Editorial: October 2002

By Ellen Pearlman  |  Posted 10-02-2002

The ongoing challenge of information technology is to rethink, innovate and redesign the way we work with information, run our businesses and look at the world. It is a challenge we fully meet only rarely: the packet-switched network, the personal computer, the World Wide Web come to mind. One computer scientist who embodies that spirit of innovation is David Gelernter, a Yale University professor and one of the creators of Linda, a computer language for parallel processing on which Java is partly based. This month, CIO Insight interviews Gelernter on how technology can better serve business, a view that's embodied in a new type of knowledge management system, a graphical user interface that stores and presents information of all kinds as a narrative stream rather than a hierarchical filing cabinet. The elegance of Gelernter's insight lies in the degree to which, through information technology, his program imitates life—our inevitable inclination to interpret the world as stories—rather than mimicking the physical world.

Information technology has plenty of examples of rethinkers on the corporate level as well. This month's case study on Eli Lilly and Co. centers on the efforts of CIO W. Roy Dunbar to help the company's scientists and executives speed the discovery of new drugs and their arrival in the marketplace. Dunbar's background is in new-product development, not in IT, yet he believes strongly that only through IT can Lilly make the drug-discovery breakthroughs the company needs to survive in a very capital-intensive and competitive industry. Says Dunbar: "Data sharing and knowledge management strategies will be the things that move us forward."

In the spirit of innovation and improvement, we have done some redesigning ourselves. The department that used to be called "Strategic Architecture," in which we analyzed the use of a variety of technologies in specific corporate settings, has been renamed "Strategic Technology." The goal is to sharpen the focus of the section by zeroing in on how to judge the business value of a specific technology—maturity, standards, ROI—to your company. This month's technology, Voice over IP, is growing in popularity as a way to slice through corporate phone bills, thanks to its flexibility and fancy features. Yet we conclude that unless you plan to install the technology in very specific settings—and start small—the cost savings can be elusive.

We have also rethought and redesigned the proprietary research we publish every month. The goal is to clarify the meaning behind the numbers. In this month's survey, we asked CIOs to elaborate on the success of their cost management goals and techniques. The overarching conclusion: The pressure to manage costs tightly is higher than it's been in years, but most CIOs feel they are up to the challenge. For the most part, they're not yet sacrificing strategic goals in the process.