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John Beran Leads Technology Transformation at Comerica

Comerica CIO John Beran has led the bank as it has transformed its IT infrastructure and restructured its IT organization.

The final, key component of the transformation was the development of new criteria to determine whether a particular function is or is not core to the business or whether a given technology is a competitive differentiator or just a utility. "We put everything we do through these filters," Beran relates. "It's a pretty disciplined process that leads us to conclusions about whether we buy a technology or built it, and if we are going to buy, which partners, and if we [are going to] build, what the methodologies of doing that are."

As a result, Beran says, the company is making better decisions about technology. Before, Comerica was buying vendor packages and then spending an equal amount of money in customization, he acknowledges. Now the bank is determining its development approach much earlier in the process and is, as a result, completing projects more quickly and closer to budget. "We're doing a lot more work upfront rather than doing a lot of rework afterwards," Beran comments.

Straight out of college and working at Winters National, Beran says, he quickly developed a thirst for leadership opportunities. At first, he primarily focused on operations research, working in workflow analysis and computer modeling. "What I discovered was that I would make a lot of recommendations about doing things and some would be accepted and some would not," he recalls. "While I really liked what I was doing, I wanted to be the person making the decisions."

Soon after, Beran received just such an opportunity when he was appointed to a management position in Winters' information services group. Years later at Comerica, Beran has continued to thrive in a position of leadership. He describes his management style as high-demand and collaborative, with a particular attention to detail. "What I try to do is set direction and say, 'This is, strategically, what I'm trying to get done,' " Beran relates. "I don't abdicate responsibility, but I definitely delegate a lot of authority and, along with that, responsibility."

The Elite 8 2009
Gary GreenwaldJohn BeranBarbara PerinoFrancisco 'Frank' DeArmasThomas KunzFred CookDavid DowningDonald Westermann
In addition to the transformation work that was completed in early 2009, Beran has overseen several major IT projects. Most notably, the bank recently finished a next-generation network implementation based around converged voice, data and video communications using IP telephony. Beran names Cisco Systems (San Jose, Calif.) and AT&T (Dallas) as key partners in the initiative, which started in fall 2008 and was completed in May 2009.

Beran also has overseen the technology group as it has moved to a more virtualized environment, with assists from IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) and BladeLogic (acquired by Houston-based BMC Software in April 2008). All new projects have been placed on a virtualized environment, according to Beran, and the company is in the process of moving older systems and applications to virtualized environments as well.

He calls the shift an "extremely important" part of providing speed improvements and cost benefits to the business. At first, business users were wary of virtualization because it represented a change from the standalone environments of the past. "Now we're able to do it quicker and deliver it less expensively, so they are now actually asking to be placed in virtual environments," Beran says.

And Beran constantly seeks to cultivate better relationships with the business side of Comerica. Tight IT-business alignment is an important part of his IT philosophy, he says, and he spends a lot of time discussing corporate strategy with his IT team. As he also has accountability in the company for operations, excluding those at the branch level, he is uniquely positioned to bridge the IT-business gap. "One of the biggest challenges I have is to translate technology into business applications for my business partners," Beran says.

It's one thing when the business asks for a new capability or product, he notes. It's another when the topic turns to infrastructure improvements, network replacements or server virtualization. "We're talking about tools then," Beran says. "What's tough for me is to take a technology and interpret why it has value to the business."

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