Premier 100: CW's annual conference debuts Monday

Creating value in challenging times will top the agenda when more than 350 of the nation's IT leaders gather in Palm Desert, California, for the third annual Computerworld Premier 100 conference on Monday and Tuesday.

The conference will focus on challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders, from security to integration to new technology, but creating a healthy return on investment in the midst of a troubled economy will be the foundation, said Maryfran Johnson, Computerworld's editor in chief.

"I think you're going to hear a lot of war stories," Johnson said, noting that this conference is one of the few that is for and about IT leaders themselves.

For instance, Tom Murphy, CIO of Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., is expected to talk about how his staff was cut from 400 to 200 people and how he has overcome that loss and recharged the enthusiasm and drive of his department, Johnson said. Murphy is the scheduled featured speaker on Day 2 of the conference.

Other speakers include Eric Dean, CIO of Chicago-based United Air Lines Inc., who will deliver the opening keynote address; Curtis Robb, chief technology officer at Atlanta-based Delta Technology Inc. and a featured speaker on Monday; and Andre Mendes, chief operating officer at Bethesda, Md.-based Pluvita Corp., who will deliver the closing keynote.

Complementing them in panel discussions will be Eddie Schwartz, senior vice president at Guardent Inc. in Waltham, Mass.; Howard Schmidt, chief security officer at Microsoft Corp.; Luis Gutierrez, CTO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Inc. in Wellesley, Mass.; and Cathy Hotka, vice president of IT at the National Retail Federation in Washington, among many others.

"This is a conference for IT people themselves to talk to their peers and listen to their peers," Johnson said. "Even the sponsors are bringing case studies and CIOs to the presentations that they will be making."

The richness and frankness of those personal experiences and ideas -- and the fact that this is a peer-to-peer conference -- are what draw Thornton May, chief psychographer at Toffler Associates Inc. in Manchester, Mass., back year after year.

"I think the Premier 100 is highly authentic; it's fellow travelers in the IT value-creation journey," said May, who will also be a speaker at the conference. He said he is looking forward to this year's conference because he wants to hear what the CIOs and other IT leaders have to say at a time when IT is "coming out of its adolescence" and has begun to focus on the value it can deliver.

"IT is not just about moving information; it is about creating meaning, and that is the high ground," May said. "We're really starting to use IT technology to improve our ability to think critically, and that is what is exciting about the future."

Johnson said the aim of the conference is to get CIOs and senior IT people ready "for the challenge of the rest of the year" and to recognize them for all the hard work they do. After all, she said, the center of the conference will be the awards given to each of the 100 IT leaders who make up the Computerworld Premier 100.

"I don't think IT people get rewarded or thanked for the hard work they do," Johnson said. "This is our chance to thank them."

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