Technology continues to be a powerful force for transforming business, when used wisely and correctly. Here is a list of the top 10 visionaries and executives who made the biggest impact on the business technology world in 2008.
10. Bill Gates, Microsoft
At the end of June, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates stepped down from his full-time job at the world's largest software company (he remains chairman and still spends about 20% of his working hours on Microsoft stuff). True to his word, Gates has stepped back from the spotlight. However, he still casts a huge shadow over the business technology world, in part because a number of his visions have not come to fruition yet - most notably his ideas for next generation computer interfaces - and partly because Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was so erratic in 2008 (ah hem, Yahoo debacle) and has yet to articulate a clear vision for how Microsoft will innovate business software in the years ahead.
9. Mark Templeton, Citrix
Citrix was supposed to have been eliminated years ago when Microsoft started bundling Terminal Services into Windows Server. However, it never happened. Under the leadership of President and CEO Mark Templeton, Citrix has done two things to remain relevant: 1.) expand its product lines and 2.) re-market its itself to fit the changing times. Citrix has chosen its acquisitions wisely, with wins such as Xen virtualization software and GoToMeeting and GoToMyPC for remote workers. Meanwhile, Templeton, a former marketing executive, has re-fashioned the company by successfully hitching its wagon to virtualization. For example, terminal services is now application virtualization for Citrix. It also doesn't hurt that Citrix's software also goes a step beyond the version of Terminal Services that you get in Windows, and Citrix has also aggressively partnered with Microsoft.
8. Steve Jobs, Apple
Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs have had a far larger impact on consumer computing than business systems over the past several years, but Apple made one move in 2008 that was significant enough to land Jobs on this list on its merits alone. In a software update in mid-2008, Jobs and Apple took their highly successful iPhone and connected it with Exchange ActiveSync, making it capable of enterprise-class e-mail, contacts, and calendaring. This also made the iPhone a much stronger competitor to BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Symbian. However, the iPhone's meteoric ascent hasn't hurt the big smartphone vendors - at least not yet. It has actually brought more awareness to smartphones (making it a required tool for knowledge workers) and helped expand the overall smartphone market. These aren't just tools for executives, salespeople, financial nerds, and bureaucrats anymore.
7. Safra Catz, Oracle
When you have a company that makes almost 50% of its revenue from existing software and support contracts, then it's critical to have a leader who can drive operational efficiency. For enterprise software giant Oracle, that leader is Safra Catz, its President and former CFO. While CEO Larry Ellison remains the highly-colorful figurehead of the company, Catz is the one in charge of integrating its steady stream of acquisitions - 10 in 2008 - and handling the company's operational strategy. With Microsoft nipping at its heals from the SMB side and SAP and IBM trying to steal away enterprise accounts, Oracle's empire should be shrinking, but it's not. It has put together the most diverse set of enterprise software products and it has assimilated them very well under Catz's leadership. She is one of only two non-CEOs on this list, but the successes of Oracle's acquisitions make her a worthy addition.
6. Eric Schmidt, Google
While Google ultimately aims for a broader consumer focus of building great tools to broaden the power of the Internet, the company is quietly making inroads with its business technology products. Whether it's the expansion of Gmail functionality to become a true competitor to Microsoft Outlook, large organizations such as the Washington D.C. municipality migrating from Microsoft Office to Google Apps, the continued expansion of the Google enterprise search appliances, or the potential for Android smartphones to become powerful business devices, you can see Google methodically moving into the enterprise arena. And don't forget that Google Chairman/CEO Eric Schmidt previously worked for two enterprise vendors, Sun Microsystems and Novell.
5. Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com
There's no better success story for cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) in the business world than Salesforce.com. The Web-based CRM tool continued its meteoric growth in 2008 and its Chairman/CEO Marc Benioff continued to wave the flag for SaaS as the next great evolution in the business technology world. If he has his way, Benioff will take Salesforce.com beyond CRM and build the world's first great cloud computing platform for businesses. Don't count him out.
4. Anne Mulcahy, Xerox
During the past five years, Anne Mulcahy - as Xerox CEO and Chairman - has turned around the fortunes of the company that was once synonymous with the photocopier. Mulcahy instituted strict financial discipline including major cost costs, while also ramping up Xerox's services business, pushing innovation with expanded research and development efforts, and growing its footprint in emerging markets. Ironically, Xerox consultants now show companies how to save paper and reduce the number of printers - often by replacing a bunch of HP printers with one big machine from Xerox.
3. Craig Barrett, Intel
With Bill Gates fading into the sunset, Intel Chairman Craig Barrett has emerged as one of the IT industry's chief ambassadors. He traveled to over 30 countries in 2008, met with various heads of state, and served as the chair of a United Nations task force on technology in the developing world. "Technology is a tool to address some of the world's most pressing challenges related to health care, education, economic development and the environment," said Barrett. This broader vision of the role of technology in society is fueling Intel's strategy as the company continues to drive down the cost of computers with chips that are smaller, less expensive, and cost less to operate.
2. John Chambers, Cisco
Cisco continues to completely dominate the enterprise networking market. Now, it's trying to do the same in the small and medium business market. Its telepresence systems are also poised for a big breakthrough as the price of the product drops and businesses cut their travel budgets in these lean economic times. Now, it's also rumored that Cisco will enter the blade server market. Chambers is a high-energy visionary with lots of discipline, and he has Cisco hitting on all cylinders.
1. Mark Hurd, Hewlett-Packard
Last year, I left Mark Hurd off the list and even remarked that Carly Fiorina deserved a lot of the credit for Hewlett-Packard's resurgence because its roots are based in the HP-Compaq merger, which Fiorina had the guts to do. But, it becomes clearer every year that Hurd is making the right calls and motivating the various HP divisions to execute. HP is back on top in the PC market (having overtaken Dell), it is tied for the lead in servers with IBM, and it is even making strong moves in the networking market with its ProCurve gear. Plus, it bought EDS in 2008 to expand its footprint in IT services. All of the while, it has allowed its incumbent printer business to quietly take a back seat. That's why HP is doing so well, even in the face of economic headwinds, and that's why Hurd deserves the top spot on this list.See: The 10 most influential leaders in business technology in 2007
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.