December 12, 2000, 2:00 PM —
WHEN BUD ALBERS took the position of CTO at Getty Images in October 1999 he had to
hit the ground running. The company's internal network needed improvements and Seattle-
based Getty, which owns more than 70 million images and an estimated 30,000 hours of
film, was in a major acquisition mode and on the verge of buying two competitors, The
Image Bank and Visual Communications Group.
Albers was charged with helping Getty integrate those companies and getting them to
make the same transformation that Getty recently had made: from selling photos through
catalogs to selling digitized images online.
One issue Albers faced during the transition was how to manage and lead this
radical change in Getty's business model from catalog sales to online ordering and
delivery. The IT department wouldn't just be supporting operations: It would be
generating revenue. Today, the department's activities now are directly responsible for
generating almost half of the company's revenue stream.
In the second quarter of 1999, Getty's e-commerce revenues almost tripled, reaching
$38.3 million and accounting for 44 percent of sales in the quarter.
"It's not the same old IT environment," says Albers, who spent several years in
what he calls a traditional IT shop. "I now spend a third of my time with the head of
strategy and business development and the head of sales and marketing, because now all
roads go through IT. It's an interesting situation because now the head of sales and
marketing, when he's asked for revenue projections, will answer, 'Well, it depends on
what functionality the tech guys can deliver,' " Albers says.
Making a fundamental shift
Albers' expanding role is but one example of how e-commerce is reshaping the
relationship between IT executives and their colleagues. CTOs and CIOs increasingly
find themselves at the center of high-level discussions about whether fundamental
changes in business models should be adopted.
As more companies recognize that information technology is driving revenue growth,
IT execs must move beyond the traditional technical support function and become leaders
in strategic planning.
Unfortunately, not everyone is up to the task. Historically, IT execs have focused
on control and cost: Control the IT environment and keep costs down. That often led to
a reactive mind-set and a cautious way of looking at project management.