Job Challenges Demand Vigilance

Security and integration top concerns

When hackers launched denial-of-service attacks on the White Houses web site, people noticed — especially executives in charge of corporate Internet initiatives. Given those attacks, as well as other assaults on high-profile Web sites, its not surprising that security was the top technology concern of the Internet and interactive executives who responded to Interactive Weeks survey of I-managers. Interviews with nearly a dozen I-managers from various sectors, as well as 882 responses to the survey, showed

that issues like security, adequate infrastructure, access to data and enterprise systems integration continue to be the top technology challenges.

"We hear from our customers that they are concerned about privacy," said Mamie Millard, senior vice president of product development at, an online travel-booking company. To address those concerns, Millard said, Travelocity appointed full-time security officers at both of its offices — in Fort Worth, Texas, and San Francisco — to analyze new technologies and deploy security measures.

"Security is a thing you worry about every day," said Asa Davis, vice president of information systems at American Power Conversion, a producer of power quality and power reliability products. "We are dealing with hundreds of hack attempts a day on our Web site. That wont ever go away."

Security concerns can be complicated by the need to scale operations. According to the survey, the average amount of money directly controlled by each I-manager in companies with more than 5,000 employees jumped from $16.8 million last year to $19.2 million this year, and most respondents expected a budget increase next year. In addition, 43 percent of the I-managers polled expected to increase their staffs this year. Slightly more than half of survey respondents said the size of their staffs would stay the same. About 4 percent expected to lose personnel.

The staff under John Benzinger, vice president of information technology (IT) at online auction exchange FreeMarkets, has grown from two people to more than 100 since the end of 1998. And Benzinger is doing more than just hiring people. New product offerings at FreeMarkets have forced him to dramatically increase his infrastructure, the challenge that came in second in the survey.

"In the last year, Ive grown my server base five- or sixfold," Benzinger said.

Plugging the Whole

In addition, many executives said they are intently focused on systems integration.

Thats particularly true at Exide Technologies, one of the worlds largest battery manufacturers. Donald Curt, Exides chief information officer, said he is working to integrate disparate IT systems in the wake of the companys purchase of GNB Technologies, another battery maker. The company is also trying to unify its worldwide operations, spread over more than 80 countries. Some of Exides plants in Europe were "operated independently or were never fully absorbed," Curt said. To address that, Curt wants to "bring the entire organization together into a common or integrated system."

Exide is looking to Internet technologies like eXtensible Markup Language to simplify the process, but achieving that goal wont be cheap. Exide will spend about $40 million this year on IT-related items, Curt said. Within two years, he hopes to have the entire company, which had $2.1 billion in revenue last year, using the J.D. Edwards & Co. suite of software for all of its finance, processing and manufacturing needs.

Curt is also working on content distribution — another among our survey respondents 10 top technical concerns. In April, the company relaunched its Web site in an effort to increase Exide brand awareness among consumers. The move toward the Web includes a much-needed effort to integrate Exides Web-based battery parts ordering system into its Enterprise Resource Planning software. And within the next few months, Curt plans to launch a program that will allow engineers designing data centers to configure and order the battery systems they need on the Exide Web site. Although the companys sales staff is able to use the configuration software in the field, if engineers can directly access the software, "we can greatly streamline the process of how to build these orders," Curt said.

Integration was also foremost in the mind of Dennis Fishback, senior vice president and CIO at Calpine, a fast-growing, independent power producer. As the company builds or buys new power plants or acquires natural gas suppliers, Fishback is faced with fitting the acquired software and hardware into Calpines systems."The next big challenge for us is an enterprisewide systems integration," Fishback said. "We have to bring these different point solutions together, deal with it and present usable information to the companys decision makers so they can optimize their decisions based on our fleet of assets."

Surprisingly, the survey found that hiring and employee retention continue to be concerns for I-managers. However, the tech slowdown and the end of year 2000-related upgrades have eased the problem somewhat. "With the dot-coms in trouble, its a lot easier than it was a year ago," Travelocitys Millard noted.

Fishback said Calpine is "a dot-com-like company, in terms of growth and stock potential, without the downside of many of the dot-coms. So its been an attractive magnet for tech people falling out of the dot-coms. We are not having any problem."

I-managers at smaller, private companies said their challenges are similar to those being dealt with at larger enterprises.

At ClearOrbit, a company with 120 employees that produces software for large manufacturing companies, Chief Technical Officer Michael Palmer is trying to integrate new software into the companys Oracle-based system. The problem is data access, another challenge commonly mentioned by survey respondents. "Were trying to integrate our systems so our people can access the Internet and log on to our server with a virtual private network, so they can access their appointments or schedule through the Web," Palmer said.

Along with all these other issues, I-managers must, of course, deal with the killer Bs: budgets and bosses. So its not surprising that when asked to name management challenges, budgets topped the list of I-manager concerns. A few notches below that was the high cost of capital expenditures.

APCs Davis confirmed that view. Last year, Davis oversaw the installation of new finance software from Oracle, as well as new sales and service software from Siebel Systems. The installations were expensive and time-consuming. "The thing I worry about now," Davis said, "is making sure we get the business return on investment that we expected, in order to justify those products and the money we spent on them."