A former "prissy girl" takes on tech

February 2, 2011: 3:38 PM ET

Intel's CIO talks about the challenges of supporting the "consumerized"  workplace and why everyone loves tablets -- but what they really need are laptops.

Diane Bryant, CIO of Intel

Bryant, the accidental engineer: "I had no clue what I was getting into."

Diane Bryant never intended to go to college, let alone become a top executive at Intel, the world's largest chipmaker. She joined the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company back in 1985 and has held several positions over the years, including silicon design engineer and general manager of the server platforms group. About three years ago, she became Intel's (INTC) chief information officer. I recently caught up with Bryant to discuss the shifting role of the CIO and the top trends and challenges in information technology. Here is an excerpt from our conversation.

How did you get into IT?

I was the prissy girl growing up -- I won best dressed in high school. My parents didn't go to college so there wasn't any expectation for my sister and I to go either. But I was a good student and all of my friends were going on to college. We didn't have any money and the rule was when you're 18 you're on your own. So I went to a junior college because it was free. A guy sitting next to me in calculus asked what degree I was getting. I didn't have any idea. He told me I should be an engineer because it's the highest paying salary you can get with a bachelor's degree. So I transferred to UC Davis as an engineering student. I had never met an engineer and had no clue what I was getting into. I got my engineering degree, got recruited by Intel and I've been with Intel for 26 years. The rest is history.

How has your role changed since you've become CIO?

It's remarkable how dependent the business is on IT. Every business strategy we're trying to deploy, every growth opportunity we're pursuing and every cost reduction all funnels back to an IT solution. How do you go from hundreds of customers to thousands of customers? You do that through technology. You don't scale the sales force by 10 times. I look across Intel's corporate strategy and I can directly tie each one of our pillars to the IT solution that's going to enable it. It's a remarkable time to be in IT. All of a sudden the CIO had better be at the table in the business strategy discussions because they can't launch a strategy without you.

What are the biggest trends in IT?

Consumerization is a huge trend that I and all of my peers started out tackling and are now embracing. At Intel almost every employee has a notebook but only about 10% of employees get a smartphone. Thanks to consumerization many people have their own smartphone, so in 2009 we told employees if you have a smartphone device that you purchased bring it in. In the first three months we had 9,000 devices come in.

But consumerization also brings about new security challenges. How do you deal with that?

There is a difference between an iPhone and a BlackBerry device from a security perspective. As the IT guy the first thing I have to do is assess the security level of the device. I'll push a lot more to your BlackBerry because it's an enterprise, trusted device. We found that most confidential information is attachments -- the Excel spreadsheet or Word document. So what we decided is that when I push emails to iPhones I strip off the attachments.

What's your take on tablets in the workplace?

When the iPad launched we said it's just a big phone, so bring it in. Our goal is to enable as many devices in the environment as possible and make employees as productive as they can be. In general employees will say they love the tablet because it's instant on and has a super long battery life. But I've never found anyone that was willing to give back a $1,200 notebook in exchange for a tablet -- they look at you like you're crazy. I'd love to give out tablets but I only have so much capital budget. That's where most IT guys get stuck. So if you want to make that investment I'm happy to support it.

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Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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