IT leaders seeking ideas, fixes at GigaWorld forum

From systems integration issues to pending e-procurement projects and enterprise architecture logjams, there's a lot on the minds of IT leaders this week at the GigaWorld IT Forum 2001.

And despite tightening travel budgets at many companies because of the slowing economy, many of the more than 1,000 IT professionals in attendance said the information they're collecting will likely more than make up for the cost of their trips.

Mike Gentry, a senior systems engineer in the IT strategy group at chemical and oil company Ashland Inc., came to find out how others have improved their enterprise system architectures so he can put that information to work at the Covington, Ky.-based company.

"What we're looking to do is to establish a set of tools and methods to allow us to be able to more easily integrate in the future," Gentry said. One possible method is to use XML, which adds interoperability by definition, he said.

Last year, the company learned the importance of finding better ways to integrate the new and the old when it had to expend extra effort to make new e-business applications work with existing systems, Gentry said. Preventing such costly problems has taken on new meaning this year, he said.

David Burgess, a project manager at furniture maker Steelcase Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he came to soak up all he can about one of his company's biggest IT challenges: the pending rollout of an e-procurement system.

"I'm looking to find out about other experiences and pitfalls, the things to watch out for," Burgess said. The feedback he gets will follow several months spent reviewing vendors and comparing their products.

"The economy has caused us to be sure we're making the right decision," Burgess said. "These things aren't cheap, so you want to make sure."

Andrea Rogers, the operations director at IT consulting company Integrated Information Systems Inc. in Tempe, Ariz., said her customers seek information on everything from outsourcing to wireless strategies. To keep up, Rogers came to the conference to talk to others about their experiences and bring back the latest information to share with her customers.

"We need to be aware of everything, across the board," she said. "If you can't show them why [choices should be made], then it doesn't make any sense."

Mark Stender, vice president of systems architecture at Hartford, Conn.-based Travelers Insurance Co., said he came to GigaWorld to try to fill some missing technological gaps at Travelers, including the need for a solid document management strategy. His biggest challenge continues to be systems integration, he said, as his company works to merge business-to-business applications and online services with existing legacy hardware.

"We are dealing with it every day," he said.

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