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IT a-listers: Recharged, ready for business growth and speed

Julia King | Feb. 18, 2011
Editor's note: Each year, Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders awards program honors the brightest talent in the IT industry. Even through economic turmoil that for many meant budget cuts and staff downsizing, these 100 men and women continued to deliver innovative projects and measurable business value.

Many of the honorees are heading into 2011 with more cash than they had last year. In fact, 51% of them said their IT budgets had increased in the past 12 months; in comparison, just 36% of the 2010 honorees reported a budget increase in a survey last year. And honorees' IT staffs are bulking up, too: 40% reported adding employees in the past 12 months; in our survey of last year's honorees, just 28% said they had expanded their IT departments.

Marshall says Southwest's IT operations may grow because the airline is expanding into new markets or because it's offering new products or services -- or for all those reasons simultaneously. "Instead of 100 parallel [IT] projects going on, we have some big projects that all relate to the 100 requests we have," she explains.

"We've learned how to synchronize our deliveries," she says of the airline's 1,200-person IT organization. "We've gone to a release-based strategy across our entire portfolio that's helping us manage multiple initiatives and delivery of those initiatives in a predictable way."

For example, in addition to highly visible, big-bang projects like the new Web site, "we also have an underlying thread of work that is aimed at foundation components," Marshall says. This includes things like upgrading the database environment or enhancing the ticketing system, which gives the airline continued flexibility. "We build a plan once a year and then adjust it monthly through a series of executive steering group meetings, to make sure we're prioritizing the right things," Marshall says.

She says the leadership skill she relies on most is the ability to help IT staffers understand how their work fits into the broader business vision. "Seamless leadership comes at all levels," she notes. "This recognition is for the great work the IT organization is doing and the leadership they're taking at every level."

Fast and Focused

For Avnet, growth was the primary business imperative in 2010, and it remains so today, as the Fortune 500 company continues to expand by acquisition. Since 2009, Avnet has purchased six companies, and it is in the process of finalizing three more acquisitions, including the largest such deal in its history. Phillips himself came from a company that Avnet acquired five years ago.

"These acquisitions are strategically important in terms of our long-term ability to be the leading value distributor," he notes. The faster Avnet can close an acquisition, the faster it can accrue the benefits of its larger scale and minimize disruptions to customers and employees. To streamline the integration process, Phillips and his team developed a step-by-step playbook of best practices for completing all technology integrations within 90 days of an acquisition. "We now have a set of repeatable tasks and responsibilities, and that allows us to move fast with a fair degree of competence," he says.


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