June 04, 2004

As the color returns to the faces of chief information officers on Wall Street and dollars return to their budgets, Michael Goff has not forgotten the lessons of the last economic downturn. Goff, president of investment technologies at T. Rowe Price, holds the reins of IT spending - and he plans to dispense it prudently.

Goff explains that as the "smallest large player," T. Rowe Price has always spent considerably less than many of its larger competitors. "When the downturn happened, we took that as a good rest from the questions of, 'How can we get a bigger budget to compete?'" he explains.

Now that his budget is finally on the upswing, with an expected 3 to 4 percent increase from last year, Goff will focus on expanding T. Rowe Price's infrastructure to handle increased business volume. "With the mutual-fund scandal in the industry, firms that are clean have picked up a lot of business," he says.

As a result, his firm's Web site has seen a 65 percent increase in retail log-ins from this time last year, according to Goff, and he points to increasing the site's capacity as a major component of T. Rowe Price's growth strategy. "People are staying on the Web and using our tools longer," he says. "We're increasing spending on infrastructure as the service demand grows. It's pure feeds and speeds. How many log-ins and how much data can we support?"

The surge of business is also driving T. Rowe Price to reexamine its broker desktops. Goff says that the firm's focus is on simplifying navigation through information screens for its representatives. "We may not be adding functionality, but we're spending a lot of time and money on integration so that they don't have to navigate to different screens," he explains. "It's about getting the right simple context so that the representative adds value for the client."

Despite increased spending on strategic projects, T. Rowe will also put additional money into tactical projects, such as compliance. The technology executive asserts, however, that the firm will take a more holistic strategic approach to compliance, rather than a reactionary one, and he hopes now to have an opportunity to build platforms that leverage each other. "Compliance should be part of the DNA of the firm," he says. Still, there are immediate regulatory issues to address. "We want to build a compliance platform that will carry us into the future, but we need to have some answers by this summer."

On the other side of the spectrum, T. Rowe Price is also actively pursuing many of the hottest trends in financial-services technology. Goff has adopted Web services as an architecture throughout the firm, with half of its applications on top of an application server. "We think Web services is real going forward, so we're going to see a lot more of that," he adds.

In addition, T. Rowe Price is actively exploring Linux. While Goff has about 700 servers currently running on the open-source platform, he expects to add more Linux machines in the future. As Linux makes strides on the desktop level, the firm hopes to replace its Windows workstations with Linux at some point, he continues. "There's a lot of money to be saved because the law of big numbers kicks in."

Voice over Internet Protocol is also getting play this year at T. Rowe Price, says Goff. The firm is already using VoIP for international connectivity, and Goff is currently evaluating the technology for U.S. communications.

With a full plate of projects, Goff says that he looks to heavily leverage off-the-shelf solutions. His 600-head technology department specializes in systems integration, he says, but he points out that even though T. Rowe Price may not be focused on building, integrating has its own set of challenges. "It's not easy," he concedes. "Integration is sometimes the most difficult thing to do, because the vendors are at all different levels of sophistication."

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