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How 5 IT leaders beat their toughest technical challenges

John Brandon | May 18, 2016
Just as technology is always evolving, so is the role of IT leaders. In the not too distant future, tech execs will face new challenges and take on new roles. The most successful IT leaders are the ones that can recognize and adapt to those changes.

People who lead large IT organizations don’t have much time to deal with the nitty-gritty technical details of how their systems run. Their priorities are to provide strategic technology leadership, set policies and manage the overall operation. CIOs and other IT leaders also have to work with executives in other departments to make sure IT is providing the services the business needs. But there are times when a technical problem crops up that requires the boss’s attention, and on those occasions finding the right solution can seem like an overwhelming challenge.

To get a sense of the type of technical issues CIOs have to deal with, we asked five IT leaders to recall vexing problems they were able to solve without resorting to complicated, high-cost rollouts.

1. Updating a Web framework

As senior vice president of engineering at Udemy, a provider of an online learning platform, Claire Hough’s challenge was the need to update a Web framework with about 400,000 lines of outdated PHP code. It initially looked like a great deal of engineering effort would be required to replace the code, says Hough. But the team decided to try Django, a new framework that lets engineers do rapid application development. It’s also ideal for maintaining a high-quality code base. “We have hired a lot of engineers in the past year,” she says, and with Django “even our newest engineers release code to production within their first week of work.”

2. Complying with federal regulations

In the healthcare industry, providers must comply with federal rules requiring them to demonstrate that they’re making “meaningful use” of electronic health records technology while remaining compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). For Lonnie Johnson, vice president of business information technology at KVC Health Systems, that presented a challenge because he had to find a way to deploy an EHR system to a mobile workforce while protecting patient privacy — and he had to do that without incurring high administrative costs. “The vast majority of our team is mobile and needs to be able to collect data on the go in a HIPAA- and state-compliant manner,” he says. “However, current reporting methods are very resource-intensive and often require more steps than necessary.” He solved the problem by using technology Capriza, which offers a way to mobilize traditional enterprise applications. The result was a system that streamlined workflows, reporting and decision-making.

3. Moving fast but remaining stable

As an email delivery service, has two priorities: speed and reliability. To be fast, the company has found that it’s often necessary to build services from scratch, says SparkPost CTO Alec Peterson. And ensuring reliability means adopting a continuous deployment cycle and monitoring. Peterson’s solution was to tackle both. “By the time we released the service live to the public,” he says, “we were doing multiple deployments to production per week, and had a wide array of performance and availability monitoring that ensured the application was delivering the level of performance we and our customers expected.”


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