Q&A With USGA's IT Leader Jessica Carroll

 JessicaCarrollInside
The USGA's Jessica Carroll was recently named one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders. (John Mummert/USGA)

Feb. 9, 2009

Jessica Carroll, the USGA’s managing director, information technologies, was recently named as one of Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders. The award honors individuals who have had a positive impact on their organization through technology. With the USGA’s burgeoning use of technology, Carroll addressed its impact on the Association.

How important is technology in conducting the work of the USGA?

Jessica Carroll: A company’s mission is facilitated, if not strongly driven, by successful technology underpinnings; the USGA is no different. A good example of this can be seen in the USGA’s commitment to outreach and support the work of state and regional golf associations. Technology has played a large role in helping to meet this mission. Programs such as Tech Week, three days of free online technical classes each November; the Computer Assistant Program, which offers funding to selected associations to hire a local IT support person for six months each year; and the most recent technology offering, the Customer Relationship Management system (CRM), is probably one of the most significant things we’ve done. The goal of the CRM program was for the USGA’S IT group to design and develop a customized CRM framework that could be offered to any state or regional association to help them consolidate their overlapping databases into one solution. Beyond combining their records into a central system, the solution was designed to dynamically update, batch update, export and make use of Web services for integration with other systems – including handicap vendors and Web sites. The idea was to enable streamlined productivity at the golf association level, and this tool has potential to help the associations leap forward with the services offered to their clubs and members.  I’m thrilled that we launched the product this past November at the International Association of Golf Administrators Conference and, as of today, we have 14 golf associations enrolled, with many more expected over the coming year.

How is technology used at USGA championships?

Carroll: Our application developers provide the internal systems that take an entrant from the moment they enter a USGA championship to the time the winning check is produced at USGA Open championships. Technology support at our championships is key for on-site USGA staff and we provide the Internet and network infrastructure at all USGA championships. This includes coordination and implementation of Internet access, network architecture, Voice Over IP phones, equipment provisioning, and on-site support for all staff at all championships, and for media at amateur championships.

A new agreement has been signed with IBM Services which provides a safety net for technology at the U.S. Open, the Women’s Open and other championships.

How will it help the USGA conduct championships?

Carroll: We signed an agreement with IBM in 2008 to flesh out our Disaster Recovery plan. While the IBM agreement may not be something the average golfer can see, and while it may not directly affect a score at the U.S. Open, this agreement is enormously significant to the USGA as an organization. Business Resiliency may not be a glamorous topic, but it is critical to the viability of all that the USGA does. It’s the premier “homeowners insurance” for business data, and it ensures that our most precious information – whether it’s the Rules of Golf, Turf Management research or player information – is in safe keeping. While we’ve always had a strong “traditional” backup and recovery procedure in place, with today’s reliance on everything electronic, some of our existing procedures weren’t going to offer the immediate recovery times and failsafe methods we knew we needed to ensure business resiliency. Imagine a flood at the USGA Headquarters the week of the U.S. Open and no alternate working data center – this could have been disastrous! Our agreement focuses on three IBM services: A hot site ready with critical USGA equipment; a daily backup feed of USGA mission-critical data to IBM via the Cloud; and an E-mail Continuity Service (a Web-based e-mail service hosted by IBM) synchronized with USGA e-mail and available for use should there be any type of disruption to USGA e-mail. Our partnership with IBM has afforded us the opportunity to resolve an existing technology concern and provide for the USGA in a smart, forward-thinking way.

How is technology used in GHIN and handicapping?

Carroll: IT works in great partnership with these groups as a technical resource. From providing guidance on the infrastructure design and general support of GHIN’s operations to offering tools such as online live meetings for handicapping, to outreach and educate their audiences, our role is really to facilitate all that they do. Our effort to make their jobs easier is an area we are really prioritizing right now.

How did you become involved with Information Technologies? I understand your first job was that of a proofreader?

Carroll: My first job out of college was indeed as a proofreader. This was at a time where putting a computer on your desk was somewhat of a new concept. I found I had a real affinity for this new “technology.” My career switch may have had something to do with the fact that I was a lousy typist. I used a lot of liquid “white-out.” The magic of the computer delete key won me over.

What is the significance of the Premier 100 Award to you?

Certainly recognition by industry peers is an honor. But this particular award, in this particular year, holds extra significance for me. The economic challenges have required a fine balance between keeping expenditures low and nurturing projects that enable progressive and meaningful company growth. Creative and carefully placed strategies are what have proven successful for all of the 2010 award recipients, and I’m enormously proud to be considered one of them.

What is your leadership philosophy?

Carroll: Set the vision, hire dedicated overachievers, make the goals clear, turn daily inter-department communication into the “norm,” and foster an environment where everyone has a stake in the vision.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

Carroll: Solving the problem creatively.

What motivates you in your career?

Carroll: I’m motivated by the constant and ever-changing challenge of technology. While most of the time IT is indeed a stressful career, it has its intellectual satisfactions, and probably the greatest of those is anticipating problems before anyone can see them coming. Last year the economic situation really forced us to think differently to solve problems more efficiently, and I found that it actually opened everyone’s mind to trying new technologies.

For instance the need to cut travel costs to the bare minimum really became a front-and-center focus, but as an organization there was still a need to provide rich outreach to all of our constituencies. In IT we’d already established use of the Cloud as an interactive business tool, and with online services for live presentations and meetings, self-paced online education and collaboration via Web portals, we were able to seamlessly answer the needs. It’s solving just these kinds of problems that makes working in technology so rewarding.

From your perspective, what does the future look like in Information Technologies?

Carroll: This is an exciting time in IT. We’re immersed in the next evolution of the web (Cloud Computing), as it becomes more than a place just to surf and turns into a true business product. Cloud Computing is defined as many things, but the use of the Web to host applications, for remote data storage (such as our agreement with IBM), and for virtual test and development environments, the Cloud offers some measure of flexibility. 

Use of the Cloud, as an offset to traditional data centers, will become a standard over the next few years. The question that each IT leader needs to answer is where this new business tool fits and how to adapt it to effectively enhance your company’s work processes. It will be pivotal for IT at the USGA to lay the groundwork for long-term Cloud strategies. Obviously the USGA has already embraced the use of the Cloud for a number of initiatives. I see IT working in step with all levels of USGA staff to incorporate a cohesive Cloud Computing plan that ultimately lays just the right foundation for our organization’s growth and fluidity. It will require some vision, some prudence, and a little bit of boldness, but that’s what makes this all so exciting right now. It should be a fascinating 2010.

 

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