Editorial: April 2002

Much has been written over the years about the importance of leadership—setting a course and then rallying the troops, no matter how unpopular or difficult the mission. In this month’s issue, we look at leadership in a variety of contexts: At Kaiser Permanente, CEO David Lawrence’s controversial decision to centralize IT was born of business urgency. For Georgetown computer science professor and encryption expert Dorothy Denning, it was born of intellectual curiosity mixed with business need. And for Kevin Ashton, head of MIT’s Auto-ID Lab, it was born of a passion for a cutting-edge technology that is yet to be realized.

In 1997, in an effort to cut costs and boost patient care, Kaiser CEO David Lawrence issued an ultimatum to the far-flung divisions of the nation’s largest HMO: Centralize IT or face immediate IT budget cuts (see “Shock Therapy at Kaiser Permanente“). The goal was the Holy Grail of the healthcare industry, which is struggling against mind-boggling complexity and costs, outmoded legacy systems and cultural resistance to change of any kind. Five years later, the cultural battles continue, but the cost of care in some Kaiser units has decreased, and error rates are down, thanks to the hard-won effort to digitize patient records.

Dorothy Denning has been a leader in the fight against computer hackers and content pirates since the 1970s. Now, she’s helping Hollywood. Her 1998 patent for geo-encryption—a way to encrypt data based on the location of the recipient determined by GPS satellites—would allow movie studios to send you a movie via the Web knowing that you and only you received it (see “How Geo-Encryption Makes Copyright Protection Global“). Denning, who also serves on the new White House Advisory Group on Homeland Security, will continue to outpace hackers. She’s still tweaking her new system, but typically, change only eggs her on.

Kevin Ashton, a former marketing guy at P&G in London, became frustrated with the inefficiencies in the consumer product giant’s supply chain. His idea: to use radio frequency sensors to keep track of how fast goods fly off the shelves. Ashton’s persistence and ability to communicate his idea—and lead change around it—has taken him from a middle-management job at P&G to chief of MIT’s Auto-ID Laboratory (see “RFID From Just-In-Time to Real Time“).

The lessons here? Leadership requires risk. And it doesn’t simply come from the top, nor should it. This month, we surveyed CIOs and other IT executives on the role of the CIO (see “The CIO’s Role“). Among the results: The top two attributes CIOs see as being required for their jobs are business understanding and leadership ability, yet many said their skills fall short in these areas. That may not be an especially stunning finding, yet it speaks to the fact that, more and more, CIOs see themselves not just as technology executives but as would-be business leaders. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that on this, the 12th issue of the magazine—CIO Insight is a year old and counting—we look at leadership and the critical role of the CIO in taking hold of technology and making it work in the service of business strategy.

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