Jumbo projects

The bigger the project, the bigger the risk. These IT leaders kept up with multiple stakeholders and deadlines.

When it comes to leaders, no two are alike. But while there are distinct leadership styles, there are also common traits among those who influence.

An ability to listen well, create or capture a vision, and be creative and open-minded while staying on task are just a few. These three Premier 100 honorees oversaw long-term, multistage projects that put their core leadership qualities to the test.

Ian S. Patterson

CIO, Scottrade, St. Louis
  • Project at a glance: The online investment company built a 34,000-square-foot data center to help support annual double-digit increases in daily trading volume along with an exponential increase in the amount of so-called market traffic that it receives from financial data providers such as Bloomberg LP and Reuters Group.
  • Signature leadership move: Kept up team morale by regularly communicating his support and appreciation.

Before Scottrade broke ground on a US$25 million (AU$25.2 million) data center last year, the company hired a project manager to oversee its biggest project ever and make sure all the deadlines were met.

With the necessary personnel in place, Patterson, 46, focused on other aspects of the project. For example, he made sure that vendors such as Cisco Systems understood the business context of the company's escalating network capacity requirements before

Online brokerages such as Scottrade often handle 10 percent to 20 percent of their daily trading volume right after the opening bell. "When the market opens, we can just get slammed," says Patterson.

The pace of trading can remain frenetic throughout the course of a day when the market is experiencing the kinds of gyrations it has undergone recently. Scottrade has seen a 27 percent year-over-year increase in daily stock trades, from about 170,000 to 190,000 daily trades in 2006 to between 230,000 and 260,000 trades per day this year.

Meanwhile, market data provided by firms such as Bloomberg and Reuters has surged from a high of about 4,200 stock quotes per second on a typical day in the summer of 2006 to 31,000 quotes per second in July 2007, says Patterson.

"This was not just a data center move, but building the [IT] architecture for the growth we see in the future," he explains.

So three months before Scottrade began designing the data center, Patterson brought in a group of Cisco engineers and allowed them to dig into its existing network "to understand our peaks and valleys" of data traffic, he says.

Once the new network was built, Patterson brought in other firms to stress-test it for six weeks before lighting it up. "What we did was test, test and test," says Patterson.

For an online brokerage like Scottrade, which also boasts 311 branch offices, gathering data and managing and executing trades is a business that requires a state-of-the-art data center where downtime isn't an option.

In light of that, Patterson believes his greatest contribution to the 12-month project was communicating each person's role and reminding them how much their contributions were appreciated.

"IT is a Rodney Dangerfield-type job," says Patterson, who left a consulting role at Deloitte & Touche to become Scottrade's CIO in July 2005. "It was really about letting everyone feel and understand that I was there" to support them, he adds.

To ensure that the transition between data centers didn't affect customers, Patterson and his team worked closely with AT&T and Verizon Communications to set up 10 Gigabit Ethernet pipes spanning the eight miles between the two data centers.

That kind of contingency planning paid off. Scottrade works with about 20 "market makers" -- broker-dealer firms that hold shares of a given security in order to facilitate trades. Each of them owns and runs its own data lines into the online brokerage. When Scottrade was ready to go live with the new data center in May, some of the market makers didn't have their communications lines ready. "So we used those redundant lines to transfer their traffic," explains Patterson.

The new data center is "essential" to Scottrade's capacity to offer new products and services, says President and CEO Rodger Riney, who sponsored the project.

Patterson's ability "to motivate and lead our IT staff," he says, "has been key to the successful completion and integration" of the new data center.

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