In September, the Boston Stock Exchange appointed Mike Curran as its first CIO to handle an increasing number of technology projects focused on disaster recovery and customer services. Curran had already held a number of senior positions at Zurich Scudder Investments Inc., most recently as chief operating officer of its international business unit. Before joining Zurich Scudder in 1993, Curran had been a partner in the IT consulting practice at Coopers & Lybrand Ltd. On Monday, Curran spoke with Computerworld's Lucas Mearian about the challenges he has faced in his first few months on the job, and about where the exchange is headed via technology.
Q: Why did the exchange choose to create a CIO position now?
A: The number of projects and the strategic role that technology is going to play in the exchange going forward made it necessary. Ken Leibler is the new chairman of the exchange. He came here in February 2001. And I believe from the outset, as he looked at where the Exchange needed to go, a key part of his thinking was technology and the role it would play in the future.
Q: Having come on the job a week before Sept. 11, what types of issues have you faced?
A: My first month on the job has been pretty intense. The exchange has always had a backup and recovery site in Woburn, and we have our floor here in downtown Boston. But I think everyone in the business community today and especially in financial services, postevent, has to take a renewed perspective on disaster recovery. We have situations now where clients have had to vacate a building because of a bomb scare, and that was generally unheard of before. We had one of them about a month ago. And it sort of woke us up to the reality that this could happen to more clients and what do we need to prepare for it. We're taking our backup and recoveries to a higher level of readiness in the next six to nine months.
Q: What does disaster recovery entail for you?
A: You have to make sure your people have a good communications plan in hand in the event that some circumstance occurs. To some extent, disaster recovery preparation is more important than a disaster recovery plan, which is something you take and pull out when the event occurs.
We're also going to need to go to an almost fully hot site with the ability to switch everything that happens here [in Boston] to Woburn or vice versa. And that's a whole new way of looking at things.
Q: So what new technologies will help you do that?
A: We had to roll out a wide-area network, which we didn't need before, because the systems were local-area networked to the floor.
We were into a whole new level of Cisco technology. ... And even right now, having rolled the network out, we're just now implementing some of the network management software, hiring some of the critical skills to support that initiative. Obviously we're using a lot of Cisco routers. But the key technology is HP OpenView as well as Cisco Works. You need network management software, which is new to us. We'll have HP OpenView and Cisco Works implemented very early in 2002. ...
We also have another project related to that. We're completely rebuilding our firewall, and that's sort of a natural extension of our networks ... in light of the new reality of post-Sept. 11.
One of the more complex aspects of this project is you need to redesign your network architecture, your topology. Right now, the topology primarily has communications going into Woburn, and then going down from our Woburn data center to Boston. In the future we need to take and replicate lines and have about half of them coming into Woburn, half of them into Boston and then networking between the two sites, so if you lost a single site you'd have adequate bandwidth in the alternative site to keep business going.
Q: What new products do you plan to offer your clients?
A: One of the new products we were rolling out is called Beacon Remote, which enables client firms to basically be part of the Boston Stock Exchange but be located in their offices anywhere in the country. Basically, a member firm can be here on the exchange floor, or with the Beacon Remote product they can basically have a trading terminal or workstation in their offices and they network back here real time and participate in the exchange.
It's of interest to firms who want to internalize, those that want to trade from their own sites and manage their trade and order flow from their own sites. ... We're interesting in that we're a hybrid firm. We're not the New York Stock Exchange, with a floor that we pretty much need to focus 100 percent on. And we're not Nasdaq, which has no floor and is 100 percent electronic.
Q: Are there any other projects you foresee?
A: Other projects down the road for us would be to move the Exchange from its existing database architecture to another database, be it Oracle or Sybase. I'll be doing that in 2002. We're using Interbase now.
Q: What's the biggest challenge for a CIO in this economic environment?
A: Obviously, the economics of the business world have changed. These are the same issues you have before, you just need to sharpen the pencil a little bit more. You have to prioritize whether they're really key important initiatives and whether the benefits are there for taking them on.
Secondarily ... you have to keep your high-quality, high-skilled labor -- your engineers, technicians and programmers and such. ... There is still a market there. You have to keep them focused, keep them aware what the opportunities are within your organization. It was a much tougher challenge when the dot-coms were taking every good person away with millions of dollars in options. That's not quite the threat anymore, but one must still be very vigilant with people you're working with.