PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. -- The Pacific Ocean became a giant water cooler last week, as CIOs gathered around to bond, commiserate and commune over the IT issues they face every day.
While many CIOs said they came to hear the advice of such experts as Cal Braunstein, CEO of consulting firm Robert Frances Group, and Tom Pisello, CEO of Alinean Inc., and keynote speeches from Travelocity.com founder Terry Jones and 1-800-FLOWERS.com founder and CEO Jim McCann, many attendees also said they were just glad to get out of the office and be around other men and women with whom they could relate.
"Every once in a while, you've got to hold up your Green Lantern ring and recharge your batteries," said Henry Volkman, CIO of Del Taco Inc. "You get to learn about things from your peers that you might not see on a day-to-day basis." Volkmann is particularly interested in learning more about storage issues as his company replaces its older systems.
Randy Rudolph, IT director for the San Mateo County (Calif.) Transit District, said he came for two reasons: "To network with peers and understand what they're doing with the same technology I have and to learn what else is out there that we haven't been exposed to."
Rudolph was interested in learning the latest from the security front, and he especially liked the fact that "no one tried to sell anything -- they just tell you how they use technology, and where it's going."
"It's good to share common concerns and learn about interesting approaches to problems," said Mike Cloutier, CIO of Emeryville, Calif.-based Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc. Cloutier said that SOX, security and infrastructure issues are most important to his IT department right now.
Skip Borland, CIO of Seattle-based SeaBright Insurance Co., said that vendors treat CIOs of smaller firms differently than they treat CIOs of big firms; he was interested to hear how his SMB peers deal with that level of (or lack of) vendor attention. "This gives us an opportunity to meet other people in the same boat and see what they're doing about it," he said.
Borland's shop is busy migrating to a .NET SQL Server environment. Compliance looms as the next project for IT, and it's already weighing heavily on his mind.
"It's good to get perspective from an IT person on where SOX is going. You can walk up to someone here, chat for 30 minutes and be surprised at the information that comes out." Borland values the input of his peers on SOX issues because he doesn't think that auditors are really in a position to dole out good advice given that few regulations have been clearly defined.
David Corbly was glad he stayed for attorney Scott Nathan's session on laws governing e-mail and instant messaging. Corbly, director of library systems at the University of Oklahoma, said that those kinds of laws are confusing in the context of a university environment, especially given the academic freedoms faculty members, students and staff enjoy.
Those freedoms mean security is Corbly's biggest challenge in Norman. "We can't lock things down as much as we need to because of the academic freedom issues and because students pay tuition and they want to do fun student things," Corbly said. "We're also frequently open to copyright infringement liability because of the openness of the network."
For the last few years, CIOs from different parts of the country have not had many opportunities to meet and talk about their issues, said David Foote, president and chief research officer of New Canaan, Conn.-based Foote Partners LLC.
"There were a lot places [for CIOs] to go and then the economy dragged and there were fewer conferences, but they're always looking for places. What they do now is seek out each other locally."
CIOs will have another chance to meet nationally next year. TechTarget plans to hold a 2005 CIO Conference July 27-29 in Pebble Beach. And hopefully, even more attendees will come away feeling like Oklahoma's Corbly.
"I got inspired … to take some chances from some people who actually 'did that.'"