Profile: Marina Shabin, CIO of Sterling Commerce

By Pam Baker

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In the world of high-finance, the world’s wealth is digitally transferred in billions of transactions every day, all over the world, and a huge chunk of it moves through Sterling Commerce, an AT&T company. As CIO, Marina Shabin helps keep the money flowing and the packets secure.


Shabin says a large portion of Sterling Commerce’s IT actually provides support and hosting services to Sterling’s customers. IT also supports product development and an engineering organization, as well as offering a portfolio of more traditional IT services to the company’s functional user base. The IT organization has about 200 employees world-wide.


Even at the height of efficiency, the workload requires a large IT staff and constant vigilance. Shabin’s job is not for the faint at heart as the buck quite literally stops with her.


Sterling's MFT suite is the gold standard for banks around the world and 93% percent of the financial companies in the Fortune 1000 use Sterling's solutions. With more than 30,000 customers worldwide—including 82% of the Fortune 500—Sterling's solutions cover business process integration, multi-channel selling, and supply chain fulfillment. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, the company has offices in 19 countries and most major cities around the world.


Unlike most industries, Sterling is not hobbled by the global economy. It seems that no matter how challenging any given economic climate is, money will continue to change hands. According to Gartner, “Fortunately, for many of (MFT) vendors, while the overall market for MFT solutions grows at a healthy rate, the overall pool of enterprises needing MFT solutions grows even faster.”


Even so, Shabin’s IT operations are not given a blank check. She says she and others in IT have historically had to do more with less, so even in a booming economy IT was mandated to operate at the highest level of efficiency. Now that several economies are slumping the mandate has become a bit shriller.


At Sterling, Shabin continues to look for ways to work smarter, such as “creating a virtual IT presence in places where it is needed without unnecessary overhead; or by consolidating the applications footprint and decommissioning redundant apps and supporting infrastructure. We have to support the business and the business is growing so an appropriate level of investment will continue.”


When it comes to large-scale business process management initiatives, Shabin reveals a few surprises. “What is interesting is that IT is in the forefront of these initiatives, which is certainly a change for most enterprises."


No Outsourcing


Sterling Commerce is developing the business modeling expertise in-house to support every major initiative. “We model our business extensively. This includes business process management, business vocabulary, business rules and information exchange flows."


The work Shabin and her team are currently conducting is strategically aligned with the business performance monitoring, business integration and customer experience management. She explains the models span multiple processes, applications and functional areas which requires collaboration between the process owners, various stakeholders and executive sponsorship in order to achieve standardization.


“Alignment around a common goal makes it real, relevant and valuable to all involved,” she said. “Business modeling process continuously connects topics to the overall strategy and goal and with a laser-sharp focus on results we continue to make good progress.”


nth Degrees of Separation


Like all successful CIOs, Shabin keeps one eye peeled for future developments. From her perspective, the world is about to shrink again.


“I see the area of social networking continue to rapidly evolve into becoming the mainstream collaboration platform for corporate communities comprised of the individuals working on common projects. As companies push to create learning environments—much of the information sharing will be enabled by advances in this technology as well as knowledge management—I see the two converging to some extent.”


Shabin further predicts that applications will be more aware of each other and the relevant content that is available to the users. Contextual search engines built into the KM systems will push the links for the relevant content the users may not be aware of; similar to the Google ads popping up conveniently offering a link to information relevant to the process the user is executing. The same capabilities will extend to the external collaboration networks in support of the enterprise value chain in dealings with the customers and suppliers.

In the near-future, Shabin sees a further upset in skill set expectancy. In the next five years, she predicts IT will become even more integrated into the business. “More commoditized skill sets will most likely be outsourced. CIOs will be even more involved and critical to the strategic business planning process and will naturally think more like COO’s and CFOs while providing a solid technological platform and business enablement strategy.”


For now, her immediate challenge is to man the stations with “ … good people who can easily perform as liaisons between the business and more technical resources.” She seeks that “special breed of talent who often starts their careers in IT and later obtains enough functional business experience to be effective.”


Shabin defines these individuals as a hybrid of business analysts and systems analysts with a strong process background relevant to a specific business function like finance, human resources and sales and marketing. “They exist and we are attracting them, but not quickly enough,” she laments.


While Sterling Commerce cashes in on the activities of financial institutions around the clock in multiple time zones, Shabin keeps IT efficiencies high and operations smooth so she and her staff can enjoy some much needed personal downtime. But even at home, Shabin deals in the unexpected. She has a “Tonkenese cat that fetches and is very interactive, and a Bernese Mountain Dog that happily likes to watch me retrieve.”