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A CIO Conversation: Forrester's George Orlov

George Orlov, CIO/CTO at Forrester Research Inc., discusses IT and business alignment, and the challenges involved with managing IT for an IT consultancy.

George Orlov took over the role of CIO/CTO at Forrester Research in late December. He is in the unusual position...

of having to guarantee that the company's IT strategy reflects the advice and research the firm provides to its clients. In an interview with SearchCIO, Orlov discussed his 2005 priorities and his plans to stay connected with the business side of the house.

What are the top three priorities for 2005?

Orlov: The first one would definitely be to completely understand business needs and how IT can support them and provide leadership. We're here to figure out how to make the business work better. The second trend would involve some level of compliance. And the third one would be to stabilize the mess we created ourselves in our Web infrastructures and to sort out and run things more efficiently and effectively.

You talk a lot about the importance of IT people understanding the business. Were you hired for your business experience?

Orlov: Yes, I was hired for that. George [George Colony, Forrester's CEO] has even told me that. He wants someone with business savvy. I was a management consultant for 15 years before I got into IT.

And I know technology better than most CIOs. My focus is always on driving and moving the business forward.

I also work very closely with all the other executives at Forrester. We meet on a regular and even ad hoc basis. I've only been here two and half months, and I feel the only way to learn the business is to roll up my sleeves and dive right in to it. I've even gone on some sales and client calls. There's no better way than walking in their [the business unit executives] shoes to feel their pain and completely understand the business.

You've also been charged with handling Sarbanes-Oxley compliance for the IT organization. Is this an IT or business initiative?

Orlov: Compliance is definitely a major business initiative at Forrester. We are a relatively small public company. Compliance isn't anything new; the new part is that it's now legislated. Compliance requirements have been in place in large companies for years. At smaller companies, we just didn't have formal processes documented like larger companies.

So now we're just taking the time to document processes and cross our t's and dot our i's.

You were quoted you as saying you'd like to "help ensure that the company's IT strategy more closely mirrors advice the company gives externally to clients." Can you elaborate on this?

Orlov: In my new position, I wear a few hats. George [Colony] asked me to look at our research and make sure it's relevant to our target audience. I used to belong to that audience [Fortune 500 CIOs]. So I faithfully read all the research we write and try to give it a QA check.

In cases where it applies to a company of our size, I try to leverage the knowledge we offer others and apply it to our own internal projects and processes. When you were CIO at Callisma, you said your biggest success at the time was "building high-performance IT management teams that are passionate to build great systems."

Is this still one of your top priorities?

Orlov: Definitely. Unfortunately, I can't do much of this alone. I need people who are passionate about their work. I've inherited a fairly good team here.

But we're also looking outside to bring in a few people, to replace some turnover. We currently have a staff of 28 people in IT and I plan to hire approximately six more people in the near future -- in our operations, help desk, applications development and Web site development groups. The rest of my staffing needs will be augmented by external resources, as necessary. Colony has said that today's Internet is "dumb, boring and isolated."

Have you been directed to set up systems for a better, more interactive Internet?

Orlov: I'm actively pursuing it [the X Internet]. A lot has to do with organic IT and organic business. Many other companies have the same vision, but just call it something else [instead of X Internet]. Basically, it's all about making technology more flexible and responsive to the business; costing less money and creating shorter cycle times to achieve the needs of the business.

This is definitely a journey - not a one-time event. One way to get us to that vision is to re-architect a solution. Much of the future Web will be driven by the extended Internet -- a connection of the physical world with the Web world.

You'll see a lot of use of Wi-Fi to connect everything and everyone. Our business isn't the same as a consumer goods service -- where they just want to track things to see if they're selling. We want to look at how our research is used after it leaves our website. We're looking to implement underlying technology for the X Internet. With that in mind, we plan to make our Web site as interesting, active and useful as possible.

Forrester said IT budgets have finally loosened up this year. Did that happen in your group? If so, how will you spend it?

Orlov: Our budget did increase. We're spending the additional money this year to increase staffing and to complete a few large projects. We have five major initiatives for the remainder of this year.

Throughout each of these, we will extensively leverage Forrester's own research and advice that we provide to our clients, and apply it to our own internal systems and processes.

We are building a complete data warehouse/BI [business intelligence] reporting solution. On the heels of a recently completed major upgrade to our Siebel CRM system, we are implementing continuous customer management processes, in which we will use data cleansing tools to improve the quality of our data in Siebel -- and revise access controls, change processes and re-architect interfaces to keep the data clean.

We will redesign our entire outbound email marketing process with our customers, consolidate four existing systems into one, and more tightly integrate that with Siebel.

Following a recently completed project to improve search and browse, we are investing to further improve our external customer facing Web site. Lastly, we have a number of infrastructure and internal IT projects in the works, including new e-mail systems, network and server infrastructure refreshes.

Tell me more about your BI/reporting solution.

Orlov: Our data warehouse will include data from our Siebel CRM, PeopleSoft Finance and HR, and customer-facing Web site. We plan to deliver, on an incremental basis, a complete set of Web-delivered self-service reports to serve all of our operating and corporate groups.

Based on recommendations from our own Forrester analysts, we are also creating an active dashboard that presents data that are leading indicators of major business drivers.

For example, we will be looking at the frequency with which our research is downloaded or read on our website, which we have found to be a leading indicator of customer renewal rates. Active dashboards, those based on leading indicators, will allow us to take preventative actions, rather than just letting us look in the rear view mirror at what transpired last month.

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