October 9, 2008  10:45 PM

In economic meltdown, CFO is a CIO’s BFF

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

As if you didn’t already know, your buddy with the middle initial F is back. And I do mean buddy. A memo out this morning from consultancy Gartner Inc. reminds that in economic crises, CIOs need to “build a powerful alliance” with their CFOs to improve business value.

That would seem to be a wise step in light of the dark news today that stocks plunged more than 600 points, and that according to the latest Wall Street Journal (WSJ) survey, a majority of economists believe gross domestic product (GDP — the total value of goods and services produced) will shrink in the third and fourth quarters, as well as the first quarter 2009. If true, the WSJ piece says this would mark the first time U.S. GDP has shrunk for three consecutive quarters in more than 50 years.

Ugh. Back to you and the Gartner memo.

It seems that despite years of being told you need to “demonstrate the business value of IT,” doing so has proved a Sisyphean labor for CIOs “because of misaligned mind-sets between the CIO and CFO,” writes Dave Aron, a Gartner VP and research director. The path to reconciliation?

“The CIO and CFO have to devote time to aligning the economic architecture and the enterprise architecture of the business. In order for CFOs and CIOs to ally closely, they must come to a shared view of value. The most powerful tools for achieving this alignment are portfolio management and enterprise architecture.”

In 2008, 23% of CIOs report to the CFO, while 38% report to the CEO, but the trend is listing toward CIO to CFO.

Ugh again. CIOs with their IT shops in order and looking to have a bigger impact on business value have a harder time busting loose when they report to the CFO, Aron said.

“There are two clear pieces of evidence for this. First, only 45 percent of CFO-reporting CIOs have leadership roles outside of IT, compared with 63 percent of CEO-reporting CIOs. Second, CFO-reporting CIOs spend one day less per month with the board and senior executives than do CEO-reporting CIOs.”

Not to despair.

“The message here is not that CFO-reporting CIOs are doomed to failure,” Aron said. “Rather, it is that these CIOs need a focused plan to break out of the box, which should include influencing the CFO to be more IT-savvy and to understand the CIO’s full capabilities as a contributor.”

The memo, sent out in advance of the big Gartner show in Orlando next week — with promises, naturally, of more helpful advice to come — can be read in entirety on Gartner’s website.

October 9, 2008  4:37 PM

The CIO, Obama and electronic health records

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux senior news writer Linda Tucci wrote an excellent, layered story yesterday on electronic health records. “Privacy issues, interoperability issues, liability and physician reimbursement for all that extra virtual attention are potential deal breakers as the medical practice goes electronic,” she writes. “But most important, people have to understand why e-health is good for them.” 

Electronic health records are certainly a hot topic in the presidential campaign. Those of you who watched Tuesday’s town hall-style debate between Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain heard Obama say that he would cut health care insurance premiums by as much as $2,500 a year by investing in prevention and improving electronic health records.

There are several news sources taking aim at Obama’s assumptions. The Washington Post explains that his campaign is relying on a 2005 study by nonprofit think tank Rand Corp., which estimated that the nationwide adoption of paperless health records would result in $77 billion in savings.

But the same study estimates that the shift wouldn’t be completed until 2019, after Obama (should he be elected) would be out of office. Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has put out its own paper, “Evidence on the costs and benefits of health information technology,” which argues that a 90% adoption rate over the next decade is unlikely, as moving to a fully computerized system of medical records would be prohibitively expensive for small and medium-sized medical practices. In his blog, CBO Director Peter Orszag wrote that the RAND study “suffers from significant flaws.”

So Obama’s claim is a reach, at best. As we head into these final weeks leading up to the election, just stick to the facts, please.

Do any of you have experience implementing electronic health records and, if so, what is your view of the timeline and obstacles to a reliable, secure and widespread system?

October 8, 2008  1:54 PM

Three cheers for Web 3.0

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

Yesterday on, we ran a story I wrote about the burgeoning mashup of Web 2.0 technologies into something that’s being called Web 3.0. It’s based on the assumption that the next generation of the Web will require less searching on the part of users as advancing Web 2.0 innovations such as blogs, wikis and social networking forums push desired information straight to them. Check out this definition of Web 3.0 that was overheard in the tech blogosphere.

A friend sent me this article from The New York Times yesterday on a Google e-commerce effort that would allow YouTube users to buy digital goods from Apple’s iTunes store or, which I think is a move toward this Web 3.0 concept.

Remember how exciting it was to search a movie time on the Internet, rather than via the newspaper or a dial-up phone number? Within the next decade, it’s likely you’ll be able do the same search and receive not only movie times but also the locations closest to you, what your friends are seeing, what others in your social network thought of the film and where everybody is going to have dinner afterwards.

One of the speakers at MIT’s EmTech conference referred to Web 3.0 as “frothy,” and compared the “rush of innovation” to that which characterized what I guess we’d now call Web 1.0. It still amazes me what we’re able to find on the Web … it really has changed both my everyday life and the way in which I complete my work.

I’ll give you an example. As I was typing this post, my cell phone rang, and the out-of-area caller ID was a number I didn’t recognize. Before the phone had even stopped ringing, I had already searched the phone number in Google and come across this website that tracks suspicious phone numbers. Within seconds, I could see that several other Boston-area individuals had received calls from this number in the past hour, so I’d like to think I wisely ignored it.

For those interested in some related content, check out the definition of the Semantic Web, which ties into this Web 3.0 philosophy, as well as microformats, an open source data format.

Are you as excited about Web 3.0 as I am? Are these concepts that you are looking to implement into your company’s Web strategy?

October 6, 2008  9:41 AM

CIO weekly wrap-up

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

Happy Monday! For those who missed it, here’s what we produced on last week:

  • Microsoft: Spatial computing the future — Microsoft’s Craig Mundie says the next era of computing will ride on multi-core processing and spatial computing, but it will be defined — as previous computing eras — by killer apps.

October 3, 2008  11:32 AM

Bailout for economy, a boon for R&D?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

If you’re looking for another reason to pay attention to whether the $700 billion bailout bill gets passed by the House today, you might want to look at this call for action from the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA).

The bailout bill aimed at steadying the financial markets would also reinstate the Research and Development Tax Credit, which was allowed to lapse last December. According to the ITAA, the lapsed credit  has already cost more than $14 billion in lost revenue and 10,000 jobs.

The ITAA has estimated R&D credit would have created and sustained a total of 141,753 jobs in 2008, not far from the number of jobs cut last month, according to the federal jobs report out today. The majority of the new R&D jobs projected for 2008 would have been required by law to be based in the United States.

Here’s ITAA’s president and CEO Phil Bond making the case:

“Congress’ inaction has left our most innovative companies in limbo, is undermining tens of thousands of R&D-related jobs, and placing billions of dollars at risk. How many more jobs must be threatened before Washington will act?” Bond said.

October 2, 2008  4:30 PM

Three men arraigned in alleged IT kickback scheme

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

Three Boston-area men have been arraigned in connection with allegedly setting up kickbacks from a vendor in exchange for securing computer software and service contracts for Partners Healthcare.

According to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, investigators discovered that between July 2003 and October 2007, Brian Colpak, owner of enterprise technology reseller Future Technologies, allegedly paid two men thousands of dollars for their help in obtaining contracts to provide IT systems and service for Partners and its entities, which include the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Before vendors can do business with Partners, they must complete a vendor application, and the winning bid is selected and must be approved by the department’s supervisor. The guidelines stipulate that the vendor cannot provide any members of Partners with rewards, gratuities or gifts.

Co-defendant John Dimille was a group leader in the production division of the information systems department at Partners, and had a great deal of control as to who was awarded the contract for the acquisition, installation and maintenance of these particular systems. As master engineer in Dimille’s division, co-defendent John Cleary played a major role in reviewing the contracts for these systems.

Authorities allege that Dimille and Cleary often would not solicit competing bids for contracts, or failed to engage other interested parties, before awarding Colpak the winning bid.

Colpak pleaded innocent in Suffolk Superior Court to four counts of commercial bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit commercial bribery. Dimille pleaded innocent to commercial bribery and conspiracy to commit commercial bribery. Cleary was charged with two counts of commercial bribery.

According to Future Technologies’ website, the company helped move Dana Farber to a large-scale data center based on two large Sun servers. The company claimed the cancer center saved $1 million a year.

Also, interesting to note: try Googling “John Dimille” and then click on the Future Technologies “Testimonials” page (for me, it’s the fifth result). Compare the cached version with the current version of the page — notice anybody missing?

Thanks to Universal Hub for the heads up.

October 1, 2008  4:20 PM

Women as CIOs and branding in the workplace

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

My colleague Linda Tucci’s story this past week on how women in IT should brand themselves (and, by the way, most of the advice applies to our male readers, too) really struck a chord with me. As I embarked into the working world several years ago, a friend bought me a copy of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, and I took many of its tips to heart – among them, that I probably shouldn’t decorate my cube like my living room, let people waste my time because I feel bad interrupting or apologize for having a strong opinion. I’ve had varying success sticking to these tenets over time, especially when some of them conflict with my natural tendencies.

But I’m a journalist, not a CIO, and I recognize that female CIOs trying to make headway in a business that has traditionally been dominated by male managers is probably a much tougher proposition than I’ve faced.

Atefeh Riazi, CIO at New York-based ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide Inc., touched on these points in her presentation at last week’s EmTech 2008 conference at MIT. She noted that she now says, “I believe,” rather than “I feel” after a boss admonished her for it. She doesn’t communicate when she’s upset because she is “perceived the wrong way.” And she’s learned not to apologize for being bold, wearing red lipstick or requesting more money or staff.

Already, we’ve received feedback from readers who saw some of their own experiences in Riazi’s talk. I’d love to get a dialogue going on that. If you’re a female IT manager, have you faced the sort of challenges in the workplace that Riazi discusses and, if so, what are your strategies for overcoming them?

September 29, 2008  10:49 AM

CIO weekly wrap-up

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

Don’t miss the following stories we posted this past week on Feel free to chime in on any of them below!

September 26, 2008  1:01 PM

EmTech08 and the Black Swan: A lesson in jargon

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

I sneaked away from my desk this week to attend a few sessions at the Emerging Technologies conference on the MIT campus. Even in small doses, the event can overwhelm with its rush of ideas, opinions and latest updates from people working on the cutting edge of technology. I want to mention one term I had not heard before that was intriguing and romantic: black swans.

Black swans are important events, either good or bad, that are highly improbable but happen nonetheless. The idea of using black swans as a metaphor for weird events has its origins in the 1600s when the discovery of the first non-white swan was made in Australia. Asteroids hitting the earth and wiping out dinosaurs or Apple making the iPod might be considered black swans.

I probably should have known about the term black swans, as it was popularized in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, a book published last year by mathematics professor and trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb about why it is hard to predict the future. For those of us reporters and CIOs who prize our ability to be in control of what we are doing, black swans offer particular challenges, as by definition they fall outside the status quo. Taleb contends that human nature being what it is, we base our reactions on what we experience and often overemphasize these black swans, believing erroneously that they will repeat. We see someone win the lottery and think maybe it’s a good idea to try it for ourselves-foolish, but we can’t help thinking this way.

At EmTech08, the expression was used by Sun founder-turned-venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to explain his investing approach and as prelude to a lengthy promotion of the renewable energy companies backed by Khosla Ventures.

Market predictions for renewable energy wield little clout in Khosla’s investment decisions. The truth about many forecasts is that they turn out to be false, Khosla said, pointing to long-term price predictions for oil and for the U.S. market for cell phones, to name two forecasts that were very wrong, exponentially so in the case of cell phones. Khosla would rather not have a forecast and instead “be prepared for everything.” Forecasters, “mostly economists,” he dissed, use yesterday’s technology to predict the future.

The failure of the market to accurately predict the market offers an important lesson for non-economists like him and fellow technocrats in the audience, Khosla said. Rather than worry about predictions for the future-invent it. Indeed, technology is a classic black swan-generating activity, he said.

Black swans aside, Khosla employs some pretty familiar tangibles to measure whether a renewable energy technology is worth his dough. What matters is cost (it had better be cheaper than fossil fuels), scalability, low adoption risk. So, in his view electric cars are irrelevant unless new battery technology comes to fruition, biodiesel fuel is no good unless algae technology is perfected, food ethanol takes too much land to produce, wind and photovoltaics are useless unless we figure out a way to store that energy … and so on. You can read about Khosla’s companies and more about his investing philosophy at

September 25, 2008  4:46 PM

Work email: When it just can’t wait until morning

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

With the growing popularity of smartphones and business VPNs, it’s getting tougher and tougher to let an email just sit in your inbox unread for any period of time – even in what are technically your off-hours.

According to a study published Wednesday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, of the 2,144 adults surveyed this spring, 96% used email, the Internet or cell phones, and 80% believed that the technologies have improved their ability to do their jobs.

But the flipside is 46% said these devices increased the demands that they work more hours, and 49% said the technologies make it harder to disconnect from work even in their off-hours. Half of the respondents who were employed and use email said they check their work email on weekends, and 22% said they check “often” on the weekends.

Now, whether or not this qualifies as an invasion on one’s downtime depends, I think, on what people’s motivations are for doing so. I tend to check my work email at least once every evening after I’ve left the office, and at least once during the weekend. I’ve never been told I’m required to do so, but I do it anyway, probably because I don’t see it as making more work for myself – quite the opposite, in fact.

I find that reviewing and replying to emails from home (or from my phone) in a timely manner makes my mornings a lot more bearable. I come into the office feeling like I’ve gotten a good running start on my morning’s activities and can focus on those, rather than on the constant cycle of reviewing, replying and deleting.

Have I ever stressed myself out in my off-hours due to my email checking? Sure, it’s happened, and I’ve cursed myself for not being able to fully unplug from the office. And I guess the extra email time does technically translate to “working more hours” on top of my normal office hours. But doing so makes those office hours a lot more productive and enjoyable.

Your take?

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