CIOs plot their response to tech’s unstoppable forces

Insurance companies are always trying to peer into the future to determine risks. It’s an approach that Frank Wander, the CIO and senior vice president of Guardian Life Insurance Co., uses as well in planning his company’s IT direction.

Wander has looked ahead and sums up his belief about preparing for the future this way: Travel with as little baggage as possible and be ready for rapid transitions, particularly in the mobile era.

The world he sees coming is saturated with mobile devices, ubiquitous computing, technologies that give rise to new competitors that meet all their IT needs through services, and employees who work outside the office and from any place.

Wander’s response to these trends is to reduce six data centers to two — one data center that’s owned by the company and one that is outsourced. It also means shifting to cloud services, including for storage , whether internally delivered or through vendors, as well as eliminating platforms and deploying Linux on x86 systems “in a very large way.”

“We have been working for the last few years to actually eliminate as much technology as we can,” said Wander, in part to try to free up resources to invest in other areas.

Unix systems may be in the firing line in this transition, but Wander won’t say for certain because the vendors may change the economics of Unix deployment. But the goal, said Wander, is clear: “We are going to unclutter the environment and lower the cost of delivering services.”

This need to unclutter services is also running up against mobile and ubiquitous computing, a trend that would, on its surface, complicate IT operations. The adoption of mobile devices was a leading theme at Computerworld’s Premier 100 conference here.

IT managers, in panels and in interviews, say they have little choice but to embrace and adopt the multitude of devices that are arriving.

When Kevin Summers, the CIO of Whirlpool Corp., looked at the multi-device usage of some of the company’s executives, the groundswell of demand for them was apparent.

“I realized as a CIO this is something I couldn’t stop,” Summers said, “that I had to embrace it and make sure that we had the right technology in our organization to support it.”

Whirlpool employees can use their own devices as long as they access them through client virtualization . “If you agree to use my VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) then I’m fine with it,” said Summers. Employees also have to agree to company procedures, which include giving IT the ability to wipe data in the event a device is lost.

Gary Schwartz, the CIO of USAA, a company that offers financial products and services to the military and their families, said its approach on devices stems from customer services.

The company has developed applications for various devices, such as the iPad , “so if our employees are developing these applications, we have to enable our employees as well to use all these devices,” Schwartz said.

Wander sees mobile and ubiquitous computing, particularly in the next wave of devices. It will mean that everything will be delivered as a service, and employees will work where they want, especially younger workers. The Millennials (those born between 1980-2000) “don’t want to work in [corporate] buildings,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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