Author: Yogi Schulz

Do you think that life as a CIO is tough?  Think what it must be like to hold the CIO position at an IT company. Mr. Bill Howard, Senior Vice President and CIO at Sun Microsystems, recently shared his challenges and solutions at the CIO Summit in Calgary.

Back Seat Driving

Many CIO’s experience some amount of back seat driving related to what the CIO and the IS department should be doing. Other managers, adept at reading airline magazines or fresh from installing the latest game on their home computer, offer more advice than their IT experience indicates they actually have.

Bill Howard says the situation is much worse at Sun Microsystems because everyone on the staff list, with the possible exception of his personal assistant, is convinced they know more about IT than he does.

Bill Howard reduced the back seat driving problem and addressed the more important need to execute organization-wide planning for IT initiatives through a Business Systems Council composed of senior executives. The Council improves communication and ensures buy-in when inevitable trade-offs must be made among competing proposals.

Do More with Less

All CIO’s face pressure to do more with less. Like other enterprises, Sun faces cost and time-to-market pressure from its competitors and customers.

To support Sun in meeting these pressures, Bill Howard is pursuing high availability for the computing environment and the application portfolio. You can guess Bill’s hardware and operating system choices. Like many organizations, Sun pursues a buy vs. build application strategy that relies on software vendors including Oracle.

His IS organization employs the Web Services API set to extend the life of legacy applications and improve their integration. This approach adds value now and contains costs by pushing the need to execute expensive legacy application replacement projects into the future.

Bill and his team have an enabled a Sun-wide initiative to make applications and data available to staff anywhere while reducing cost of offices. Sun is deploying Java Smart Cards in support of Sun’s vision of any time, anywhere computing while improving thelevel of security that surrounds Sun enterprise computing and data resources.

Leverage Technology

Sun is an important customer and test bed of its own technology. Internally, Sun has deployed over 27,000 Sun Ray thin client appliances. The Sun Rays have reduced capital and support costs when compared to UNIX or Windows workstations.

As you might expect, the Sun internal applications run on the Sun One application server. The custom applications are built using the Java language. The web site is an example of an application that the IS department develops and operates. It experiences 600,000 visits per day and supports over 5 million registered users.

Bill Howard expects more wireless access and applications in his future.

Save Money

The Sun IS department faces the usual demands to improve ROI and reduce TCO. To address these demands, Sun has consolidated many applications into a global ERP solution. As you might expect, Sun has deployed the StarOffice suite to most of its desktops. Bill Howard shared data that made a convincing case that a thin-client approach to computing saves money without sacrificing functionality.

Sun is experiencing success with a supplier portal for 50 suppliers. The portal has reduced inventory investment, reduced component and service costs and improved demand forecasts that suppliers have available to them.


The ideas that Bill Howard, the CIO of Sun Microsystems, is pursuing have broad applicability to most enterprises, even those not experiencing rampant backseat driving.