by CIO Staff

Primer on Promising Technologies

Aug 23, 20054 mins
IT Leadership

CIO magazine Technology Editor Chris Lindquist’s Primer on Promising Technologies panel packed the spacious Grande Hall meeting room at the Hotel Del, even though it took place at what is perhaps the most adverse time slot during a conference (after lunch) and in spite of having to compete with Southern California’s predictably beautiful weather.

Lindquist gathered three CIO-100 winners—Ashish Chauhan, the CIO of Reliance Infocomm; Ian Hill, COO of Procard; andThomas Peck Jr., EVP and CIO of entertainment operations atNBC Universal—to discuss on stage their approaches to:

  • identifying new technologies worth deploying;
  • mitigating the risks associated with being a first mover;
  • addressing users’ resistance to them; and
  • the technologies that in a perfect world they’d like to deploy now, but in reality can’t.

The three panelists expressed that CIOs should be aggressive in seeking out and deploying new technology, but Hill and Peck noted that CIOs have to build trust and credibility inside their organizations and outside with external customers before they can be bold and innovative.

NBC Universal recently formed a Technology Growth Center, taking the best and brightest engineers across the company and centralizing them at corporate headquarters to do R&D. Thomas says this Center has become a filter of ideas as well as an environment to vet ideas and do prototyping. This approach is not without its problems: Thomas acknowledged that it creates what he calls a “varsity” IT group that gets to do all the new, cool stuff and a “junior varsity” IT group that just works on maintenance. To compensate for that, he rotates IT staff through the Growth Center.

On the risk mitigation side, Thomas said any capital technology investment worth over $1 million requires a business review that consists of standard checks and balances including ROI, an assessment of the impact of the technology on people and processes, and a discussion to make sure the technology supports enterprisewide strategy as opposed to just the P&L. He said the rigorous acceptance process slows down their adoption rate but prevents them from placing the bets on technologies that aren’t right for NBC Universal.

Procard doesn’t have a formal policy on risk mitigation. “We don’t have a series of gates and a level of documentation associated with each of those gates,” said Hill. Instead, senior managers review ongoing projects, discuss their financials and introduce new projects during regular meetings. “We have the right people in that room at the right time to mitigate risks,” he said.

Hill says the key to addressing user’s reluctance to adopt new technology is to understand why they don’t want to use it. For an example, he offered the case of when Procard was in a position to partner with a competitor. Many of Procard’s business people didn’t agree with the partnership. To convince them to go along with it, Hill said he had to explain to them that they shouldn’t view the partnership as a threat but as a way to get into markets Procard couldn’t have entered on its own.

NBC Universal has a formal change acceleration program that trains IT people in how to get users who are lukewarm about technology (as opposed to being 100 percent for or against it) to embrace it.

Chauhan (left) spoke of breaking large technology projects into small increments so that they’re more palatable to users, and of creating technology champions among users (as opposed to senior management types) since users are the ones who have the most skin in the game and will be most affected by the technology.


As for technologies they’d like to implement now but can’t, Chauhan wished for an end-to-end, completely integrated infrastructure. Hill wants database encryption that offers the performance and scalability Procard customers expect. Thomas also mentioned encryption along with compression and transmission technologies.

—Meridith Levinson