In his own lingo, CIO Bill Howard is responsible for Sun Microsystems Inc. flying its own airplanes.

This was one of the points Howard made during a breakfast talk in Toronto Wednesday morning, where he shared with his audience of Canadian CIOs, CTOs, and other IT executives his own successes and challenges as the CIO of one of the world’s largest technology companies.

“I see the role of the CIO changing rather dramatically,” he said. “More and more new responsibilities are emerging as if there weren’t enough on the CIO’s plate.”

One of these responsibilities is to facilitate change in processes, which he described as one of the biggest challenges facing CIOs today.

“Changing processes is tough,” he said.

Howard explained that one of the biggest challenges for him has been to ensure that all of Sun’s products and applications are used internally, which has been a Sun mandate since its inception. However, this became trickier when, two years ago, Scott McNealy – Sun’s chairman, president and CEO – announced that he wanted the company to use its own beta products.

“[He said,]’We let our customers find our bugs in our beta products – we should be finding them first,'” Howard explained.

“How have I been able to survive doing this? I’ve put our beta storage products in the storage groups area and our beta software in our software groups area. That really quiets things down,” Howard said.

Like most companies, Sun has felt the pains of the slumping economy.

“The tech economy is in the tank. We’re in a tech recession and every company is suffering because of it,” he said, admitting that as CIO he is now forced to do more with less.

Other top themes for CIOs, according to Howard, include achieving a fast return on investments, responding to rapid business changes, reducing time to market, keeping a sharp focus on security and business continuity and paying attention to the idea of utility computing, which he said is long overdue.

Howard closed his talk with an equation that he encouraged other CIOs to adopt: Quality x Acceptance = Effectiveness. Most organizations, he said, love to focus on the quality of a product, but fall down on the acceptance part of the equation, which results in users not buying into an idea or not being properly trained.

“If you don’t pay attention to the soft side of systems, you will fail,” he said.

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