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Innovating during tough economic times, key theme for 2009 Fusion symposium

Even as the economy continues to shrink at a rate that compares with several of the worst recessions of the 20th century, it is incumbent upon CEOs and CIOs to see out ahead, and to plan now for a better future that lies ahead.

As many companies retrench in the face of an uncertain economy, this is the time to innovate with IT projects that can transform the business and position the organization for future growth, says Boston-based consultant Tom Koulopoulos, who will be a keynote speaker at the Fusion 2009 CEO-CIO Symposium on March 4-5 at the University of Wisconsin Fluno Center.

That is one of several key themes likely to emerge at the annual conference, which features a roster of prominent technology executives from Wisconsin and beyond, and explores the dynamics of the relationship between chief executive officers and chief information officers.

Speakers at this year's event will address the most pressing concerns that CEOs and senior executives face today, including how CEOs and CIO's navigate unprecedented economic uncertainty, and how to innovate during tough times.

Rick Roy, the CIO for CUNA Mutual Group in Madison, says his most pressing concern heading into the conference is how the leaders of his credit union business can smartly manage costs in a tough economy while not starving the necessary investments required to protect and advance the overall enterprise. Roy will lead off Thursday morning's full-day session.
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“Time is a most precious commodity, and the Fusion conference is a two-day, high-value opportunity to receive updates from senior executives from most of our key vendors, key customers and peers - all in a well-orchestrated agenda at a prime location,” adds Oskar Anderson, CIO for the State of Wisconsin Department of Administration.

“We are in a high stress economic climate, and it is critical that we create and maintain the fact that we have a rare opportunity and responsibility to be creative,” Anderson said.

Now in its fifth year, the Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium, produced by WTN Media has established a reputation for serving the technology community by framing the most significant challenges for senior leadership, says David Cagigal, Chief Information Technology Officer for Alliant Energy in Madison.

“In some cases, we will need to transform or reinvent our business model through innovation that will produce sustainable and competitive advantages with the purpose of enduring the depths of this poor economy,” Cagigal said, echoing the predominant theme of this year's conference.

In Wednesday's opening keynote address, Gartner Inc. analyst Jorge Lopez will share his wealth of knowledge, including how urgent issues that are decided in the executive boardroom end up on the CIO's desk, regardless of whether the CIO has a seat on the executive board. Lopez will also chart what stage of the economic downturn we are currently in, as he makes a case for utilizing current data to forecast the future and develop plans for any number of scenarios that might play out in the coming year and beyond.

“For CIO's, these are extremely volatile times, so the risk for them is extremely high,” Lopez said during a per-conference interview last week. “Am I cutting the right costs and making the right investments? From a Gartner perspective, we talk to thousands of clients as to what their investments are and perform a sanity check, of sorts. To be able to do that, we try to determine their areas of highest risk and least risk.”

Ajei S. Gopal, an Executive V.P. for CA Inc., will also address the topic of innovating in tough times. This doesn't mean buying into the latest trend or investing in the hot technology of the moment. Rather, effective innovation is about recognizing current market conditions, the competitive landscape, the needs of customers and the strategic direction of the organization and devising new approaches to deliver value, he says.

“With tightening budgets, new IT projects are liable to face resistance in the C-suite and the boardroom,” Gopal says. “Each new initiative not only incurs cost, but also adds complexity to the IT environment and increases risk.”

So how do CIOs do more with less, secure the benefits of IT advances and deliver rapid return on investment, without imperiling the security of the enterprise? The key is management across the silos of IT, he says, adding that management must be central to the planning of any IT project.

Global Web-search queries for “cloud computing” have grown six-fold in the past twelve months. Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Research for Salesforce.com, will discuss the world's fast-growing portfolio of clouds from many providers, considering them both as diverse tools and as high-return enterprise investments. Coffee will offer strategic guidance on cloud resource adoption, operation, and integration with other IT assets.

Other presenters at this year's event include:

  • IBM's Carol Sormilic will share how the company's transformation to a role-enabled workplace has driven greater productivity and efficiencies through the early adoption of innovation and reuse of Web services.
  • Peyton Engel, a technical architect with CDW, will take a critical look at the current relationship between security and the budget, and offer insight into how to spend more effectively.
  • Mike Jackson, CIO for Rockwell International, will talk about how Rockwell Automation drives its business processes to be global and integrated. Jackson will take a further look at how the transformation of the business changes the I.T. organization and the issues created as I.T. leaders take their teams through this journey.

To kick off the conference on Wednesday, invitation-only CIO strategic meetings will be held on a variety of topics from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Fluno Center. The conference agenda and more information are available at www.fusion2009.com

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