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Live from the Internet Summit 2012 – Tech Track: CIO/CTO Roundtable

Today’s CIO/CTO Roundtable Panel is

Curtis BrownChief Technology Officer, AOL

David GiambrunoSenior VP & CIO, Revlon

John LandyChief Technology Officer, IntraLinks Holdings

Chad SmithChief Technology Officer, 3 Birds Marketing

Moderator : Gayle SheppardChief Operating Officer, Saffron Technology

MOD – Welcome everyone. We’ll do quick introductions and then we’ll talk about topics and questions we’ll be covering for the next hour.

I wanted to start by discussing some of the challenges we’ll be talking about. Cloud computing, all of our panelists have experience with, emergance of big data and how to improve how companies make decisions. We also have challenges with the emergence of mobile computing and bringing your own device into the business. The wave of business owners to take over IT decisons and how that fits into architecture of business.

We’ll start with Curtis. Tell us about your current architecture.

CB – Obviously AOL is known for its legacy which we still have millions of customers that pay for that. As well as other technologies such as AIM and other things. In VA alone we run 30k sq ft of data spaces alone. We also have cutting edge technology that I’m trying to get my team to focus on. We have customers that pay for reliable services, some technology is 20 years old and we are also doing cutting edge which is a challenging mix. We’re now trying to be more media and brand driven. A lot of what I have to do is help with the assimilation process. We run the Huffington Post, Moviephone, Techcrunch and other big properties with 110+ million customers using these products. We run large advertising systems. Open source technology along with typical legacy things going on behind the scenes in an average day.

MOD – John, you run a SaaS service. Can you talk about customer delivery and how it compares/contrasts to AOL?

JL – What’s changing for us is hype around cloud services and IT groups are looking how to roll that out with security. We are having a shift from the old ways we sold and now we’re selling to more IT and CIOs. We apply security policies internally and are reporting.

MOD – In addition to security, what else are you worried about?

JL – Security, the risk of sharing outside of the firewall. Governance, understanding compliance, working with lightweight adhocs, things that aren’t important to monitor but wants to be locked down so as it travels outside of the firewall there’s less risk.

MOD – Chad, you were awarded CIO of the year. Your company is a fast growing start up. How did you increase your customer base?

CS – We had great development, we spent a lot of time working on internal design and implementing the founders vision. As you bring on customers it presents challenges to get information up as quick as possible. We’ve grown a platform but now as we grow we’re expecting more growth much quicker. We as a company are figuring out how we take it to the next level with server configuration. How do we revisit how our servers can handle this? We aren’t there yet but we have to look 18 months out and lay that architecture out. It’s been a wonderful challenge. Meet the needs of your growing clients and deliver it in a timely manner. It’s an exciting time.

MOD – David, IT disruption comes in many forms. Can you talk to us about this?

DG – we developed our own internal cloud. We average 14,000 transactions per second. We’ve been in full production over the past 2 years. In Venuzuela we had a fire in the plant and while all of this was happen we moved everthing through New Jersey. They were able to use the internal cloud on internal desk tops and keep things going, even in Venezuela. Everyone went back to work the next day. Before Sandy hit we took our NJ and NY data center and brought them back to NC. After everything was okay we pushed the data centers back. We self host everything, all internal. We in source everything. As a manufacturing company we have to figure out who to do it bigger, faster, better, cheaper. It’s allowed us to unleash capability into the business units. It’s a globalization and capability, but the clouds have unintended consequences – all of our data is available to us at ALL times. For us big data is huge. We use skus and how well products are doing in order to look at what is selling and if it isn’t selling we move the production in order to make money. Data is instantaneous.

Technology is an interesting thing. I’m a geek, not a business guy. I have to translate capability. We always have a change of reference on what we can do. If someone changes the frame of reference, we have constant change. In IT we get the spiral up capability and my team learns how to sell by giving capability out. Using technology changes things a little bit over time. What can we do with marketing, sales, finance, we can show them what to do with all of these things.

MOD – There is an emergence in bringing your own devices. Lets talk about how you deal with this.

CB – We manage a lot of devices. Over 10,000 mobile devices, laptops, etc. We intentionally have an open policy. We support all devices as long as we can control configuration on the device. In order to have access you have to say yes or get out. It controls the screen locking, if there’s passwords encoded, encryption, etc. There is limit to the security with it, but you can’t fight this stuff. You have to find a way to embrace this. You can’t say everyone has to be on a blackberry. This comes down to relationship management. SHowing individual business leaders is going to get them a better outcome by partnering with you.

DG – When the ipad first came out it was the #1 selling consumer device. The flag goes up, you aren’t going to win things so you have to figure out how to deal with it in regards to security and freedom.

MOD – What about point solutions?

DG – There’s people that don’t do what I do so there’s markets for everyone. Every business has a choice.

CB – Business partners get into deals with signed contracts that creates exposure to your business. There are all kinds of challenges with new technologies. They try to go faster, they have a solution, then they end up inheriting problems. What are you going to do? Short term solutions, but long term is about embracing them and having conversations. Here are great things that this provided for you, I may not be able to provide all of them but we can try to partner and fix certain things.

JL – We’re in a diferent space, but there’s a risk with confidentiality. IT groups dont realize how many people are sharing this information. A lot of it is bring your own collaboration. We see some advanced IT groups come in and start shutting down access to things that don’t have proper security. That’s hard because people find a way around it. What is a good idea is to say that it does meet your security and policies, giving them an alternative.

CB – I draw the line at security. I have a team of folks working on that. As a bigger company, I have to protect the brand and the business. We have hackers getting into our network. We know it and track them, but they’re trying to get financial info, etc. I have to put my foot down and say that people can’t do certain things. There are levels you have to set for where you’re being flexible and where you’re drawing the line ,

DG – You can also change the nature of the box. With our cloud were moving to viewing apps on your phone, but can’t get any data if you aren’t internal .Everything has to be encrypted, etc. It’s a different way of solving the issue. All I need to know is what you have access to and what kind of device you have. Letting the right people have access but how to weild technology to solve the problem.

CS – We have a lot of people in and out. How do we share info with clients? There’s a couple of ways to share files, some you can control, some you can’t. We have to find a mechanism to do this. Listening to the business’s needs and meeting those with them helps prevent these. We have to help them find the solution that is best for the organization.

CB – our philosphy is to push the envelope. Some people wont tolerate me checking everything they purchase, but may check with someone else.

MOD – We didn’t talk about lessons learned on cloud computing. There’s a lot of people trying to make decisions. What are the lessons learned here?

CS – You have may data than you ever want. Technology is easy, people are hard.

JL – We use infrastructure as a service and I think you need to make sure you’re making the right choice. We use a whole lot of cloud computing for IT and SaaS solutions. We’re a smaller organization so we can make that happen but how do you manage the data for visibility. The key for me is to make sure you’re not signing away on somehting that you think is easier but working with these people to make sure it makes sense and is the best for you.

CB- There’s no way to solve the problem of people plugging into your architecture. Check references and ask a lot of questions. Where did it go wrong vs. where did it go? You have to understand there are risks and challenges to overcome.

MOD – What do you put in the cloud vs not?

DG – We still have SaaS apps. There are things that are important. Other companies do them better than we can so I won’t waste my time. It’s a symbiotic approach where they get our service but we get things back from them. How easy or hard is that experience?

JL – Governance is important. How do you manage it? It’s a key topic.

CS – We’re looking for scalability as a smaller company. Where are our major pain points and delivery failure? How are we allowed to scale up when we need to or scale back down? When you hit black friday and can’t get info in or our you’re done. Our client interaction points is where we are looking at.

MOD – Big data. 1.1 trillions IT jobs are being created in the US around big data alone with more coming. What are you doing about it?

DB- Data scientist is the first place to start.

CB – Big data is about what you’re trying to manage and how close to real time you need it. I have a legacy of customer info that is over 1 billion accounts against AOL systems. 100 million are active. Only certain data is needed real time. Advertising systems, map out ads and what kind of ads need to be targeted to you as a customer and return the results in less than 100 milliseconds. We do over 10billion things like that every day. The transaction volume is incredible. Big data is about honing in on what kind of data needs to be real time and what else can go offline. The challenge is getting people who really do understand it well. There’s a big surge in this right now, but the pracitcal reality is what are you trying to solve? Is there a real time exchange or do you need customer insights? A good data scientist will help you go through that.

DG – We engage with the consumers. Our big data is our sku consumption. 660million sku attributes coming in per month. It’s geometry. Products taking off and products that aren’t. Don’t order bulk, move purchasing. Stop whats not selling and move your assets to what is working. For us, it’s material and being a consignment business. If we don’t sell something we have to buy it back to write checks to companies. For profit, that’s enormous. Sku consumption tells us what is selling. Based on geography in these stores can talk to target or CVS and tell them what they need to buy.

MOD – How has the social web come into this?

DG -We’re figuring out how to monetize it. How do we drive the consumer into the big box for a new product? The purchase at the store drives everything through the supply chain,

CB – You would think you could learn a lot from social media but you have to be careful not to boil the ocean. Big data can appear to be very daunting. Even with smaller companies. Social Media is where you can really learn about your customers, what they like, how they ineract, etc. HUffington Post is one of the biggest social interaction sites in the world. HP is 6 years old. In the first 5 years they hit 100million social interactions. This year alone, we hit 200 million. It’s going up. It’s a big volume, but it doesn’t matter how many it is. Those forums are important sources of information.

CS – It helps us predict buying habits, how they’re engaging with us on the site and how we’re engaging them the best. Twitter, email, fb. How these channels are used going forward helps us. We do have big data ,how you use it is the smae theory no matter how big your company is. There s a lot of info out there to help you understand your client. How can you better engage them and understand who they are as a customer and who they really are. You have to start somewhere and build from there. Dont try to eat the whole elephant at once.

DG – Some of it is like chewing glass. It’s a process.

MOD – How did you pick your first big data project?

DB- When we moved our apps to our cloud and saw the tsunami. It was fear based. Once you get over the initial emotional reaction, you get control and you are able to find patterns in the mess. It builds its own culture. We have a team now.

CB – Big data transformation with trying to do things real time. The rest is figuring out what your costumers are doing. Go see if you can improve something and analyze the data of the process. You eventually build your way up. Crawl. Walk. Run.

MOD – Lets talk about the transformation of IT professionals. Cloud data has caused a skill shift. There’s an absence of women in IT.

CB – Lack of women is a very serious problem. I used to work for the Womens Television Network and I coudln’t find a woman CTO for over 9 months. There were an unusually high percentage of women in our IT dept. Partially because the company was about women’s issues. It was an anomoloy. There’s only 14-18% of the workforce for IT is women. I sponsor a lot initiatives to get women into the industry, but as a whole the nature of getting into IT is harder. It’s more competitive. Work hard, show up, talk to people, apply yourself, try to learn one thing at a time and be willing to learn.


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