Meet the 2016 Premier 100

The annual Computerworld Premier 100 awards shine a spotlight on individuals who have had a positive impact on their organization through technology.

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This year’s honorees represent more than 20 industries and organizations of all sizes, so you’re sure to find a project that piques your interest. Many of these technology executives -- some just starting out, and others well along in their careers -- also identify the title they aspire to someday. Their ideas could help you map out your own IT trajectory.

James M. Dutcher

James M. Dutcher

Title
CIO

Employer
State University of New York, Cobleskill

Location
Cobleskill, N.Y.

Career highlight:
Being nominated and elected as chairman of the SUNY Council of CIOs, which represents 64 campuses in our state university system.

How are you using reverse-mentoring to learn from younger generations?
That requirement is built into everyone’s monthly/annual reviews; we have to show that we are either learning new things or teaching others new things.

Fastest-ROI project:
Our single-person data source effort, which feeds employee information to all other services we support. The project has automated and populated a great many manual IT services.

How do you evaluate emerging technologies?
Just like a business startup -- we build, test, fail fast, learn and repeat.

How do you find time to innovate?
We have an established team of professionals who are dedicated to maintaining our current steady state of IT services, and that frees everyone up to spend on time on innovative and new IT.

Title you aspire to:
Chief operating officer

Eric Eickman

Eric Eickman

Title
Director of Administration/IT

Employer
Heartland Express Inc.

Location
Iowa City, Iowa

Cool project:
We’re working on a mobile app that will put several tools in the hands of our drivers out on the road all across the country and help them become more connected to the organization. The mobile app will connect data from our company, our customers and the onboard computers in the trucks (including engine diagnostics). It will make the nation’s supply chain a little more fluid and connected.

How do you evaluate emerging technologies?
We seek to find the sweet spot where the benefit line crosses over the cost line on the life-cycle chart. We have never embraced technology for technology’s sake. Rather, we ask challenging questions about providing genuine business value. I am usually not the first in line to adopt emerging technologies, but promising technologies will prove themselves over time.

How do you find time to innovate?
We’re fortunate at Heartland Express to have a culture dedicated to innovation and improvement, so innovation drives much of our time and effort in everyday activities.

Francois Estellon

Francois Estellon

Title
CIO and vice president of IT

Employer
Gardner Denver Inc.

Location
Milwaukee

Boldest, most out-on-a-limb prediction for IT:
The demise of the large ERP providers, such as SAP and Oracle. Their ability to change is impeded by their size and outdated (but lucrative) technology. New ERP vendors are disrupting the model by leaps and bounds. And I am an SAP user with 20 years of experience.

Biggest technology disappointment in the past year:
The lack of progress for U.S. data providers (cellular, home and business) in quality of service, cost and globalization. Major disruptions in costs and technology are happening in Europe and Asia but are stifled in the U.S. because of monopolies.

A job responsibility you’d like to eliminate:
Finance. While maintaining good stewardship of IT spending is critical, I’d rather spend more time solving problems than having budget discussions.

How do you evaluate emerging technologies?
To avoid deploying technology just because it’s cool, we engage early with the business to build a value proposition and test. If it works, it goes bigger. If not, we try to determine if the idea was good and the technology was bad, or vise versa.

B.J. Fesq

B.J. Fesq

Title
Chief architect and chief data officer

Employer
CIT Group Inc.

Location
Livingston, N.J.

Emerging technology that has captured your interest:
I have been fascinated by the resurgence of artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology. We are now experimenting with Hadoop, MapR, RedPoint and learning algorithms for predictive analytics around customer prospecting and risk forecasting.

Coolest project:
I host an internal trivia bowl every year called Nerd Fest. This year we had almost 50 teams across 10 locations. We developed a mobile app that talks to RESTful services in the cloud to provide a global buzzer system. Development of the Buzz app was crowdsourced to an after-hours, volunteer workforce interested in learning about mobile app development. We are planning to publish the source code in GitHub under an open-source license.

New titles in your IT organization:
Director of data strategy, director of cloud architecture, user experience architect and digital strategist

Your vendor management strategy:
There have been challenges with large vendors not adjusting and innovating features to quickly respond to our needs. So we’ve shifted our approach to smaller vendors and that brings numerous benefits, such as agility, cost reduction and the ability to influence their road maps.

Victor Fetter

Victor Fetter

Title
CIO and managing director, Business Technology Services

Employer
LPL Financial

Location
Charlotte, N.C.

Coolest project:
ClientWorks, our new adviser workstation, creates a truly digital office. It simplifies all aspects of day-to-day business activity on any device. We are taking our technology products and services and putting them in overdrive; we have a single portal for all adviser experiences with clear data insights, powerful cloud computing and seamless user interfaces.

A recent example of your personal leadership style:
I meet regularly with each of my direct reports. Our ongoing open dialogue helps to prevent surprises and enables us to grow together as leaders. I give them autonomy to own their domain. I clear the big rocks for them, but they need to own their commitments.

Your vendor management strategy:
We are focused on working with fewer, higher-value providers that can add a broader array of services. We are looking for strategic partners versus being transactional in nature. By working with a small number of vendors, we are able to build more meaningful relationships and capitalize on preferred pricing and better contract terms.

Xavier Flinois

Xavier Flinois

Title
President

Employer
Parexel Informatics

Location
Uxbridge, England

Career highlight:
I’ve run IT for the Olympic Games twice and persuaded the International Olympic Committee to award my company (at that time, Atos) the contract for Beijing (2008), Vancouver (2010) and London (2012).

Coolest project:
New advancements in technology leverage Web listening, which provides real-time analysis of publicly available social media to deliver insights into patient experiences, views and perceptions. Our company can analyze and assess social conversations, advise clients, engage patients and influencers, and understand sentiment.

A recent innovative staff idea:
An architecture to run analytics on petabyte-scale data sets that will come from the monitoring of live wearable technology for clinical trials.

Biggest technology disappointment in the past year:
I was expecting wireless battery charging to become standardized and ubiquitous, and it isn’t. As a result, we still have way too many cables to carry around.

A job responsibility you’d like to eliminate:
Anything that I can delegate. In my case, compliance activities.

Title you aspire to:
CEO

Russell A. Foltz-Smith

Russell A. Foltz-Smith

Title
Senior vice president and general manager, Data Platform

Employer
TrueCar

Location
Santa Monica, Calif.

A recent innovative staff idea:
A product called TrueView that provides to the world unprecedented levels of intelligence about the automotive market.

Boldest, most out-on-a-limb prediction for IT:
Programming will be done more and more directly by machines without the aid of human programmers.

New titles in your IT organization:
Fellow. This is a person who has deep institutional and technical knowledge that we wish to tap openly and as needed without an operating role.

A recent example of your personal leadership style:
Organizing and operating our summer intern program. As the program’s executive sponsor, I spent a lot of one-on-one time with all interns and intern teams to ask questions and guide their exploration of potential careers.

Fastest-ROI project:
Elasticsearch for Hadoop. This project was transformative for our end users in terms of speed and the quality of data. Within months, revenue was up 15% on the products it powers.

Paul Friedman

Paul Friedman

Title
Vice president, business technology leader, Corporate Functions

Employer
Humana

Location
Louisville, Ky.

Emerging technology that has captured your interest:
I love seeing the convergence of the physical and digital worlds, and how we can use that to make it easy for people to achieve their best health. Wearable technology and the Internet of Things play a big part. The challenge and fun is in integrating them into a compelling experience.

What’s the most important task you’ve delegated?
There is tremendous demand for employees to easily and securely collaborate with external partners. The fact that this can involve protected information makes it a hot topic. I’ve put one of my business technology leaders on point to bring stakeholders together and figure out how we get to “yes.”

Fastest-ROI project:
We took Cue by Humana from concept to commercial availability in seven weeks. We launched the day of the Apple Watch and had a featured spot in the App Store. The return is soft, placing Humana as a leading digital company; it was certainly our fastest project to return value.

Andre Fuetsch

Andre Fuetsch

Title
Senior vice president, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design

Employer
AT&T

Location
Dallas

A recent example of your personal leadership style:
I have an open-door policy with my team and value their ideas and questions. I conduct numerous skip-level meetings with midlevel managers who could become leaders at AT&T. I value these intimate sessions because they’re opportunities to develop professional relationships with specific individuals on my team.

Skills you will hire for this year:
We’re doing a mix of hiring and training. Some of the skills we need are in software development around open-source technologies and other areas so new that formal training doesn’t yet exist, so we have to find self-taught programmers.

Your vendor management strategy:
To build its software-centric network, AT&T is growing a new ecosystem of providers, startups and small companies along with traditional telecom vendors. And we are also collaborating with open-source groups like OpenStack, ON.Lab, OpenDaylight, Open Platform for NFV and others, as well as academics and researchers.

Carl L. Gerber

Carl L. Gerber

Title
Global head of Data & Analytics​

Employer
Pearson

Location
Raleigh, N.C.

Career highlights:
Winning CIO 100 Innovation Awards in 2014 and 2015, and winning The Data Warehousing Institute’s 2014 Best Practices award for enterprise data management strategies.

Coolest project:
Applying big data analytics techniques to create actionable insights from customer complaint data.

A recent innovative staff idea:
Turning data migrations into a scalable data service and combining the same skills to perform data archiving for system decommissioning.

How do you find time to innovate?
Innovation is baked into solving business problems, not a separate thought. We find the time by conducting proofs of concept.

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