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Empowering IT Professionals to Cope with Global Technology Change

The risks and opportunities for information technology professionals have never been greater.

Virtually every fundamental business transaction today occurs via hardware and software technology that may be distributed worldwide both within companies and among external vendors. Bridging these information links successfully requires oversight competencies and business communication skills that extend far beyond information technology (IT) professionals' core knowledge of hardware and software design, acquisition and maintenance.

"There is a lot more on the shoulders of the IT person that puts the business at risk. But this trend also provides enormous opportunities for IT professionals who are evolving to take on new, more strategic roles and are able to make the right alliances and choices," says Lyle Ungar, an associate professor in Penn's Computer and Information Science department who teaches EMTM courses on Data Mining and Management of Technology.

His message is echoed with subtle variations by other EMTM professors, IT executives currently enrolled in EMTM, and John Carrow, Chief Information Officer and VP for UNISYS Corporation. In a presentation at an EMTM Emerging Technologies Seminar in the Fall of '05, "IT Governance: Get Flat or Get Flattened," Carrow discussed long-term structural changes that alter IT's role such as globalization, outsourcing, use of technology for increased regulatory oversight, and technological improvements that reduce the cost of operations and increase the efficiency of delivering services.

Smaller, Flatter, More Agile IT

"If you believe those trends are occurring," says Carrow, "then IT organizations have to change, become smaller, more agile, and think about delivering services without doing it themselves because the technological changes are so rapid and broad that you can't adequately train and stay current within your own intrinsic workforce. IT needs to become more 'flat,' more agile in outsourcing because otherwise your cost structure will probably be out of whack with your competition. While technology understanding is a key ingredient for IT professionals, so too are skills in vendor management, program management, and relationship management — linking back to internal and external customers."

Multi-disciplinary programs such as EMTM help IT leaders stay current with best practices, says Carrow, who was the city of Philadelphia's first Chief Information Officer prior to joining UNISYS. "It's clear that everyone is still in the learning mode for how to make this new reality work right, what's optimal, how to measure success, which operations are best kept internal or outsourced, and how to manage the process so you don't skip a heartbeat in your own delivery of services."

Knowing Where the Dragons Lie

These competencies are critical for IT leaders, says EMTM faculty member Gregg Vesonder, Director of the Communication Software Research Department at AT&T Labs-Research, "You have to be cognizant of what IT can offer you, not only how it can facilitate your business, but also where the dragons lie, and where you can leap into a quagmire or turn onto a path that leads to a dead end."

Vesonder, an adjunct professor of Computer and Information Science at Penn Engineering, teaches Software Engineering, Human and Computer Interactions, and will introduce a new course on Security and Privacy in IT in 2006. He points to several management challenges associated with outsourcing:

  • "Almost every aspect of a business now touches on IT. Even when those functions are outsourced, they're still foundational, meaning that they're the core infrastructure of a business that's central to its success and therefore must be carefully nurtured. Outsourcing isn't like buying a car. It's a long term relationship that will evolve over time. You need to have confidence in the people doing the evolution, maintain a very close relationship, and know that they share your concerns about privacy and security."
  • "When outsourcing, there are transitions where things can go wrong: collecting requirements, getting them to an outsource team, making sure they do adequate architecture and design, reviewing their work, tracking their progress, and doing acceptance testing on the final product. Because these are human organizations that are organic and don't always obey the rules of logic there are also a whole lot of people issues."
  • "You need to make sure there's a common interface across different subcontracted functionalities. Otherwise, this inhibits people from using these systems to their full potential."
  • "A huge risk of any IT adventure, outsourced or in-house, is that only one-fifth of all software projects finish on time and on budget. We teach what things as a manager you should or should not do, and basic questions to ask to maximize your odds of success."

Data, Data Everywhere

How technology is used to capture and use information dispersed throughout companies is another core issue for technology managers. Ungar cites the example of a major pharmaceutical company that discovered, after taking three months to conduct experiments required by the FDA, that these experiments had already been done previously by the company. "They didn't care about the cost of those experiments. They cared about losing three months," said Ungar, who is also Associate Director of the Penn Center for BioInformatics. "Essentially, all companies are information companies even if you produce objects like cars or little blue pills. Part of a Vioxx problem, for example, is that it's an IT problem: data is floating around in e-mails among people in the company that you might want to know about, along with clinical trials and ad hoc reporting that you might want to consider."

A related problem, says Vesonder, is that, "Companies are drowning in data. They're requiring people to provide data on a daily basis and then often not doing anything with it. If companies don't use this data or if people think their company isn't using t his data, employees may become sloppy when entering future data into that system. This creates a vicious cycle: because the quality of data is lacking, fewer people use that data which results in even sloppier data entry. In this scenario, a system that could actually have some utility will rapidly degenerate into uselessness."

Ultimately, the biggest challenge for IT managers, says Ungar, is that "IT managers need to be much more closely tied to business processes and marketing to the outside world which requires more collaborative and strategic planning skills. More and more the problem of IT is not the problem of technology, per se, but the problem of determining what it is that's worth doing with technology. Global corporate strategy evolves around this control of information."

Continuous Innovation for EMTM's IT Curriculum

With input from EMTM alumni, business leaders, and a newly formed student advisory group, Vesonder says, EMTM works to continually refine its IT curriculum to address emerging information technology management issues. "In the early days, IT was an introverted profession," says Vesonder. "Today, because customers and business people are asking more complex things from IT folks, technology managers need more sophisticated competencies in relationship management, project management and business disciplines across the board."

Joseph A. Ferlisi (EMTM'06), Director of Application Infrastructure Services for Merrill Lynch, serves on EMTM's IT curriculum student advisory group, which he describes as "formalizing a constant-feedback loop into the EMTM curriculum." He intends to continue serving on this advisory group after graduating to keep pace with trends in IT management and stay connected with the EMTM network.

Ferlisi oversees key aspects of the technology platforms for the retail business within Merrill Lynch, serving the firm's global private clients. He manages a diverse team of employees in the U.S. and overseas for the firm's Technology Development & Deployment Services group.

Ferlisi selected EMTM to broaden his skills beyond traditional technology infrastructure and software in order to acquire competence in the business aspects of technology management. "This program exceeded my expectations, and continues to do so. EMTM brings the best of both worlds — business and technology — into context. I can apply key aspects of almost every class I take in my day-to-day responsibilities," he says.

Coping with major technology shifts and a more dynamic relationship between his firm's technology organization and its global clients, challenges Ferlisi to continually refine his technology management competencies. "While IT budgets are growing nominally, we're being challenged to do more with that same budget and to come up with new and creative ways of sourcing technology solutions for our client," he says. "My EMTM training helps me present justifications for projects in ways that show my team that we're just as worried about financial impact as we are about technological capability and business functionality. This broader approach builds credibility and trust. Our internal clients appreciate that we're able to evaluate the real business costs associated with technology investments."


IT Challenges
Lyle Ungar

“More and more the problem of IT is not the problem of technology, per se, but the problem of determining what it is that's worth doing with technology. Global corporate strategy evolves around this control of information.”

Lyle Ungar
Associate Professor, Computer and Information Science
Associate Director, Penn Center for Bioinformatics

John Carrow

“IT organizations have to change, become smaller, more agile, and think about delivering services without doing it themselves because the technological changes are so rapid and broad that you can't adequately train and stay current within your own intrinsic workforce.”

John Carrow
CIO and Vice-President, Information Technology
Unisys Corporation

Gregg Vesonder

“You have to be cognizant of what IT can offer you, not only how it can facilitate your business, but also where the dragons lie, and where you can leap into a quagmire or turn onto a path that leads to a dead end.”

Gregg Vesonder
Adjunct Professor of Computer and Information Science
Penn Engineering,
Director, Communication Software Research Department
AT&T Labs-Research

Joe Ferlisi

“While IT budgets are growing nominally, we're being challenged to do more with that same budget and to come up with new and creative ways of sourcing technology solutions for our client. My EMTM training helps me present justifications for projects in ways that show my team that we're just as worried about financial impact as we are about technological capability and business functionality.”

Joseph Ferlisi, EMTM'06
Director, Application Infrastructure Services
Merrill Lynch

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