments will be recognized at Computerworld U.S.'s eighth annual Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference in Palm Desert, California, next week. He is also scheduled to take part in a panel discussion on defining moments in IT leadership. For Lemecha and other Premier 100 honorees, such moments, though challenging, are often what successful IT management careers are built upon.

John Fisher, formerly CIO at SmithBucklin in Chicago, said his defining moment occurred when he and the company's CEO agreed to change the IT department from an operation that solely took orders into one that was expected to help drive revenue.

"The IT function became a revenue-producing organization, just like the other business areas," Fisher said. "One interesting impact was the way in which the IT staff members viewed their job. Rather than thinking of their job as responding to problems and being a cost center, they took great pride in finding innovative ways to make money."

Tough decisions

Ironically, that change in attitude created a new challenge for Fisher, a 2006 Premier 100 honoree who is now executive vice president of strategic services at NET(net), a Michigan, U.S.-based firm that negotiates software contracts for companies.

Fisher said he had to explain to the IT managers who worked for him at SmithBucklin "that sometimes their services needed to be 'loss leaders' for the greater good of the organization," in order to seal deals with customers. "They thought this devalued their services," he noted.

David Wright, CIO at women's footwear wholesaler Cels Enterprises in Los Angeles, said his career path took a sharp turn six years ago, when he was working as a consultant and project manager at an ERP vendor that he asked not be identified. Wright was sent to help Cels resolve a troubled ERP implementation.

The problems, combined with poor support from the software vendor's local office, were causing invoices and other documents to be generated incorrectly, Wright said. Because of the widespread errors, he added, Cels was being "inundated" with chargebacks from retailers that added up to millions of dollars.

Cels refused to pay the ERP vendor for Wright's services until the new system was working properly. Wright said the vendor threatened to pull him off the job until Cels paid up -- "something I made clear they could not possibly do until we fixed the major issues and restored their revenue stream."

He said he decided to resign "on the grounds that I don't believe the way to build a business is by directly harming your customers."

Shortly thereafter, Wright met with senior managers at Cels and guaranteed that he could fix the ERP system within six months. "It took some convincing," he noted. But Wright was named CIO, and the ERP system was "effectively stabilized" within the promised six months, he said.

"In the six years I've been CIO here, I've seen a complete turnaround," Wright said. "We went from a company that was being crippled by a failed ERP implementation to one that is contemplating an IPO."

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